Marriage In Recovery

I’ve been married to Robbie for 12 years this October, and for almost our entire relationship, I didn’t believe that he truly loved me.

I mean, I thought he thought he did, and if someone thinks they love me, as has been the case in 95% of my relationships, that has always been good enough. I didn’t believe that I was worthy of genuine love, but I wasn’t fully aware of that belief. It lingered in the back of my subconscious, manifesting in the nagging voice that tells me I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough, or good enough to amount to much of anything.

I built a wall.

The wall was up when I met Robbie, and as far as I know, parts of it are still there. Alcohol gave me the courage I needed to step out from behind it on occasion, and quite honestly, I miss the ease that comes with drinking. Sobriety is a lot of work. So is overcoming obstacles. I am effing exhausted.

Sometimes, I really, really think it would be easier just to keep the wall up, smear some extra concrete on it, and stay in hiding forever.

When a person goes through trauma, it literally rewires the brain. Addiction rewires it, too, which means that my brain has a lot of overdue healing to do. For a very long time, I functioned at what I considered to be a high capacity; looking back, I can see that I’ve never allowed myself or my marriage to reach its full potential. I assumed my husband thought he loved me, which was good enough because I really could not stand myself, and I drank to cope with the feelings that go along with self-loathing.

That is no way to live. I am allowing myself to get better because I want to LIVE.

It’s a weird thing to have to look in the mirror every morning and tell my reflection, “You are good enough.” This was an assignment given to me by my therapist.

“You’ll feel weird doing it,” she said. “But it’s important.”

“FINE,” I said.

But I haven’t followed through, not yet. The words sound hollow because I still don’t believe them, and I always cringe, because ew, affirmations.

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Robbie + Harmony on a date.

***

I sit on the couch next to Robbie. There’s a dip in the spot where he always parks himself — I call it The Hole — and my body slides over next to his by sheer force of gravity.

“Hi,” I say, smushing my left shoulder into his right armpit.

“Hi.” I think he feels crowded, but like I’ve told him a thousand times before, maybe he should consider sitting in another spot on the couch, a spot that is less like a giant hole.

“You love me,” I say, not like I’m testing his reaction or fishing for something. I say it with reverence. I’m stating a fact.

“Yes, I do.”

I no longer think he thinks he loves me. I know that he knows that he does.

I’ve given him a lot of reasons to excuse himself from the relationship. The cat’s out of the bag — I’m not the perfect wife or mother — I am an alcoholic. I’m flawed, I’m aware of my flaws, and I’m working on improving them. I’m not pretending anymore. And as screwed up as I may be, he won’t leave. Not today. Not ever.

And for the first time, I actually believe that I’m safe with him.

I know that I am.

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Dealing With Feelings Is A Real Drag

Recently, I took a major risk and wrote about how my issues with addiction are directly linked to a traumatic event in my past. Everyone has been amazingly supportive, and for that I want to say thank you.

Living through an emotionally and physically traumatic event affected me in ways I still don’t quite understand. It wasn’t just that four people I knew physically attacked me in my own bedroom — the emotional pain is my problem. The multiple levels of betrayal, the shame of being involved with something so appalling, and the grief that comes from a terrible breakup all rolled into one big ball of horrible feelings that I didn’t know how to deal with.

Because I was living in a Conservative Christian bubble, I first tried praying it away. I tried ignoring it. I tried throwing myself into religion, and when that didn’t work, I threw myself into the world.

Even though what happened to me wasn’t my fault, there is a big part of me that still wonders if I somehow deserved it — mostly because I chose to ignore major red flags during the course of my relationship with the boy. I wanted to fit in with his family. I wanted them to like me, and they did, at first. I was a sweet, friendly, smart girl — unassuming, eager to please, nonjudgmental, and mostly, I loved the boy.

They liked me, but they underestimated me.

Sometimes, really stupid people mistake kindness for weakness. They think that because I smile a lot, I’m easily manipulated, but actually I am just too polite to speak up and say, “Hey asshole, I know what you’re doing.”

Rather than be rude, I nod and smile. Or, I used to.

The boy’s family eventually realized that I have limits to how far I’ll allow other people to push me. Even at 18 and 19 years old, no one was going to dictate my life, and I encouraged the boy to do the same. My encouragement of his independence is what sealed my fate, and the rest is what I’m dealing with in therapy.

The point of sharing my story is this: my past trauma infects every relationship in my life. I have walls up in my marriage that I didn’t even realize were there. I freak out over stupid things my kids say or do because it reminds me of people who hurt me in the past. I don’t trust ANYONE. I am terrified of people turning on me. And while I have a ton of friends and acquaintances in my life that I could call for anything, I almost never do; vulnerability scares the shit out of me.

I have a guilt complex. My self worth is nonexistent. People call me courageous, but I’m not. I’m terrified. Being sober scares me, the truth scares me, and thinking about the future and the unknown paralyzes me with fear. Things I cannot control are what scare me the most, and guess what? LIFE IS BEYOND MY CONTROL.

So I stay afraid, unless I practice the things that have kept me sober for the past 6 months. I go to exercise classes, even when I don’t feel like it. I cut out junk and eat more protein. I sleep a lot. I meditate. Today, I went to yoga and breathed a lot of deep breaths and then I cried, because that’s what happens when people sober up. They yoga and they cry.

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Yoga helps.

I’m putting one foot in front of the other, and re-learning how to take care of myself. I’ve accepted that I’ll be in therapy for probably a very long time, and I continue to mourn the loss of alcohol because dealing with feelings is a real drag.

People keep telling me I’m worth it. Maybe one day, I’ll actually believe them. Until then, I’ll just keep writing.

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Writing My Own Ending

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

— Brené Brown

192 days. That’s how long I’ve been sober, and for most of that time, I thought that the reason why I ended up being an alcoholic was because maybe I just suck at life. The books I’m reading tell me differently, of course; addictions are usually caused by an unfortunate combination of genetics and circumstances. Maybe I found myself here because I was just self-medicating away anxiety and depression. Or, you know, MAYBE I JUST LIKE ALCOHOL.

No.

It took 6 months for me to recognize and own a part of my past that I’ve never written about publicly. It took days and months of slogging through my personal history, turning over rocks I didn’t want to turn over, weeks of feeling like I couldn’t breathe and countless afternoons of feeling so tired from the exhausting task of being awake and walking around with all of these thoughts and feelings that I parked the kids in front of the TV while I took a nap.

never nap.

Sober Harmony needs a lot of naps.

I’d much prefer to leave the past in the past — I’m a forge-aheader, I’m defiant, and I don’t like to look or feel weak. What’s the point of dwelling in things that happened a long time ago? I take pride in my ability to suck it up and keep moving. My daddy used to say, “I didn’t raise no wimp!” and he was right.

I’m not.

A few days ago, I was sitting in the living room with my 4-year-old daughter. She climbed into my lap, grabbed my face, and licked my right cheek. I don’t think she meant to lick me — she was kissing me, actually — but she’s little and kids are weird and that’s what happened. It felt like the air was sucked out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run, but my daughter doesn’t know that I have PTSD from being attacked in my dorm room my freshman year of college.

She doesn’t know that four girls I knew and trusted somehow finagled their way past the front desk clerk at a private university with key card access in the middle of the night and barged into my room. She doesn’t know that my roommate happened to be gone that night, and my suite mates too, and that those women beat my face in, slammed me against the wall, and threatened me.

She doesn’t know that before they left, the oldest one got down next to my ear and whispered, “You better not tell anyone about this,” before putting her tongue on my right cheek and dragging it all the way from my jawline up to the top of my cheekbone.

Why would anyone think it was a good idea to do that to me? That’s a valid question — one I ask myself still, all these years later. They were upset that their brother asked me to marry him. I wasn’t good enough. I was going to derail his life, they said, and because everything they’d already tried wasn’t working to break us up, they decided to take matters literally into their own hands.

That did it.

Ever since that January morning in 1999, I flinch every time someone touches my right cheek. For some reason, that’s the one everyone kisses; I’ve learned to mask my repulsion because I can’t go around punching people in the face when they get close to me.

Alcohol helped with those feelings.

And then, Robbie and I had kids. Children like to pretend they’re dogs and cats and they slobber a lot. Struggling with flashbacks to something that happened so long ago, something I worked tirelessly to forget, drove me to drink. Kids also sometimes yell terrible things like “I HATE YOU!” or “YOU’RE A TERRIBLE MOM!” Sometimes, they push and shove.

I drank.

I drank to forget.

I drank to stuff it all away and keep it in that box, where it belonged. The thought of those people’s actions affecting my children fills me with a rage so deep and vast that it scares me. I drank to numb the rage.

In sobriety, I’m being forced to process through trauma from 18 years ago without anything to numb the anger, fear, and sadness. I’m not going to lie: it sucks. I’m sad. Sometimes I cry for no reason. I’m experiencing all the feelings now, that I should have had then, because I refused to acknowledge any of my feelings after it happened. What I did do, was allow the local police to photograph my face and my room. I took my attackers to court. I sat in a plastic chair next to my parents in the courthouse while the girls, plus their parents, brothers, and my now ex-boyfriend filled a bunch of other plastic seats and stared at me.

The parents of the girls called everyone who knew me and said I was crazy, that their daughters would NEVER do that. “She beat herself up,” they said.

Yeah, okay.

Trauma causes shame. Even though what happened to me was not my fault, I still feel shame, and shame feeds addiction.

Today, I am choosing to write my own ending to this story. I can’t control what other people have done to me or said about me, but I can control my reaction.

I used to drink. I don’t anymore.

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My daughter is pretty bad ass.

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What I’ve Learned In Six Months

Six months ago, I took my last drink.

I didn’t really believe that it was going to be my last drink, since I wasn’t yet fully on board with the idea that I am an alcoholic, and occasionally when I’m feeling really sorry for myself, I fantasize about all the different ways I would have done my last one differently.

Sometimes I get the feeling that people who aren’t in recovery think that sobriety is something that just happens to a person. It does not just happen.

Getting and staying sober is the hardest, most painful work I’ve ever done. It’s harder than all of the other hard things I’ve publicly written or privately whispered about. It is an exhaustive shedding of my former self, a dissection of every component of my personality that makes me want to reach for a bottle of whatever will drown out the thoughts echoing through my brain that tell me I AM NOT ENOUGH.

It is a systematic dismantling of what I believe to be true about myself.

It is complete surrender to an unfamiliar way of life.

It is saying, daily, “I don’t understand why I’m like this, but I want to be better. Help me be better.”

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Six months.

Sometimes I really resent the hell out of my situation. Cramming recovery into an already overflowing schedule can be very difficult. Sometimes I get mad at my best friend when I’m ranting to her about how stupid everyone is and she responds with, “Have you meditated today?”

INFURIATING.

But also, she’s right.

This process isn’t just about putting my sobriety before everything else and learning how to cope with the stresses of life in a healthy way. It’s about learning how to stop myself from boarding the crazy train. The things other people do or say that have always made me inappropriately upset? There’s a reason why! And guess what? I CAN FIX IT! I can re-train my brain not to immediately jump to irrational conclusions (my favorite is “Robbie thinks I’m boring and regrets marrying me,” or, “I am not and never will be good enough at anything I try to do.”)

There is hope.

All of us struggle with some kind of sickness. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be terminal.

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Back To School (Sober)

My big kids started school yesterday, entering 1st and 4th grade without new sneakers. This happens every year; I tell myself we will be better prepared next time, and before I know it, it’s August again.

I’ve historically blamed my lack of back-to-school planning on external factors beyond my control, like finances, but the truth is, I obsess over things that don’t matter (dirty dishes in the sink, the emotional state of the family pet, the clarity of my skin) and ignore the things that do.

The truth is, we have — well, had — the money for new shoes, but I spent it on something that didn’t matter. It mattered in the moment, certainly. That’s what always happens. I don’t drink or take pills anymore, but I still make terrible decisions. Some people call this irresponsibility, but I think it’s more like misplaced responsibility. I have no idea why I do this, but I have high hopes that working a recovery program will help me sort it out.

Please note: I HAVE A LOT OF REDEEMING QUALITIES.

This is my first back-to-school experience as a sober mother. I don’t know if my family can see a difference since I got sober almost 6 months ago, but I certainly feel different. Yesterday, I stood at the end of our driveway with my sons, holding a cup of coffee, waiting for the school bus to arrive.

After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, I announced that I would drive them to school. My littlest was awake and had already dressed herself in a pair of inside-out pants, so all I had to do was unlock the van and tell them to load up.

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First day of school, August 2017.

 

Maverick is almost 9. He, more than anyone, knows what life used to be like, before therapy and diagnoses and I quit drinking. If anyone is going to notice changes, it’s him. He’s my barometer.

As we sat in the carpool line, I commented, “This isn’t that bad of a wait — if y’all would rather not ride the bus this year, I could drive you to school.”

“Wait — what?” Maverick’s eyes were wide.

“I don’t mind driving you. Unless you want to ride the bus. Just think about it, and let me know! It’s no big deal either way.”

I looked into the rear view mirror. My big boy, all arms and legs and overgrown, shaggy hair — another back-to-school task that didn’t get accomplished on time — was looking at me quietly.

“I thought you didn’t want to drive us,” he said, lowering his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean … you always seemed like you couldn’t do it.”

I turned around and put my hand on his knee. I knew what he meant. It’s not that I couldn’t physically drive them in the mornings — there was nothing I couldn’t do without the help of an extra-strong cup of coffee and a pair of sunglasses — but I lived in such a constant state of stress that any unforeseen circumstance or extra task would send me over the edge. I was always one event away from a nervous breakdown, and my kids could sense that. I mean, obviously.

I looked at him, dead in the eyes, and studied his face for a long time. A car honked behind us. I continued to look at him.

“I can.”

And he smiled.

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Progress Report

It probably means something that the intake form I printed and filled out in preparation for my therapy appointment has a big ol’ wine ring on it.

This was something I wrote last year, when I was floundering in depression and didn’t know how to get better. The intake paperwork sent to me from a potential therapist in town overwhelmed me, because everything overwhelmed me: the laundry, my kids, money, unforeseen circumstances, forms sent home to me in my children’s backpacks.

I found life overwhelming.

So, I tried therapy. But the thing about therapy — and self-help in general — is that if you aren’t completely honest about what’s really going on, how is anyone supposed to be able to truly help you? I sat in several different, very nice offices in town and spoke about my difficulties; those sitting across from me were kind, albeit confused, about why I was struggling so hard to cope.

No one asked me if I was an alcoholic. Why would they? I clearly have my shit together. (Sidenote: I clearly do not have my shit together.)

I kept the truth about the scale of my drinking to myself — after all, the thought of giving up alcohol was more overwhelming that anything life was throwing at me. It simply was not an option.

The biggest lesson I’m learning in recovery is that when people are in addiction of any kind, they don’t know how to stop doing that thing that they’ve been doing for so long. Asking an addict to stop drinking or using is a lot like asking someone to stop breathing or eating or sleeping. How is that done? How will we survive?

My last drink was on February 28, 2017, and I still have to talk myself through taking a shower, blow drying my hair, and putting on clothes every day. Some days are worse that others. Sometimes, I require a nap in the afternoon or a good cry mid-day. I have gained 12 pounds from eating my feelings. THERE ARE SO MANY FEELINGS.

I started exercising because I need the endorphins, and then it occurred to me that I haven’t fed myself normally, meaning in a non-disordered way, since high school. It’s time for me to re-learn how to care for myself: the care and feeding of a 37-year-old woman. It’s amazing how eating the right things at the right time can pep a person right up.

Amazing.

We — and I’m talking about myself as well as other people who struggle with substance abuse — are brain-damaged people. We’ve re-wired our brains in our addiction, and reversing brain damage is no easy task, but the miracle is that it can be done.

Today is day 138.

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Learning How To Forgive Myself

Last year, my oldest son and I were out running errands by ourselves. Sometimes I do that — taking just one child to the post office is surprisingly enjoyable, especially if compared to that one time when I took all three of them.

Maverick is a delight. He’s bright and engaged and it’s almost like having another adult around, except that this adult asks a nonstop string of deep and complicated questions and talks about penises a lot. He’s intense, but so am I, which means that we generally knock out our to-do list very quickly when we’re working together.

On this particular day, we were discussing how he was 3 years old when we moved to Louisiana. He commented that it’s weird how he can remember our old house in Alabama, but he doesn’t recall the process of moving down here.

That was a dark time in our lives, and I am thankful that he doesn’t remember it. We moved back to Baton Rouge because I was about to lose my mind in a literal way that would involve hospitalization. Maverick’s little brother was only 7 months old, but it felt like he had been crying for 7 years. I was suffering from some major postpartum desperation — that’s a diagnosis that I made up — and Robbie was working in car sales and was rarely home. Maverick started chewing holes in his shirts and gnawing on his fingernails, probably because his brother cried almost all the time and his mother was always yelling or completely stressed out.

After a moment, I said, “Maverick, I am so sorry that I didn’t know back then how to help you. I didn’t know how your brain works.”

He replied quietly, “I’ve gotten into trouble my whole life.”

It took a lot of self-control for me to hold myself together in that moment. He was right, of course. I didn’t understand his behavior, and thinking he just needed more discipline, I doubled down. There are hundreds of reasons behind how things happened the way that they did, and I’m not deep enough into recovery to even go there yet.

I’m sure later that day, after we got home, I gave him a big hug and told him again that I would do better. We have a diagnosis. We have therapy and medication and knowledge. That night, I’m sure I drank to erase the constant, heavy, nagging guilt. I’m positive I drank to quiet the voices that tell me that I’ve screwed up my kid, inflicted permanent damage, that everything that is and ever will be wrong is all my fault.

In sobriety, I am struggling to learn how to forgive myself for what I didn’t know before today. I have to give myself grace for mistakes that I’ve made that affected other people. I’ve always felt like I was truly doing the best I knew how, always — so why is it to hard to show myself some compassion?

I don’t know why, but I’ll tell you what: today, I am grateful to know more than I knew yesterday.

A local magazine published a piece I wrote about addiction and recovery. If you’re interested in reading an online version, you can find it here.

Maverick is the most proud of me, by the way. We are each other’s biggest fans.

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My oldest is very proud.

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Learning To Be Different

I have recently come to grips with the fact that I am a perfectionistic, uptight person who is way too hard on herself and has a very narrow view of what her life is supposed to look like.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this.

When something in my life feels out of my control — and there is literally ALWAYS something bothering me that is out of my control — I have to do something about it. I have to take action, even if that action has absolutely zero effect on the situation. I recently said out loud in a room full of strangers that the scariest thing a control freak can do is have three children, but I also believe that having those children is what will keep me from relapsing. If it were just me and Robbie, and no children, who knows how bad things would have gotten. I wouldn’t have three little people watching me, copying my behaviors, and adapting my fucked up coping mechanisms.

I wouldn’t have a good enough reason to get better.

In the past, my coping included cleaning the house while raging at my family about how messy they are, when in fact, they are just normal people. I would drink to make myself stop obsessing over what I could not control. I would put entirely too much makeup on or nitpick myself to death or yell obscenities or unjustly pick fights with people in my life. I felt personally victimized by minor inconveniences. I was not grateful.

***

“It seems like motherhood is a big source of stress for you.”

My therapist shifted in her seat as she waited for me to respond, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs. I wondered if she was starting to get that tingly feeling that happens just before a limb shuts down.

“I would say so, yes,” I said quietly.

***

Four months into sobriety, I am slowly, painfully, learning how to be different.

I’ve started working again, doing freelance work which is mostly me talking about being sober while also being a parent. My latest essay is one I’m very proud of, and you can find it here.

We have the strength we need to make it through today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today, right now, we are okay, and for that I am learning to be very, very grateful.

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@audreyhayworth discovered that it’s really hard to find greeting cards for people in recovery, so she made one for me herself. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system. I still haven’t found the right words to describe all of the people in my life who are making it their business to help me stay sober, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

For now, no words. Just thanks.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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Ninety Days Sober And I’m Still Here

I’m 90 days sober. This has been the longest, most painful, humbling, frightening, and eye-opening experience of my life.

When I first became a mother, I remember thinking that childbirth was the most painful, humbling, frightening and eye-opening experience of my life. It’s empowering to bring life into the world. The fragility and toughness of babies and vaginas and just the whole motherhood thing really blows my mind. But this.

This.

I was so walled over with addiction, resentment, and pride, so deep into self-medicating to avoid reality, that I had no idea how messed up I was. I still don’t know how messed up I still am, even 2,160 hours into recovery. I don’t know how long or for what reasons I stayed there, hiding from my life, avoiding the discomfort of uncomfortable emotions. I liked it there, in the dark. It felt safe. I mean, a baby feels safe cocooned in utero, but for the sake of her own life, she must eventually experience birth.

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Maya Angelou is my jam.

I’ve had 90 nights of going to bed sober, falling asleep peacefully, knowing exactly where I am and without fear of needing to jump out of bed to throw up.

I’ve opened my eyes on 90 mornings without a hangover. For 90 evenings I have been able to put my kids to bed sober, without stumbling down the hall, dropping my phone because I’m too drunk to find the light switch, or spilling wine all over my pajamas. I ruined a lot of pajamas, because the thing about me when I’d been drinking is that I drank to not care about things like spilling wine on my pajamas. I certainly never had the foresight to spray stain remover on anything.

I am 10 pounds heavier because sobriety is a cold-hearted bitch. She’s not cutting me any slack, and that’s okay, because right now it’s better for me to be fat and sober than not as fat, but also drunk. Please excuse me while I try not to think about Dark Chocolate M&M’s.

Motherhood used to feel hard.

It’s really not that hard.

Sobriety is hard, but it’s making everything else easier.

Day 90

Photo credit: Maverick Hobbs, age 8

Hells yeah.

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Life As A Sober Mother

My writing is so sporadic now that I’m sober. I used to have a routine: get the kids off to school, gulp a few cups of coffee, take an amphetamine, and write. I was fast, certainly. I continued to meet deadlines under some really bizarre circumstances, which is part of why I was able to keep my addictions a secret for such a long time.

In sobriety, my urges to write are calmer and my thoughts have more clarity. I like to think that when I make it to the other side of this phase of being newly sober, I’ll actually be better at my job, but time will tell. In the meantime, I have to tell you about a man named John.

John is quirky and old and speaks metaphorically. I noticed his unusual behavior right away and identified him as an autistic even before he mentioned it. His mannerisms and verbiage gave it away – I know what to look for. John is a retired university professor. He wears suspenders and large spectacles and calls himself a feminist. Sometimes he wears ironic t-shirts and carries a briefcase. He stoops over a little.

I like John.

Part of the dilemma I face as a sober mother is the fact that I have a child who was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and even though we already know that parenthood doesn’t come with a handbook, if it did, parenting a child on the spectrum would mean that I would have to throw that hypothetical handbook into the garbage can and set fire to it.

And also? I have no idea how to be a parent sober. I also don’t know how to be a sober wife, a friend, or a human being, because I have spent the past 15 years (with a few brief breaks known as pregnancy) numbing my feelings with alcohol. Some days, I just hug my kids a lot and feed them Pop-Tarts and call it good. A sober mother isn’t perfect, but she is present.

Maverick’s psychologist told me when he first presented us with the diagnosis that we needed to toss out everything we thought we knew about parenting. We are truly starting over from scratch, and I have a lot of wrongs that I need to make right. It’s kind of nice to just sit next to my 8-year-old and admit out loud that life is really hard but it’s also beautiful, and it’s going to be okay because we are finally on the right track. I think both of us are relieved, each in our own way, to finally have a label to attach to ourselves. There is freedom in having a concrete reason why I feel like I don’t belong anywhere, even though that reason is that I’m an alcoholic.

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I know I need to clear away the old ideas I had about what should be expected from my child (and from me), but I still feel like I’m rooted down in fear. Letting go of my old ideas means that I have to figure out what to do instead.

WHERE IS MY AUTISM PARENTING HANDBOOK?

Oh, that’s right. There isn’t one.

Today, I told John about Maverick. His eyes misted over and he leaned down intently, looked me directly in the face, and said the following words:

“You need to nurture him.

You need to let him rage and wail and say all of the things that the rest of the world will never understand. Let him feel safe with you. Be there for him. Nurture him. I can see that you’re a good mother. Forget about all the things you did wrong before today. Stop beating yourself up over the past.

Nurture your son – that’s what he needs from you.”

I’ve never talked to a man on the spectrum before about my spectrumy kid, but I am so, so glad I did. I gained so much insight from a brief conversation, and I left feeling like maybe what I’ve been doing is good enough, after all.

Nurture him. I can do that today.

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60 Days At A Time

Today is day 60 of my recovery from drugs and alcohol.

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I post a lot of upbeat photos of me smiling, like this one, because I really am proud of myself and happy with where this journey is taking me … except when I’m not.

Recovering from addiction is painful and exhausting. I have to do things I don’t want to do. I have to center my life around recovery, which is really hard when kids are in the picture. It’s very easy for me to find distractions or excuses to get me out of things I should be doing. I’m just going to spell it out: this sucks. A lot.

My recovery means that I’m spending a lot of my time going to meetings or therapy sessions, completing assignments, and working steps. It’s a lot of self-reflection and quiet time left alone with my thoughts, which is LITERALLY THE WORST. It means that I spend a lot of mental energy allowing myself to feel feelings rather than masking them. It means that I text my friends and ask them things like, “Do you think I should start smoking pot? I mean, it’s basically legal.”

They always say no, and I always get mad.

I’m mad that I can’t smoke or drink or do anything that would make my feelings seem less … feely. I’m mad that people are all up in my business about what I’m doing and where I’m going, which is essentially why I’ve been so open about my recovery, because if no one knew I was sober then I could very easily slip back into it. Now that everyone knows, NO ONE WILL LEAVE ME ALONE AND LET ME GET DRUNK. That makes me mad.

And then, I get grateful.

Recently, I spoke up in front of a group of people and said that this is not how my life was supposed to turn out. I mean, seriously — what is this bullshit? THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

But, I’m learning very slowly that it really is supposed to be this way, and it is this way for a very good reason. I just don’t know it yet.

One day at a time.

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The Process of Unlearning

You know how moms always seem to put the needs of their children above their own? No? Then this post probably isn’t for you.

For those of you who are still reading, I have a recurring urinary tract infection because I tend to hold my pee longer than I should, because I am a procrastinator and also because I have a 3-year-old.

I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, too, but children who are three really do not care how badly you have to pee. Children who are three wait until your bladder feels like it may burst and then they break a dish, throw up on the carpet, or run into the street.

By now, I’m a champ at putting my own bodily functions on hold, not because I enjoy it, because I really don’t at all, but because that’s what moms have to do. We put our bodies, needs, and selves aside sometimes in order to keep other human beings alive, and then we resent the hell out of the men in our lives who wander around seemingly oblivious to our reality.

That habit of putting oneself on the back burner is a slippery slope. I used to think that I was pretty good at self-care, but it’s probably no surprise that I really wasn’t. I may be good at hygiene, but I’m terrible at mindfulness, dealing with uncomfortable feelings, doing anything in moderation, and I don’t even want to talk about my health. I haven’t had a pap smear in almost 4 years.

It was gradual, but my slide downhill was steady and unrelenting, and the more stressful life became for me, the farther down I went. Before I could stop the momentum, I was a functioning alcoholic and pill-popper. I don’t know when I crossed the line between normal and abnormal behavior, because to me, it’s all blurry. I was in a perpetual survival mode for years.

Getting sober is a journey in unlearning everything I thought I knew about life. That’s like, seriously daunting. At least once per day, I get into my bed and hide under the covers and wish that I could just go back to how things were. Change is hard and the looming unknown is terrifying to a control freak with anxiety issues, but I’m stubborn, and I am going to do this.

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Today while the kids were in school I watched an entire season of Catastrophe on Amazon. In bed. Without pants.

My whole body is puffy, probably because my liver and kidneys are like, WTF, where are the alcohol and the chemicals that we have grown so fond of?

I have no idea how to do anything, so I just keep doing the same things over and over. The things that I know work, one day at a time.

P.S. Hobbs & Hayworth made an announcement this week. If you’re interested in seeing THAT, here it is. Every time I got uncomfortable, I pet the dog.

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The Miracle of Breathing

All this time I thought I was a highly-driven person, because I throw myself 100% into everything I do, but the truth is, I’m really just an addict.

The most gung-ho, passionate, charismatic, caring people in this world are probably addicts, too.  But don’t worry, we have a lot of redeemable qualities. I have an addictive personality. I prefer to call myself “passionate,” but what it really is, is that I LIKE WHAT I LIKE.

I’m a little over a month into sobriety and I am happy and calm for the first time in a really long time. Like, longer than I can remember. In fact, my entire household is happier and calmer, which means that the chaos I was drinking to cope with was largely MY OWN FUCKING FAULT.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s really sad, insane, shocking, and embarrassing how big of an effect my addictions had on the people around me. I may not have gotten arrested, lost my marriage, or had my children taken away from me like some people that I’ve encountered, but my actions still changed the tone of my home. I told myself that what I was doing wasn’t hurting anyone else, but that was a lie.

It was.

Out of all my attempts at getting parenting right, getting sober is the most important thing I’ve done. After all, I have to put my oxygen mask on before I can help anyone else learn to breathe.

I took a picture of myself today, day 37. I look better. I feel better.

Here’s to breathing.

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Enter a caption

 

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When The Moon Wakes Up

“Is the moon awake?”

“Almost.”

“Is the sun asleep?”

“It’s going to sleep right now … just like you.”

Pepper smiles then, content, smashing the ear of her bunny rabbit lovey into one eyelid while staring at me with the other. I kiss her, whisper goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall to the computer.

As soon as I open the browser and begin working, I hear her socked feet running down the hall. I stop typing. She peeks in.

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

29 evenings ago, just like every other evening of her life before I took my last drink on February 28, I would have been irritated. I told myself that I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood, that I needed the alcohol to power through rough evenings with three kids on my own without losing my cool. But the truth is, I lost my cool all the time. Alcohol didn’t make me a better mother.

It took nearly a month of detox before I gained the clarity necessary to realize that I’ve cheated my children out of having a sober mother for almost 9 years.

I truly believe that it’s possible to drink like a normal person, it’s just that I’m not able to. Alcoholism is deceitful. It tries to tell me that I’m normal — don’t I seem normal? — and that I can train myself to drink in moderation, if I want to. It tells me that I simply need more willpower. I need to be stronger, and then, I would be okay.

I could win.

Thinking about living the rest of my life sober makes me feel all kinds of feelings that probably aren’t normal or appropriate. I imagine I might feel similarly if I developed a dairy allergy and were facing an uncertain future that did not include real butter, but only if I also held a deep conviction that real butter was the only thing tethering me to sanity.

That’s my relationship with alcohol.

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Me and my smallest.

Slowly, as my body heals from years of abuse and my emotions and soul are restored to a normal state, I am realizing that a great deal of the grief I’ve experienced in motherhood was self-inflicted.

Mothers hold the keys to the emotional health of their household. I knew this, which is why I have been trying so damn hard to get it right. I put enormous pressure on myself to parent effectively, to do the right thing, and I kept failing — which made me drink more. And more. And more. The alcohol numbed me and chipped away at me and distorted my perceptions and clouded my judgment.

That’s not what happens to normal drinkers. That’s what happens to people who drink to completely obliterate their sadness.

***

Pepper waits by the door as I stand up and take her by the hand.

“I forgot to say goodnight to you when you said it to me,” she whispered. “So I came to tell you goodnight, Mommy.”

“The moon’s awake now,” I whispered. And we padded down the hall.

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This Is What Gratitude Feels Like

I am 25 days sober, and I feel amazing.

For a full 3 weeks, I felt almost debilitated. I was depressed, lethargic, and miserable. I had nausea, night sweats, and diarrhea. Some days I literally had to talk myself through putting pants on, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.

Are you asking yourself what I mean by “talking myself through putting pants on?” Here’s an example of how I shuffled through my days:

What’s the next right thing?

Putting on pants. I have to get some pants and put them on.

My pants are on. What’s the next right thing?

I need to get my purse. Okay, I have my purse.

What’s the next right thing? I need to find my kids.

Where are my kids?

Shit.

***

That’s what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking after her body becomes accustomed to metabolizing a bottle of wine per day; the body goes into some sort of shock, and trust me, my detox process went a lot better than most. My emotions literally rocketed between intense depression and elation every 5 minutes. I’d go from feeling like sobbing from joy, to wanting to rip our neighbor’s shrubbery out of the ground with my bare hands because I WAS JUST THAT MAD. Mad at myself, mad at the world, and most of all, mad that I will never be able to drink alcohol again without an ugly relapse and even uglier recovery.

Change is scary and it’s hard, but now that I’m starting to feel better, I’m excited to get my life in order. Prior to this, getting my life in order meant going to Office Depot and finding color-coded sticky notes and file folders to keep our paperwork organized. Then I would get drunk and throw a bunch of important papers away because, well, I was drunk, and that’s just how I like to organize sometimes. Throwing everything away means that the mess is permanently filed and I won’t ever see it again.

That’s just how my mind works.

It’s ridiculous that at 37 years old, I’m going to have to re-learn how to cope with the difficulties of life — grief and pain and abandonment and loss and the everyday stress that accompanies motherhood. Maybe I never knew how to handle those things in the first place, and that’s what landed me in a 12-step program. The hows and why don’t matter. I just want to get better.

There are people in my life who don’t believe I’m an alcoholic. There are people who think I’m making it up for attention (please note: this is not the kind of attention you want). Let me share something with you guys: not one of us lives a pain-free, perfectly happy life. Not one. People often assume that because I smile a lot, I’m either stupid or don’t have anything bad going on. The truth is, no one knows anything about me that I don’t want them to know. As much as I freely share in person and online, there are many layers to my story and my days that I keep private. I think most people are like that. We only share what we feel safe sharing, and we may take the rest to our grave.

***

This morning I had coffee outside with two of my favorite people, and I noticed that 25 days into my new life as a sober person, the air feels different. Breathing feels different. It’s like I’ve been living in a musty, dark basement for years, and someone patiently helped me climb the stairs up and out of a situation that I didn’t even know was bad until I saw the sun and felt the warmth of it on my face.

That is what gratitude feels like.

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I told Robbie that if someone had to pick which of us looked like they are in a 12-step program, it would not be me. AND YET.

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No One Is Fine

Regarding sobriety: it sucks. I cannot believe that people voluntarily feel uncomfortable feelings. It’s the worst.

Avoiding and numbing is the bomb. Now that the 12-step program tells me I can’t continue doing what I normally do in order to avoid feeling my feelings, I’ve just been lying around the house eating chocolate syrup directly from the bottle.

My mother is sick and I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings because I have three little kids to care for and I don’t have time to be sad, as ludicrous as that sounds. I haven’t allowed myself to feel feelings about much of anything, really, for almost 9 years. But I’ve been running from my feelings for over 18 years, doing everything under the sun to avoid them.

You know what I’d advise against? Doing that.

Knowing that women have the tendency to put themselves last, I have always prided myself on my ability to make self-care a priority. I shower, I take time away from my house and my kids, I do things that make me feel whole as a human being. Except for one thing: I do not, have not, given myself permission to feel much of anything.

Here are some things (excuses) I’ve been known to say out loud:

I don’t have time to be sad! I have kids to take care of!

I don’t have time to be depressed!

I don’t have time to grieve! 

I’m fine. I can just power through this.

I don’t have time to be sick!

I don’t have time to take a nap!

I don’t have time to process my emotions right now. I’ll just deal with them later.

I’m fine.

I’ll be fine.

Everything’s fine.

These are lies, all lies. No one is fine. I am not fine. I need a thousand naps and several dozen boxes of Kleenex and hours upon hours of therapy. I need jellybeans but I don’t need jellybeans.

I need to feel things because I’m a person and people have emotions that require processing. Motherhood is not an excuse to avoid this process.  Somehow, I’m going to have to learn how to give myself permission to feel shit that I don’t want to feel, while at the same time functioning as a mother and member of society. Women stuff shit down and stuff shit down and then, BAM! We’re alcoholics or bulimics or shopaholics.

Today, I don’t want to stop self-medicating. I miss it. I mean, I really, REALLY miss it. But you know what? It’s been almost 3 weeks, and I’m too stubborn to backslide. I’m going to sit with these feelings that are weighing me down like lead and I’m going to allow myself the time to work through them. And I’m probably going to hate every minute of it.

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I would source this image if I had a clue where it came from.

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My Struggles Are His Struggles

When a woman decides that she is ready to take charge of her life and turn the metaphorical ship around, it’s very empowering.

In the first few days of sobriety I was extremely proud of myself. Check this out! Look at how I just dropped my addictions like a bad habit! Friends, family and internet strangers backed me up with their applause. You’re a rock star! We’re so proud of you! You can do it!

At some point in the past 17 days, the fog lifted just enough for me to make several observations, not one of them pretty.

I’m much worse off than I realized. My body is still detoxing. I may have damaged my health permanently. My soul is, like, NOT RIGHT.

My pride is what rooted me to alcohol, and fear was the soil it drank from.

When all is stripped away, when I stand in the mirror and see myself bare — without makeup or sturdy undergarments, without the things that suppressed my deepest, darkest demons and hid them from everyone, including myself —  what is left? Examining myself under a bright fluorescent light has never, ever, been something I enjoy.

The truth is that I lost myself a very long time ago, and although I’d like to find my way back to that person again, I’m worried I won’t like her. Change is scary. And what about Robbie? What will he think of the new me? I expressed my concern to him the other night and he laughed.

“I fell in love with messed up Harmony,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure I’ll like the new one.”

Robbie didn’t know when he met me how messed up I was. He fell in love with my spirit, just like I fell in love with his. When I start feeling angry about things like my past, my circumstances, the old white men in the 12-step meetings who stare at me like I’m a chunk of meat with no other purpose than to fulfill their perverted desires, my sponsor makes me send her a list of 10 things that I’m grateful for.

My lists vary daily, but always, always on that list is my husband. My addictions are his addictions, my struggles are his struggles, and tomorrow he’s going with me to a meeting, because that’s how a bad ass husband supports his alcoholic wife.

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Meet Robbie.

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What I Treasure

I had my first drink on December 26, 1992, on my 13th birthday. I was wearing a black velvet dress with a satin bow at the waist. We were in San Antonio for a wedding, and someone handed me a mimosa.

On February 26, 2017, I had my last drink. I didn’t know it was my last drink. It makes me sad that I didn’t make an occasion out of it, honestly. It was just what was left of a bottle of red, poured into a high ball glass with a unicorn on it. If I’d known it would be my last drink, I may have savored it more. Or, maybe I would have gone to the store for a bottle of vodka and really thrown down. It’s hard to say.

Nine days later, I went to my first 12-step meeting. I did not want to go. I’ve felt feelings of shame and dread before, but nothing like this. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic. I am ashamed that I’m an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life. I’m ashamed that I am an alcoholic who has not had that bad of a life, who also has a beautiful family to come home to every day.

I dread the process of getting better, because I know it’s going to be hard.

I dread the pain of shifting relationships.

And I’ll just come right out and say it: I dread the discomfort of growing as a person. I dread the arduous process of self-evaluation and feeling all the feelings I’ve stuffed down for so long. I dread fully knowing what I have done to my body and soul for the past 15 years.

 

How did I get here and what changed? That’s a story I’m not ready to tell. The important thing is, I do not look or act like an alcoholic. I’m well put-together. I have a home. I have a family. I put makeup on every day. I’m a good parent and friend. I have a successful writing career and a happy marriage.

There is no way to know what people are struggling with in the quiet.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is picky about her friendships, preferring quality over quantity, and announcing via social media that I’m in a 12-step program has weeded out a LOT of undesirable people. I can practically hear the whispers from here: Harmony’s an ALCOHOLIC. Did you see that?! I neeeeeeeever would have imagined she was … you know … an alkie.

THAT’S RIGHT, BITCHES. I can hear you talking, so I’m going to answer you. I am a full-fledged, raging alcoholic. Alcohol dulls my pain like nothing else, but it also damn near ruined my life. I’m approaching my recovery by taking full ownership of all of it. The ugly, the funny, the sad, the embarrassing and the foolish.

What kind of mother allows herself to become an alcoholic?

Me. I did.

This afternoon, I was going through my son’s school papers when I came across this essay he wrote. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting my favorite parts.

Essay

I really needed this today.

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Hello, My Name Is Harmony

Hello. My name is Harmony and I’m an alcoholic.

(This is where everyone is supposed to say, “Hi, Harmony.”)

I’ve spent the past several years building a platform online, establishing myself as a writer, and doing my best to be a woman who lives her life authentically. People read my work because they know that whatever I’m saying, and however I’m saying it, I’m speaking the truth.

Up until 12 days ago, my truth was that I looked to alcohol and other things to keep me sane, and why not?! My life is ridiculous. It’s a shit show. Don’t I deserve to have a glass or five of wine at the end of the day? OF COURSE I DO.

Except that, for me, alcohol isn’t something I can do on occasion or in moderation. Alcoholism is a disease, and even people who appear to have their shit together in every single way can suffer from it quietly, without anyone else knowing. I don’t look like an alcoholic, I don’t act like an alcoholic, and it is only by the grace of God that I’ve never killed someone on the road.

Today is March 10 and I am 12 days sober. This is the beginning of my journey to recovery. Be nice to me, dammit.

There is a lot I’m not ready to share yet. But I want you all to know that every single comment, message, text, email and prayer sent my way has helped me in ways I can’t even describe. Addiction feels hopeless, but knowing that people truly are pulling for me is a reminder that it is not.

I’m going to face getting sober in the same way I’ve faced every other thing in my life: one thousand percent balls to the wall. I’m going to harness the time and energy I spent on drinking and focus it on getting better. I am going to beat this.

So, if you want to join me on my journey, stick around. I’ll be making jokes about sobriety and sharing tips on how to build a support system. But, if that’s not your bag, I understand. I don’t know if it would have been mine, either, 13 days ago.

I love you all,
Harmony

The Blinding Freaking Sun of Sobriety

Today I am 8 days sober. It feels like shit.

I cry all the time. Everything is so clear and so loud that it literally hurts. I’ve been cycling through the process of numbing and recovering from numbing, only to do it all again 12 hours later, for so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience pure emotion.

Pure emotion is overwhelming. It feels like blinding light after emerging from a very dark cave. My hands are literally clamped over my eyes in an effort to block out the BLINDING FREAKING SUN OF SOBRIETY. It hurts. I’m stumbling. I don’t know how to get where I’m going, because I don’t know where that is; I only know that I don’t want to go backward.

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I’m attempting to take up running. It’s terrible.

I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from her own life or her own feelings, and yet somehow I became exactly that. Facing myself honestly has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, which scares me a lot because it’s only been 8 days and I’m already kind of exhausted.

I started numbing a long time ago, before I met Robbie, before I became a mother. It took a full 18 years to cycle through the process of drinking socially to binge drinking to drinking to completely block out reality.

The first time Robbie and I hung out outside of work, I got so drunk that he had to drive me home.

The second time, we went on a proper date to Applebee’s in the middle of the day. He walked up to the Customer Service counter at the grocery store where we both worked, leaned against the lotto machines, and said, “I want to take you to lunch.”

Somehow, we saw each other. Everyone thought Robbie was an asshole because he has no affect. He lacks emotional expression, both facially and verbally. He literally has a poker face almost 100% of the time. Back then, it was intriguing. Almost 14 years later, it drives me crazy.

Most people interpreted his lack of affect as rudeness, but I liked it. I thought he was non-emotional because he was aloof and self-confident. He wouldn’t need me to fulfill something that was lacking in his life. He would not try to fix me.

I was right — he didn’t try to fix me. He fell in love with me as I was, even though I drank too much and I was addicted to diet pills. When I didn’t take them, I acted like a complete and total lunatic.

He loved me anyway.

He loved how smart and funny I am. He loved how I see him, like he sees me. If the people who can truly see me believe that I can do this, then I believe that I can. I just hope that they’ll still love me by the time it’s all over.

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Today Is Day Five

“Own the story and write the ending.” 

– Brene′ Brown

“Do you think I’m an alcoholic?”

Every time I asked my husband or my friends this question, they said no. After all, alcoholics drive drunk and careen into oncoming traffic. They smash through their neighbor’s flowerbeds, over mailboxes and people. They get arrested.

Alcoholics black out and vomit and forget to shower themselves before going in public. They reek of vodka.

Alcoholics ruin their relationships because they choose alcohol over love, safety, and their bank account. This did not describe me — not yet, anyway. I only met 8 out of the 10 criterion on the “Am I An Alcoholic?” quiz that I took online. I was an 80% alcoholic who has literally scrounged together pocket change to buy a bottle of $5.99 wine on more than one occasion.

Let me be clear: my reasons for loving wine are iron-clad. If I were to make a list of all the reasons why I need to throw a few back at the end of the day, you’d probably need a drink by the time you were finished reading it. The problem is, though, that as my life has gradually become more stressful, my drinking also increased. What was once a glass or two a few times a week grew to half a bottle of wine, plus a few shots of whiskey. Eventually, it became a whole bottle of wine, every night.

What will happen if something really bad happens? Will I start drinking at breakfast?

I rarely felt hungover. I’m hardy. Sometimes I felt foggy, yes, but never unable to function. I still got up early in the morning, drank a pot of coffee, and began the day per usual. But increasingly, I panicked if I ran out of wine. I’d frantically text my husband to stop at the store on the way home. I NEEDED it. I didn’t know how else to exist.

Alcoholics don’t materialize in one day, after all.

This my fifth day sober. It’s not so much the not drinking that I’m struggling with, but acknowledging the emotions that I’ve been drinking to avoid. We medicate to protect ourselves from ourselves. Living without that barrier is, frankly, terrifying.

Today, I’m owning my story. The ending is within my control.

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Day five!

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Lessons In Body Acceptance

Yesterday, my 8-year-old and I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. While waiting, he checked his weight and blood pressure on a fancy machine that I’ve never seen there before. When I realized that the machine also checked Body Mass Index, I told him I wanted to weigh myself. As the numbers flashed on the screen, I swallowed hard.

“Is that really how much you weigh?!” His mouth was literally hanging open in shock, because little boys who weigh 68 pounds have no idea how much adults are supposed to weigh. Also, I’ve been stress eating for literally 6 months straight, so you do the math.

I forced myself to erase all emotion from my face and voice as I chirped “Yep!” and got off the scale with as much dignity as one can muster in the pharmacy waiting area of a Rite-Aid drug store.

I wanted to say that I need to lose 15 pounds.

I wanted to say that I feel fat and gross and I need to take better care of myself.

I wanted to say that I’m healthy, I exercise, and it’s just a number.

I wanted to apologize, explain, or drill into his head that it’s never okay to speak about a woman’s weight.

Most of all, I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and say NEVER REPEAT THAT NUMBER TO ANYONE, DO YOU HEAR ME????

Instead, I smiled, put my arm around him, and we walked out of the store. The first step in teaching our children self-confidence is to demonstrate it, even if we have to fake our way through it sometimes. It makes me wonder how many times my own mother masked her true feelings in order to teach me lessons in body acceptance.

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Image via Courtney Privett. Find her on Facebook here!

My weight is a number that changes every day, my weight does not define me as a person, and my job as a mother is to instill in my children what things actually matter in life.

That number is not one of those things.

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Lift Women Up (or get out of their way)

I have long considered myself a champion of women. One of the most fulfilling parts of being a writer is empowering others to own their truth by sharing mine.

Honesty is strength; sharing our struggles with each other allows us to be vulnerable. It heals and encourages us. It is one of the million tiny steps that it takes to travel from darkness to hope, and every time I’m honest, I grow stronger — which makes the risk of truth-telling worth it.

Ever since becoming a mother, I have made it my mission to speak truthfully about the beauty and the bullshit of parenthood. I know that one day, my kids will probably read my work and either end up in therapy because of it, or become inspired to write their own truth. Mothers carry so much invisible emotional weight on their shoulders. Weight that no one will ever understand or see, because it comes from places that cannot accurately be imagined or described.

Today, I’m going to try.

I fear that my daughter will one day fall in love with a boy who has a crazy family. This fear is rooted in the fact that I once found myself in this exact situation, and it ended with me getting my face beat in and spending the rest of my life recovering from the heartbreak and anxiety of having people I loved turn on me.

I fear that my children will have unprotected sex. I did.

I fear that they will be so afraid of losing my approval that they will stop telling me the truth.

I do not fear that they will experiment with drugs. I fear that they will experiment with drugs and never be able to stop.

I fear that they will marry the wrong person.

I fear that I will die.

I have many fears, but my greatest fear is that my children will not be strong enough to lift others up, and will instead tear others down. Producing children who grow into adults that destroy others would absolutely devastate and shame me as a parent.

Fear causes us to destroy others rather than empower them. Can we just put fear aside for a little while, cram it into a box and stuff it under the ratty underwear in our dresser drawer? Fear holds us back, while bravery propels us forward.

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Image via download-images.com. All rights reserved.

Fearlessness allows us to experience life in such a way that not only do we change, but we are also able to change the people around us: by loving them, lifting them up, supporting them, and offering our applause. Everyone struggles, but women REALLY STRUGGLE. It’s ironic that women — the ones who need support the most — are often the most destructive to each other. Ask me how I know.

My greatest moment of destruction was at the hands of women.

My greatest moment of achievement was because of women.

Women gave birth to this world and we continue to give it life, so either lift us up or get the fuck out of our way.

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Throwing Out Everything I Thought I Knew About Being A Parent

Last week, our son was diagnosed with a form of autism. He’s 8 years old, which means that I am struggling with the knowledge that for the entirety of his short life, all I’ve done is nag and berate him for things that he truly did not know how to control.

“Parent Coaching” is a nice way of saying “You need to re-learn how to parent your unusual child.” Yesterday I attended our first coaching session alone, because Robbie was stuck at work and unable to go.

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HOLY CRAP.

I learned so much in those 45 minutes. Parenting Maverick has been a huge mystery, a constant uphill battle, and now suddenly all the information is unlocked! It’s flying at me at warp speed — all I have to do is to hang on and keep up.

I learned that when he’s beginning to get upset, we have been approaching him in a way that upsets him even more.

I learned that once the rage cycle starts, he won’t hear or be aware of anything else. That’s why sometimes he denies having said or done certain things after the fact and refuses to apologize. He honestly doesn’t know he did them. OH MY GOD, THAT IS SUCH A RELIEF. I literally thought I was raising a sociopath.

The therapist also made a huge deal over how impossibly, impossibly hard it is for any human being to handle a child on the spectrum without losing her shit. Because it’s not just difficult, and it’s not just challenging. It requires superhuman mindfulness and patience that I have not yet achieved, but hopefully, through the miracle of modern medicine and practice of breathing techniques, I will one day master it.

I learned that my expectations need to be run over, smashed into smithereens, and destroyed. I’m going to have to eradicate every idea I’ve ever had about my child and what he is capable of. I’m going to gather all of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from parenting books and articles and burn it, because none of that applies anymore. I now know that my child thinks differently and copes differently, and it is our job to be flexible.

Even though I have so much to learn, we are definitely on the right path. As the therapist talked to me, my eyes were opened to what I’ve really been dealing with all this time. We’ve already put some strategies into place, and guess what? Things in our house are already so. much. better.

I feel more hopeful than I have in a very long time, and I am grateful to be on this journey with my fascinating kid. I promise to do better now, Maverick. I promise to do better.

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Finding The Missing Piece

For almost 9 years, I’ve operated under the belief that I must be not that great at parenting, despite all my efforts. After all, I’d never changed a diaper before I had my first child, so it’s not too farfetched to assume that my struggles are due to my own ineptitude.

Despite my insecurities, part of me knew that I must be a passable mom, because when the nurse handed Maverick to me on September 3, 2008, for the first time in my life I felt a sense of purpose so distinct that it was palpable. As we stared at each other, I thought, we were chosen for each other.

As the years marched on I’ve questioned myself more and more, but that unforgettable moment of meeting my son for the first time was what I always went back to. When faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation, I remind myself that I’m meant to do this. After all, we were chosen for each other.

I was so overwhelmed with the stress of raising a child who didn’t seem ordinary (in addition to his two younger siblings), that I turned to the only thing that has ever helped me process my thoughts: writing. I wrote and I wrote, and people responded, because let’s face it — none of us know what the hell we’re doing. I needed to understand why motherhood was so hard, and why it was only becoming more difficult. I traded ideas with women from all over the world. I read all of the parenting books and applied all of the principles.

Maybe we needed more Jesus. Maybe we needed probiotics. Maybe we needed more sunshine. Maybe something was so significantly lacking that it was screwing up our family dynamic, and if I could just find that one missing piece, everything would fall into place. Maybe Robbie and I needed more date nights. Maybe we needed more money, a different house, a new school, more kids. We tried it all, and nothing worked for longer than a few days at a time.

Although Maverick does not seem overtly unusual, I knew something was off. I struggled to put my finger on what it was, and naturally everyone had an opinion. “He’s too smart,” they said. “He’s just bored.” Robbie kept telling me that Maverick probably had ADHD, just as he did as a child, and assured me that our son would be fine.

“Nothing is wrong with Maverick,” he said, countless times.

Maybe something was wrong with ME. But I needed to figure it out, because we were chosen for each other.

I tried harder to create an interesting, stimulating environment at home to help satisfy his craving for information. His memory is incredible. He can recall in vivid detail the time I took him to the park when he was two years old and he had on his red t-shirt and lost his truck under the monkey bars. He quotes facts about famous scientists and the surface of Jupiter; after hearing a song only one time, he can repeat all the lyrics. He can add large numbers in his head, quickly.

I cut out red dye #40. I cut out processed foods. I limited screen time. I spanked, a lot. I tried time outs, a lot. We took away toys and privileges.

I cried. A LOT.

The older Maverick got, the harder he became to handle. His emotions were big — exuberant one minute, and terrible, raging fury the next. He was scary sometimes. Robbie works insane hours, and I was in way over my head. We now had a family of five, and while Maverick loves his siblings, he lashed out at them often. Every day was filled with drama, and I kept hitting rock bottom.

Over and over again, I found myself in terrible situations with my kid, not knowing what to do to make it better, and quickly running out of ideas. When no one has a child like yours, it’s very lonely. My friends offered support, but they had no advice.

Our pediatrician said he was perfectly normal. When speaking, Maverick makes eye contact and articulates like an adult. He understands humor — when he was 5 years old, he did a stand up comedy routine for the school Talent Show that brought the house down. Despite what the doctor and everyone else said, I knew either something was going on with my kid, or something was terribly amiss with me as a parent.

We were chosen for each other. This is what I kept telling myself.

I swallowed my pride and got professional help. By then, Maverick was 7 years old. They suggested psychological testing, but it was expensive, so we waited on that, and toughed it out through talk therapy. I hoped that they could tell me how to best parent him, because I constantly feel like our relationship is war-torn. My son thinks I do not like him. My son questions whether or not he is worthy of love.

Talk therapy, as it turns out, does not help much without a diagnosis. We said that we wanted to go ahead with testing.

“He’s a very complicated case,” said the psychologist, weeks into the testing process.

“No shit,” I replied.

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One of the best things about this kid is his zest for life.

After months of evaluation and many more issues at home, Robbie and I were called in to go over their findings. As we sat in the doctor’s office, I thought about how it took not one, but two, doctors of psychology to diagnose our son. I thought about how tired I am. I thought about how I would do whatever they said would make things better. But most of all, I thought about how we were chosen for each other.

And then he cleared his throat, and in one simple sentence, the psychologist explained why motherhood is so hard for me.

Maverick has a form of autism.

The way I felt when he told us is almost exactly how I felt when my mother told me she had been diagnosed with cancer — utter relief to finally have a reason for all the madness, followed by grief and guilt. The grief I feel over Maverick’s diagnosis is purely from all of the mistakes I’ve made over the course of his life because I truly could not understand his behavior. I misinterpreted almost everything he did and said, and that makes me profoundly sad.

Guilt and grief aside, I am incredibly proud of my kid. I’m proud of who he is and what he can and will accomplish. He has an enormous responsibility because his brain is special, and I look at this as a gift. His super brain is his gift from God, and Maverick is God’s gift to me.

We weren’t sure how or when we would tell him about what the doctors said, but it turned out that we didn’t have to. Two days after we learned of the diagnosis, I was tucking Maverick into bed when he sat up and said, “Am I autistic?”

“What makes you ask that?” I said, shocked.

“Well, I asked you that a long time ago and you said no. Do you remember?”

“I do.”

“Well, am I autistic?”

“Yes, Maverick, you are. You have a form of autism. It was hard for them to figure out, because most kids with autism aren’t as social as you are. You’re actually really lucky, because you’re good with people and you have a super brain!”

We spent the next hour lying in his bed, talking about how he’s always known he was different from the other kids, which is why he’s always gone out of his way to be kind to the weird ones. I told him that we’re going to learn about his brain, together, and that he is a very special kid.

“So special,” I said, “That it took TWO doctors to figure out what kind of brain you have.”

We were chosen for each other, and I couldn’t be more proud of us.

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Just Tell The Truth

Maverick is 8 years old. He was only two when I first began writing publicly about motherhood — obviously, a lot has changed since then. The older my children get, the less inclined I am to tell their stories. I will not, however, stop telling mine.

Honesty is a big deal in our house — after all, trust is the foundation upon which everything is built. When Maverick looked up at me with his big toddler eyes and asked me if Santa Clause was real, I told him the truth. When he asked me how babies are made, I told him the truth. When asked questions about gay marriage, women’s rights, racism, sexuality, our bodies, and religion, I always tell the (age-appropriate) truth, even — and perhaps especially — when it’s uncomfortable.

It’s much easier to lie. Lying allows us to temporarily skip past discomfort; telling the truth means that I have to get at eye level with another human being and say something that might be hard to say or even harder to hear. Robbie and I have, over the course of 13 years together, finally learned how to be honest with each other.

No, I don’t want to eat there. No, I don’t feel like having sex right now. Yes, I like that shirt better. No, I don’t like it when you forget to shave.

Honesty makes me feel secure. I like having things out in the open, where I know what I’m dealing with. I find, though, that not everyone feels that way. An awful lot of us prefer to jam everything under the rug and just pretend it never happened.

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Recently, Maverick lost a handwriting workbook that was worth a large portion of his grade. He told me he lost it at school, and when I asked about it again a few days later, he assured me that he’d found it and turned it in. A few weeks later, his teacher texted me to ask if I could help him find his workbook — he told her he’d lost it at home.

He lied.

My knee-jerk response was PUNISHMENT. He lied to me and to his teacher, so clearly he deserved a consequence, right? As I mulled over what his punishment should be, it occurred to me that the punishment was the natural consequence of dropping a letter grade in a subject at school, in addition to losing his parent’s and teacher’s trust.

“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the truth,” I said.

He looked surprised.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if you would have told me right away that you lost your workbook, we could have looked for it together. We’re on the same team. But if you lie to me, you don’t give me the opportunity to help you.”

I think that’s true for all of us. In order to repair our lives, relationships, and world, we have to start telling the truth. It’s not going to be easy. There will be sweaty palms, hurt feelings, sleepless nights, and maybe some people will stop talking to us altogether. But also, we’ll find out who our people are.

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Time Is Change

Today was my annual eye exam. I completed the paperwork, removed my contact lenses, and settled in.

“Have you noticed any trouble seeing things that are close to your face?”

“Uh, no? Why?”

“Well, you’ll start noticing some vision changes pretty soon. Don’t worry, bifocal contact lenses are a good option for you … unless you’d want reading glasses.”

Wait. Hold up. Bifocals? I’ve reached bifocal age?

I remember turning 30 so clearly: going out with friends, drinking too much tequila, kissing Robbie at Vulcan Park. I remember that birthday, but none since. The time between ages 30 and 37 is muddied by sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts; thankfully, now that my youngest child is nearly four, I’m beginning to emerge from the fog.

Maybe a small part of me knew when we decided to start a family that pieces of ourselves would fall away, dissolve, and disappear. That is aging, after all — but aging is time, time is change, and change is uncertain.

I do not like uncertainty.

Maverick is changing. He won’t hold my hand in public anymore, and he shies away from my hugs. It hurts way more than I expected it would. I wasn’t ready. But yet, much like my eyesight, I can’t prevent it; I just have to lean in, gracefully, and pretend that my heart isn’t breaking.

I remember being 8 and not liking my mother for some unexplained reason.

I wish I could go back and be nicer to her.

Much like everything else in life, the bifocal situation will be determined by how I choose to view it. I could lament the fact that I’m pushing 40, wallow in grief over the loss of my youth, OR, I could give myself a kick in the ass and be proud of the fact that I don’t look nearly old enough to need BIFOCALS.

Today, I choose the latter.

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I’ll Never Show My Face There Again

I respect and love my husband, which is why I would never, ever purposefully embarrass him at his place of employment.

Accidentally (like this day)? Perhaps. But definitely never on purpose. No. We need his job.

I had a good streak going for the first 13 years of our relationship; I never bothered him at work, and I never showed up looking crazy, homicidal, or inappropriately dressed. We never made out in the parking lot. We kept it professional, even when we worked together.

However, this year, things have taken somewhat of a downhill turn. 2016 has been the worst. It started with me getting a major concussion and is apparently ending with me making a complete ass of myself every time I venture out into public.

The kids are on Thanksgiving Break, which means that I have all three of them at home all day, every day, until November 28. No, I’m not counting down the days until they go back to school, why do you ask? Is it the crazy look in my eyes, or the increasingly-high pitch of my voice?

Yesterday I had to take my 5-year-old to the dentist, which required a lot of arranging and re-arranging of childcare because the first rule of motherhood is that you don’t bring more than one kid at at time to the dentist. I was rushed and short on patience and time and after we were done, I went to Robbie’s office to pick up my oldest, who was there waiting.

I decided to leave my purse in the van, because frankly, I was sick of lugging it around. I helped Asher out and locked the doors. We made the long journey inside the building — and as a side note, today was their Thanksgiving feast, so all of the employees were milling around, because OF COURSE THEY WERE — and we walked to Robbie’s office where Maverick was sitting alone, playing on his Nintendo.

“Where’s your Daddy?”

No response.

“Maverick? Where’s Daddy?”

“Oh, hi. Uhhh … I don’t know where he is.”

“What do you mean?”

I looked around the office. Robbie’s sunglasses and keys were on his desk. It looked like he’d just been there, so where did he go? I stepped into the main part of the building to see if he was out talking to someone, but he was nowhere in sight. After waiting a few more minutes, I picked up the receiver of the phone on his desk and called his cell. It went to voicemail.

Briefly, I considered walking back to the van to get my phone to text him, but when I looked over at the boys — one who didn’t even notice we were there, and another who was busy stamping every single important document on the desk with a rubber signature stamp — I realized that I didn’t want to leave them together, alone, in the office. I also really didn’t want to bring them with me. After a few more moments, I decided that I didn’t have time for this shit and I asked his co-worker where he was. The co-worker, with a plateful of food in one hand and a fork in the other, shrugged.

I’d been there for 10 minutes and I was over it. I scrawled a note on an envelope telling him that I was taking Maverick and asking him to call me, and we headed out. As we walked by the men’s restroom, it dawned on me.

He was in the bathroom.

Now, I know it’s not entirely rational, but that made me irate. Who poops for 15 minutes? Who poops for 15 minutes at work? Clearly, he does this at home — but the fact that he gets to do it at work too?! THAT BULLSHIT SENT ME OVER THE EDGE.

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After he walked us out to the parking lot and helped load the kids into the car, and after I made sure the doors were closed so they couldn’t hear me, I turned to him and said the following in my big, strong, outside voice:

“What were you doing in there?”

“Pooping.”

“THAT WHOLE TIME?”

“Yes.”

“What else do you do?”

“I read and I poop.”

“That’s just not normal. Do you do that every day? If I worked with a man who disappeared into the bathroom for that long every day, I’d think he had a problem. I’D THINK HE WAS JERKING OFF OR SOMETHING. WHAT IF PEOPLE THINK YOU’RE IN THERE LOOKING AT PORN ON YOUR PHONE? WHAT IF YOUR CO-WORKERS THINK YOU’RE THE KIND OF MAN WHO WOULD JERK OFF AT WORK?”

I stopped talking when I noticed the stricken look on his face. He took a step toward me and said, very quietly, “There’s someone right behind you.”

And when I turned around, there was one of his co-workers, pretending not to hear me shouting about masturbation.

I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be showing my face there again anytime soon. I think it’s also safe to say that I won’t be invited to.

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Girl Power

People who have known me a long time know that my views have changed pretty drastically over the past few years. I think that is a healthy thing. Being open to growth is, in my opinion, a vital part of being a functional adult.

So, things were already shifting for me before I had my third child.

A girl.

Before I actually understood what it meant to be a feminist, I didn’t think I was one. I mistakenly assumed that feminists ruined things for the rest of us by burning their bras and telling men not to open doors for them. I thought feminists were angry women who loved to hate on men.

I LIKE having doors opened for me. I LIKE my bras. I LIKE men.

I enjoy being a girl.

I’ll tell you a secret: once upon a time, long, long ago, I told some friends that I didn’t think a woman could ever be capable of running the United States of America. I know. I said that. I actually believed that. It’s mortifying.

“Men are better at that stuff,” I actually said, WTF. I cringe every time I think about this, but I’m trying to set the stage for my story.

Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate enough to have very patient, smart friends who didn’t ditch me when I said women aren’t capable of running a nation, who taught me that feminism does not mean that you don’t want to be a girl, or be treated like a woman worthy of respect. Being a feminist means that you embrace your gender and celebrate it. Feminists believe that girls can be and do anything, that they deserve equal pay and opportunities, and most of all, they encourage each other to be brave and bold because feminists believe in the power of women.

Some feminists, like myself, choose to quit their soul-sucking corporate career to stay home and raise a family. Other feminists choose to skip marriage and children and sail the world’s oceans instead. Feminism means that we do what we want, because women are capable of making their own decisions. Period.

So. Not only did I realize that I am a feminist, but I also realized that I’m also in charge of raising 3 other humans to recognize and believe in the power of women. That’s a tall order, but one that I’ve embraced with pride. Teaching my daughter to be brave and bold has been one of my greatest joys as a mother. Seeing her stand up for herself, rather than shrinking away in fear, fills my heart with warm, cuddly fuzzies.

People don’t expect her to be fearless, because she’s pretty. Still, in 2016, this surprises people.

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Feminists in training.

On Halloween, we took the kids trick-or-treating in a friend’s neighborhood. A little boy (his father later said he was 5 years old) dressed as a policeman was driving down the sidewalk in a ginormous, battery-powered, child-sized cop car.

Pepper walked over to the boy and pulled on the passenger door.

“I want a ride,” she said.

All of the adults oohed and ahhed. Look how cute this is! The little ladybug wants a ride in the cop car! THIS IS SO ADORABLE, GET YOUR CAMERA OUT.

“Give her a ride, Jimmy!”

Jimmy’s mom leaned over and removed the bucket of Halloween candy from the passenger seat. Pepper pulled the door open and climbed in before turning to the boy and saying in her loud, clear, voice:

“You’re in my seat.”

The boy just looked at her, so she said it again, louder this time, and with conviction:

“You’re in my seat.”

Thus began an epic stare down between Jimmy and Pepper. He looked at her like he was unsure of what to do, and frankly a little scared, and she looked at him like he best get his ass out from behind that steering wheel.

I stifled my laughter as I watched his parents silently freak out that their son was being bossed around by a girl, in front of other people. After a few moments, Jimmy gave in and let Pepper have the driver’s seat.

She assumed her position and immediately gunned it, and I thought to myself that I’ve literally never been prouder.

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Grief Is A Thief

Grief is a thief. It steals my moments, creeping in when I least expect it, removing joy from experiences because it might be the last time I do this thing and how can I enjoy something if I’m not sure if I’ll ever have this moment again, like it is right now?

I remember the last time I went shopping at the mall with my mom. It was on Mother’s Day two years ago and we got caught in the rain. She giggled so hard at me walking through Dillard’s with wet hair and soaked clothes, and took photos with her (obsolete) cell phone. That was the last time we walked around the mall, and I don’t know if we will ever do it again.

We used to go shopping all the time when I was younger. We both have an eye for decorating, and we love a bargain. I inherited her creativity, the ability to make something out of nothing on a very tight budget. We share a deep love of color and strategically-placed throw pillows. But then I got married, and we moved away.

7 years. I missed 7 years with my mom. Just typing that makes me incredibly sad.

I also know that moving away was good for my marriage. We were able to solidify ourselves as a unit without interference. We were free to make terribly stupid financial decisions with no one around to tell us so, and that independence turns out to be serving us well as we walk through the trenches of parenthood with ailing parents.

Most of my friends don’t know what that’s like — their mothers are still vibrantly making passive aggressive comments, baking quiche, and cruising around town as they always have. They are enthusiastic babysitters, reveling in the “golden age” of their lives. I have young parents, just 58.

They’re fantastic.

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My parents in April. They’re going to be mad that I put a photo of them on the internet.

Having a sick parent when I’m also a parent is lonely and hard and there’s a lot of cursing and a lot of wine and a lot of pretending nothing is wrong and a lot of crying in the middle of the produce section. Mostly there is a lot of Robbie having no idea what to do to make it better, because he can’t fix this one. He can’t make my mom not have cancer. All he can do is hold my hand while I deal with it, and all I can do is thank God I married the aimless drifter with the scruffy face, the one who wanted to someday own a bar — a BAR!

That man is the one who rubs my feet while I cry because he doesn’t know what to say to make it better.

He is my anchor.

Grief is a darkness. It’s a black blanket that coats me, criss-crossing my face and down my abdomen, squeezing out my breath. Sometimes, if I lie down, it is a weight that makes sitting up an impossibility. So I lie there, and I wait; eventually, I can stand up again.

Grief is so damn heavy.

Grief is a liar. It tells me I’m too weak to survive the circumstances that brought it about. Sometimes I believe it.

Grief is a truth-teller. It exposes every raw edge of my character in the middle of the grocery store on a Monday. It grabs me by the throat in the bookstore and sometimes I have to cancel plans or turn back home to repair the eye makeup that I just cried off in the car.

Grief is a prioritizer. It shows you what is actually important, and what isn’t.

Spoiler alert: a lot isn’t important.

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Fan Club

One afternoon last year, my eldest child bounded off the school bus, burst into the house, and announced that he was in a club.

“I was invited in today,” he said.

“Oh really?” I said. “That’s exciting! Who else is in it?”

“A bunch of girls who like me.”

“That’s what is known as a FAN CLUB,” I told him.

The reason why it’s okay for me to laugh at the expense of my children and share these stories with the entire internet is because I spend about 75% of my time as a mother feeling like I’m right on the verge of coming unhinged. Not because I don’t love motherhood — I do — but my 5-year-old put his hand through a window the other day and my 3-year-old really, really likes to eat hand soap.

I used to blog almost daily about the shenanigans of my kids, but suddenly I found myself in way over my head. It was all simply too much to type. I found this jumbled-up mess in my drafts folder, a snippet of a random day from a few months ago:

Pepper is in a tantrum phase and all three of them got muddy so I brought her inside (much to her dismay) to give her a bath and while she was in the tub the neighbor’s grandson came over to play and I found Maverick trying to destroy our carport ceiling with a fence slat — a fence slat!!! — and the neighbor just had a stroke and his caretaker was rolling him up our driveway and Maverick is so fucking loud — why is he so loud?! — and Asher came running inside, muddy, because he wanted to change shirts.

While that was happening, I heard splashing. But I really didn’t have the strength to investigate. But then I worried she was drowning. I go look. She’s fine, but there’s a roll of toilet paper in the toilet and all of the shampoo had been squeezed out.

It’s just an endless rant, really. However, there has been a slow shift over the course of this year: with so much going wrong in the world, it’s become easier for me to find the joy in motherhood. Maybe it’s because I have perspective that I didn’t have before, or maybe it’s because I’m medicated. There’s really no way to know for sure, and frankly it doesn’t matter.

Our kindergartner has been saying “Freakin’ Einstein” for months and I just recently realized he is talking about FRANKENSTEIN. I kept wondering why he kept tacking “freakin'” in front of Einstein — what was that about? — until finally, I heard him say “Freakin’ Einstein has bolts in his neck.”

OH. Yes. Frankenstein does have bolts in his neck. It all makes so much sense now.

See? Joy.

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Other sources of joy: finding things like this.

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How To Help Louisiana Flood Victims

Right now I feel like I feel when I haven’t seen one of my best friends in a very long time, when we finally sit down for coffee, there is so much to say that I’m not sure where to start.

So, I’ll just start.

We had a terrible flood here, the kind they call a “500-year flood,” meaning that it basically has never and was never expected to happen. Our home was spared, but our city and surrounding areas are devastated.

One thing I don’t mind telling people about myself is that I’m a person of action, and with schools out of session until God knows when, I felt like I HAD to do something to help. Thousands and thousands of children literally don’t have backpacks for school. They don’t have shoes. They don’t have anything. It’s one of those situations where you can’t fully understand unless you see it; photos do not come close to doing any of it justice.

My friend Audrey and I have pooled our resources (You can read more about about that here!) and are concentrating our efforts on getting kids the uniforms and school supplies they need to get back in the classroom and back in a routine. This flood has affected over 42,000 students. Children thrive on routine, and these kids have been through hell. They need some normalcy.

When children are in school, parents can focus on rebuilding, getting necessary paperwork, and doing work that is not necessarily safe for children. If children are in school, parents whose homes were not flooded can focus their efforts on helping those who did flood without the worry of childcare. In addition, people are scrambling to find childcare because the camps and childcare available are at capacity — and I can’t really speak for other parents, but I am having a hard time holding it together in front of my kids. I can’t even wrap my mind around what it would feel like to lose everything and have to keep it together 24/7.

People kept asking us what they could do to help Louisiana, so Audrey and I came up with a strategy. We decided that the first thing that needed to happen was to get these kids back in school, so we (really, she) created Amazon wish lists for heavily-impacted schools. All you have to do is click the link, pick a few things, and Amazon delivers them directly to the school.

It’s only been a few days, and the things that are happening are absolutely amazing. And because there’s no way to explain it fully, I’m just going to SHOW YOU.

Boxes started arriving.

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Image source: Audrey Hayworth

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Image source: Audrey Hayworth

Teachers and staff, some of whom lost their homes, showed up to work when they didn’t have to, to hand out uniforms and school supplies to students who needed them.

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Image source: Audrey Hayworth

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Image source: Audrey Hayworth

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Image source: Audrey Hayworth

The level of gratitude we feel is what keeps us moving forward. Louisiana needs help. WE NEED HELP.

If you would like to donate, here are the links to three different schools in the area that need supplies. I will update this blog post as additional school wish lists are created and sent to me.

Audubon Elementary
http://amzn.to/2dd0rCe

Park Forest Middle School:
http://amzn.to/2cuyTLW

St. Martin Parish School:
http://amzn.to/2bHbzde

St. Amant Middle School:
http://amzn.to/2bAH2xu

Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School:
http://amzn.to/2bGqUtF

Woodlawn Elementary:
http://amzn.to/2boFx3Q

Thank you for your support, and please share this information with everyone you know!

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I Don’t Want To Go Back In Time

I cannot tell you how deep I had to dig to keep my emotions in check this summer and how deeply I will fall into a cocktail (or five) when school starts again.

But today, I snapped out of survival mode and realized that I made it. I MADE IT!

My oldest starts 3rd grade tomorrow. “I don’t need you to drive me to school on the first day,” he said. “I can take the bus.” He looked at me and grinned and all the sudden I could see what he’s going to look like when I send him off the college, and I felt momentarily sad.

His little brother is starting Kindergarten at the same elementary school this year, and my long time dream of putting both boys on the school bus and waving goodbye will finally be realized. Can I be honest? I’m not sad, or weepy, or wistful for when they were smaller. I’m proud. I’m elated, actually. I’m happy to have made it to this point in one piece, and I don’t want to go back in time. I want to revel in this.

No one wears diapers anymore.

Everyone talks in coherent sentences.

I’ve taught 3 human beings how to use the toilet and how to stay with me in the store; things can only continue to improve from here.

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Summer, 2016

I see photos of myself from 8 years ago when I first became a mom and I feel a little sorry for that version of me. I don’t want to go back in time and be her again. I don’t want to hold my babies or rock them or see them in their infancy or wish for time to go backwards. I MADE IT, which means I have overcome obstacles, which means I have hope to continue overcoming obstacles, which requires me to continue moving forward.

This summer, I got soaked with water by the boys, who thought it would be funny to spray me after I asked them repeatedly to turn off the water. My kids kept me so busy that I never got around to changing clothes, until hours later, I realized that they were dry again.

This summer, we were lazy. I let them have unlimited screen time and we all ate junk food and laid around the house like total couch potatoes. It was amazing. Now I understand why people make this a full-time thing.

This summer, I didn’t work out. I didn’t weigh myself. I put on the same, falling-apart, ill-fitting bathing suit day after day and got in the pool with my kids. I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was last summer, and caring a lot less about how fat my thighs look.

This summer, I really enjoyed my kids. I did. But now, I’m ready for them to go to school, because I need to shake off the experience of having people with me 24/7 for three straight months, and that can only be done by using expletives and bargain shopping alone. By myself. Without anyone hiding in the clothes racks.

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Where To Go From Here

Last night, I sat in a beautiful church in downtown Baton Rouge and listened to local officials, activists, and citizens start a conversation about what is happening in our community.

Stay with me.

I have no idea how many local readers I have, so more than likely you’re not from Baton Rouge, so you probably don’t care what’s happening here. And I get it. I wouldn’t, either, except that I am a mother … and because I am a mother, I know that I — we — have the power to change things.

Sometimes, parenthood can feel like it’s consuming my spirit and slowly choking off what makes me, me. Sometimes everything feels fruitless, pointless, and repetitious. I find myself ranting to my friends via text, WHAT IS THE POINT OF WASHING TOWELS WHEN EVERYONE USES 8 OF THEM EVERY TIME THEY SHOWER?! OMG, I AM GOING TO DIE WASHING TOWELS, MARK MY WORDS.

The thing is, though, that the difficulty of motherhood is tempered by the inherent power to make the world better. The act of bringing new life into this world, shaping human beings into citizens, and teaching them what is important — this is our greatest gift and responsibility.

Last night I watched a boy who couldn’t have been older than 12 approach the microphone to stand in front of a panel of important people, including Martin Luther King III — yes, the son of the Martin Luther King, Jr. —  in the front of the room. Everyone was silent, wondering what this kid was going to say.

“First, I just want to ask the Lord to forgive us.”

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THAT is how he began his question.

THAT did something to my heart, seeing that boy, who is not so different from my own sons, standing bravely in front of a bunch of important adults to voice a legitimate concern. I wonder who his mother is, and I hope she is proud of herself, because she’s doing an amazing job.

I saw the widow of one of the fallen officers walk by with her 10-month-old son. I saw people who would normally never cross paths, talking to each other.

I ran smack into Colonel Edmonson, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, and I was so struck by the look in his eyes that I couldn’t speak. He looked like he was in actual, physical pain. He looked like he needed a hug, but I was too afraid to give him one.

This is yet another example of how fear stops us from moving forward.

Last night it was said that we need an honest dialogue, and I couldn’t agree more. I have always wished that more people would just be honest. Hurts need to be recognized. Truths need to be said. People need to feel heard in order to bridge gaps, but more than that, we all need hope. Without hope, nothing can be accomplished, and I can honestly say that after what I saw and heard last night, I am full of hope.

As we were leaving, I heard a young girl’s voice coming up behind me yelling “MOMS!! HEY, MOMS!” I turned around, and she was literally running up the church aisle.

“Are you a mom?” she gasped, out of breath.

“I sure am.”

She introduced herself to me as one of the leaders of an active youth group in the city, and said they are looking to partner with local moms because they know that mothers have a unique power to change our community in a big way.

“Mothers DO have a lot of power,” I said, as I handed her my card.

Mamas are a force to be reckoned with. Get ready.

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I Was That Mom

Yesterday, a terrible thing happened.

Let me preface this by saying that I am struggling to adjust to summer break. Struggling. Like … it’s good? But also horrible? Can something be good and horrible all at once? Because I’m pretty sure that is exactly what parenthood is.

Making the transition from having all three kids in school for 6+ hours per day (and working during those hours), to having them home all the time and trying to get my work done in addition to mothering in a loving fashion, is not going great. As I have already established in multiple blog posts from previous years, summer is effing relentless.

Pepper

Pepper is obsessed with two things: outlets and babies. Here she is showing her baby doll the outlet in her bedroom. #multitasking

Thankfully, this year is somewhat easier than previous years simply because my children are getting older and more independent. Pepper will be 3 next week, so I think we’re finally on the upswing after a very dark time in the Valley of Motherhood.

Yesterday afternoon, we got home from playing at the park. The boys jumped out of the van, heard some kids next door playing, and asked if they could go over to play. I granted them permission and took Pepper inside. Her clothes were filthy — covered in layers of peanut butter and dirt — so I stripped her down to a diaper.

I ran to the bathroom with her trailing behind me, always my little shadow. And then, my mom called. She’s not feeling well and I can barely hear her on the phone. I was straining to understand what she was saying — did she just say she needed to go to the hospital?! — and naturally, my toddler got really loud at exactly that moment. As her shouting drowned out my mother, my stress level started to rise.

I went to my bedroom and closed the door. My daughter cried from the hall, and when she stopped, I was thankful. When I emerged only a few minutes later, the house was quiet. A panicky feeling started to rise in my chest, and then it felt like my heart stopped.

Just.

Stopped.

Beating.

Our back door was standing wide open.

Screaming her name, I ran outside. She was gone. Or hiding. Or missing.

I heard a woman’s voice — our across the street neighbor — yelling at me that she just saw a little girl cut through the fences in the backyard.

“She went that way, sweetheart! I was standing here watching her!”

I was barefoot and it did not matter. I ran. I ran until I found her. I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t feel my body. All I could hear was my own voice screaming her name, and my heartbeat deafening my ears. That is what blind panic feels like.

My 2-year-old was wandering one street over from ours, wearing nothing but her diaper. She was holding a toy pet carrier with a little stuffed dog inside. I will never forget the way her face looked when she saw the horror on mine.

“NEVER AGAIN,” I said to her.

“Not with my dog?” she said.

“NEVER, EVER. Do not ever leave this house without a grown up,” I said, as I wiped away my tears.

I’m sharing this story to demonstrate how quickly children can disappear. How many times have I heard stories of toddlers wandering the streets and thought to myself, WHERE WAS THE MOTHER?

That mother is me. I was right there. It happened anyway.

I’m a damn good mom. I am capable. I am aware. I am not negligent. But children are fast. And sometimes quiet. And things happen. So today I’m hugging my babies tight, grateful for their safety, knowing that sometimes other mamas aren’t so lucky.

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How Things Change

I remember a very long time ago when we had a baby and I was worried that Robbie was going to say inappropriate words in front of it. I was also concerned about food additives and a whole host of other things that I no longer have the time or energy to care about, like whether or not it was okay for my child to breathe in the fumes from Clorox Wipes and what was actually in baby formula.

Fast-forward to 5:00 this morning when our third child climbed into our bed, alerting me by repeated bludgeoning to the head and face, and I flung my arm over to hit my sleeping husband.

“Pepper’s in our bed,” I mumbled, as her knee dug into my gut.

Nothing.

“PEPPER’S IN HERE,” I repeated. Now she was pulling on the sheets, attempting to smother me to death with her battered sheep lovey.

Nothing.

He wouldn’t take his CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask off, which is pretty much a passive aggressive way of saying fuck you, I’m not dealing with it. I’m basically blind and deaf at night; I have terrible eyesight without my contacts or glasses, and I’ve been wearing earplugs for over a decade, so I’m familiar with passive aggressive ways to pretend to not know something is going on. I am well versed in it. Also, I have sleep issues, and that makes me difficult to deal with.

Okay, fine. It makes me a raging bitch.

Once someone shakes me from deep, precious slumber, it can take me literally an hour to fall back asleep, and even once I do finally konk out again, the quality always sucks from that point forward.

What was that? Did you just ask why?

Because I lie there and my mind starts racing thinking of all the things I need to remember to do in three hours when my alarm goes off, and then I start wondering what I forgot to put on my mental to-do list, becoming angry at myself for not setting the coffeemaker to turn on by itself at 6 a.m. because I AM NOT GOING TO FEEL LIKE MAKING IT AFTER MISSING THIS MUCH SLEEP, and the anxieties just spiral off from there like tiny insomniac tornadoes.

So, back to the child that was poking me in the face: once I realized that I was going to have to put her back in her bed, I yelled, “FUCK, FINE, I’LL DO IT.” So much for worrying about my husband’s mouth in front of our kids.

And that is how much things change between the first and third-born child.

Bedtime

I can’t be mad at this cutie pie.

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Impacted Poop: The Anthem of Motherhood

This is a post about kindness. We need more of it. And you want to know what we need less of? Stupid motherfuckers.

I took my middle child to an urgent care clinic today for impacted poop. That’s right: poop.

Now, I have been a mom for 8 years and feel like I have a pretty good handle on what is urgent care-worthy. I tried everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) to help him get it out, but after 2 hours of misery I rushed him to a doctor. It is Saturday and my husband is at work, so I ran my other two kids to my parent’s house and went to the closest urgent care that was open.

I paid $100 –they made me, before we could be seen — and we waited. And we waited. And he was crying and sweating. And it was terrible. Finally, they brought us back. I was so relieved. The nurses were two kind, older women. I felt like maybe it was going to be okay, until the doctor came in. He proceeded to look me up and down and after tossing a cursory glance at my son and said, “We don’t deal with that here. There’s really nothing we can do.”

That was before he began flirting with me.

“So … are you from around here?”

“Yes. What do you mean, there’s nothing you can do?”

“Where did you go to high school?”

“Not here. Why can’t you try to manually remove the poop?”

(More mindless chatter until I interrupted him to ask again why he was refusing to even look at my son’s situation.)

“Well, constipation is common in children his age, and he just needs some magnesium citrate. But he could also see a pediatric G.I.”

“The reason why I’m here is because there is literally poop lodged in his anus that I have not been able to get out. I tried. It needs to be removed. He can’t even walk.”

The doctor proceeded to look down my four-year-old’s throat and say, “Your mommy is pretty.”

THAT IS WHAT HE DID.

FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER.

Let me tell you something, idiots of the modern world: moms don’t want to be flirted with when their child is writhing in pain. We also do not enjoy being talked down to like we are nothing but walking, talking vaginas. If I wanted to pay $100 to be objectified, I would have gone to another part of town.

Because I didn’t know what else to do to cope with my rage, I posted a rant about what was happening on my Modern Mommy Madness Facebook page, and a wonderful woman named Jennifer contacted me. She married into a family I’ve known my whole life, but until today I’d never had the privilege of talking to her beyond a brief hello. And now I think we might be best friends.

Jennifer is a mom and a nurse at a local E.R. and she told me if I brought my son to her, she would do whatever was necessary to help him. I almost started crying right then and there. I know it’s only poop, but when your kid is in pain and you are out of ideas and someone tosses you a lifeline, it’s a game-changer. I needed a lifeline. We immediately went to the hospital where she works.

Asher

Medical professionals who are actually good at their job and don’t spend their time hitting on women instead of treating patients are amazing creatures and I love them. I love them like I love the teachers who so painstakingly teach my children how to write their names. Just as I don’t have the skill set to teach my children how to read or write without screaming into a pillow, it turns out that I also don’t know how to properly extract impacted shit from an anus that does not belong to me.

Truth be told, I didn’t think I would make it through the experience of holding my son’s legs as Jennifer carefully and professionally pulled poop out of my child. The doctor came in to shake my hand and all I could think (or say) was, “HOW DO YOU PEOPLE DO THIS EVERY DAY?!”

The hospital bill is astronomical. For shit. An astronomical bill because of literal shit.

However, the point of me writing this is not to bitch about money or medical bills. It’s to say that when you see an opportunity to help another woman and you do it, you can SAVE HER. Literally and figuratively, save her.

I hope I can pay it forward and throw someone else a lifeline. I think that we women often shrug things off and think we can’t make a difference in this world, really. Well, I’m here to tell you that  WE CAN.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some wine to drink.

Wine

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Motherhood Is Hard On Control Freaks

I performed yesterday for Baton Rouge’s production of Listen To Your Mother, and it was amazing. If you are interested in seeing a video of the performance, there will be an official copy uploaded to YouTube soon and I will be sure to post about it here (unless I look like a damn fool, in which case I will never mention it again).

Here we go.

I … am a control freak.

Therefore, motherhood has always been a struggle for me. I lie awake at night mentally preparing for the next day, scheduling and planning and strategizing, and without fail, something always goes wrong. Papers are forgotten, shoes and keys are misplaced, and someone always has to poop at the worst possible time.

Yet day after day, I continue to try to control the chaos. It’s like I just can’t learn how to let go. But, as well all know, life has a funny way of teaching us lessons that we really don’t want to learn.

It was the day before school was scheduled to start back after Winter Break, and the kids and I were having the best day we’d had in weeks. I’m fairly certain it was because I was giddy with excitement to send them back to school, and they were equally as giddy at the thought of returning. Either way, we were having fun.

I was standing in the middle of the living room minding my own business when one of my children jumped onto my back, throwing his arms around my neck. I fell backwards, hitting my head on a piece of furniture.

The emergency room doctor diagnosed me with a concussion: a traumatic brain injury that altered the way my brain functions, because that is the kind of thing that happens when you grow up and decide to become a mom.

I don’t remember much of the weeks that followed except that I kept trying to do laundry and my husband kept telling me he would take care of it, but he didn’t display the same sense of urgency that I have, so the cycle continued. I kept trying to do it, and he kept trying to stop me.

He insisted that he would feed the children breakfast and ordered me to stay in bed. I laid there obsessing over what he might be feeding them. Did he rip open a box of Cheez-Its and let them go to town? Or worse — Oreos? Were they getting enough fiber? Were they hydrated? Would he remember to pack their lunch boxes?

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Robbie takes good care of me.

I tiptoed down the hall to listen, and every single time, I was caught and put back to bed.

This was hard.

I was put on “brain rest.” Do you know how impossible it is for a mother of three to rest her brain? I pushed earplugs into my ears and stared at the white walls in the dark for many more hours than I was comfortable with, and realized as the minutes ticked by just how much of a control freak I really am.

People kept telling me not to do things. “Don’t look at screens,” they said. “Don’t read. Don’t think too much. Don’t drive. Don’t write. Basically sit in a dark room by yourself and stare at the window until you feel like jumping out of it.”

I got tired of being told to relax. Sitting on the beach with champagne is relaxing. Massages are relaxing. Going to Target alone is relaxing.

Recovering from a concussion is not.

At my follow-up visit, my doctor said, “You seem a little on edge.” Well, maybe I’m on edge because every time I let my guard down a child jumps on my back and concusses me. Maybe THAT’S why.

Mom

Me and my amazing mother.

There are 5 stages of grief when a mother is sidelined due to injury or illness.

Stage one is denial. I was in that stage for a solid 2 weeks, trying and failing to continue mothering as if nothing was out of the ordinary, all the while doing things like squirting ketchup into my toddler’s sippy cup.

Ketchup and juice are totally the same thing.

We acquired a pet during this stage. My family tells me that a stray cat showed up one day, and I am the one who suggested that we buy cat food to properly feed her.

I have no recollection of this.

Stage two is anger. This was when I realized that I was not going to be able to power through a head injury like I did with, say, a common cold. Moms don’t take sick days, and I did not have time for this. I. Was. Pissed.

I put a mug of water in the kitchen cabinet and waited for it to heat up so I could make some tea. I drummed my fingers on the counter, waiting impatiently for the timer to ding. When it didn’t, and I realized what I’d done, I was angry.

When I forgot our yard man’s name, I was angry.

When I went into the house to write him a check and couldn’t find the checkbook that was in my purse, I got angry. And then I forgot what I was supposed to be doing, and never returned outside to pay him.

Stage three is bargaining. If only we hadn’t had all of these children. If only I hadn’t turned my back to my child that day. If only my husband hadn’t taught them how to wrestle. Someone should have stressed that we NEVER TRY TO WRESTLE MOMMY.

I should have never let my guard down. But now it was too late, and I still could not recall our street address, and I was positive that I was going to have the dumb until the day I died.

Stage four is depression. I OWNED that stage. I really rocked depression. At one point, my hair smelled like old socks and I didn’t even care. During this stage, I actually enjoyed staring at the ceiling and walls.

My family members, who fancy themselves comedians, tried to help me see the bright side of things.

“You’ve been different ever since the accident,” they said. “You keep insisting that we call you Harmony.”

They called me Tina for a full week.

Stage five, the final stage, is acceptance. I accepted that my memory may never be quite the same. I accepted that we have a cat now, and her name is Magnolia, and every time I load our kids into the minivan I have to keep her from jumping in.

I accepted that this is the new, quirkier me.

I accepted that I will always be a control freak, and life will always find a way to put me in my place, because I chose to become a mother.

And motherhood is really hard on control freaks.

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Photo credit: Whitney Andrus

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What Is Small

Everything is chaos until I tuck my daughter into bed. She is so calm, so sweet, so complacent, as she snuggles down in her big bed under fluffy covers. I smooth her hair, hand her the two tattered lovies that she sleeps with every night, and lie down next to her.

Every other night I pray and sing, but tonight there is a lump in my throat and it’s too big to let anything out. I just lie there in the dark and listen to her sweet toddler voice as she says take a bath, go to bed over and over and I think to myself maybe this is all I need to be well.

Maybe when life feels too big I need to focus on what is small.

Bed

Pure joy.

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How Raising A Strong-Willed Boy Forced Me To Grow Up

I’m a late bloomer and rehabbed people-pleaser, and it wasn’t until I gave birth to our first child that I finally grew the hell up.

4 months old

This photo was taken on my first day back to work after a 4-month maternity leave, January 2009.

He broke my tailbone entering the world. I was bucked off a mule at age 8, which broke my tailbone and left it pointing inward. I was never aware of this until 20 years later when, after two hours of pushing, the doctors determined my baby boy was stuck behind it.

With the threat of a C-section looming, my son and I furrowed our brows, rolled up our metaphorical sleeves and did what we had to do. I pushed with all my might and he re-broke the bone, forcing his way out. It sounds awful, but really, what’s a broken bone when you’re pushing a human being out of your vagina? It was just another source of discomfort in an already uncomfortable area (and it makes a pretty fantastic story).

I was so unsure of myself when I became a mom. When I think about that person—so nervous about changing her baby’s diaper that she had to have “help” doing it for much longer than I’m comfortable admitting—I can’t be mad at her. She had no idea what she was doing. I give her grace. But also, she really needed to grow the hell up.

And so, because the universe knew I needed it, I was given a very challenging first child. I was forced out of my comfort zone in every way, having no other choice but to learn to ignore what everyone else said and go with my gut.

I grew up.

I learned that my mother does not always know what is best. She knew what was best when she was raising me, because she is my mother, but she does not by default know what is best for me now or what is best for my children. There comes a time when things change, and it can be disorienting. But it’s also necessary.

I realized that it doesn’t matter what other people think about my parenting or my children, because they are mine. Mine to screw up. Mine to encourage. Mine to raise into functional human beings. Mine. No one else’s.

I stopped apologizing, for the state of my house, for the food that I did or did not cook, for my appearance, for my child’s personality. One day, I simply ran out of fucks to give. I don’t owe the world apologies for being who I am, and I certainly don’t want my children to grow up under that assumption. Part of growing the hell up is realizing how fantastic you are and owning it.

Cat and boys

A typical scene at my house. Poor kitty.

I found inner strength. Parenting my strong-willed oldest child broke down every wall I’d ever built. It caused me to question every belief I’ve ever had. I had to throw out everything I’d read in every single parenting book and start from scratch. I am no longer a delicate flower—I can throw a 60-pound child over my shoulder and haul him out of Target if I have to, and he knows it. It took time, but eventually I discovered a durability in myself that I didn’t know existed.

I realized that I am a damn good mom. It was a slow progression, but one day I realized that I haven’t completely screwed up this complicated child. In fact, I’ve done an amazing job with him. He is still challenging, and there are still days that I struggle, but because I have grown the hell up I don’t question every choice I make anymore. I am confident in what I say and do because of everything listed above.

That boy who has given me so many gray hairs in just seven short years has also shaped my spirit in countless ways. He helped me grow up.

And thanks to him, I also always know when it’s going to rain, because my aching tailbone tells me.

© 2015 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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The Day My Pride Died

Last week I made an enormous ass of myself at my husband’s place of employment.

He’s a manager at a car dealership, and I don’t know what kind of people the other managers have coming to visit them at work, but I highly doubt Robbie will ask me to stop by and visit him again anytime soon.

I could offer up a thousand reasons why I was so stressed out, but the summarized version is that I was out running errands with two of my children, trying to beat the rain. We were right across the street from where he works, and I thought, you know what, I should call Robbie and ask him to come meet us for lunch. That would be a nice thing to do. So I did.

I’m a good wife. A thoughtful wife.

He said he could not meet us, but would we like to stop by the dealership instead? He just moved to a new store, and I have not met any of his new co-workers yet or seen his fancy new office.

I looked at the sky, which was black. I looked at our two youngest children, who were both covered in cinnamon sugar. I looked at myself, and quickly looked away. This was NOT a good time to make a first impression.

“Of course,” I said. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

The dealership was very busy, and because I was distracted by all of the activity, I pulled in the wrong way and a mail truck was blocking my path. Robbie emerged from the building and watched as I tried and failed to maneuver our gigantic van into a parking spot as our over-excited children shrieked and screamed “DADDDDDDDY! DAAAAAAAAADDY!” from the backseat.

My 4-year-old unbuckled himself and slammed into the back of the front passenger seat as I rolled over a curb. “WHY ARE YOU UNBUCKLED?!” I screeched as I threw it into reverse. By now a crowd was gathering. Robbie visibly cringed as I tried once more to squeeze our vehicle into a too-small spot. And that is when it happened.

I snapped.

Maybe it was all the errand-running. Maybe my nerves were shot, and my blood sugar was low and I was over caffeinated. Maybe I should have declined his offer to come visit and maybe I should have worn a more flattering outfit and MAYBE I HAVE NO BUSINESS DRIVING THIS MOTHER FUCKER OF A VAN.

Muttering unrepeatable phrases under my breath, I squealed off, again in the wrong direction, trying to turn around. By now everyone was definitely staring, and I was furious — with myself, with my husband, with the screeching children, and with life in general.

I drove directly into a dead end portion of the Hyundai lot and screamed. Then I realized that my window was rolled down.

pRIDE

This is the actual dealership where my pride passed away.

Two salesmen were watching me, and I imagined the following conversation taking place:

Salesman #1: Hey man, do you see the new finance guy’s batshit crazy wife attempting a 3-point turn in that tiny area surrounded by brand new cars?

Salesman #2: DUDE.

Salesman #1: I hope she hits one. That would be AMAZING.

Salesman #2: It’s looking like she might.

Salesman #1: Damn, she made it out.

I finally made it back around to the appropriate parking space. My husband unloaded our stunned children and I sat in the car, too mortified to exit the vehicle. “We can sneak in through the courtyard,” Robbie said. “There’s a back door. No one will see you.”

I got a baseball cap out of my bag and pulled it low over my face. I avoided eye contact as we sneaked in through the back door. Because that’s what my life has become.

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Standing In The Fire

Last night I had the most terrifying dream that I was in the kitchen cooking and a fire started, and it just kept spreading and spreading until I was entirely surrounded. I was YELLING for help, but my family didn’t hear me. They were all in the next room.

That is what grief feels like.

There have been times in my life when a friend confided something shocking to me that I didn’t know how to deal with, and I handled it poorly. When I was 15 and away at boarding school, my best friend back home got pregnant. She informed me via a handwritten letter that was delivered under my dorm room door, because it was 1995 and that’s how things were done before the internet.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do or how to process the thought of becoming a mother when we didn’t even have a license to drive. I’m pretty sure whatever my response was, it sucked. Just like when my high school friend called one day in July to tell me that he was gay. GAY?! I didn’t know anyone who was gay. I stammered and mumbled and got off the phone as fast as I could, because I didn’t know how to be with him in his fire.

I sucked.

These are the things I think of as I grapple with grief over the fact that we don’t know how much time my mother has left. It could be years. It could be days. No one can tell us for sure, because cancer is fucked up and unpredictable and incurable. And I am here, in this fire, burning. Seeing people fidget and stammer because they don’t know what to say because grief is uncomfortable. Death is uncomfortable. Dealing with loss when no one has died is a strange thing that isn’t easily explained.

fire

My sons, November 2014

Yesterday I ran into someone I haven’t seen in a long time. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just really love them and you don’t even know why? Well, there is a lady named Virginia that I feel that way about. I LOVE VIRGINIA.

She asked me a question — “How is your mom doing?” — and really asked it. She wanted me to tell her the truth. Most people might think they want to know the truth, until you start to tell them and they realize how horrible the truth is and they get weird and then you feel even worse because not only are you carrying around this emotional weight, but now you’ve gone and made someone else uncomfortable with it, too.

When Virginia asks a question, she expects an answer. And when I tried to glaze it over, she stopped me. She wouldn’t let me glaze it over. She stood with me, in my anger and in my grief. Do you know how rare that is, for us to stop our lives momentarily to really connect with another human, and stand with them in their mess?

I needed that.

The world needs more Virginias.

What I didn’t know in 1995, but certainly realize now, is that all people really need is for others to genuinely acknowledge their suffering … even if it’s impossible to extinguish the fire that’s causing it.

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Pick Up The Phone: Being Responsible For Your Own Happiness

My platform is rooted in honesty.

Lately I’ve felt like a liar because I used to be a humor writer, I think. But then a lot of bad things happened in my life, and I couldn’t find humor as much anymore. But you guys stick with me anyway, even when I write about things like my mom having cancer and about my need for anxiety medication and my uncle getting murdered in my childhood home, and my head injury which, let’s face it, COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME OFF MY GAME.

Here is the truth: I got very depressed in February. Maybe I was depressed in January, and December, and November, and October. I don’t know because I’m in the thick of life right now. I’m swallowed up. I’m in the weeds, you guys. It’s disorienting and I have claustrophobia and I hate how this feels. I hate how it makes me anxious, and my anxiety manifests in anger, so I find myself yelling at my family a lot when they are just doing normal family things like smearing toothpaste on clean hand towels and leaving crumbs all over the floor.

They deserve a better me. I deserve a better me.

So I started therapy — for myself and for my oldest child. It turns out that I am not crazy, it’s just that the anxiety medication I was on was making me depressed and also I have a lot on my plate and my brain was bruised.

Maybe the knock to the head changed my brain chemistry, or maybe I just didn’t need that particular medication anymore, but either way I flushed all those tiny white pills down the toilet and breathed a sigh of relief.

I breathed another sigh of relief when we were told that our child isn’t crazy — in fact, he is quite the opposite. Extremely bright and polite to everyone except for his parents, so we can rule out Oppositional Defiant Disorder (thank God).

Maverick has ADHD. And I’ve long suspected it and I knew it, deep in my soul, but I just didn’t want it to be so. I knew he was hard to parent. So, so hard. He never has been much of a sleeper; he stopped napping at 18 months old. He’s extremely defiant and stubborn and loud and messy, more so than other boys. But he’s also brilliant and charming, just like his Daddy.

OMG … his Daddy.

His Daddy has ADHD, too.

THAT MUST BE WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM, BECAUSE HE WAS SO QUIRKY AND BRILLIANT AND UNPREDICTABLE AND NOW WE HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 13 YEARS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME WANT TO SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW BUT I DON’T BECAUSE I REALLY DO LOVE HIM.

I married the right man for me, but it doesn’t mean that we are without our struggles. When we come out on the other side of this difficult phase, I’d maybe like to just forget it ever happened. It’s hard. Marriage is hard. But would I want to tough it out with anyone else?

No.

Mommy and Mav

Back to Maverick, all of the parenting tactics that work for other people? None of them were working for us. We have very low lows and very high highs and as much as I struggled, I fought for my son because I believe in him.

But then I reached a point where I was out of ideas. I needed help.

The day I sat in that dark gray chair decorated with silver studs and the counselor said, “You have done a fantastic job for the past 7 years, but you must be emotionally exhausted,” I burst into tears.

Yes. I am emotionally exhausted.

“Parenting is supposed to be exhausting,” she said. “In fact, if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t doing it right.” She went on to say a whole bunch of other validating, complimentary things that gave me hope and let me know that I did a good thing by seeking help.

People say all the time that it takes a village to raise our children, and lament the modern loss of the village. I say that we have to make our own damn village. My village consists of a therapist for myself, a therapist for my child, teachers for all three of my children, and a handful of extraordinary friends.

Extraordinary friends get a phone call halfway through getting hair extensions put in and head over right away to drive you to the hospital because you’re feeling weird 6 weeks after a concussion and need to have your head scanned again.

Extraordinary friends learn your actual weight — which is not the weight on your driver’s license — because you have to say it out loud in the E.R. triage.

They also understand that they are never speak of it. Ever.

Part of being a grown up is knowing what you need and then going out and getting it, because grown ups are responsible for their own happiness and well-being. So today, my friends, I ask you to take stock of your own lives and make sure you have what you need.

And if you don’t, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING READING THIS?! Pick up the phone and make shit happen.

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Mom Moments

Groceries

Sometimes I wonder if other people find themselves angry, only to realize that the thing that upset them so much is something that they did. I feel like this happens to me a lot. I’ll find myself standing in the bathroom saying half-aloud, WHO LEFT THE TOILET PAPER ROLL EMP …. oh.

Me. I did. I am the one who failed to refill the toilet paper roll.

I have a feeling that the transition into dementia in about 30 or so years won’t be that difficult.

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The Unexpected Is The Best Part

“I’m your Venus, I’m your fire. At your desire…”

I was singing “Venus” by Bananarama at the top of my lungs in the car (don’t judge—you know you do it too) when my son piped up from the backseat.

“Why are you singing a song about penises?”

I stopped singing.

“‘I’m your penis, I’m your fire. At your desire,’ is that what the song is saying, Mommy? Because that does not seem appropriate.”

Children: They wreak havoc on our lives, turning what used to be normal upside down and shaking it with their grimy little hands. Sometimes it feels like they are literally trying to kill us—or at the very least, commit us—and then they make up for all of it at once by saying or doing something absolutely unexpected.

Motherhood is chock-full of the unexpected. I now tell my friends who are new mothers to throw out every baby book they acquired during pregnancy. Burn them. They are of no use to you now. There is no way to know what to expect, because children, and people in general, are full of surprises.

There is simply no way to prepare.

The first time I gave birth, someone handed me a baby. It took a while for it to sink in that he was mine. I stared down at a tiny human who was somehow completely like me and also nothing like me, and realized that everything I thought I knew was wrong and none of the knowledge I had worked so hard to amass during pregnancy applied anymore.

This actually worked out perfectly since I was too tired to remember it anyway. I threw it all out and started over.

That’s parenthood in a nutshell.

MJ.jpg

Practicing his Michael Jackson dance moves.

Parenting is a job so complex that experts have been trying to guide us in it for decades, and yet still none of us have it figured out—including the experts. They waffle back and forth on co-sleeping and breastfeeding and what is safe to eat and drink during pregnancy. If you can imagine it, there’s been an “expert” study done on it.

Throw it out.

We are to love our children, provide for their basic needs, and follow our instincts. Those things look vastly different for each family, because we are all different. Trying to force your situation into a neatly labeled box because someone else told you that’s what is best is only asking for disappointment and guilt.

It’s hard to set aside your own expectations and allow yourself to be fluid enough to bend, to be open to seeing your child for the unique person that he is, and to adjust accordingly. But motherhood is as much about refining yourself as it is about refining your children.

There comes a point when you realize that you are the expert.

After explaining to my son that the song was about Venus, the goddess of love, and NOT about penises, I realized once again how lucky I am to have the kind of kid who yells unexpectedly from the backseat. Not once was that topic addressed in any of my parenting books.

“I don’t want my penis to catch fire!” he shouted.

“That would be terrible!” I yelled back.

There is really no guide for moments like this. And that’s OK. The best part about being a parent is not knowing what’s next.

© 2016 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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Hot Mom Trends

When my friend Deva at My Life Suckers invited me to participate in her latest video, I had to say yes. Everything she does is amazing!

Check it out!

 

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Toddlers: Making Fools of Parents Since The Beginning of Time

Toddlers love to make fools of us.

Have you noticed? They wait until you’re in a busy parking lot unloading a month’s worth of groceries to melt down and act demon-possessed. They scream for waffles and you finally break down and make waffles and then they scream “NO WAFFLE! YUCKY WAFFLE!” and throw it on the floor.

You are so hungry from all of the intense parenting that you dust it off and eat it yourself. But then they cry because they are hungry.

They cry because you ate their waffle.

Cry car

A toddler will proudly recite her full name and phone number over and over, yet when asked to repeat it for an audience (after you have bragged about it incessantly) she remains silent because she’s too busy pooping her pants to be bothered.

Last week, our city was shut down due to severe weather. All of the kids were home, but Robbie was at work because car dealerships never, ever close, even in the face of imminent tornadoes and hail. After all, someone somewhere might still trek out in the middle of destruction to buy a brand-new car, because obviously the best time to make an investment is when you have to drive it home in a hailstorm.

I was already having a hard day because between weather warnings, Asher, the 4-year-old, got super sick and threw up everywhere. I asked Maverick to take his little sister somewhere else in the house to play while I cleaned up the mess. It took me a good 30 minutes to get myself, Asher, and the house back under control, and by the time I was done, the other two were done playing.

Maverick pulled me aside and said, “I think Pepper has one of my marbles.”

I looked at her. She stared back silently.

She had a marble in her mouth.

After I freaked out and removed it, I made a huge production of telling her that only food goes in our mouths. She just laughed.

A few minutes later, I was standing in the play room when she walked up to me with a AA battery in her hand. I took it from her and asked, “Where did you get this?” I discovered that she had removed the bottom of an LED candle that requires two AA batteries to work. I had one of them, and the other one was missing.

I forced myself to remain calm as I searched for the missing battery. It was nowhere to be found.

“Pepper, where is the other battery?”

She looked straight at me and said, “I ate it. It’s in my tummy.”

That is when I panicked.

I made Maverick help me look — his little brother was still sitting exactly where I’d left him, with a mixing bowl in his lap in case he needed to throw up again — and we couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked her again where the battery was and she said, this time more emphatically, “IT’S IN MY TUMMY.”

I called 911.

The nice lady on the other end of the line said yes, my child definitely needed to go to the E.R. I told her to send an ambulance, because I didn’t know which one of my family members I would be able to get in touch with, and I was home alone with the kids … one of whom was projectile vomiting.

The next 20 minutes were a blur of frantic phone calls and adults arriving to help — first, my dad, followed by my in-laws, and finally, the ambulance.

The EMT’s acted like they had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, meandering slowly up to my house and into my kitchen. I mean, I understand that a child swallowing a battery is not as emergent, as, say, a child who fell in glass. Because that has also happened in our house, a few years ago. But still — to me, this was emergent.

They slowly nodded their heads and said yes, she needed to go to the hospital to get checked out, but they couldn’t take her. Not because taking her would leave us with an astronomical ambulance bill. Not because they needed to leave and assist someone who was about to bleed to death. Nope. They couldn’t take her to the hospital because they didn’t have a car seat.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, I’M TAKING HER,” I said. And we left.

The emergency room was packed. Cell phones were blaring with severe weather warnings and they had us all crammed in the interior of the hospital, away from windows and doors, so there was nowhere to sit and there is no telling what kind of illness we picked up there.

Pepper ER

Once we were in a room, the nurse was incredulous: “You think this kid ate a AA battery?” And I said, “THAT’S RIGHT” and tried not to snicker as he had this ridiculous line of questioning with her wherein she repeated everything he said and made him look like a absolute moron.

***

Nurse: “Hi, there.”

Pepper: (Silent stare.)

Nurse: “What did you do with the battery?”

Pepper: “What did you do with the battery?”

Nurse: “Did you throw the battery away?”

Pepper: “Did you throw the battery away?”

Nurse: “Did you put the battery in your tummy?”

Pepper: “Did you put the battery in your tummy?”

***

We got an X-ray.

Our toddler did not eat a battery. She was also growing increasingly annoyed with us and with the entire situation. I was past my breaking point and started feeding her half-wrapped candy from the bottom of my purse just to keep her happy until we could get the hell out of there.

We paid $150 to the hospital for their services, marking the THIRD TIME WE HAVE DONE THIS SINCE 2016 BEGAN, and went home.

The tornadoes headed East.

Robbie went back to work.

And I mustered, from the very bottom of the deepest reserves, the energy to uncork a bottle of wine.

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