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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Big" problems

When you're cradling a sweaty baby in one arm while running after a toddler and people tell you to enjoy that time because bigger kids bring bigger problems, you might be tempted to immediately clap back, because at that moment, your problems are big enough.  Those people happen to be right, but don't tell them I told you so.

Lottie came home not too long ago and told me she thought she needed to go on a diet.  After my head exploded and I was able to pick up the pieces, I asked her why. She told me that she was afraid of getting fat, that girls in her grade had been talking about how awful it would be to get fat.

Sweet Jesus. Third grade.

We sat down to talk about this; I couldn't see having this conversation while I was mopping the kitchen floor.  I told her all of the right things: she's young, she's active, and she's amazing.  She was nodding her head throughout the conversation, but I could tell it wasn't getting through to her.  So, I took a deep breath, and I told her some painful truths about her mama and life in general.

I told her that there will always be people who are way too focused on looks.  Everyone has his/her own style and appearance, but there will be times when it's not enough for some of the critics.  As long as people are happy and comfortable in their own skin, it shouldn't matter what other people think.  Only sometimes it does.  And when it does, I want her to have the proper tools to deal with it.

I asked her to tell me what she sees when she looks at me, and she said, "My mom who is beautiful." Oh, my heart.  The hard part came when I told her that I am overweight, I accept my pudginess, and I don't really care what anyone else thinks of my body.  She immediately protested and told me I wasn't fat, but I shushed her so I could continue, so I could explain that I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or sad about it.

Yep, I weigh too much.  I'm fat, chubby, fluffy, curvy, substantial, get the drift.   If I were to compare, I'm probably the heaviest of all of my friends, but I don't compare.  I'm most likely the biggest mom of all of my kids' friends' moms, but I don't compare.  By now, I have learned that comparing does no good, and it's really just a time-waster.  I had two separate people tell me this week that I was fat TO MY FACE, and after a few fretful moments, I forgot about it and felt glad that I don't feel the need to body shame other people just because I can.  The crux of it is this: I may be heavy, but that doesn't change who I am as a person.  (Now would be the perfect time to let you know this is NOT a fishing expedition for compliments.  None needed.  REALLY.  That's not the point of this post.  Now, carry on.)

I could see Lottie getting a little lost, so I continued.  I told her that I'm proud of this body.  My body carried two kids, and when those babies decided my womb was some sort of magical Studio 54 that they couldn't bear to leave, my body dealt with two emergency C-sections so I could give birth safely.  This body walked me through thyroid cancer and the radioactive iodine that followed.  This body took care of everyone and everything when T was so sick that he could barely move.  This body has rocked kids to sleep, hugged friends in time of mourning, played in the rain, and swum in the pool of a waterfall in Hawaii.  This body works at home and works to make students into great teachers.  This body hosts dance parties on school mornings when no one wants to get out of bed.  This body goes to boot camp and spin class every week day to stay healthy, and this body keeps up pretty well, thankyouverymuch.  This body houses the brain that listens intently when there are problems, laughs like crazy at silliness, devours books with every spare moment, and multi-tasks almost every minute of every day.  This is the same body I had when I was 17 and met the love of my life; there is just more of it now, and he's still happy to be around, I might add.

I told her that if she ever starts to think negatively about her body, I want her to think of the all the amazing things it does for her, and most importantly, how it holds one of the biggest hearts in the entire world.  I told her that she has been given the gift of athleticism, definitely not from me, and she should continue to revel in that her whole life as she has in her childhood.  I told her that her kind heart and happy disposition would always make her beautiful, and to me, she is absolute perfection.

I'm not going to spend my summer hiding in sweats or refusing to go to the pool.  I'm going to put on a bathing suit, dive in, and enjoy life with my family and friends.  My suit may be bigger, but I bet my laugh will be, too.  What a beautiful gift to give my children: my presence, my absolute, complete, not-worrying-about-what-my-legs-look-like-in-shorts presence in their lives.

I don't honestly know how much of what I said to Lottie sunk in, and I may not know that for a long time.  This is a conversation that needs to happen over and over, though, until she understands that there should be more than just what she sees in the mirror that defines her as a person, and whatever that more is, I want her to own it and be proud of it. I never want her to be ashamed of who she is because she has a long life ahead of her figuring it all out. Plus, it isn't just body shaming out there in the world: it's all kinds of shaming.  We shame moms who stay home and moms who work; we shame people on welfare and the filthy rich; we shame those who share their emotions and those who are utterly stoic.  There is slut-shaming, food-shaming, politics-shaming, and even shame-shaming.  We basically shame anyone who doesn't do things exactly like we think they should be done, and I'm over it.  Seriously.  What I want Lottie (and Dallas and everyone, really) to get is that shaming others is easy and shaming ourselves can be even easier, but feeling true pride and loving oneself is the hard part.  It takes work to push aside the feelings of not being enough and to live life the best way possible.  I know she can do it, though.  I think we all can.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feel it, feel it

If you were hoping this post would be about Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, I'm sorry to disappoint, but feel free to go feel the vibrations on your own time.

We spend a lot of time teaching our kids how to recognize their feelings when they're toddlers.  We play games so they can show us their happy or sad faces, and the ubiquitous "feelings" poster is in almost every pre-school classroom on the planet.  As kids get older, though, it seems that we are spending more time telling them not to have their feelings instead of teaching them HOW to express and deal with all of the emotions that come with being a human being. When they fall down, we shush them and tell them not to cry, and when they're sad, we tell them to smile and cheer up.

We have come a long way from pigeonholing people into behavior based on gender, but sometimes I fear that we haven't come far enough.  We are trying not to tell boys to be tough and girls to be angels, but we're still basically advising kids to stifle their feelings.  The other night, Dallas was feeling frustrated and upset about something that had overwhelmed him.  I was waiting for him to sort of settle himself down enough so we could talk about it, and in between sniffles and deep breaths, he said, "I feel like I'm just being a big baby."  Color me stunned because that isn't something I say to my kids or to anyone, for that matter. Having and expressing emotions doesn't make someone a baby; on the contrary, I think it shows great strength to open up and tell or show someone else how you're really feeling.  (On the other hand, what's so bad about being a baby?  Babies eat, sleep, and poop.  When babies cry, people tend to take care of their needs without question, and I think we could all use a little bit of care now and again.)  I don't know where Dallas heard that phrase "being a baby," but it kills me to think other kids are getting the same message and feeling the same way Dallas does.  I did the only thing I knew how to do which was tell him that emotions are part of life, and there was nothing wrong with crying to get those yucky feelings out of his body.  And, really, I don't know where Dallas heard that phrase - it could be anywhere - but I hate that it has embedded itself in his psyche.

Obviously, I am not condoning full-blown tantrums for people if they find out Starbucks has quit carrying the smoked butterscotch latte, but a few minutes of wallowing isn't going to hurt anyone.  I would rather teach my kids how to handle their disappointments and fears rather than not feeling them at all.  I don't want them to go through life as automatons, for Pete's sake.  I have told them that it's okay to be afraid, but I hope they always face their fears to try something new; that it's important to be grateful for everything they have, but they are also allowed to acknowledge that no one's life is ever a perfect fairy tale; that sometimes people hurt us, and it's up to us to decide how we allow others to treat us; and that it's important to be kind, but in the end, we have to be right with ourselves.

This is how I see it: I want my kids to feel and understand their own emotions so they can become caring, successful, and responsible adults.  It's almost impossible to teach empathy, but it is possible (and necessary) to teach compassion.  The seeds of mercy can't grow within us without some serious cultivation of our own hearts and those around us.  So laugh, cry, yell, cheer up, wind down, choke up, or goof off because that's how things go.  If you can't say something nice, come over to my house to vent: come over to crack up over something silly, to share a disappointment, to shed some tears, or to brag about something spectacular.  Just don't come over for a meal right now.  The kitchen is being remodeled, so we don't have much to offer other than some cereal and Wheat Thins.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

3,285 days

Lottie girl,

Today you are nine years old.  It has been nine years of ups and downs, laughter and tears, fun and hard work.  Through it all, you have stayed consistently you: sweet, funny, active, silly, and full of life.

You seem to have started to find your stride in school this year, and Dad and I are so proud.  Your grades aren't as important to us as your effort, and you're working hard to be the best Lottie you can be.  You still love the social aspect of school far more than the academics, but you are slowly finding a balance.

One of the many things I love about you is your "Little Mama" persona: you want to take care of everyone and everything.  You're always organizing family movie nights or games with kids in the neighborhood, and you're becoming more independent at home.  You want to do as much as you can yourself, and when you don't know how to do something, you're not afraid to ask.  When we're out shopping, you're the first to ask a store employee where something is, and you always tell restaurant servers about Dallas's dairy allergy before I can even open my mouth.  There is a certain look you give me when you obviously don't believe a word I am saying, especially when it comes to taking care of the house or the family.  I'm pretty sure you are thinking that I don't know anything and you could do it all better, and it makes me laugh every time.  You are quick to get upset, but you're quicker to forgive.  You're willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt even if they have hurt you before, and that is a big part of who you are.

Your relationship with Dallas is about the same as always: love or hate. at any given moment.   Usually, though, you both get along well.  He feels smothered sometimes when you try to be his mom, but in the end, all is forgiven.  My favorite thing to do is listen to your conversations because they are serious and funny all at the same time.   You will deny it, but I know you like to do things together.  He is an important part of your life, and I hope it always stays that way.

You have a huge sense of curiosity and willingness to try new things.  We're always looking for new activities to keep you active and interested.  So far, gymnastics is your favorite, but you have also tried ballet, swimming, cooking, and taekwondo.  I keep trying to get you to take drama classes because we ALL know that would be a perfect fit.  So far, you have resisted, but maybe you will change your mind one day.  You make the entire world your stage as it is, but I don't think you have any idea how entertaining you really are.

The last year has been an interesting dichotomy: you are becoming more independent but also staying a little girl.  I love that you are following your instincts not to grow up too quickly.  Yes, you ask me for a cell phone on the daily and you talk about getting your driver's license at least once a week, but you play with your dolls at home and you are loath to dispose of any stuffed animal from your ever-growing collection.  You really love to play with makeup, often begging me for mascara, but you also beg for new footie pajamas.  You like what you like, and I admire how unapologetic you are about it all.  Stick with that throughout your life, and you'll be happy.

Sometimes I worry about you because you wear your heart on your sleeve.  All I have to do is look at you to know how you are feeling.  I never want you to be hurt, but logically, I know it's going to happen.  No matter what happens, never forget what an amazing, kind, and generous person you are.  Not everyone will be worthy of all you have to offer, but I hope you don't ever lose your sweet spirit.

I'll let you in on a little secret here: because you are the first-born, Dad and I don't always know exactly what we're doing as parents.  You're sort of our experiment, and we do the best we can.  I know that you think we have it all together, or maybe you don't, but you have been patient as we all learn together how to navigate the waters of parenting you and Dal.  Thank you for understanding that anything we do is done out of love and wanting the very best for you and our family.  Thank you for being YOU, our baby, our love, our pumpkin pie, our wacky and snuggly Lottie Lou.

You make my heart burst with pride and joy every day,

Sunday, September 6, 2015

2,555 days

My darling boy,

Today you are seven years old, and those years have flown by in the blink of an eye.  You are growing and changing every single day, but at your very core, you are still the sweet boy you were on the day you were born.

Your sixth year was fraught with change and uncertainty as Dad went through all of his treatments.  Throughout the process, you asked so many intelligent questions about what was happening, and you went off to think about the answers in your own way, in your own time.  You were so brave even though I know you were scared.  Like Dad, change is not your thing, but you handled everything with a grace and maturity that I didn't know you had.

You have done a lot and learned so much during this past year.  You ride your two-wheeler like a champ, and you love to ride around the driveway in the morning before school.  You lost some teeth, and your jack-o-lantern smile melts my heart every time I see it.  Kindergarten was fantastic for you because you made so many new friends and came home each day with new facts.  I loved hearing you say that you missed school during the summer because you wanted to see your pals.  I think you enjoyed summer camp for the most part, but I also know that you were happiest at home with me, reading a book or finding shapes in the clouds.  You have also learned to whistle and snap; I always know where you are in the house because I can hear you singing or whistling or snapping all over the place.

You have an innate sense of justice that I love; you can't stand to see anyone or anything mistreated.  If you find a spider in your room, you always want me to catch it and put it outside instead of squashing it.  Violence of any kind makes you sad, even when you know it's just a movie or something pretend.  You are a creator at heart, not a destroyer.  I think that's why you love playing Minecraft so much: you can build your own world just how you want it.  And when it comes to your family, you give so much more than you realize.  One of your favorite things to do is create a "store" in your room, and you invite us all to choose something to keep.  We play along and put everything back at the end of the night, but your face lights up when we make our selections.  You would give away your most prized possessions if you thought that would make someone else happy.

Of course, you're also a stereotypical little boy in some ways.  Any sort of joke about a bodily function is enough to make you fall off a chair with laughter.  You laugh with your entire body, and that makes me laugh even harder.  Stinky feet pass for great comedy around here, and I often hear Lottie exclaiming, "DAAAAAAALLAS" when she is sick of your jokes.  You two fight more than ever now, but you also stand up for each other with strength and fierce love.  I am confident that no one will ever hurt you while your sister is around, and I know you will always protect her.  One of my favorite things to do is listen you talk to each other right before bedtime because sometimes you tell her things that you haven't told me.  I'm so glad that you have her in your life, and she is beyond lucky to have you as a brother.

If I had one wish for you in your seventh year, it would be this: continue to be exactly who you are.  You're crazy-smart, kind, generous, funny, curious, and gentle.  As you grow, you might start to feel that it isn't cool to be sweet, but I hope you can ignore that feeling.  I love when you cuddle with me and tell me how much you love me.  I love that you still hold hands in a parking lot.  I love that you still try to sit in our laps even though you really don't fit.  Basically, I love how strongly you love, and I hope with all my heart that you never lose that.  Not too many adults, let alone kids, know who they are, and you are one of the lucky few to know that about yourself at such a young age.  Hold on to that, baby, and don't let anyone try to change the beautiful boy you are.

Dad and I are ridiculously proud of you and the way you complete our little family.  Thank you for bringing us so much laughter and love.

With all my love,

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Now what?

In the last three months, T has finished his cancer treatments.  He had a final surgery to reconnect his bowel system, and he was able to 86 the colostomy bag that he had been carrying around for seven months.  The ileostomy take-down surgery has a long recovery period, very long, but T has already seen improvement since the procedure in May.  (If any of you are singing Bob Seger in your head right now, bonus points to you.) 

We spent so much time waiting for the next steps during all of the treatments, and now we are finally at the point where all there will be are follow-up appointments.  It's a wonderful, amazing feeling to finally be able to relax after fourteen months of never taking a deep breath.  The last year has been so chock full of tests and appointments and surgeries; now we're looking at only four appointments a year. what?

We're planning a trip to Hawaii in the Fall to celebrate the demise of the cancer and to belatedly celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.  Yes, we're taking the kids with us because they deserve a vacation as much as we do, and we also invited my dad to join us as well.  We went through the ordeal as a family, and I want us to unwind as a family.

I'm starting a new part-time job at the beginning of the school year.  I'll be working as a University Supervisor through Purdue University; basically, I'm going to help student teachers learn how to be the best teachers they can be.  I honestly never expected to go back out into the working world in any way, shape, or form.  I have always been fulfilled by what I do at home, and I have never felt the need to prove anything, to myself or others, about my value as a homemaker and mother.  But this opportunity fell into my lap, and after initial resistance, I decided to grab it.  I can basically make my own schedule, and the majority of my work can happen while the kids are in school.  

The timing was right to start doing something new.  I thought I would be ready for business as usual once all of T's treatments were over, but I have found that I'm ready for change instead.  People have asked what I have learned throughout this whole journey, and I don't know that I have one simple answer for that.  I think, though, that I have started thinking more in terms of why not instead of why. "Change is good" has always been one of my mottos (although it makes T shudder) but it's not exactly change that appeals to me now as much as it is taking advantage of opportunities, no matter how big or how small.  

It's not as dramatic as deciding to live life to the fullest, grab the brass ring, etc.   I wish I could say that the last few years of cancer hullabaloo have made me appreciate every moment in life that I have, but I think that's a pretty high expectation for one person.  I'm only human, and things are bound to get me down now and again.  But instead of wondering if I should do something, I want to start asking myself why wouldn't I do it: small things like giving the kids ice cream before dinner and letting them stay up late, big things like a new job and a dream of starting my own business someday, or in-between things like nights out with friends.  I don't want to look back and regret the things I didn't do, the places I didn't go, or the friends I didn't make because I was afraid or thought somehow I didn't deserve to do it.   

There is, of course, another side to this.  I also have to learn how to say no when I really don't want to do something.  That is going to be difficult because I don't like saying no or letting people down.  Like anything in life, there needs to be balance between what will make others happy and what will make me happy.  Right now, I don't know how that balance will fit into my new viewpoint, but I'm eager to see how it's all going to work out in the end.  The beauty of it all is that I have the power to choose and make my own decisions.  I don't have to be perfect, and I don't have to be everything to everyone at every moment.  

Now what?  Now we breathe in and out; we laugh and we cry; we travel and we enjoy nights at home; we go to soccer games and we host play dates; we do what we have to do and we do what we want to do; mostly, we live and love.  Beyond that, we'll just have to wait and see.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Less is less

Scouts, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, swimming, track, football, cheerleading, clubs.  It seems like a lot of kids are doing a lot of those things.  Parents are running to get their kids to activity after activity, day after day.  Chez Wells, though, after having been in it for almost a year, Dallas is done with martial arts.  He learned a lot and earned a few new belts, but his heart was never truly in it.

I had begun to notice that getting Dallas to tae kwon do was no easy task.  We had to get in the car as soon as he got off the bus, have a snack en route, get to the studio, change into uniform, and start class.  That's a lot for a Kindergarten kid to do right after school.  He enjoyed his class and liked his teacher, but he wasn't really into the whole thing.  He spent most of his time making faces at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.  I knew he wouldn't be ready for the next higher level of class which involved more memorization, a longer class period, and more difficult practices.  He would end up being a distraction to the teacher and the rest of the kids in class.

T and I decided that Dallas could stop the martial arts class.  I felt guilty at first because I wondered if we were teaching him that it was okay to quit something out of boredom.  Would this decision affect how he lived his life?  Would he change his major in college twelve times because we allowed him to quit tae kwon do?   Then I realized that I was a little nuts, and I reined it in.

Part of my guilt stems from the fact that it's almost de rigueur for kids to do all the things: music lessons, sports, drama classes, academic teams.  I worried that Dallas wasn't going to have An Interest.  Don't all kids need An Interest to feel successful and confident?  What would His Interest be?  I was afraid I was ruining his life.  And as parents, we're constantly inundated with what our kids should or shouldn't be doing, mostly opinions without many facts behind them.   But how are we supposed to know which way to go or what works for our own children?

All at once, I was hit with the proverbial bolt of lightning: the kid is six years old.  He's six.  He doesn't need An Interest.  He couldn't choose An Interest right now if his life depended on it, because, SIX. And I'm not even saying that no six-year old knows what he/she likes to do, but I know that Dallas needs some time to develop his interests.  Having lots of after-school activities works for a lot of kids and their families.  Lottie, for instance, would be thrilled to do something different every day of the week: that's just who she is.  But Dal, he's more of an old soul who likes to ease into things before he fully commits.  His personality is essentially different than mine, so sometimes I find it problematic to parent him.   I'm learning, though.  I'm learning to give him some time and space to be who he is and who he needs to be.

When T and I told Dal he could be done with tae kwon do if he wanted to, he thought about it for a while before responding.  (Shocking.)  He eventually said he was glad he was going to be done with the Monday/Wednesday rigmarole; he said all he wanted to do when he came home from school on Mondays was read the new library book that he had gotten at school that day.  He may not know everything just yet, but he knows what he likes.  I'm just glad I was finally able to give up my own worry in order to lessen his.  It doesn't matter what everyone else is doing - jump off a bridge, anyone? -as long as we're happy with the result.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

All in

We have made it past a pretty important milestone chez Wells: T is done with his chemo treatments.  It's such a simple statement, but it means so much more to us.  It's the end of nausea, the end of overwhelming fatigue, the end of dreading what we know would happen every two weeks, and most importantly, the end of the damnable cancer.  He'll have a CT scan at the end of April, and he'll also see the surgeon to determine when the surgery to reverse his ostomy will happen.  By the time the kids start summer break, I hope this is all behind us.

The thing is, it'll never really be done.  Of course, he'll have follow-up appointments and scans to determine that the cancer has not returned.  But the last ten months and the next few to come will always be with us.  We'll never go to an appointment without a modicum of fear or worry.  It will forever be the year of cancer when we look back at this point in our lives.

When T was diagnosed, I remember wondering how this would change us as a couple and as a family.  I was so afraid of what we would become.  In a small sense, it was far more difficult than I ever anticipated.  Seeing T in the hospital, knowing how terribly ill the chemo made him, and wanting to just take it all away was almost more than I could handle.  In a larger sense, it went so much smoother than I ever thought possible because of all the help we received.  I was lucky enough to have the kind of help that made it fairly easy to stick to a daily routine and a "normal" life for the kids.  I can't think of many events, major or minor, that we missed out on because there were always people around to ensure that we were where we needed to be when we needed to be there.  The way my family and our friends made themselves utterly and completely available to us was truly a thing of selfless beauty and love.  Because of everyone who helped, nothing changed for the worse.  We were still a family, and better yet, my kids had and continue to have amazing examples of what it truly means to be a friend.

As far as changing us as a couple, I think the cancer has made us appreciate each other more.  I can only speak for myself, but at the end of the day, I'm happy to curl up and watch a show or read a book at home, anything just to be near T.  I'm still totally annoyed when he doesn't change the toilet paper roll or puts his dirty dishes near the dishwasher instead of in it, but I'm more willing to overlook the little stuff.

That whole "in sickness and in health" line in a wedding ceremony tends to get lost sometimes, but it's one of the most important parts there is.  T wasn't allowed to give up his fight, and I wasn't either.  His fight was obviously more important, but I fought to keep everything else in our lives together.  I think we'll both carry those war wounds around for the rest of our lives.  It is said that time heals all wounds, but I don't think that's necessarily true.  Time allows the wounds to scab over and begin to heal; however, time also creates scars, lengthens them, and raises them to the surface, making them impossible to forget.  Maybe that's not the worst thing in the world though, remembering.  Even though it's not a time I ever want to repeat, it's worth remembering that life gets tough, but we are tougher.  Maybe we have changed; however, we're together, and nothing else really matters.