What I learned from watching Designing Women

I am a child of the 70s and 80s, more specifically, a southern child of the 70s and 80s. I grew up in a farming community in eastern North Carolina where cotton and tobacco fields stretched far and wide. I knew the names of every single one of my neighbors and everyone went to church on Sunday. Our community was filled with hard working people who looked out for one another.

Most of us had lived in that community for generations and generations, children attending the same schools and churches as their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. If you opened a local phone book, there were pages and pages of the same surnames, Hardison, Manning, Roberson, Leggett and Griffin. I used to think that I had hundreds of cousins because so many of my classmates neighbors and teachers  shared my last name. I played with the other kids in my community endlessly, for hours. We built tree forts in the woods behind our homes and played in the water logged ditches in front of our houses when it rained in the summer. We would wave to the farmers as they drove their tractors and combines down the road in front of our house and told stories of being chased by a neighbor’s German Shepherd who ran loose, barking and growling at us kids when we got too close to his property.  To this day, I am still petrified of German Shepherds.  The majority of the boys played baseball in the spring and football in the fall. Many of the girls took ballet and dance lessons and cheered for the boy’s teams.  We all had the same eastern North Carolina accent, distinctive in it’s drawl and dialect. We dressed the same and ate the same delicious home cooking because our mamas shared recipes. All the women and girls had perms, many of which were done at home instead of a hair salon.  It was a wholesome place to grow up and I can honestly say has shaped me into who I am today.

Even though there was always someone to play with and some adventure to be had, I found myself daydreaming often. I was an introverted book worm who enjoyed reading, writing short stories and playing alone with my barbies in my room.  Both my brother and I were naturally curious about others, very creative and had huge imaginations.  We found outlets through the local community theater, music and like so many of us children from the 70s and 80s, the world of television sitcoms.

I have fond memories of plopping down in front of the TV at 8:00 pm, just in time to watch our favorite sitcoms.  Growing up in a conservative southern community, I did not have much exposure to other cultures and religions therefore the sitcoms of the 70s and 80s were a way for me to fuel my natural curiosity. Three’s Company was a riot. The concept of a man and two women living together in a platonic relationship was not something that was done in my community. I loved watching John Ritter’s physicality and I thought he was a comedic genius. I had a huge crush on Michael J Fox in Family Ties but, who didn’t? The hippie parents on that show were fascinating to me. Different Strokes introduced me to a type of family in which I had never interacted.  I would giggle at the antics of George in The Jefferson’s and wondered what it would be like to live in a high rise apartment in New York.  My brother and I would do impersonations of the actors from Perfect Strangers. We memorized the scenes between “Cousin Larry” and Balki Bartokomous, endlessly acted them out, laughing until we had tears in our eyes and our stomach muscles ached.  After watching the sitcoms, I would often retire to my room and write a short story based on one of the TV characters or daydream about what it would be like to live in their shoes for a day.

We lived in that same small farming community until 1986, when my dad got a new job in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was a rising freshman and Greg, a rising junior. We were scared out of our minds to move away from everything and everyone we had known but secretly, I was also really excited about the new opportunities because I knew there was more to this world and I wanted to experience all of it.

We were enrolled in Albemarle High School and those first few months were really tough for a shy 14 year old girl with a thick North Carolina accent and a bad perm. Charlottesville, although relatively small, is quite eclectic and liberal. The University of Virginia draws a lot of students and professionals from all over the country and different parts of the world, hence my high school was comprised of their offspring.  All of my classmates were so exotic to me. Their accents were different, their clothes were different, their religions were different and their cultures were different.  I met kids who were Jewish, Catholic and agnostic. I met kids who were “transplants” just like me. They too had moved from other parts of the country, and had their own accents, fashion trends and cultures and none of them sounded like me.

I was thrust into a world of diversity and, at times, I found it overwhelming as my brain quickly processed the differences and scanned for the similarities among my peers. These kids were raised with different family values, their last names were hard to pronounce and spell and we were the only Hardisons in the phone book. Every year, when the new phone books were printed, I quickly scanned the pages for another entry that matched our surname and inevitably, never found what I was looking for.  Eventually, I learned to appreciate the fact that I was one of a kind in my new school. On a side note, I have married a man with a surname that is typically the ONLY one in the phone book….kind of funny how that worked out.

My school had so many different options for sports teams, many of which I had never been exposed to or even heard of. Field hockey, lacrosse and soccer were not sports that were traditionally played in the small community in which I was raised. I was intrigued that so many of the girls in my school participated in the sports teams rather than choosing to cheer or dance.  These girls were more sure of themselves, and many did not have perms, even though it was the 80s, go figure. They chose to wear their hair in it’s natural state….the horror! It would take another three years for me to totally give up on perms. I missed the kids I grew up with, I missed the woods behind my house and I longed for some familiarity among my peers. As I adjusted to my new school and community, I learned to cope in a number of ways, one of which was watching sitcoms. A month after our move to Charlottesville, I sat down to watch a new sitcom that was airing on CBS, Designing Women.

It was a new sitcom about four women in the south. I was smitten with the characters, Mary Jo’s sarcasm, Suzanne’s self-absorption, Charlene’s naivete and Julia’s sophistication. I loved everything about it, the accents, the perms, the food, the eccentrics and the familiarity of our shared southern heritage was comforting to me.  Even though Charlottesville is technically located in the south, it felt millions of miles away from eastern North Carolina.  I had found a television show that merged the love for my southern roots and introduced me to issues and topics that challenged me to see things from a different perspective. Over the next several years, I would watch the sitcom every week, soaking up the humor. I once wrote and submitted an assignment for a high school creative writing class based on the Designing Women sitcom.  It was hysterical and if I recall, my teacher gave me an A for the assignment.  The writing for the show was ahead of it’s time in terms of the topics addressed including AIDs, homosexuality, male chauvinism, negative southern stereotypes, politics, religion and mental illness to name a few. Mary Jo, Suzanne, Charlene and Julia took on each topic with courage, intelligence and wit. It was my first experience watching a cast of women challenge the negative stereotypes of the south while taking on politics and social injustice. Designing Women showed viewers that southern women can be brave, perceptive and funny.  Even though I loved all of the characters, Julia Sugarbaker was my favorite. She was sophisticated and sharp-tongued and I loved watching her unleash on a narrow minded racist or an unsuspecting misogynist.

Today, I was browsing through social media and saw a clip of Julia Sugarbaker. In the video clip, she was challenging a male political opponent who had made some assumptions about her liberal views. I watched the clip over and over again and showed it to my son, explaining the relevance it holds 30 years later. Even the name of the sitcom, Designing Women, implies so much more than four gorgeous women performing for a few laughs. The term designing means inventing, planning and creating. I started to see the parallels with has been happening in our country regarding politics, especially those specific to women including reproductive rights, equal pay and sexual misconduct. I grabbed my computer, which I had not turned on for two weeks because well, it’s Christmas break, and I started typing.  It’s been thirty years and we are still arguing about some of the same issues, drawing lines in the sand, making assumptions and stereotyping.

Today is the first day of a new year and I could not be more excited to put 2017 behind me. I hope and pray that our leaders, on both sides, will find the common ground and stop drawing lines in the sand, making assumptions and stereotyping. I hope they will begin designing, inventing, planning and creating options that will make everyone feel safe and keep us healthy. And with that, I wish everyone a Happy New Year and I leave you with this quote from the fabulous Julia Sugarbaker of Designing Women.

“One of the things I pray for is that people with power will get good sense and people with good sense will get power and that the rest of us will be blessed with the patience and the strength to survive people like you in the meantime.”

Here is a clip to the video I referenced, if you are so inclined.

I have had the most fun, browsing through old Designing Women clips and laughing until I cried.

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Marriage is a Balancing Act

June 21st is one of my favorite days of the year. It is the first day of summer,  the longest day of the year (summer solstice) and it is the anniversary of my marriage to my best friend. Today is our 20 year anniversary. Holy Cow, that is a long time but sometimes it feels like it has flown by.  Mark and I met in 1988 and were friends for eight years before we began dating. He has been a part of my life for almost 30 years and it’s hard to recall a memory that does not involve him in some capacity.

Our son has started to show a slight interest in the opposite sex therefore resulting in some interesting conversations. The other day, the topic of girlfriends came up. Mark explained to our boy that there might come a day when he begins to like a girl in more than a friend sort of way. He explained to Thomas the possibility that the girl may only think of Thomas as a friend.

“Buddy”, Mark explained, “some day you might find yourself in the Friend Zone.”

Mark proceeded to explain to our first born, that sometimes it might take a loooong time for that girl to realize that she is ready to move a guy out of the Friend Zone.  He told Thomas that when that day comes, it will be worth the wait, even if the wait is eight years. Clearly my dear husband was referencing our eight year friendship prior to me finally realizing that what I needed and what I wanted in a partner was right under my nose and he had been there for eight years.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to an acquaintance. She has been divorced for a couple of years and is still trying to navigate co-parenting with her ex husband. She explained that she and her ex had been very driven by their careers and after having children, the pressures of working and raising kids became too much to handle.

“Our parenting was uneven. We both worked full time but whenever the kids needed one of us it was always me that had to take the time off from work. He never shared that responsibility.” She went on to explain that the inequitable workload in their parenting relationship eventually led to the demise of their marriage. I listened intently, feeling genuine empathy for her while at the same time feeling extremely fortunate.

“I’m so sorry.” I said.

“You know, you and Mark, you guys always seem so equal in your relationship. You really balance each other out.” She said with a smile and perhaps a slight hint of envy.

And it was at that moment that I started thinking about my marriage over the past 20 years. I sometimes think in images and I could not help but see our 20 year marriage as a balance scale. There have been times when one side might have been carrying more weight for a short time but eventually the other side would begin to bulk up, lightening the load so that the balance could be established once again.

Mark and I do balance each other out and this is why…..

We were friends first. We had eight years of friendship under our belt before we decided to take it to the next level. That friendship has served as an anchor for many storms over the years. When you are friends with your spouse, you understand one another, there is harmony and companionship in the relationship.

He prioritizes his children’s needs. After a long day of teaching children, that are not his own, he comes home and immediately asks me what I need. Whether it is powering through homework with the kids, driving Thomas to after school activities or taking Leah to the doctor, he will do what needs to be done. Last week, Leah had her first swim meet and he knew how important it was to be there. He came straight home after work, skipping his afternoon workout at the YMCA and rushed over to the pool. I was volunteering for the first half of the meet so he was responsible for keeping track of Leah until she swam her first heat. At one point during the evening, I walked over to talk to Mark who was chatting with some of our neighbors. One woman asked him why he was still dressed in his work clothes when it was a sweltering 90 degrees outside. That was the first time I noticed that he was wearing thick khaki pants and a long sleeve shirt, sweat beading on his forehead. I knew the answer to her question before Mark could even respond. He knew I needed and wanted him there for Leah’s first swim meet, and changing clothes to make himself more comfortable was not important. Getting to his daughter’s swim meet was his first priority. His priorities are always in line with mine.

He works hard. It goes without saying that teachers have difficult yet rewarding jobs. They choose the profession to make a difference in the lives of their students.  It never fails, every time I start to get cynical about the fact that we live pay check to pay check and Mark has not had a raise in years, I am reminded of why he teaches. We live in the same community in which his students live.  Everywhere I go, I see my husband’s influence.  There have been days when I am at the grocery store and the clerk takes my credit card to swipe it and sees my last name. They usually look at me with a squinty side glance and say something to the effect of “Are you related to….” and I usually answer the question before they are finished asking. “Yes I am, he is my husband.” They ALWAYS smile and say something like “Mr. B. was my favorite teacher.” or “He is so funny.” or “I didn’t have Mr. B. for health and PE but my friend did and I was so jealous!” or “He is the best dancer.” or “I hated PE until I had Mr. B.” My kids think their father is a rock star because everywhere we go, we run into his current or former students. They are waiters at restaurants, lifeguards at the pool, members of our church, neighbors, and some are even friends now that they are grown ups and have families of their own (that makes me feel really old). When I am at the pool chatting with neighbors, the parents of Mark’s students frequently mention how wonderful a teacher he is. They share stories of how he has challenged their son to meet a fitness goal or encouraged their daughter to be proud of her body just the way it is. Recently one of Mark’s former students reached out to us about her upcoming wedding. He was her volleyball coach at Highland Springs high school for four years back in the early 2000s.  As she and I messaged one another about the details, she told me how important it was to her to have Mark present at her wedding. She explained that he had been a father figure to her during high school and she wanted him to know how much his presence in her life meant to her. I cried like a baby, reminded of how hard he works to do the right thing for his students. He has a strong work ethic, as do I.

He is self-assured and does not feel the need to prove his masculinity.  He is not scared to show his emotions. He refuses to watch scary movies because of how they make him feel and he always cries at sad movies. He will buy me tampons and keeps a variety box of feminine hygiene products in his classroom for female students who get surprised when they start their period earlier than expected. When we were struggling with infertility, he never once complained about the tests he was required to undergo to determine our diagnosis. We eventually turned to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Anyone familiar with the IVF process can tell you that it is one of the most difficult and laborious medical procedures any couple can face. The intimacy of creating a child, in the traditional sense, is completely devoid in the IVF process.  It is humiliating to have every aspect of the reproductive process (both male and female) manipulated by medical professionals.  Mark never complained. He did what was asked of him and was able to keep his sense of humor throughout the process. We still have inside jokes about the IVF process, which I intend to keep between the two of us because let’s face it, nothing about IVF is private.

He is empathetic. If I am struggling with something, he feels the need to suffer along with me. After I gave birth to Thomas, I was overwhelmed with fatigue, anxiety and worry. Getting up every two hours to nurse a newborn was extremely challenging. The first week after Thomas was born, Mark insisted on getting up with me every two hours. He would get me water, food, and note the time so that we could report to the doctor how often Thomas was nursing. Initially, I found it a bit annoying but in retrospect I realize it was because he wanted to share the burden. He did not want me to think that I was suffering alone.

He is gentle and kind. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I rarely see him angry and even then it looks more like annoyance rather than anger. Our daughter has him wrapped around her little finger. When she wakes in the middle of the night and needs some comfort, it is her daddy that she asks for because she knows he will always come. Leah has him trained well. All that all she has to do is come to his side of the bed, tap him on the shoulder until he wakes, turn and walk back to her room. She knows that her daddy will follow on her heels and crawl into her bed to snuggle until she falls back to sleep.

He is hysterical and ridiculously witty. We have a LOT of inside jokes and he never misses an opportunity to make light of even the most difficult situations. He can remember and recite lines from movies and his impressions of people is always spot on. His humor is not only bust a gut funny but it is also cleverly funny.  Sometimes his wit is so over my head that I need him to break it down and explain to me on a level that I can understand. Once I understand the logic and intellect behind the joke, then I bust a gut laughing.

He is incredibly smart. His ability to remember even the simplest fact, data or detail astounds me. As a teacher, he constantly seeks new information to share with his students. He attempts different methods and approaches to ensure that each student is learning. He is frequently recognized by his peers and administrators as a leader in his field. Other professionals regularly seek his guidance and input. Even though he is incredibly smart, he has a way of making others feel at ease, not at all intimidated by his intelligence.

He respects me as a woman. He holds doors for me but also knows when to let me open the door for myself. He knows that it is just not in me to be a stay at home mom. He respects that I choose to be a working mother. These days it takes two salaries to survive but even if money were not an issue, I would choose to work. There was a time, early in our relationship where he was in school full time and I worked a full time job to support the both of us while he finished his degree. During those difficult years, I was the bread winner and it never bothered Mark. I wanted to support him while he finished school and I had the skills and the income to do so. He was always grateful, never embarrassed that I made the money for our family. When I gave birth to his children, I felt admired by him, appreciated and cherished.

 

I often tell the story of the night I realized that Mark was the man I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life. It was 1995 and I was going to a concert with my friends Kimberly and Krista. We met up with Mark and his sister, Ali, at the concert. It had been about a year or two since I had last seen Mark so we were catching up and he was getting acquainted with my friends. We were all having fun and Mark was being his usual charming self.

Eventually, Kimberly turned to me and said, “Mark is so funny and charming. He is adorable. Why did you two never date in high school?”

I was a little taken aback by her question and paused for a couple of seconds, thinking of a response. Kimberly continued to stare at me, waiting for my answer to her question and when one did not come, she just winked at me and smiled. I turned to Mark who stood on the other side of me.

“Hey,” I said to him and he turned to look at me. “Kimberly just asked me why we never dated in high school.”

“Oh Yeah?” he said flashing a wide smile.

“Yeah and you know what? I could not think of one reason why we never dated.” I confessed, a bit puzzled.

Mark paused took a step toward me and said, “Nickie, I have been trying to tell you that for the last eight years.” and immediately, I knew he was the one. He had been there all along. And that was that. We have been together ever since.

 

 

Happy 20th Anniversary to my personal comedian, my co-parent, my best friend and my husband. Thanks for working so hard to balance us out, I love you!

 

“A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.”

“The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace.”

 

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Running on Empty

Today marks the end of the 2016-2017 school year and I could not be more excited about summer break.  Our oldest just finished his first year in middle school and our youngest her first year of elementary school. It goes without saying that this school year was challenging yet inspiring, long yet swift, but most importantly this school year is complete. The past 10 months has been filled with homework, school projects, learning to read, band rehearsals, parent teacher conferences, school fundraisers, school newsletters, data, box top collection sheets, report cards, lost lunch boxes, tears, celebrations, frustration and pride.  Since mid-May I have felt completely drained, feeling as though my tank was running on empty, desperately hoping to coast into June 16th ready to be re-fueled by summer break. Just when my brain was about to explode and my nerves were about to break, June 16th finally arrived!

Summer is a time for our family to slow down and relax. Mark finally gets some much needed time off from teaching and I enjoy the extra help around the house, albeit only for a couple of months. Summer is also a time for our children to just be kids. They can swim at our neighborhood pool any day of the week.  They can stay up late and sleep in the next morning. They can catch fireflies while we roast marshmallows in the back yard. They have time to actually be bored for once.

Earlier this week, the pressures of sixth grade were weighing heavily on my boy.  When I picked him up from school on Tuesday, he was weary and ready to give up. He did not feel that he had it in him to finish the last three days of school and he admitted apprehension for 7th and 8th grade.

“I hate middle school!” he confessed.

I took a deep breath and paused for a second, gathering my thoughts. I knew exactly how he was feeling because I had been experiencing the same weariness, frustration and apprehension since mid-May. My tank was almost bone dry.

“Buddy,” I started “We are Brandenburgers and Brandenburgers can do hard things.” I reached out and ruffled his hair as he hung his head low.

I used the analogy of the glass being half full instead of half empty. I encouraged him to be proud of how much time and effort he has already put into middle school. Thomas raised his head and looked at me, waiting for more explanation. Thank god he still listens to me and welcomes my advice because I know that sooner rather than later, he will look at me like I am an idiot, roll his eyes and turn his back to me.

“Think about it this way. You are one third of the way finished with middle school, that’s like .….. 33%, I think.” I said.

With a sideways smirk he said, “Pretty good mom. I’m impressed that you got that right because you suck at math.” And there it was, tween sarcasm at it’s best. I laughed and so did he.

“Well,” I winked at him, “One day you will appreciate how smart I really am.”

“Whatever.” He said playfully. He looked away for a second and then turned back to me, “So that means that by December, I will have completed 50% of middle school.”

I laughed, “That’s my boy.” And I reached out to hug him as he accepted willingly. I buried my face into the top of his head like I used to do when he was little. I inhaled his boy smell, a mix of faded shampoo, greasy head oil and sweat. I let his embrace re-fuel my empty tank so that I too could make it through the next few days.

I am grateful to live in a county with exceptional public schools. Okay, maybe I am a little biased since my husband is a public school teacher in Henrico County but still, we are very fortunate. My kids have been blessed with excellent teachers who truly care about their well-being and education. I hope each and every teacher will take this summer to recharge their batteries, fill up their tanks and celebrate another productive school year because I know that my family sure will.

 

How a Dog Rescued our Family

For years we told our son that when he was old enough, we would adopt a dog. Every single birthday we had another excuse.

You and your sister need to be old enough to share the responsibilities. 

We don’t have the extra money right now because Leah is in day care.

Let’s wait until we move into the new house.

Summer time is better because Dad will be off for summer break. 

When Thomas was on the verge of his 11th birthday, officially a tween, I realized we had run out of excuses. Leah’s graduation from preschool was quickly approaching.  No more monthly tuition! We were finally in the bigger house and school was winding down for the summer.

The previous few months had been particularly stressful for our family. Moving in the middle of the school year is not for the faint of heart. We had been in our former home for seventeen years and the transition was hard for all of us.There were times when I felt like I was drowning, barely able to stay afloat. Even though we were thrilled with the new house, there had been a fair share of tears, anxiety and grief.

I have read the research.  There are numerous studies indicating the benefits of having a dog. Dogs promote a regular routine, encourage exercise, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety. My sweet Thomas’s anxiety had been particularly high during our move to a new home.  Our family had been through a lot of changes and we needed something to help us feel like our new house was truly a home. I needed to feel like I could stay afloat. Our family needed some sort of anchor to keep us grounded and feel steady on our feet.

It was time. I decided to make a list of attributes for the perfect dog.

NOT younger than 1 year and NOT older than 2 years ( I had raised two babies who were not good sleepers so I was not willing to get up at night for potty breaks.)

• NOT too small (I need a dog that can keep up with our family and I will NOT carry a dog on a dog walk)

• NOT too large (I don’t want my new house to suddenly feel too small.)

• NO Males (I’m biased, my last dog was a female)

• NO jumping on people (I hate when dogs jump on people and Leah is still little)

• NO excessive barking (self explanatory)

• NO history of aggression (I cannot fathom the idea of a dog hurting another dog or my children)

• NO long hair breeds (I hate vacuuming.)

• NO breeding farms (There are plenty of homeless dogs in this world)

• NO hyperactive behavior (We have enough anxiety and stress in our lives.)

I hunted for weeks, searching websites for local animal shelters, rescue leagues and even Craig’s list. I had expected to find dozen’s of dogs that met all of the attributes I had listed. I was a teeny bit picky. Perhaps I was secretly trying to make it harder to find a dog because maybe I just was not ready for the endless dog hair, extra expenses, making room for a dog crate in our beautiful new house, and picking up dog poop. Our previous pooch,  J.J., was our first baby and died just before I became pregnant with Thomas. She was the sweetest dog ever and I still mourn her loss from time to time. I strongly believe in the Law of Attraction. Ask for what you want, have a vision, write it down and make it happen. As my search for the perfect dog continued to lag, I decided to take a closer look at my list of attributes which I realized was only filled with things that I did NOT want in a dog. Instead of attracting the perfect dog I was preventing the perfect dog from coming into our lives. I took a long hard look at my list and decided to re-write it in hopes of finding our new pet. 

• Young Adult

• Medium sized

• Female

• Stays calm when she meets new people

• Rarely Barks

• Sweet and docile toward people and dogs

• Short haired

• Rescue dog

• Easy going

With my new outlook, I was determined to find a dog, just in time for Thomas’s 11th birthday. One day, I came across a Facebook post about a dog rescue program, Making of Miracle Stories of Virginia  (MOMS VA). As I researched the organization I was particularly drawn to the acronym, MOMS. It is clever, catchy and one can clearly see the coincidence of just how perfect the acronym sums up the program. Dogs that have been orphaned through loss, surrender, or abandonment are brought into temporary foster homes until they find their forever home. I clicked on the link to view the dogs available for adoption. Scrolling through the pictures, one dog stood out from the rest. Her name was China. She had the most beautiful soulful eyes and she wore a yellow collar that said “adopt me”.  My throat felt a little tight and I clicked on the description to learn more. She was about 2 years old and and I could not ignore the resemblance she bore to our sweet JJ.  I immediately reached out to China’s foster mom, Cathy, to arrange an initial visit. We decided to meet at a neutral location, the parking lot of Cathy’s employer.

On the day of the initial visit, the kids were beyond thrilled. I warned them that this would be an opportunity to get to know each other but we would NOT be taking China home with us. Mark was quiet, appearing relatively impartial throughout the drive over and I wondered what he was thinking.  We pulled into the parking lot and I immediately spotted Cathy’s car. I could see China sitting up tall in the back seat, neck stretched long, alert, trying to get a glimpse of us. I turned around in the car to look at my kids. There they were, sitting up tall in the back seat, necks stretched long, alert, trying to get a glimpse at China. I smiled as goose bumps prickled my arms.

“Leah and Thomas, it is important that we remain calm and use a gentle voice when we meet China. She is probably a little nervous so we don’t want to appear too excited. She will need to smell us first before we can pet her.” I preached.

“We know Mom.” said Thomas, exasperated at being reminded for the 10th time to be calm around China.

“I’m so excited!” Leah chirped clapping her hands together.

I greeted Cathy with a handshake while China remained in the back seat of her car, still sitting tall, waiting to meet us. After a little small talk, it was time for the introduction. I held Leah’s hand and Mark stood by Thomas’s side. Cathy opened the car door for China, who pranced over to us. I could tell from her posture that she was alert but not in an anxious way. As instructed, the kids remained quiet and let China sniff their legs, arms and shoes. Thomas glanced at me with a look that said, Please. I nodded and he reached out to pet her. Over the next hour, we spent time getting to know each other. We learned that China was from North Carolina and had given birth to four puppies only a few months prior. Oddly enough I am from North Carolina so that coincidence did not go unnoticed. Her former owner had surrendered China and her babies to a local animal shelter. MOMS VA immediately brought the dog and her puppies to Virginia to be fostered temporarily in Cathy’s home. Initially, China was still nursing her babies. Cathy helped ween the pups so that China could recover and regain some of the strength and weight that she had lost while feeding her young. The goose bumps prickled my skin once again as I felt immediate kinship for this devoted mama dog. She was a mom too and had made sacrifices for her little ones. Although not certain of her age, the Vet guessed she was around two years old and was likely some sort of Pit bull mix. I had recently listened to a podcast about the history of Pit bulls and the stigma of aggression.  I glanced over at my children, smiling from ear to ear as China pranced around their feet. As one who prides herself on not judging a book by it’s cover, I was not going to judge this mama dog simply because she had a broad chest, muscular frame and squared off face.

As our visit came to an end, we thanked Cathy for her time, said our goodbyes to China and got back into the car. After returning home, we went on about our day and had dinner. As Mark and I cleared the dishes from the kitchen we had our first chance to talk about China. Let me preface by saying that my husband does NOT make decisions quickly. He needs all the information so that he can mull it over, process it, sleep on it, research it, think about it and then ultimately, after I have grown cranky and restless with anticipation, he will make a decision. You can only imagine how long it took for us to make a decision to sell our old house and move to a larger home. Three years!!  I expected that he would do the same thing in reference to choosing a family dog.

Anticipating that Mark was no where near a final decision, I began to prod him for information about the initial visit. Did he want me to schedule a few more visits with other dogs? Did he know that I filled out several applications with other dog adoption agencies? 

As he helped me to load the dishwasher he said, “I don’t think we need to do anything else.”

Crestfallen, I nodded and lowered my head.

He continued, “Let’s talk to Cathy about the next step. We don’t need to look any further. She’s the one.”

Over the next few weeks, we would spend more time with China, allowing plenty of time to transition before making the decision to officially adopt her a couple of days before Thomas’s birthday. After the initial few days and weeks of establishing a routine, it felt as though China had always been a part of a our family. Not only did she meet each and every attribute I desired (the second list, not the first), she exceeded my expectations in terms of what she has done for our family.

My children adore their dog. Leah watches TV with her feet propped up on China’s back. Thomas takes her on walks and even picks up her poop! When she is resting on her dog bed, they snuggle up to her and rest their little heads next to hers, as she licks their faces and sighs contently. We take her to dog parks and she teaches the naughty dogs how to play nice. She greets friends at the door with a quick sniff and a tail wag. She doesn’t bark that much, usually whenshe hears another dog outside. She lets us know when she has to go outside for exercise or a potty break. She sleeps soundly in her crate at night and waits patiently for us to wake up and start our day. She listens to my children when they re-direct her or call to her. She gives great kisses and stands patiently when I give her a bath. Most importantly, she loves my Thomas and Leah unconditionally. She tolerates their rough housing and does not seem to mind when Leah tries to sit on her back. She could care less if someone takes away her bone when she is chewing on it. She seems to understand that my children are still young and sometimes they do things that can be annoying. If my daughter is crying, China will rest her head on Leah’s lap or lye down next to her.

A few days after China was adopted, Thomas had his first swim meet at our pool. He was very nervous because this was his first year swimming for our new neighborhood swim team. He was sweaty, nauseous, fidgety and asked to go home several times. He paced around the edge of the pool as I watched, feeling helpless intervening when I could. He tried deep breathing.  He tried playing on the playground, hoping the physical exercise would help get rid of the adrenaline cursing through his body. He listened to meditation music on his iPod. Nothing was working and he was on the edge of a full blown anxiety attack. I knew from former experiences that once he reaches a certain point, there’s no turning back. We were dangerously close to the edge when I texted Mark, who was home with Leah and China and asked him to bring the dog to the pool. Moments later, Mark, Leah and China were outside the pool gate. Thomas was still pacing around the edge of the pool so I called him over and told him that China had come to cheer him on. His eyes opened wide and his forehead, which had been wrinkled with worry, softened as he smiled, running out the gate to see his dog, me on his heels. There stood sweet China, her tail wagging, paws dancing as she saw her boy running toward her. Thomas embraced her and within seconds his anxiety was gone. Several of his swim team mates came over to meet China who was thrilled with all the back rubs and head scratches. I watched my son’s body relax and his confidence build as he fielded questions from the other children about his dog. Eventually, it was Thomas’s turn to swim his first heat and his anxiety was gone. He was still nervous but he had a much better handle on his body’s reaction. Mark, Leah and China headed home and I finished out the evening watching Thomas swim several more heats. When I got home from the pool that evening, Mark and I compared notes about China and Thomas’s reactions. I shared with Mark how close Thomas had come to a full blown anxiety attack until he was able to spend some time with China. We both agreed that Thomas needed the support from his dog in order to get through the entire swim meet. Suddenly Mark paused as he thought of something.

“You know what’s weird?” he asked. “It was sort of like the movie E.T.” He referenced one of my all time favorite childhood movies about that cute little alien.

Sensing I was not following his story he continued, “Remember when E.T. drinks the beer and Elliott gets drunk?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He described the part of the movie when E.T. and Elliott were so close that even when they were apart they still shared one another’s experiences, feelings and emotions. I suddenly remembered the scene when ET was sick and unresponsive and Elliott became sick too. Mark explained that after he brought China home from the swim meet she had grown anxious. She started chewing on her dog bed, whined on and off and was pacing around the house. At first, I was puzzled until I understood the correlation he was trying to make. Maybe it’s a little far fetched but perhaps China did absorb some of Thomas’s anxiety that evening so that he could make it through the swim meet. Maybe her presence was enough to help him stay afloat and not feel like he was drowning in his own anxiety, even if that meant that she would have to take on his worry for him.

I started to think more about what has changed since we adopted China. We have a more established routine and we are all getting outside and exercising. She goes swimming with us at the river, takes a ride to the ice cream store with us and most notably, Thomas is learning a new way to manage his anxiety.  I am sleeping better and I have not felt as overwhelmed as I did a few months ago. Even on the days when Mark and I are cranky, or the kids are bored during a long hot summer afternoon, there is always time to snuggle up next to China and let our anxiety and worry slip away. Just last night, Thomas wondered down stairs in a sleepy haze and we found him snuggled up to China on her dog bed. I guess he needed a little extra attention to fall asleep and China was generous enough to share her bed.

As I started to write this blog entry, I decided to pull up the MOMS VA website and that is when I saw something that brought tears to my eyes. I had made the analogy that the stress of moving to a new home made us feel as though we were all drowning, barely able to stay afloat. As I stared at the MOMS VA website I noticed that the “O” in the acronym was a picture of a life float, symbolizing the program’s mission to “rescue” dogs. I realized that the name of the organization, Making of Miracle Stories, encompasses the amazing stories of what these dogs have to overcome before they are adopted into loving families. I was suddenly struck with how symbolic it was of our family’s recent experiences. We gave China a second chance, free of judgement and she, in turn, has rescued our family, keeping us afloat, grounded in what is important, making our new house feel like a home.

Here is a picture of my sweet boy and China sleeping together.

IMG_4513

Below is a link to the pod cast about the history of pit bulls as well as a link to MOMS VA. If you are considering adopting a dog, I highly recommend you consider checking out their website.

http://www.npr.org/2016/05/10/477350069/friend-or-fiend-pit-bull-explores-the-history-of-americas-most-feared-dog

http://www.momsva.org/

Mom Judging

I recently read an article about mom judging. Many of the moms reading this will admit that they have been subjected to judging by other moms and if they are really being honest, they will admit to judging those exact same moms. We see Facebook rants, we gossip just before the PTA meeting and we whisper at the bus stop.

This article got me thinking about an incident that occurred at our pool in 2014. It was the end of summer and the kids and I were at the pool swimming. Leah was about 3 and a half at the time and she was swimming around in the baby pool. It was time for us to leave so I wrangled Thomas out of the big pool and the two of us walked over to the baby pool to get Leah. Several children, under the age of five were swimming while their parents chatted and watched from the deck. Leah was playing with her Barbie inter-tube when I called out to her that we needed to leave.

She made a little pouty face and crossed her arms across her chest to let me know she was not happy that she had to leave. The inter-tube floated away from her and into the hands of a little girl who was about 18 months old. She was just like any other toddler, mostly steady on her feet but she wore one of those baby flotation devices around her arms and waist just in case she toppled over. My kids used to wear those when they were toddlers. As I re-directed Leah to gather her things she realized that the toddler had grabbed the inter-tube and was playing with it.

I glanced around for the toddler’s mom, because I had seen this little girl at the pool before and I was familiar with her mother. I noticed the mom was chatting on the side of the baby pool with several other moms so I turned my attention back to the two girls.

Leah, being 3 and a half and still learning about sharing said, “Hey, that’s mine” and grabbed the other side of the tube.

I walked closer to the edge of the pool and said , “Be careful Leah. She’s just a baby. She doesn’t realize it is your toy.”

I glanced over to the little girl’s mom and noticed her back was to us, engrossed in conversation.

No big deal, I thought.

The toddler, not fully understanding and perhaps also thinking, Hey that’s mine, pulled onto the side of the inter-tube she was holding. Leah responded by pulling back, a little harder this time, and saying “It’s mine” and the toddler was pulled forward, a little unsteady on her feet but still upright.

I quickly responded by saying, “Honey she doesn’t understand. You need to….” and before I could finish my sentence the mother of the toddler leapt into the baby pool.

I watched her drag her legs through the mid-calf deep water of the pool and it looked as though she were running in slow motion. I wrinkled my forehead wondering to myself, what is she doing? Does she see something I don’t see?

And then the woman reached the two girls. She grabbed Leah by the arm, spun her around, placed both hands onto her shoulders and shook my baby girl back and forth, while screaming at her, “Don’t do that again! You scared her.”
It was truly one of those out of body experiences.  It was as if I watching a movie as I observed my daughter’s head snap back and forth as she was shook repeatedly. I can remember wrinkling my forehead in confusion because it did not seem real, the expression on Leah’s face, vacant with shock and confusion. Suddenly it felt as though a switch was flipped. As I watched my daughter’s head snap back and forth over and over again, I felt a primal rage stir within the pit of my stomach, making it’s way up and down my spine, every nerve in my body, firing at full capacity. I felt a rush of heat in my face and before I knew it, my legs were moving and I leapt from the pool’s edge to the middle of the baby pool. I must have cleared at least 4 feet in a milisecond. Surprised at my body’s reaction, I realized my heart was racing, my jaw clenched, hands balled into tight fists. I fought the urge to raise my hand to this woman’s face. I tried to blink away the blind fury that literally made my vision blurry.  Now I understand the phrase “Blind Fury.”

I took a deep breath and with every ounce of self control I could muster I spoke for the first time.

“Don’t touch my child!” I was matter of fact and even in my tone but I’m fairly certain that my body language indicated that I meant business. What I wanted to say and what I was really thinking was Get your F#*%@ING hands off my daughter.

The woman immediately realized her mistake and backed away, as her own daughter began to cry, scared and startled by the sight of her mother’s aggression.

“I’m so sorry. I should not have done that. I apologize.” the other mom said over and over, waving her hands in the air, as if to ask for a truce, as she backed further and further away from me. I never moved toward her, cognizant and thankful for my broad five foot nine inch frame. It is times like this that I really appreciate my tall body because I realize how my height can be beneficial in instances where I REALLY want someone to pay attention to me. This was one of those moments. I REALLY wanted to make sure this woman knew that I meant business.

I was suddenly aware that every single adult and child, including my own son, was watching our interaction. Thomas stood on the side of the pool with eyes wide, his mouth hanging open, watching my every move. Several moms guided their children away from our interaction, wise to not interfere yet thoughtful enough to continue to pay attention.

I tilted my head in confusion as I watched this mom continue to create space between the two of us. Did she actually think I would hurt her? Would I ever do that?

That is when I turned my attention to my daughter, who stood beside me, open mouthed, white as a sheet, and said, “Leah, grab your inter-tube. We are leaving.”

She did as she was told and quickly exited the pool reaching for her big brother’s hand as my oldest child stood trying to process what had just happened.

The toddler was still crying, standing all by herself in the middle of the pool as I turned to face the woman once again, feeling some of the tension release from my body. She must have noticed the change in my body language and began to close the gap between us, offering explanations and excuses.

“She was just so scared.She doesn’t swim and she is very scared of getting her face wet.” she explained wringing her hands together.

I said nothing but continued to face her.

“If you could have seen her face when your daughter was pulling the tube….” she said lifting her hands apologetically and shuffling her feet.”She was just so scared.”

I paused for a second, letting the uncomfortable silence make her squirm a little. She was clearly nervous, eyes darting in every direction, running her hands through her hair over and over. It was as if she was in some sort of oblivious trance, completely unaware of her crying daughter and the side glances from the other parents. I caught her eyes and turned my head to look at the toddler, who continued to stand alone, crying, snot running down her nose, puzzled as to why her mom would not console her.

“I was standing right here watching.” I said a little more calm this time. What I really wanted to say was If you had been watching instead of gossiping with the other moms, you would have seen that it was under control.  I chose to keep that thought to myself.

“She was just so scared.” the woman said a third time with pleading hands, still trying to close the gap between us.

I paused once again and said, “Well, now she really is scared. Maybe you should pick her up.” And at that, I turned my back to her, exited the pool and lead my children to the car.

The entire ride home, I had to work hard to regulate my heart beat, taking deep breaths and squeezing the steering wheel to try and relieve some of the tension that continued to course through my body. The kids were very quiet until I broke the silence. I explained to Leah that she did nothing wrong. I told her that sometimes grown ups make bad choices. Thomas reminded me that when grown ups make bad choices they are breaking the law and should go to jail. I acknowledged his statements but assured him that this was not one of those instances. We talked about forgiveness and having compassion for others that might be having a bad day. Once home, I told Mark what happened and decided to take a long walk around the neighborhood.

While walking on that hot sticky August night, I rehashed the incident over and over in my head trying to figure out what part of the interaction between the two girls seemed aggressive enough to cause a mom to react so strongly. Eventually I came to the conclusion that none of this was my fault or Leah’s fault, nor was it the fault of the other woman or the other child. What we had was a misunderstanding. Maybe this mom was having a really bad day. Maybe she has an anxiety disorder, maybe the child has a medical condition or a disability that was not obvious to me. Regardless, I was proud that I was able to remain outwardly calm for the sake of not only my children but, the other moms and children that were witnesses.

A few days later, I was at the pool when a couple of the moms called me over. One woman, started giggling and then leaned in to me.

“So tell me what happened.” she said, a mischievous look on her face.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“I heard about your little incident at the baby pool the other day.” At this point the attention of two other moms, who were in on this little gossip session leaned in closer and started to giggle like school girls.

“How did you hear about that?” I wondered.

This mom proceeded to inform me that she heard about it from another mom who was at the baby pool that afternoon. She went on to tell me that she does not like the woman with whom I had the incident because she is “annoying” and “over protective” of her children. This mom went on to tell me that she and several other moms make fun of the woman and they were happy that I had “told her off”.

I paused for a second to gather my thoughts. “Well, that’s not what really happened. I started thinking about it and I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation.”

I continued to explain that I was no longer angry at the other woman because it was quite possible that she might be struggling in her own way. As I began to express a little compassion for the woman from the baby pool, I actually noticed a look of disappointment in the face of the mom with whom I was talking. Wait, was she actually disappointed that I was no longer angry? Was she actually disappointed that I was not going to share more juicy details? And it was at that exact moment that I chose to take the higher ground and end the conversation, much to her dismay.

Being a mama is hard work. There are days that make you feel as though you might be loosing your mind. There are days when you second guess yourself and days when you are judged so harshly by others that you feel as though you will not make it another day. That day at the baby pool, I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I would try really hard to NOT judge other moms regardless of the situation because more often than not, I do not have all the facts. I do not know what she is struggling with. Maybe she is going through a divorce, maybe she is sick, maybe her baby has not slept through the night for the past 3 months. Because I made that promise to myself, I hope that other moms will make a promise to stop the mom judging and show a little compassion. Sure, I had a right to be angry with that woman but, I made a choice to show her some compassion and perhaps set a good example for others. Would you do the same?

 

 

 

Adventures in Houseselling

Getting our house ready to go on the market was something that took a couple of years to plan. We strategically timed it so that Thomas would be at the end of his elementary school years and Leah would be on the cusp of beginning kindergarten. About two years ago, we started making home improvements and last summer, we began to pack up some of the things we could live without for a while. Two years is a long time to plan but we wanted to take it slow. We never dreamed that once the house was on the market, things would seem to move at such a feverishly fast pace.

Within the first four days of our house being on the market, our realtor scheduled 11 showings. Although thankful for the incredible interest in our house,  it was a lot more work than we originally anticipated. Through it all, the kids did incredibly well considering the stress, chaos and uncertainty of the situation. The one thing that got our family through the craziness of selling our home was our flexibility and a sense of humor. Trying to keep the house spotless for potential showings whilst living with two young children was, to say the least, an adventure. Most days my mind was racing with “to do” lists, pondering how long I might have to live like this.

How did those popcorn kernels get under the dining room table when I vacuumed yesterday and have not allowed the children to have popcorn in over a week because of this very reason?

How in God’s name can one tiny Pop tart create a million crumbs on the kitchen floor? I could feed the children breakfast on the back deck. Think about it, the birds and the squirrels would eat the crumbs leaving very little clean up for me. Brilliant! Does it really matter that it is only 25 degrees outside? 

How is it possible that a brief 20 minute morning routine to get the children fed, dressed and out the door, can result in a house that looks as though a small tornado has struck? 

How can there be 25 dirty dishes after dinner when there are only 4 people in our family and we ordered takeout so I would not have to clean the stupid kitchen for the fifteenth time in two days? I’m no mathematician but, seriously that just does not add up!

With my daily vacuuming routine why do I continue to suck up random microscopic Lego pieces?

Is it bad that I find myself eating with my head hanging over the sink because it’s just easier to clean up the mess?

Oy vey, I need to work out. I haven’t gone to the gym in days. Wait a minute, my fit bit says I reached my 10,000 steps today. Oh that’s right, it must be all the vacuuming, sweeping, scrubbing, polishing, painting and cleaning.

Where the heck is my hairbrush? I know I put it somewhere out of site so that no one would have to see the long clumps of hair tangled in it’s bristles because I have not have time to clean it. Wait, maybe Leah put it in her bedroom? No I don’t see it but, there is a Barbie comb in her toy box. Yes, that will do. Don’t judge me, this is survival!

The fourth day our house was on the market, we had 3 showings arranged, with the last one scheduled from 1:00-1:30.  At that point, the stress had begun to affect all of us. Leah was fighting a cold, Thomas had trouble sleeping the night before, I wanted to lounge in my bed and watch movies, Mark was behind in his grading and it was snowing. It was one of those lazy Sundays where you just want to be home. We packed up the kids, went to the YMCA for a workout and decided to go out to lunch to kill some time. We finished lunch around 1:15 and decided to head back to the house, hopeful that the last showing appointment would be finished. We drove up to the house at 1:29 and noticed there was no cars out front. Sweet! We unloaded the kids and dragged our tired bodies inside. Mark pulled out his laptop to get some work done. Leah sat herself at the kitchen counter and began to finish up her lunch leftovers of french fries and ketchup. Thomas yanked off his socks and shoes, and bounced up to his room to retreat under his covers and play Minecraft. I settled into my warm cozy bed, thankful that we were done with the showings so I could enjoy a movie on HBO while the snow accumulated outside my bedroom window.  I heard Leah walk into the downstairs bathroom to pee. For some reason, my children have a tendency to leave their pants on the bathroom floor after they use the potty. Usually, I gently, or not so gently, encourage them to re-dress themselves instead of just leaving their pants on the floor for someone to trip over (usually Mark or I).  On this particular afternoon, I was just too exhausted to care so I let it slide.

I was just beginning to relax when I heard Mark say, “Somebody is here.”

“What?” I yelled from the bedroom.

“Somebody just pulled up. I’m pretty sure it’s a realtor and another couple coming to look at the house.”

I frantically looked at the time on my cell phone, “But it’s 1:40, the last showing was from 1:00-1:30.”

“Well, they are walking up the driveway so we need to get out as soon as we can.” He darted upstairs to Thomas’s room.

I jumped out of my bed, yanked the covers across the mattress, flattened out the wrinkles and fluffed the pillows. I ran out of the room and quickly glanced around, identifying what was out of place. I grabbed the toys that Leah had splayed across the living room floor and threw them into the toy chest.

“Leah honey, we need to get out of the house quickly. You need to put on your pants and shoes.”

I turned and ran into my closet to grab my snow boots. I could hear footsteps on the front porch and I started to sweat.  I spotted Leah’s pants which were, of course, still on the bathroom floor so I picked them up and headed to the living room.

“Leah, we need to put on your……”

And it happened in slow motion. I saw the door knob begin to turn, because the realtor had located the key from the lock box. Leah was standing in front of the door when it swung open, revealing an attractive male realtor and a young couple standing behind him, peering over his shoulder.

“Hi.” said Leah, smiling from ear to ear, wearing just her shirt and panties.

“Hello?” says the realtor, turning several shades of red.

I bounced on one foot balancing myself against the wall as I struggled to put on my second snow boot. “So Sorry, we thought the showing was over. We are heading out the door. Just give us a second.”

At this point, Mark and Thomas were rushing downstairs, my son with a look of panic across his face.

“I’m so confused. I don’t understand what is happening.” said Thomas. My sweet boy’s anxiety was through the roof and he was nervous.

“Buddy, I’ll explain more in the car.” I told him

“But I can’t find my socks.” he said, tears in his eyes, panic just under the surface.

“Don’t worry about your socks, just grab your shoes and get in the car.”I told him.

“Yay this is fun. Where are we going now, Mom?” said Leah clapping her hands. Could my two children be any more different?

Mark goes to the front door and tells the realtor “We are heading out now, make yourself at home.” He heads to the back door and makes one more desperate attempt to wipe up any melted snow from the kitchen floor with a paper towel.

I scoop Leah into her pants and boots, reach for my coat and realize that her leftover fries and ketchup are still on the kitchen counter. In a panic, I grab the plate and the car keys and we all make it out the back door, running full speed to the car, as snow accumulates on the driveway.

All four of us begin talking at once.

“What is happening? Why do we have to leave again?” asks Thomas.

“Are these people going to buy our house? Can we see our new house now?” asks Leah, thrilled at the adventure and excitement of the day

“I think I wiped up all the snow.” Mark says, the wet paper towel still in his hand.

“My heart is racing. That was nuts.” I say as I back down the driveway, steering with my right hand as I balance the plate of fries and ketchup in my left hand.

We ease Thomas’s fears and explain to him what has happened. Mark cracks a few jokes and soon we are all giggling at the craziness of the day. I take a deep breath and realize I am still holding the stupid french fries so I place them on the dashboard. We decide to drive to the grocery store to pick up a few items.

Halfway to the store Leah says “Guys, you forgot to strap me in.”

“Oh my God!” I yell as I pull the car over to the side of the road and jump out to strap my daughter into her car seat. I quickly hop back into the driver’s seat.

“Mom, my feet are freezing.” says Thomas.

I turn to look at him in the backseat and I realize his feet are bare and bright red.

“Buddy, where are your shoes?” I ask and notice that he is clutching his shoes with a death grip. Suddenly I realize what happened. In the panic of trying to leave the house, he did exactly as he was instructed. He grabbed his shoes, ran barefoot through the snow and finally hurled himself into the car. I made a quick note to myself, I should be more specific in the future. I will remind him to put on his shoes and get in the car. My bad!

“Mom, my feet are stinging!” he says again.

I glance around, and toss him his winter coat. “Shove your feet into the arms of this coat Buddy. It will keep your feet warm.” and he does just that.

We make it to the grocery store and as we find a parking spot Mark says, “Well, at least we know that in the event this happens again, we can make two beds, mop the floor, grab our coats and shoes and get out the door in 30 seconds.”

We all laugh and suddenly the tension of the day has subsided and it’s just the four of us, hanging out in the middle of the grocery store parking lot, half dressed as the snow continues to fall. I suddenly realize how lucky we are to have so many people interested in our house. This wonderful home has kept the four of us warm and cozy on lots of snowy days. It’s not too much to ask us to leave it for a short while so that another couple might come to the conclusion that this house could keep them warm and cozy on a snowy Sunday.

Eventually, we head back to the house, knowing that we really can relax this time because it was the last showing of the day. We all settle back into our routines and just as I settle into my movie, the phone rings and it is our realtor. He tells us that we have two offers on the house!

“Are you serious?” I ask him and he laughs.

After only four days on the market, we were officially under contract. He informs us that the buyers, a newlywed couple with a baby on the way, absolutely love the house. And just like that, I realize it was all worth while. All of the painting, cleaning, dusting, polishing, vacuuming, and worrying was worth it and I begin to cry tears of happiness. Happy that we have received an offer so quickly, happy that the offer was more than we expected, happy that the couple loves the house so much and happy that my family pulled together and everyone did their part.

Mark and I gather the kids on Leah’s bed and share the news. Leah claps her hands and Thomas bounces on the bed with nervous excitement, happy because mom and dad are happy but also anxious because he is not certain what this means for him.

I start to cry again and Thomas tells me “Just let it out mom. It’s okay.” as he gently rubs my back, my sweet sensitive boy.

We explain to the kids that our next step is to find a new house for our family. We caution that it might take a while and prepare them for the possibility of renting an apartment for a short time. Thomas asks about whether or not he will have to change schools and we assure him that will not happen. He will be able to finish his fifth grade year at his current elementary school. I ask Leah to draw a picture of what she hopes our new house will look like. She wants her house to be big with trees and flowers in the yard and a back yard for the dog, that we have promised to get this summer.

The day slips by and Mark and I settle into our beds that evening, a little less stressed than we were the night before.  We are not sure what tomorrow holds but we know that we are one big step closer in this Leap of Faith and it feels fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping up with the Joneses…..

I have always prided myself on being frugal. I was raised in a modest home in a farming community in eastern North Carolina where money was necessary but not as important as the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of your physical labor.  Mine was a community of neighbors who took pride in hard work, made sure that there was enough food on the table and everyone went to church on Sunday.  I’ve never been afraid of hard work and I am always the first one to push up my sleeves and dive right in.

My husband and I joke that we are “professionally poor” because he is a high school teacher and I work for a non profit organization as an advocate for people with disabilities. Needless to say, our jobs require a great deal of expertise, which is certainly not reflected in our current salaries. These are the professions we chose and we feel fortunate to be able to make a difference in the lives of other people each and every day. For Mark and I, making a difference in someone’s life makes up for the fact that we live pay check to pay check.

To make ends meet we cut coupons and buy our clothes in consignment. We have been living in the same modest 1500 square foot home for the past 16 years.  Our children wear hand me downs from our friends and I cut my own hair (and my daughter’s hair).  We don’t take fancy vacations, don’t place emphasis on material things and we try very hard to instill these values in our children. The responsibility to stay within a budget is something that we share with our children.

Leah gets so excited when she sees me bring home an old crumbled recycled bag filled with used dresses, skirts and tops. She will jump up and down, clap her hands and ask which friend gave her the bag of goodies.

“This dress is so pretty. Did this come from your friend Ca-fren (Catherine)?”

OR

“I love the kitty cat on this shirt. Is it from the store with other kid’s clothes?” Her genuine gratitude over these gently used clothes makes me so proud. She frequently mentions that when she gets “big” she wants to give her clothes to a younger child. My kids understand that Goodwill is not just a place to donate the things we no longer need but, the mission is to employ adults with disabilities (mommy’s work) and give back to the community.

We spent four months saving enough money to spend ONE night at Great Wolf Lodge, in the middle of the week, off season, basic room, no fancy log cabin loft for the kids, with a Groupon, booyah!  Thomas volunteered to throw in some of his allowance to contribute to the fund. He only makes $2.00 a week (WAAAAY less than his buddies from school) so you can imagine how much his generosity touched me.

Some days I worry that there is a downside to being so honest with my children about the importance of saving money.  My sweet, sensitive son often takes on the burden of worrying about the family finances and this makes my heart ache. He overhears the whispered conversations that Mark and I have about unexpected bills, day care expenses, medical co-payments and groceries. He sees his dad wear the same khaki slacks every week, with fraying hems and a small stain made from a black ink pen. He notices when I sigh after the cashier tells me the grand total at the grocery store.

A few months ago, I was struggling with some health issues and we decided that it was time to have my gall bladder removed. Mark and I took the time to explain to Thomas that my surgery would be fairly routine and that lots of people live without gall bladders. I assumed he would worry about how my recovery time would impact our household so we were proactive, open and even took the time to tell his teacher in case he was showing anxiety at school. A few days before my surgery, I took Thomas to the dentist for a routine check-up. Dental visits are routine for most kids but my boy has a propensity for cavities, LOTS of cavities. Over the years, when our dentist would break the news to me, I would try my damnedest to hide my angst over the money, that we would have to fork over, to fill a tooth, that would be inevitably lost and passed on to the tooth fairy.  Despite my best efforts, Thomas would end up crying and apologizing for being so irresponsible with his tooth brushing which would only make me feel like the worse mom EVER!!  But I digress. As I sat next to Thomas during his dental check up, I noticed he was anxious and fidgety throughout the exam.

I shifted in my seat as the dentist finished his exam, smiled at Thomas, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Great job, Thomas. No cavities.”

To which my sweet sensitive boy said, “Yeeeeaaahhh! Now my mom can get her bladder removed”

I felt my face grow warm and I quickly explained, “He meant Gall Bladder. I am having my Gall Bladder removed. My Bladder is just fine.”

Our Dentist turned to Thomas and said, “Buddy, you don’t need to worry because Gall Bladder surgery is really easy and your mom will be fine.”

To which Thomas replied, “I know that. I’m just happy that we can afford her surgery so she can feel better.”

My heart split wide open. What in the hell are you supposed to say to that? This sensitive boy of mine fidgeted with sweaty palms during a 15 minute dental exam, worried to death that cavities would mean that his mother would not be able to have surgery.  You know what? If the dentist had told me there were cavities, I would have put off my surgery for another five years in order to pay for Thomas’s sweet little baby teeth to be saved for another year or two, and that is exactly what I said to him. It shook me to my core.

A few weeks after my surgery, I took Thomas shopping for sneakers at a local sporting goods store. We found several pairs of sneakers and I asked him which pair he liked the best. He paused for a second, took a closer look at the price tags and said, “Let’s get these blue and black ones because they are cheaper. I don’t need those expensive shoes.”

So I, kissed him on the head, ruffled his hair and told him he made a wise choice. The next day, I went out and bought him two more pairs of shoes, some really cool Converse All star high tops and a pair of hiking shoes, Booyah!

Some days, I feel really guilty about the sacrifices my children have to make. Some days I secretly covet the moms in the PTA that are wearing expensive leather Frye boots and designer jeans. Some days I snap at my husband when the issue of money comes up.  Some days Mark rolls his eyes at his high school students who drive to school in their BMWs and expensive SUVs while he parks his 10 year old Saturn sedan. Some days I hate my tiny little house and want to scream because we are busting at the seams and need more space. And some days, like the day Thomas chose the cheaper sneakers, I realize that I am doing just fine.