How Young Is Too Young for the Orthodontist?

Graduating from high school in the late 90s meant that I came of age during the era of grunge and Friends. It also meant that, come senior portrait time, I was sporting The Rachel. This was not because it was flattering to my face shape, but because every hair dresser on the planet gave it to you whether you asked for it or not. It also meant that I was “too cool” to wear makeup. As if these two factors alone didn’t guarantee an unfortunate senior portrait, the fact that I had braces sealed the deal. Yes, I visited the orthodontist at the age of 17. In the 90s, visiting the orthodontist into your teenage years was pretty typical. This is a fate my children may never know. After my 7-year-old daughter’s most recent visit to the orthodontist, I’m not sure this is a good thing.

90s Senior Portrait
This is a picture taken of my senior yearbook page. Because my mom didn’t have a copy of this picture in her home. Enough said.

Six months ago, when our family dentist told us that he was going to refer my then 6-year-old daughter to an orthodontist, I thought that maybe there was a nitrous tank leaking in his office. After asking around the schoolyard, I discovered that this is now common practice. Apparently, orthodontists can create a picture perfect smile that will last your child a lifetime, even when your kid is still rocking baby teeth. Well, they at least want to can start the process. I had my doubts, but since I cannot say no to anyone, I made an appointment with the orthodontist. You know, because who knows what that nitrous sniffing dentist would think of me otherwise.

Our first trip to the orthodontist was tons of fun – if your idea of fun involves laying on a dental chair with a frantic child writhing on top of you. My daughter, who has typically done well at the dentist, was terrified of the orthodontist. I’d like to think she was shown a copy of our bill and was protesting in outrage, but I kind of just think she enjoys inflicting physical and emotional pain upon her mother. My daughter would only agree to open her mouth for the orthodontist if she was on my lap. Have you ever sat in a dentist’s chair and hugged a child at the same time? The strain on your neck makes tipping your head back at a salon sink feel like a hot stone massage.

This practice continued for every visit. And those were just consults to look inside her mouth and get her “comfortable in the office.” At her latest appointment, she had to get impressions. She reacted as if we told her we’d be pulling all of her teeth and she’d be eating porridge and gruel the rest of her days. She sobbed hysterically as the hygienist, orthodontist, and I all tried to reassure her that nothing would hurt. I laid there on the chair sweating, getting neck cramps, and wondering whether I’d plucked my chin hairs recently as the orthodontist’s light shined down on my exasperated face. I put my mom through some business when I was younger, but I guarantee she didn’t have to go through this when I got braces.

So why was I doing this? Does it really make a difference physically to get braces at age 7 instead of 12? Are fourth graders not allowed to have wonky teeth anymore? I get not wanting to have braces in high school (believe me, I do), but why isn’t middle school good enough? Aren’t our awkward years the ones when we learn to develop our character? I’d like to think that if I’d had straight teeth in high school that I’d have the personality of a wet blanket. Who needs to make jokes when you have a dazzling smile to win people over? Moreover, are these early trips to the orthodontist simultaneously causing my child emotional turmoil while also depriving her of her character building awkward years?

We were told my daughter needs an expander and braces now, and again in five years. This first go round will make the final one more efficient. In my meeting with the orthodontist, I should have been focusing on words like, “prevent having to pull teeth” or “super easy process at 12.” Instead I was perseverating on the “key” I was supposed to use to stretch the expander on the roof of my daughter’s mouth each week. The mouth of my stubborn child who I imagined holing up in her room to wire her jaw shut in protest. Don’t believe me? You should have seen the jaw strength on this one at her last appointment. She even wrote me an unsolicited apology note that was discreetly left on my bed later that night.

kid apology note
Maybe if your kid can’t spell orthodontist (or picture), they’re too young for braces. PS: I never got that pecher.

This last trip to the orthodontist has made me question today’s new orthodontic practices. Are 7-year-old’s ready to maintain a mouthful of expensive orthodontics? If my kid freaks out over impressions, what is she going to do when she experiences mouth soreness after a tightening, or, worse yet, the sharp pain of a broken bracket? When I experienced these discomforts, I was old enough to appreciate the “no pain, no gain” mantra. I was willing to do whatever it took to attain the end product – a straight smile. My kid is going into second grade. In a world where  jack-o-lantern smiles are celebrated, she has zero interest in having straight teeth. Basically, there is no incentive for little ones to appreciate or care for their orthodontics. So why bother?

I made an appointment for my daughter to start this process – you didn’t expect me to say no in person, did you? But I am having second thoughts. Surely someone so young and terrified can wait just a few years? Perhaps we can all agree that she’s still got a few cute years left in the yearbook and her 7th grade class picture should be the most awkward. Never fear though, we’ll make sure her senior portrait is memorable for one thing and one thing only – a bad haircut.

When Trump Blames “Many Sides” He Contradicts Vital Lessons We Teach Our Children

On Saturday, my husband and I sent our daughters outside to play as we watched the horrific images coming out of Charlottesville. We watched as men clad in swastikas, carrying weapons and torches, shouted hate throughout the streets of a typically lovely, tranquil college town. We watched as a car rammed into a crowd on a street usually filled with students and families out for a stroll or a bite to eat. We then watched, equally horrified, as our president placed the blame on many sides. I peered out the window at my daughters innocently playing in the backyard and was as grateful that they hadn’t heard these words as I was that they hadn’t seen the images of the protest.

Blaming many sides contradicts critical life lessons we teach our children. When we blame many sides, we equate the behavior of hate-filled groups who stand for the oppression of others to the behavior of those who are willing to risk their own safety to stand up against hate. When we give people a pass for standing alongside Nazis, but denounce those who stand up to them, we need to stop and think about what message this sends to the impressionable youth of our country.

Bullying prevention is taught in school across America. We teach our children what we know to be true, that bullies and victims are few and the majority of the participants are bystanders, those who witness bullying and do nothing to stop it. Most kids are bystanders out of fear of retaliation, or feelings of helplessness. While the mindset of a bystander is completely understandable and teachers are sympathetic to their feelings, we encourage them to act as upstanders. We implore our students to stand up for someone being bullied, assuring them that they will be protected. If we can expect an 8-year-old to be an upstander, then why aren’t we encouraging adults to do the same?

When our president condemns “many sides,” he condemns the upstander right along with the bully. President Trump is equating men marching through streets spewing hate to the men and women who filled the city center of their community to show that hate does not have a place there. On one hand there is a bully marching for the oppression of women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ communities, and on the other is the upstander sticking up for those who have been marginalized. By placing equal blame on upstanders, we are sending a message to our children to allow hate. We are teaching them apathy. We are telling our children to continue being bystanders, for otherwise they will be condemned along with the bully.  

strong kids

As parents, we have concern over who our children spend time with. We want to meet our children’s friends and their parents so that we may consider their values and character. We encourage our children to surround themselves with positive influences who will bring out the best in them. We are concerned over who our children align themselves with socially because we know that these people will not only have influence over them, but also determine how they are judged by their peers, their teachers, and people in their community.

If my child was continually hanging out with friends who openly used drugs, though assured me she was drug free, would I feel unconcerned? Of course not. Even if she stayed sober, she would be aligning herself with a group whose values did not stand with her own. School officials and future employers would have every right to question her judgement. If the police entered a room filled with drugs, she would find herself in trouble just by being present. We teach our children that they are a reflection of those around them. We must hold adults to the same standard.

When we refuse to condemn white nationalists for Saturday’s despicable riots because “other groups” were also marching, we give people a free pass to align themselves with hate while skirting blame. Forgive me if I have little sympathy for men who claim to have been marching simply to save an historic relic. You chose to knowingly march with leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. You chose to align yourselves with hatred and you should reap the consequences, whether that be public shame or a loss of your employment.

When our president makes vague remarks about placing blame on “many sides” and refuses to condemn hate groups, he is sending a clear message to our children. Waiting two days to condemn specific hate groups still sends the same message. My children were playing outside on Saturday, but many weren’t. Children and teens across the nation heard the words of the president and received a message which blatantly contradicts the lessons they have been taught by their parents and teachers. Today, they heard a politician backpedal after national outrage that spread across party lines. So what can we do?

We let them hear our outrage. We let them know that today’s words were a start, but not good enough. We teach our children that hate is unacceptable. We encourage our children to stand up against hate of all kinds. We teach them to make their friends based on who is kind and who brings out the best in them, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Whether they see a classmate being teased over her headscarf or the contents of his lunchbox, I will teach my daughters to be fierce friends who always choose to be the upstander.

I will teach with my words and I will show with my actions. If I want my daughters to be fierce, they need a mother who is too. So my daughters will see me feel anger over injustice. They will see me defend anyone being subjected to hate and oppression. They will see their mother align herself with people and groups that celebrate inclusion and love. For my daughters, there will only be one side, and that will be the side that fights hate. Always.

Lice Autocorrects to Love

Did you know that on the iPhone the word lice autocorrects to love? It makes sense considering the only foolproof way to know whether you truly love someone is to determine whether you’d allow them to be in your presence while literally infested with bugs. Milo Ventimiglia himself could show up at my front door, but, God help me, if that perfect man had even one nit, he’d find his ass on the curb.

I recently arrived home after a weekend away to a husband and children in the midst of a lice scare. Allowing them to remain in the house with me is the only proof they will ever need to know my love for them. The Great Lice Scare of 2017 was incredibly eye opening and I’d like to share with you all the immense knowledge I have gained in the past 36 hours.

at the nit picker
Not the kind of “salon” a mom wants to bring her kid to.
  1. You can desperately love someone and simultaneously be disgusted by them. I didn’t run from my home screaming when I thought my daughter’s hair was infested, but I most certainly did not hug her.
  2. The thought of having to launder and/or vacuum all the bedding, carpets, furniture, stuffed animals, and clothing your child has come in contact with is almost as horrifying as the thought that they have bugs living on their head. Almost.
  3. The power of our minds is incredible. For instance, with my words alone, I bet I am making you itch right now.
  4. Lice means that the idea of burning your house to the ground and starting over doesn’t seem so preposterous.
  5. “Nit picker” is an actual profession. These people own businesses dedicated entirely to killing bugs and removing nits from other people’s hair. Watching them work is both fascinating and horrifying.
  6. Nit pickers bill more an hour than most lawyers. They earn every single penny.
  7. There are times in life when I like to be thrifty. Lice removal is not one of them.
  8. My daughter screams bloody murder when I brush her freshly conditioned hair with a $25 “no tears” brush that barely touches her. She will, however, sit calmly while a man in a head lamp meticulously combs through her hair with a fine-toothed metal comb that looks like a medieval torture device.
  9. I apparently do not know the difference between dandruff and a nit. While my children may be victims of dry, flaky scalps, they did not, in fact, have lice.
  10. Handing over cash to a professional who has just told me that my kids don’t have lice is worth the peace of mind. I would have hugged the man if he didn’t deal in lice all day.

In case you weren’t aware, it’s still Lent. So, while my husband and I consulted the nit picker over the phone on Sunday night, and sent our children off to bed with what we thought were insect eggs in their hair, I sipped a cup of tea. The Easter Bunny better leave a bottle of bourbon in my basket next month.

 

The Lent Diet

This year’s Lent Diet will be different.

Let’s be honest. For most of us, Lent is just a diet sanctioned by Jesus. Lent is supposed to be about sacrifice for the purpose of penance. Are we truly showing penance when we give up chocolate in order to fit into our spring clothes?

When I decide to give up sweets every year, it has much less to do with the atonement of my sins and much more to do with the fact that the impending spring is a reminder that swimsuit season is around the corner. Plus, there are so many loopholes. Last year, I gave up wine…and promptly filled the void with bourbon. You know, just as Jesus intended.

The fact that everyone treats the day before Lent like they’re heading off to rehab in the morning is also pretty questionable. For instance, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit doesn’t approve of the way beads are distributed on Fat Tuesday. Yet, there I was last night, laying on my couch having my own little Mardi Gras that involved guzzling wine and demolishing a bag of Tate’s chocolate chip cookies. Because, yes, my Lent Diet starts today and I needed to get my last fix. But it also got me thinking that this year, I should do more.

This year, as always, I am giving up sweets and second helpings (as a friend mentioned last week – if you’re not Italian, you may not understand that there are grown women in this world that eat like this). I am also adding “drinking at home” to the list this year, which I fear makes me sound like someone who needs more help than Lent has to offer. When I consider my list of sacrifices, one thing is plain to see – – every single one of the things I am giving up is to help me lose weight. It seems I am giving up gluttony and replacing it with vanity.

I have decided that that is okay. I am going to stick to my Lenten promises. Because they are good for me. My ability to binge on anything containing simple sugars is out of control. I eat enough carbohydrates in one meal to feed a family of 6. And, okay, maybe I drink too much wine. Plus, I am training for a half marathon, and all of these sacrifices will help me accomplish my goal of, you know, not feeling like I’m going to die while running 13.1 miles. Giving up these unhealthy habits for 40+ days (Sundays don’t count, but I’ll keep to my Lent Diet on them anyway) will benefit me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still sacrifices. So they remain.

But this year, I am going to do more. This year, Lent will not only be about me. I am going to “give up” more than sugar, alcohol, and carbohydrate units. This year, I am also going to give up my time, my energy, and my things. And I am going to give them to people who need it.

This Lent, I am going to ensure that, every week, I devote time to do at least one thing for others. Whether I volunteer at a local charity or donate goods to those in need, Lent is not going to be all about me this year. This week, I am finally going to bring the bags of clothes we have been hoarding in our upstairs hallway to Goodwill. Next week, I am going to bring my kids grocery shopping and then drop off after school snacks at an incredible local charity that feeds kids in a cafe setting. Who knows where I’ll go from there!

One thing is for sure, come Easter, I’ll be the gal with the slim pants and the full soul. Because my Lent Diet is going to make my body starve, while it serves my soul a feast. Who wants to join me?*

*Just to clarify, I mean the service part. I would never be so cruel as to ask any of you to give up drinking wine at home. I’m not an animal.

 

What to Know Before You Compare Yourself to A Photo on Social Media

alb lady project launch

This is a picture of my friend Lea and me, taken two nights ago. As of right now, it has received over 140 likes and around 30 comments. I can’t recall if the photos announcing my children’s births got that much action. As the accolades were pouring in yesterday, a vain part of me was a little thrilled, but that bigger, empathetic mom voice in me was stronger. “You are contributing to an unfair Facebook highlight reel. This is not your real life.”

Except, it is. But it’s only a part of it. A tiny part of it.

This was taken at the end of an incredible night that we’ve worked hard for and a post to celebrate our success was warranted. We have been working for months with a team of incredible women to launch a local chapter of Lady Project, a nonprofit women’s group celebrating awesome women doing amazing things. This was the night of our sold out launch event. We’d just hosted a room full of inspirational, driven, passionate women excited to support one another and our community. We had reason to celebrate with a selfie. But, before anyone feels deflated upon seeing a glamorous snapshot in their news feed, they must know that none of this came easy.

A picture might speak a thousand words, but this one speaks a thousand lies. Let me tell you the real story.

  1. I did not wake up like this. While my husband took my children to run errands, I spent an ungodly amount of time on my hair. We’re talking hair dryer, straightener, and two different types of product – neither of which was dry shampoo. It was excessive.
  2. I am wearing about 13 pounds of makeup in this picture. I used foundation primer for God’s sake! This was covered in actual foundation and two different types of concealer. There were then roughly 17 other makeup items piled on top. I think Kylie Jenner would have told me to tone it down if she, you know, hung out with moms in their late 30s.
  3. Lea and I both hate shopping, yet spent two full hours at the mall days before this picture was taken in order to find perfect ensembles. I ended up wearing a blouse I bought in desperation, and she ended up wearing an old one of mine because she’d left her brand new, steamed blouse at home in her rush to leave a house full of kids. She realized she wasn’t wearing a bra when we got to the event.
  4. Shortly before this picture was taken, I was standing barefoot on a city street because I could not tolerate wearing my stiletto heels for one more second. I literally ripped them off my feet on a freezing, dirty sidewalk so that I could rummage through my bag to find a pair of flats I had packed for such an occasion. Sophisticated.
  5. Two Words: Photo Tricks. I don’t really look like this! Are you kidding me? First we found a spot out of harsh light. We then worked on the angle. Several shots were deleted until we settled on this one. And then, the piece de resistance – Instagram filters. After that process, I could make a picture of my elbow look hot.

And then there’s the event itself. We bombarded our Facebook pages with event teasers and advertisements. We used words like “excited” and “thrilled” but we left out the ones like “terrified” and “freaking out.” We didn’t put up any posts bragging about letting our kids watch two straight hours of YouTube so that we could figure out how to sell tickets on Eventbrite. There were no pictures of the pile of laundry that was accumulating at the top of my basement stairs posted to Instagram. I most certainly did not tweet about the amount I sweat the day leading up to the event or the stress dreams I had about speaking in front of a crowd. Nope. To the world of social media, we seemed like two confident working moms doing it all. Ha!

So, before you go comparing yourself to pictures and posts you see floating around your social media page, it’s best to know the truth. Sure, I might have a special evening once in a while, but most of the time, I’m rocking dirty hair and jeans I’ve worn two dozen times without washing. And you better believe that those special evenings mean that I’ve dropped the ball somewhere else.

If you don’t believe me, allow me to share a video my daughter took of me literally licking wing sauce and blue cheese off of a plate – taken less than 24 hours after the aforementioned photo. Also note that I didn’t post this one to Facebook, even though it’s more “me” than a night spent in stiletto heels.

Video

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make that first photo my profile picture in case any ex-boyfriends happen to search my name…

Perfect on Paper

supermom

I have a friend who once dated a guy who was perfect on paper. Attractive, athletic, grew up in Europe, was Ivy League educated, and was working for an impressive firm in New York. He also turned out to have serious problems with communication and an internet browser history that was more than questionable.

The moral is, lots of people look fantastic on paper, but resumes, social media pages, or a friendly chat at the playground don’t tell a complete story. Still, we constantly make unfair comparisons. This was true when we compared boyfriends in our 20s and it’s even truer now as we compare ourselves to other moms in the carpool lane.

When we look at highlight reels of our peers, we can feel inadequate. As a woman and mother of daughters, I want to build other women up. I want to celebrate their accomplishments and provide other moms the accolades they deserve. But I’d be lying (as if I’ve never done that before) if I said that a little green monster didn’t infiltrate my thoughts now and again.

It’s totally natural to feel jealous. At least, it is for me. When I look at a mom who has it all together, I want desperately to feel happy for her, to acknowledge how hard she’s worked to get where she is. Many times I do. Sometimes, though, it’s just easier to feel deflated. Instead of looking at these successful women as an inspiration, I look at them as superhuman, someone I shouldn’t even strive to emulate.

And then, just the other day, I thought, “F*@k that!” I’m pretty damn good on paper, too. I work full time, write a blog, have had my writing featured in international publications, and am about to launch a local chapter of the Lady Project, an amazing non-profit women’s group, in my city. At the same time, I am raising two precocious, spunky daughters, volunteer at school once in awhile, run (okay, jog) pretty regularly, and try to get to a hot yoga class a few times a month. I have a circle of friends who are more like sisters to me and, with the help of incredible grandparents, my husband and I get more date nights than most. Also, my husband’s a stud and we genuinely love spending time together.

Maybe there are people out there who think I’m superhuman! I mean, on paper, that all sounds pretty impressive. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you know there’s more to this story. So much more.

Yes, I am successfully maintaining life with several balls in the air, but I’m also the epitome of a mom fail. I am a complete slob, I have anxiety about nearly every decision I make, I snap at my kids more often than I’d like to admit, and I might love wine and bourbon a teensy bit more than I should. If anyone takes a look at the “on paper” Teresa, they might feel inadequate.  If they were to see me right now, laying on my disgusting couch (seriously, one cushion has a smell), with my greasy hair up in a messy bun (not the cute kind), while I allow my children to go into their second hour of YouTube video watching? No one’s jealous. Maybe they’re starting to feel a little better about themselves (and a little sorry for me).

I am happy to announce the official mission of Mama Tries Blog:

To make all mothers feel empowered, supported, and inspired through life’s accomplishments and utter failures.

I want to celebrate women, both in their successes and in admitting their defeats. We are all part Supermom, but we are also all part Bad Mom. By admitting both, we can be inspirations and support systems to one another. Isn’t that what every mom needs? Well, that, a bottle of wine, and some sleep…    

Please stay tuned for a new blog series that brings the mission to life!

Liar Liar: Lies I Tell Myself

I’m a liar. I’ve admitted it before and I’ll admit it again: I am an equal opportunity liar. I lie to my kids. I lie to other adults. And today, I’ll publicly admit that I lie to myself. Hey, I may be a liar, but at least I’m fair. Here are my 5 most frequent offenses.

liar

I’m not drinking any wine tonight.

At 7 a.m. I am ready to face the day. I’ve got a cup of earl grey in my hands, the day is set before me, and neither of my daughters has sobbed because their sister is looking at them. I think to myself, “You know, maybe it’s good to take a night off once in a while. I think I’ll skip the wine tonight.” Come 5 o’clock and I’m trying to prepare dinner with one of my kids screaming in time out and the other crying on the couch because her sister just hit her for knocking over a block tower, and the only solution is sauvignon blanc. Then I tell myself that my dry day will be tomorrow.

mommywine

Organic mac & cheese is healthy.

Dehydrated cheese in any form probably shouldn’t be considered a healthy option, but the word organic is like a glorious invitation to lie to myself. You slap the words “organic” or “natural” on a box or wrapper and I’m willing to set everything I know about health and nutrition aside, if only to mitigate my guilt. If a company’s marketing department plays their cards right, I serve up mac & cheese or cheddar snack mix to my kids with the confidence of Jamie Oliver serving his kids kale chips and hand-battered baked fish fillets.   

mac n cheese

I can give my kids a haircut.

You know what happens when you mention homeschooling to a teacher? They start asking about parents’ teaching certifications or master’s degrees in the field of education. Well, guess who else has specialized training in order to learn their craft? In my time as an amateur children’s hair butcher stylist, I’ve transformed luxurious locks into an uneven bob and may or may not have given one of my children a mullet after a particularly unfortunate attempt to trim some bangs. Every single haircut I have given my children has ended in tears – there’s and mine. Yet, every six months, when their hair is getting a little long and ratty at the ends, I think to myself, “Well, I could probably manage a little trim…” And the cycle continues.’

mullet kid
You’d cry too if your mother made you look like a medieval page boy.

Someday my house will be clean again.

I have a friend who has been impeccably neat since birth. When we were in high school, her bedroom was immaculate while you couldn’t even see the floor in mine. She had a system to organizing her CD’s, while I once spent the better part of a week sleeping next to a pile of clean laundry on my bed. Now that she has three children, she has let her house go a little bit. Meaning – the horror – you might find a stray dish in the sink when you enter her kitchen. Someday, when her boys are older, her house will be clean again. Mine won’t. This does not, however, stop me from constantly  blaming my messy house on my kids, and crying that old mom lament, “Someday my house will be clean again.” Not if it never was in the first place, it won’t.

messy room
The kids are, truthfully, only about 60% to blame for this.

I’m not going to get upset if I read the comment section.

Yes I am. I most certainly am. Comment sections on the internet are where the world’s sociopaths like to come and play under the shroud of anonymity. They judge, they spew venom, they hurt, they enrage, and then they go on about their daily business while their innocent victims cower behind their computer screens and wonder what kind of world they are raising their children in. Every article I read on the Internet turns into a game of Russian Roulette. I hover my cursor over the comment section, thinking “maybe this time I’ll find some like-minded people and some mature discussion.” I won’t. It’s a bullet every time.

internet comments

You may be thinking that five lies isn’t so bad at all. That’s the life of a realist, not some delusional freak who lives in a fantasy world of her own creation. You’re right. Five lies isn’t bad. But I’d clearly be lying if I claimed that these are the only ones I tell myself. If I were you, I’d be pretty confident that a “Lies I Tell Myself: Part 2” was in the works…

An Uneaten Lunch

A single glimpse of my daughter’s lunch box brought me to tears this morning. It’s just a canvas case, clad in multicolored butterflies, and dirtied by peanut butter and the crayon she once used to proudly write her name on it. I saw just the top of it peeking out of her backpack and a wave of sorrow crashed over me.

Today marks four years since the Sandy Hook shooting. Four years since 26 lives, 20 of them first-graders, were snuffed out in a violent, senseless rampage. At the time, I was a mother of a two-year-old and a 5-week old.

Living in a postpartum daze consumed with diapers, feedings, and sleep schedules, I was somehow able to live for days seemingly unaware of the nightmare that occurred 3 hours from my home. I knew mostly what happened, but, perhaps out of sheer biological defense, I did not allow myself to fully register this cataclysmic tragedy. At a time in my life when a Target commercial could send me into hysterics, my hormones somehow came together to shield me from this event, knowing I was too fragile to handle its gravity.

It was several days after the shooting when reality came crashing down upon me. I happened across a letter written by Nelba Marquez-Greene to her daughter Ana, one of the first graders killed on that day. Her letter was a beautiful tribute to the little girl she would never hold again, but one line struck me to the core.

The layers of this are complex and while we may not agree on all pieces- perhaps we can agree that no parent, grandparent or caregiver should ever again put their child on a school bus only to have their backpack and uneaten lunch returned to them by an FBI agent and police officer- because their child was executed at school.

An uneaten lunch. Ana and her classmates never got to eat their lunch that day. Instead of being greeted by a child’s hug after school, 20 sets of parents were approached by FBI agents holding their children’s uneaten lunch.

For weeks I thought of these lunches. What do you do with an uneaten lunch meant for your child who is no longer on this earth? Do you eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that they couldn’t? Do you save the bag of popcorn as if it is a relic of your lost child? Do you throw it away?

For a few days, I had been able to disconnect myself from this tragedy, perhaps because the very idea of it was unfathomable. I was able to avoid the innocent faces that flashed on my television screen, willing myself to look away and not recall the color of their eyes. The image of an uneaten lunch? That I could not escape.

Parenting is difficult. There are days when I question every decision I make, from what I’ve served for breakfast to how I rushed through a bedtime song. I worry that I’m not giving my children everything they need. I lament that they don’t listen. I complain when they have exhausted my patience. I have made my parental rants, jokes, and self-proclaimed mediocrity part of my personal identity. Today, however, I remind myself that, while parenting is hard, loving my children is the easiest thing I have ever done.

Today, my older daughter is in first grade. She was sent to school, her lunchbox tucked safely away in her almost matching backpack. She was sent to school just like 20 other first graders were sent to school four years ago.

Today, I am a mother who must remain confident that my daughter will come home, as she always does, with her face revealing the evidence of a lunch that was eaten. She will give me kisses that leave me with the light scent of her cherry yogurt, and I will know how truly lucky I am.

Today, I will not get annoyed, as I too often do, that her lunch box is filled with crusts and dirty napkins. My reminder to throw her scraps away at school can wait for another day.

Today, I will be grateful for the privilege of packing a lunch for her again tomorrow.

StoryWorth: The Perfect Holiday Gift

What do you buy someone who has everything – especially when “everything” is not hyperbole, but a literal observation of their basement? Finding the perfect holiday gift for parents, in-laws, and grandparents is one of the most daunting tasks of holiday gift shopping. My kids are insatiable gluttons who want demand everything. They’re easy. The 65 and older crowd, however? They don’t want any more “stuff” in their house.

If every knick knack you perused on Black Friday left you with nightmares of your future self tossing it in a dumpster after you shipped your folks off to the nursing home, well I’ve got the gift for you!

StoryWorth touts the tagline of “The most meaningful gift is family.” Of course that’s true. It’s also true that you’ll be kicked out of Christmas dinner (or at least gain a few dirty looks) if you arrive empty handed. Luckily for us, the perfect holiday gift is here. StoryWorth brings the gift of family to a whole new level.

How It Works

Each week, StoryWorth emails your gift recipient a question about their life. They then write or record their answer (story) which is shared with you upon completion. At the end of the year, all of the stories are bound in a keepsake book.

There are a range of questions that prompt recipients to share childhood memories or ask them about life’s moments that brought great emotion. Some questions allow the recipient to share their experiences during historical events, or even provide an opportunity to express their values and beliefs. Questions are sent to you ahead of time for vetting, and you are always given the option to select another question or even write your own.

Why It’s the Perfect Holiday Gift

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, my father-in-law is the most kind and thoughtful man. Buying gifts for him is nearly impossible, as we feel that, for all he does for us, he deserves a 6-month trip to Europe. It’s safe to say that gift ain’t coming from us anytime soon, so last Father’s Day, it was a Godsend when I stumbled upon StoryWorth.

StoryWorth has taught us so much about this incredible man. We learned that his childhood in Chicago epitomized the Baby Boomer generation (there were 40 kids on his block alone). We learned that his grandfather worked his way up from office boy to Vice President of a railroad. Who doesn’t love visions of their grandfather as a mischievous boy, sneaking coal into his brother’s Christmas stocking? Most of all, we have amazing stories to share with our daughters about their beloved Papa. Even as old women, my girls will be able to read these stories, written in their dear Papa’s own words, and remember his warm heart and gentle manner. They will also get to recall his favorite joke, which I’m sure thrills him!

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The one criticism I had about StoryWorth is that, as the weeks went on, I feared I’d bought a completely selfish gift. Remember when Homer Simpson bought Marge a bowling ball that had “Homer” written on it? StoryWorth is like that. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to finding one of my father-in-law’s stories in my in-box. Whether they make me laugh or cry, these stories never fail to warm my heart.

As he does, my father-in-law made me feel much better about this. He reminded me that StoryWorth allows the recipient to reminisce about the good times in their lives, reflect upon the bad, and, most of all, it allows him to share his life with his loved ones. He also loves StoryWorth as it helped him to channel his inner writer. Seriously, here’s an excerpt from his answer to the question: “What is one of the bravest things you’ve ever done and what were the consequences?”

I think people are brave throughout their lives, doing little things and big things they know are right, and doing them fearlessly. Trying new things they know they won’t be good at right away, or things that might make them look funny at first. Getting up every day, going to school, going to work, doing things you like to do and things you don’t like to do, doing what you are supposed to do to support yourself and your family, and make the world a better place. That is brave. I guess brave is an attitude you have to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences.

How lucky are my kids to call this man Papa?!

The Most Meaningful Gift

StoryWorth helped me realize that there is no more perfect holiday gift than telling someone that you love them so much that you want to know them even more. This holiday season, if you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for a loved one, buy a subscription to StoryWorth. It truly is “the most meaningful gift.”

If you use the link below (or any of the StoryWorth links within this post) to order StoryWorth, I will receive a small commission. (I made it clear that, even in gift giving, I’m selfish, right?) Seriously though, please know that this is my first affiliate post. I sought them out because of how much StoryWorth has meant to my family. But if this works out, get ready for me to start schlocking things left and right!

www.storyworth.com/mamatries

StoryWorth: The Perfect Holiday Gift

This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links earn me a small commission.

Random Acts of Kindness

Yesterday, there was a shooting at our local mall. Home to numerous restaurants, play centers, a bowling alley, and movie theater, in addition to the many stores stocked for Christmas shoppers, it was filled. Santa was taking pictures with children when the shots rang out.

I was not there, but the mall is a popular spot around here, and it didn’t take long for this shooting to become personal. A woman bringing a group of children to the movies to celebrate her son’s birthday. Another having lunch with a friend. A family out shopping for children’s clothing. My Facebook newsfeed quickly filled with announcements of safety.

No one was injured in the shooting, which is thought to be gang related. No one has been arrested. Yet, countless families will now question where they will bring their children today. Countless mothers will decide against a visit to Santa this year. Countless children will have life-long memories of being forced to get down and take cover as shots rang out in a crowded mall.

In times like this, it’s easy to believe that the world is a dark, cruel place. It’s hard to feel safe when our news is filled with random acts of violence. Today, I will try my best to remember the words of Fred Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

My friend Kelly was in the mall yesterday. I can’t imagine the fear she must have felt and still feels. Yet, this morning on Facebook, she chose to send a message to her helper. It brought me to tears, yet also brought me comfort. It reminded me that, in the midst of one act of violence, our local mall was home to a bounty of random acts of kindness yesterday.

Kelly has graciously allowed me to share her words with you. I hope that they make you feel a little bit better about the world today.

mr-rogers

To the stranger in DSW,

Yesterday when my husband and I decided to go to the mall to buy our daughter (3) some new dresses, I didn’t expect to leave holding your hand, especially since I never even caught your name. The mall was so crowded, we decided to park near JC Penny’s because, let’s face it, it never gets too packed there. Where did you park? Did you have to walk far after we were evacuated?

My husband, I think you saw him, was so frustrated when we arrived because he had left the attachment to the baby’s (5 months) stroller in the garage, but I of course am always prepared and had my wrap. (Looking back it was a sign not to have the stroller because we had to evacuate through stairs.) We weren’t there long, a stop in Pottery Barn, a quick stop at H&M, and then down the escalator to DSW. Were you starting your Christmas shopping early or there for yourself?

Our daughter Madigan loves the escalator, but she didn’t love Santa sitting at the bottom, so we quickly made our way to DSW and that’s where I met you. I was with the baby in the bootie section. I have a large foot, 9.5, and luckily they didn’t have anything to try on. What were you looking for?

As I made my way across the store to see where Dan and Madigan were, I noticed people yelling and running towards Penny’s. I looked around DSW, and oddly enough no one but me noticed that chaos that was ensuing. When I heard someone from inside the mall yell shooter, I did as I was trained and began to yell “shooter, shooter, everyone run” as loudly as I could. Did you hear me?

Dan didn’t hear me either so I started screaming his name. I’m sure you heard that. Finally, we made eye contact and I once again yelled out “shooter.” Although Dan had our daughter, he did what he was trained to do as a police officer and began to run towards the shooter. When he and I were talking about it last night, I was angry that he would have thought to leave us, but he explained it was his duty to put others before himself in the event of an active shooter. This is something that as a wife of an officer I need to accept, although yesterday I screamed at him to stop. I watched as he assessed the situation, and agreed, he needed to get our daughter to safety, after all I was still three isles away.

He quickly picked up Madigan and at that time the store clerk yelled for us to head to the back. That’s where I met you. I was the girl with the baby wrapped around her. I was the girl with the long brown ponytail and tears beginning to form in her eyes. I was the girl while walking up the stairs you asked if I was alone. I was the girl who told you my husband was here, but further down the stairwell. I was the girl who you explained to that my husband looked calm and had our daughter tightly wrapped in his arms. And I was the girl whose back you rubbed.

I was also the mother of that little girl screaming she was scared. I was the mother trying to explain that we were just in a fire drill, like the ones we practice at school. I was the mother of the sleeping baby lying across her chest, so innocent. I was the mother who took the biggest breath she’s ever taken as the door to the outside world opened, because it was in moment, I knew my children were safe.

And I was the stranger who was grateful that she had parked in JC Penny’s because I could see my car. I was the stranger who turned back, looked you straight in your watery eyes and said thank you. And I was the stranger who will forever be grateful to you, a woman whose name I don’t even know, a woman who in a time of great uncertainty cared enough about me to make sure I was okay, a woman whose face I will never forget.

In debt,

Kelly Webster