Real talk

  • It’s a beautiful day for reassurance

    It was a sunny August morning, and my husband, son and I were standing inside a giant dome-like structure in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. What were we waiting for? Why a giant stuffed tiger dressed in a red zip-up sweater, of course! You may have heard of him. His name is Daniel Tiger, and we watched him and his fellow costumed character Katarina perform an adorable stage show at Storyland.

    After the performance, children could line up to take photos with the characters. As we waited in the line, an older man – looking like he would feel more at home at a biker bar than a children’s theme park – came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, as my husband and son continued getting pictures taken with Daniel and friends.

    “I just wanted to say thank you for being such great parents,” the man said, smiling and then walking away.

    I turned back and looked at JB, who is now playing with and gazing in awe at Daniel Tiger. Tears started flowing down my cheeks, and I smiled. This was just another moment of reassurance made possible by Fred Rogers.

    Like most children in the 80s, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. I learned how people make crayons, music can express feelings, and it’s okay to make mistakes. (I genuinely believe the episode where he shows the book with a typo in it instilled in me my love for proofreading!)

    I moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, and was dreading the transition. Pittsburgh had only four things going for it in my mind: My fiancé, my grad school, the Penguins, and Mister Rogers. (Technically he was from a suburb, Latrobe, but as an adult he relocated to Pittsburgh.)

    Living in Pittsburgh, it seemed everyone had some connection to Mister Rogers. I loved hearing the stories, each reiterating how humble and generous and compassionate he and his wife really were.

    While in grad school, I attended a citywide career fair for students looking at careers in journalism or communications. Imagine my surprise to find one of the speakers was the actor who played Mr. McFeely, David Newell. He was there to discuss careers in public television, obviously, but was also meeting with fans. I told him how I had reservations about moving from New England to Pittsburgh, but knew it couldn’t be that bad if Mister Rogers lived here. He spoke to me for several minutes reassuring me that everyone gets homesick, and I would make this city feel like home soon. I’ll always be grateful for that kindness.

    Mister Rogers’s effect on my parenting life

    The first song I ever sang to JB at the hospital when he was born was “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood”. I still sing him that song, along with “You Are Special”, “It’s You I Like”, and my all-time favorite “When Your Heart Has Butterflies Inside It”. We watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and now Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – as a family, and my husband and I sometimes point out places we’ve visited, or our favorite locations in the city. “There’s the Trader Joe’s Mommy always visited on her way home from work!” “That’s Daddy’s barber!”

    When JB returned to school full time last fall, I was a nervous wreck. Would he catch COVID? Was I protecting him enough? One particularly stressful day, as my head filled with worries on the drive to school, a song started playing from the “JB playlist” we were listening to in the car:

    Be brave and then be strong
    Be brave. You’ll not go wrong if you are right
    Keep your chin up tight
    And be brave and then be strong

    Yup, out of all the songs on my phone, at that moment that specific Mister Rogers song played. Sure, it could be a coincidence. After all, JB’s playlist is mostly Mister Rogers and Raffi songs (with some Taylor Swift for good measure). But coincidence or fate or whatever, all I know is that song was exactly what I wanted to hear in that moment of self-doubt.

    This summer has been extremely difficult for me emotionally. Our family’s bout with COVID, JB starting kindergarten, and some other changes have really taken their toll on my spirits. So last month, when I saw JB happily interact with these characters based on Mister Rogers’s work, and then heard someone telling me I was doing a good job? Well, I really needed that. And I think somehow, somewhere, Mister Rogers knew that, too. All I had to do was look for the helpers.

    Favorite books about Mister Rogers

    I’ve acquired quite the collection of Mister Rogers-related books over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

    (Please note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) 

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  • Thank you for being a friend

    cheesecake slices

    Like many people, I have been rewatching Golden Girls this past week in remembrance of Betty White. Gosh, that show was delightful. I think my favorite part (other than Sophia’s and Dorothy’s snarky comebacks) is just how ready the characters are to help one another at a moment’s notice, whether it’s with a funny story or a slice of cheesecake. In one episode, Blanche and Rose even filled in for Dorothy in a tap dance performance when she hurt her foot!

    In November, I sprained my ankle. It was not, as most 80s/90s sitcoms would have you believe, a minor inconvenience rendering me a charming damsel in distress. I did not win a dance contest at The Max (like in Saved by the Bell), nor did I trade places with Monica Geller and meet George Clooney (like in Friends). I could not put any weight on my foot for 10 days. The majority of my daily activities – carrying JB, lifting his 50 lb. wheelchair in and out of the car, etc. – were suddenly off limits. We are extremely fortunate that my husband was able to use paid time off, and that we have incredible family and friends nearby. Otherwise, I honestly don’t know what we would have done.

    This experience gave me a lot of time to think about what makes a real friend as the parent of a disabled child. Here’s a list of what has meant the most to me over these past few years:

    True friends are the ones who:

    • Want to learn more about your child’s different tools/equipment, so they can assist you;
    • Offer an extra set of hands, whether it’s to wash dishes or fold laundry or even just hit the pause button on the feeding pump;
    • Talk to, not over, your child, recognizing they are just as present as anyone else in the room;
    • Ask questions about your child’s interests, not their milestones;
    • Understand that you may have to cancel plans at the last minute due to illness or behavioral issues;
    • Distract you with funny texts and gifs while you are anxiously waiting to see a doctor or for test results;
    • Visit you during your child’s hospitalizations, even if it’s just to bring you snacks or play card games;
    • Arrange play dates (in-person or FaceTime) so their kids and yours can play and interact;
    • Realize that language around disability is changing constantly, and do their research because they want their words to convey the most compassion and dignity possible.

    This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it’s a good jumping off point for when you want to help a friend who may be dealing with a child’s diagnosis or illness and you aren’t sure what to do. Sometimes, cheesecake doesn’t solve every problem (though it sure comes close)!

    I’d love to hear what ways your loved ones have helped you during particularly difficult times. Please feel free to share in the comments.

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  • Twenty years ago

    an american flag at half mast with a blue sky and clouds in background

    I was 15 and sitting in biology class. The vice principal’s voice came across the PA system and told us planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. There was talk of a related plane crash in rural Pennsylvania.

    My first thought was “This is like real-life Independence Day.” Yes, as in the 1996 blockbuster film starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. The image of a giant menacing spaceship shooting fire or lasers at an exploding White House below was all I could picture as I heard the news.

    Meanwhile back in reality, our teachers wheeled televisions on metal carts into the classrooms, so we could watch the news continue to unfold.

    After two more class periods, I couldn’t take anymore. At lunchtime, I said I had a stomachache and waited for my mom to pick me up and bring me home. (By that point, I wasn’t even faking it. I think we all were sick to our stomachs by the unfolding events.) When we arrived home, I curled up in my bed and listened to Backstreet Boys’ Millennium album on repeat.

    The next few weeks blur together in my memory. I remember random little things here and there like the following:

    • A classmate telling everyone her mom said they would move to Canada so her brother wouldn’t get drafted;
    • Every TV station transforming into a 24-hour news channel, even MTV;
    • A slew of “We Are the World”-esque songs and telethon fundraisers;
    • A 9/11 Beanie Baby; yes, really;
    • The sudden ubiquity of patriotic clothing and American flag bumper stickers;
    • A loved one saying, “I might as well let myself have a cinnamon bun. After all, who knows how long we all have left!”

    I also can recall going through a period where I’d panic whenever something reminded me of the morning of 9/11. I couldn’t wear a certain blue headband ever again because I was wearing it when I heard about the attacks. If it was a Tuesday or the 11th of a month, and there was a clear blue sky, my heart would start racing and I’d feel nauseated, convinced it was a sign from God that something bad would happen that day.

    In addition, for the next few years whenever I heard the telltale buzzing and clicking of the school’s ancient PA system switching on, I’d feel a lump in my throat, and I’d begin steeling myself for an announcement that something bad had happened. To this day, I feel the same way whenever there’s a “breaking news special report” on TV.

    One of my former teachers used to remind us that sophomore means “wise fool” – and honestly I think that phrase sums up that year pretty well for my peers and me. We entered our sophomore year of high school thinking this was when we started to feel grown up: We were no longer the “babies” of the school, and many of us would be turning 16 and starting to drive. We were foolish enough to think we were wiser than everyone else. Fifteen is a rollercoaster of an age, filled with equal parts bravado, rage, fear, panic, loyalty, vulnerability, passion, camaraderie and self-doubt. And I think we all felt those things as a country at one point or another in the days following 9/11.

    What would I tell that 15-year-old girl sitting in biology class if I could go back in time? I’d tell her it’s okay to be scared and anxious, but don’t let it define every decision you make. I’d tell her to trust her heart that the terrible, hate-filled things she’d hear grown-ups and classmates alike say about certain groups in response to 9/11 were coming from places of ignorance and fear, not truth. I’d tell her that scary, uncertain times happen, and sometimes things are never the same again, but that doesn’t mean they are never good again, just different. And finally, I’d tell her that the freshman boy in choir named Chris – the one with the Marvin the Martian backpack –  may not be so bad after all, and she should probably give him a chance. He’ll make a great husband and father someday.

    There’s really no overarching theme or point to be made with this blog post. I just needed to get these memories out into the world. Thanks for reading.

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  • In praise of Bluey

    blue toy dog in front of colorful flowers

    “Mum . . . Dad . . . Bingo . . . Bluey!”

    If you aren’t dancing right now, you probably don’t have a child under the age of 6.

    Bluey is taking over the world, and I for one could not be more excited!

    The cartoon follows the aforementioned Australian canine members of the Heeler family on their everyday adventures. Somehow, each short episode includes as many (if not more) laughs for parents as for kids, and often end with a Pixar-worthy emotional gut punch.

    JB loves this show, but truth be told my husband and I also watch it without him. Many of my friends have admitted the same thing!

    Here is a look at two episodes, and what they’ve taught me about parenting, disability, and confidence.

    Baby Race: There are numerous articles and posts online about why parents love this episode so much, and with good reason. In this episode, Chilli (aka “Mum”) tells her daughters the story of how Bluey learned to crawl. Chilli mentions it was – in her mind at least – like a baby race to see who would crawl or walk first among the other children in the playgroup. When Bluey wasn’t crawling like the others, Chilli worried, taking her to the pediatrician and questioning her own fitness as a mother. Another mom from their playgroup comes to visit with Chilli. This mom mentions she’s still learning as she goes, and this is her ninth kid! No wonder she seems like she has it all figured out. She then assures Chilli, “You’re doing great.”

    Chilli cries, the audience cries, basically everyone cries. And then we learn what finally inspired Bluey to crawl was the desire to be with her mother on the other side of the kitchen. Trust me, just watch this and prepare to sob.

    I love this episode because it addresses how easy it is to fall into the comparison trap when it comes to our children’s milestones. I’ll admit it, even in my childbirth classes, I was scanning the other pregnant ladies in the room and thinking “She’s gained more weight than me!” or “Yeah, sure, have fun with your plans for natural birth, honey!”

    After having JB, I joined an online mommy group. I would frantically worry if someone mentioned their child was sitting up already or if someone put down moms who didn’t breastfeed. When JB didn’t meet milestones, I’d assume it was my fault. Fortunately, my friends, family and coworkers were fantastic and supportive, reminding me “You’re doing great!” when I needed it most.

    Army: This episode focuses on two of Bluey’s classmates – a Jack Russell terrier named (appropriately enough) Jack Russell. It’s Jack’s first day at his new school, where he meets a classmate named Rusty. They spend the afternoon pretending they are on an army mission. (Rusty’s dad is a soldier.)

    At one point, Rusty asks Jack if there was something wrong with his old school that made him switch to the new school. Jack replies, “No, there’s something wrong with me. I’m not good at doing what I’m told, I can’t sit still, and I can’t remember anything, like numbers or letters or my hat.”

    “Oh, well you’re really good at playing army,” Rusty replies.

    I love several things about this episode. First, it reminds us adults that children absorb and internalize everything they hear us say about them. Jack thinks it’s his fault that he had to change schools because of his differences, because of what he “can’t do”. My heart absolutely broke hearing this, because I know I’ve probably given JB the impression that there’s something wrong with him. Obviously this is not the case: JB, like Jack, needs a different educational setting to better suit his unique needs.

    The next thing I love about Army is Rusty’s reply to Jack’s comment. When Jack shares that there’s something “wrong” with him (more than likely ADHD), and lists everything he’s not good at, Rusty isn’t fazed, and mentions a strength he’s already noticed in Jack. I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but kids are so much more accepting of differences than us grown-ups are. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times a child says something like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and changes topic when they first meet JB and learn about his wheelchair or feeding tube. I wish we held onto this acceptance a bit longer, before we learn to fear or judge what is different.

    Does your family watch Bluey? Do you have a Grannies bumper sticker in your Etsy cart as we speak? Do you find yourself saying “dollarbucks” and “for real life?” in everyday conversations now? Who is your Bluey spirit animal? (mine is Muffin aka the Flamingo Queen, thank you very much!) Share in the comments or on Facebook!

     

    Etsy affiliate links are used in this post.

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  • Finding a faith community that fits

    When I started Joyful, Brave and Awesome, I said this blog would not be a place to discuss religious views, except for when related to the blog’s central message of inclusion.

    Well, over the past year our family has made some changes in how we practice our faith, and I wanted to share our experience with you.

    My husband and I were raised in and educated by the Catholic Church. We met while attending the same Catholic high school, were married in the Church, and baptized our son in the Church. Over the past several years, something shifted, though. I came to a point where the ever-increasing list of things I disagreed with was far too burdensome to make me want to practice my faith anymore. My husband felt similarly, and we discussed switching to a different denomination, but never actually followed through with it.

    As JB’s disabilities became more apparent and we learned more about his genetic syndrome, we struggled with how to give our son a faith community like the one we we grew up with – attending worship services, learning prayers, having traditions – while staying true to our beliefs.

    We tell JB every day that his differences don’t make him any less worthy of respect or love. He can achieve anything – pursue a career, fall in love and get married, raise a family, participate in social events, etc. Just because he was born a little different than other people doesn’t mean he is not enough, or is inherently wrong or bad. How could we justify telling JB these reassuring messages, while at the same time belonging to a group that limits people’s rights simply because of how they were born?

    I knew that if we wanted to lead by example and teach my son to have faith and believe in a higher power, my husband and I needed to make a change. As one person astutely pointed out, we were looking for a church that “preached what we practiced.”

    One of the good things about the pandemic was it caused churches to livestream their worship services. Our family was able to “attend” different Sunday services without worrying about when to sit, stand, kneel, sing, pray, etc. We also didn’t need to worry if JB had a meltdown, or if his feeding pump alarm went off, or if the building was wheelchair accessible. We ended up finding a local parish in a different denomination that is a much better fit for our family. This group has welcomed us with open arms, and has gone out of their way to make sure services and special events are accessible and accommodating for JB.

    I realize no church or religious family is perfect, and JB – like any other kid – will face hardship throughout his life regardless of his religious affiliation. But I also know that, as his mom, it is my job to provide him with a safe environment that fosters confidence, compassion, and tolerance.

    Recently, I have connected with an online community of writers and readers who believe in the importance of inclusion in faith-based writing. I am so excited by the work these group members are doing! As part of this group, over the next few weeks I will be sharing information about a new children’s book called What is God Like? that illustrates the themes of faith and inclusion in one of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever seen.

    You can see a preview of the book here.

    I’d love to hear if you have positive stories of inclusion and faith, whether disability-related or not. I’m also curious if you have any stories of changing your religious practices during the pandemic. Feel free to share in the comments!

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  • Language around disability: Good, bad and ugly

    “You can’t be so sensitive and take everything personally!”

    “How can anyone keep up anymore with what is acceptable or politically correct?”

    “They didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just their generation.”

    Raise your hand if you’ve heard (or even used) excuses like these when someone is called out for using an offensive word or phrase.

    I’d like to share something that actually happened to my son and me two years ago. Although I wrote down everything the day it took place so I wouldn’t forget details (always a journalist!), it’s taken me the time since to have the guts to share this encounter publicly.

    I was out with JB getting lunch at a café before his therapy appointment. As I went to grab milk for my coffee (you know, back when you could add your own milk and sugar without fear of A PANDEMIC?), an elderly woman nearby commented on how cute JB was.

    The woman asked how old he was, and then asked, “Why is he moving his head like that?” (He was shaking his head back and forth, a common behavior related to his sensory issues and head/neck support.)

    I explained that he has a muscle condition and it takes a bit more effort for him to maintain head control, as I still waited for the milk for my coffee.

    “Can’t they operate and fix that?” she snapped.

    “We’re working on it through therapy. He’s getting stronger every day and we are so proud of him and the strides he’s made!” I calmly explained, wondering when the customer in front of me would finish with that darn milk carafe.

    “Oh. My cousin had a [r-word] kid and put him in an institution. Luckily her second kid came out normal.”

    Cue the stunned silence.

    “That sounds like a tough decision for your family. OK, bye,” I somehow managed to spit out as I pulled a U-ey with JB’s stroller and got the heck out of that café, tears already starting to spill down my face.

    There are so many, many issues to address in this exchange: The use of the “r word”, the lack of boundaries, the implication that disability means undesirability, and the blatant “otherness” of her statement, for starters. JB is a strong, hilarious, and compassionate kid who has made such strides so far in his life. We are so fortunate to have him, and to suggest anything otherwise is a slap in the face not only to him, but to our entire family. I don’t care if this woman had her own issues or problems. Maybe she did grow up in a different time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that she was WRONG.

    The moral of the story is this woman was awful and I am a saint for not “spilling” my hot coffee on her. The end. Roll credits.

    Wait, that’s not the moral? Fine.

    I guess the real lesson to be learned here is that if you think something might be remotely inappropriate to say, just don’t say it. It’s as straightforward as that. If any part of you feels the need to preface a statement with “No offense but…” or “I don’t mean to be rude but…”, just don’t say it.

    If you are concerned about proper wording or language, or determining what words or phrases are or are not “correct”, the best thing you can do is stay informed. There are so many incredible voices in the disabled community right now, sharing their experiences and fighting to be seen and heard. I can’t begin to do justice to their eloquent explanations of preference of some terms over others, so I’m going to share a few links for you to learn directly from the disabled creators themselves.

    Do you have a favorite disabled activist or creator you follow online? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

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  • Acknowledging what we’ve lost this past year

    I know it’s been quiet around here the past two months.

    I’ve had a million article ideas buzzing around in my mind, including:

    • A Dose of Awesome focused on recent TV/movie reboots I’m loving;
    • Post-vaccine life so far;
    • My husband and my decision to leave the Catholic Church;
    • JB is learning to ride a tricycle!

    I’m still going to address some of these topics in the coming weeks, but today I’m going to discuss something no one wants to have to talk about – grief. (It’s not very joyful, brave or awesome, but whatever.)

    My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. It’s still not sinking in yet; I told my husband it feels like I’m in a foggy alternate universe. I’ve spent the past few days going through the motions, but feeling completely exhausted and emotionally drained.

    I’ve inherited a lot from my grandmother – my eyes, my love of Nutella and Italian cheeses (not together, as that would be disgusting), my love of libraries and reading, and my impatience and inability to keep opinions to myself! I hope I’ve also inherited her strong will and sheer determination.

    For some weird reason, I usually don’t cry at funerals. Rather, I’m exactly like Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother, with wisecracks and a Mary Poppins-esque purse full of vices, ready to help comfort others. (I cannot find a clip of this scene of the HIMYM episode Last Words but trust me, it is wonderful.) At my grandmother’s funeral, however, I couldn’t stop crying. I was upset because my grandmother was gone, yes, but it was more than that. I was grieving many things from the past year:

    • I hadn’t seen most of my family (my grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.) since Christmas 2019, and I was upset this was how we were reunited.
    • I was bitter about how much has been taken from us  – all because world leaders were reckless and incompetent and didn’t take the pandemic seriously during the first days of its spreading.
    • I hated how much the pandemic has messed with my mental health. Sometimes I tell myself I don’t have the “right” to be depressed or anxious anymore because everyone else is, too. This just makes the distorted thoughts and negative thinking spiral further and further out of control.
    • I worried that JB would be forever scarred because he’s already attended two funerals in his four years.
    • I was infuriated – that between pews being “roped off” for social-distancing requirements and the layout of the church, we had to position JB’s wheelchair right near the casket.
    • I panicked about the millions of “what-ifs” regarding my son possibly catching COVID while inside the church.  I was so scared in fact, I had my husband leave with JB halfway through the service. Would this be my new normal, constantly anxious and vigilant that until JB is vaccinated, every person out there is a possible threat?

    It has taken me a week to write this post because I feel guilty complaining about these things when I know so many people in this world have faced far more over the past year. More than half a million lives have been lost in the U.S. alone due to COVID-19, and each of those people leaves behind people mourning their loss.

    If you – like me – are feeling overwhelmed by what you can do to help people get through a second year of this pandemic, I encourage you to view this list of donation opportunities from CNN. Sometimes, I feel like looking outside myself and helping others is the best way to help alleviate my own grief, as cheesy as that sounds.

    As Michael Gary Scott, the wise former Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager, Scranton Branch, once so eloquently put it:

    Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that’s baloney, because grief isn’t wrong. There’s such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.

    What have you been grieving lately, COVID-related or otherwise?

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  • Back to school . . . in March?

     

    Okay, have we got JB’s backpack? Check.
    AAC device? Check.
    Glasses? Check.
    Leg braces? Check.
    Feeding tube emergency kit? Check.
    Jacket? Check
    Face mask? Check.
    Additional face mask? Check.

    I am reviewing everything one last time in preparation for tomorrow. It’s JB’s first day of school: Well, his first day attending school in person in 2021. This week, he will begin attending some of his therapy sessions in person, along with outdoor recess with his classmates. We are finally allowing him out of his pandemic bubble, and I’m not sure if I’m excited or if I want to keep him in this protected cocoon a little while longer.

    Almost all parents have had to grapple with decisions like this over the past year. Is it safe for my child to return to school or daycare? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Should we wait until there’s a vaccine approved for kids? Can we buy enough sanitizing spray for me to sleep at night? Will the other kids be good about handwashing? Should I maybe go to class with him to make sure he doesn’t lick anything? (Pretty sure this last one is specific to me, but figured I’d keep it in here just in case anyone else relates!)

    I don’t know if this hesitation is because I’m a parent of a child with complex medical needs, because I’m a parent in the midst of a pandemic, or because I’m a parent. What I do know is JB needs to be in school again, even if it is only for a few hours a week at first. He needs to have therapists and teachers who are not his parents. He needs a classroom outside of our house. He needs to grow, and explore, and cause (good-natured) mischief, and see friends in person and not only on a screen. He needs to listen to music other than the “Agatha All Along” theme song I seem to be humming ALL THE TIME.
    And yet, right now I am literally drumming my fingernails on my keyboard – sitcom secretary style – because of all my anxiety. What if it is too soon? What if JB gets sick, whether it’s from COVID-19 or a cold or some other type of bug? I’m trying not to let my thoughts spiral out of control, but that’s easier said than done.

    Deep breath. 

    I’ve double-checked the backpack, and I think we are as ready as we’ll ever be for school tomorrow.

    Oh, and I asked my science-teacher husband; He can’t invent a Wandavision-like force field to protect JB from coronavirus because apparently “that’s not how science (or the Marvel universe) works.” Whatever.

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  • Dear JB, it’s been quite a year!

    Dear JB,

    Do you remember where we were a year ago this week? I do.

    This was the week everyone realized it wouldn’t be a matter of if, but when a pandemic would be declared.

    We were hearing more and more about COVID-19, and everyone was worried about what this meant. We were debating whether or not to send you to school. It didn’t matter, though, because by Thursday afternoon, all schools had closed indefinitely.

    Your birthday party was supposed to be that Saturday, as we had decided March would be far less hectic than the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. (We thought we were sooooo clever!) So, as everything shut down, we spread the word that the party would be held once this whole thing was over. (I wanted to keep our order for two-dozen cupcakes, but realized it may not be the best decision health-wise.) We figured it would be a few months, at most.

    We had no idea what to expect when this started. As I wrote in a blog post during that time, “It feels like we are all preparing for some big storm, but without a definite ‘start’ and ‘stop’ time. We all bought the bread and milk. Schools are closed. So when is the snow day getting here? Is it coming in a day, week, month, year?”

    We tried to keep our family as busy as possible during those first few weeks. We watched a LOT of animal-related educational videos on YouTube, taking advantage of the fact that your dad is a science teacher! You and I made loads of art projects, like the hands pictured above. I took on additional freelance writing assignments, as I found writing about “the helpers” was the best way to ease my anxiety during this uncertain time. And we spent as much time as we possibly could in our backyard, hoping the fresh air would boost our spirits.

    I don’t know what you will remember about these strange past 12 months. Will you recall all of the Zoom classes and family get-togethers? Will you tell people how unbelievably cluttered our house was once it also became a 24/7 preschool/therapy room/high school science classroom/office/restaurant/movie theater/concert venue/doctor’s office/summer camp? Will you look back longingly on the small, quiet at-home celebrations we had for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will you one day tell people about how your crazy parents went through all sorts of “phases” during this time at home, including (but not limited to) sourdough, model building, succulents, painting, and Tiger King phases?

    Friday, one of your school therapists said to me excitedly, “Megan, I hope you see that there is a light at the end of this tunnel,” as she and I discussed plans for you to return to some in-person classes. I am still afraid to “jinx” anything, but I am once again starting to have hope.

    One of my favorite writers, Emily P. Freeman, said the following in a recent episode of her podcast The Next Right Thing:

    When I look back to this time one year ago, one thing that stands out was how impossible it became to make any plans at all. We were at the beginning of the great pause, but we didn’t fully know it yet . . . . So much felt impossible for so long, and some things still do, if I’m honest, but one question is rising up in me . . . . Is it time to dream again?

    JB, I have no idea what this next year will bring. I know there are positive signs, such as the vaccines, new national leadership, and the reopening of schools. Is it time to dream again, though? You bet it is! We may have to wait another year before we take that trip to Sesame Place, but nothing could postpone your strength, resolve and sense of humor. Kid, you’ll move mountains!

    Love,
    Mom

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  • 10 (well, actually 9) things I hate about now

    I’ve been dealing with a major case of writer’s block lately. Last week, while in a particularly grumpy mood, I compiled a list of “things I hate right now”.

    I think I needed to get all this down on (virtual) paper to clear my brain before moving on and writing my next blog posts. Since putting together this list, I feel creative again for the first time in months.

    Below is a cleaned-up version of the list. (Trust me, the original version was not suitable for online publication of any kind!)

    1. I hate this pandemic.
    2. I hate what this pandemic has taken away from our children, especially those most in need of the stability and socialization of a school setting.
    3. I hate the actions (or inaction) of leaders who got us into this COVID mess, and of those people who knowingly dismiss social distancing or mask guidelines and continue the spread.
    4. I hate when people dismiss others’ talents by assuming something comes easily or painlessly. “Oooh, can you play/write/design something for me right now?” Yes, because that is how the creative process works, you moron. My marketable skill/life’s passion/etc. is totally a mere party trick for your entertainment.
    5. I hate that I miss Pittsburgh sometimes.
    6. I hate that I don’t know if it’s that I miss Pittsburgh, or that I miss being a young twentysomething filled with possibility.
    7. I hate that some days I no longer consider myself filled with possibility.
    8. I hate when people say things like “It must be nice staying home,” or “Well, I could never put my child in daycare,” to mothers. You would NEVER hear someone say this to a man.
    9. I hate that I’ve gained weight and, despite knowing what I should be doing to be healthier, I don’t actually do it.
    10. I hate that I’m counting down till JB goes to bed so I can have a glass of wine and the slice of cake that came with our takeout tonight.

    Author’s Update: Yeah, so I ended up not hating anything about that cake and wine. Also, the above image is a stock photo, not the actual dessert. The real cake did not last long enough for me to photograph it. #sorrynotsorry

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