Dear Parents of Spirited Toddlers: It Gets Better

pexels-photo-116151-largeMy oldest son Carter is a Spirited Child. As a toddler he would melt into the hardwood at the sight of pants. He’d foam at the mouth if I suggested he wear a color other than blue. He was constantly talking, moving, taking things so thoroughly apart that even Einstein wouldn’t have been able to put them back together. One day after preschool he locked me out of my car and sat happily in the driver’s seat honking the horn for ten minutes while the other mothers shook their heads in disgust.

What is wrong with that child? No one ever came out and said it, but it was written all over their well-rested faces. But on that day, I was too exhausted to care.

Because one of the hallmarks of the Spirited Child is his inability to sleep. I’m not sure exactly when it started since my limbic system was way too sleep-deprived to create concrete memories, but I think it was around two-and-a-half, right after we moved him into a big-boy-bed in anticipation of his mildly-spirited little brother’s birth. Carter had never been a fantastic sleeper, but this was the dawn of The Dark Ages, the age of waking up at 3 a.m. and trying to warm pizza in the clothes dryer, the age of sneaking out into garage at midnight and pretending to be Mario Andretti Junior with Mommy’s car. (Honk, honk.)

We’d be at the park, and well-meaning strangers with children content to sit on the swing for hours would watch in amazement as Carter did 986 frantic laps around the perimeter.

“He’ll sleep good tonight,” they’d remark with a smile, as I fought the urge to slap them across the face.

I didn’t sleep for two years, and I thought I was going to die.

Then he started kindergarten, and he was that kid. Always talking, always moving, always running into the girl’s bathroom to growl like a monster and make his friends laugh and squeal. I asked his teachers, his pediatrician…Is it ADHD? Too many processed foods? Not enough exercise? Why did he have so much goddamn energy? Why couldn’t he just sit on the couch and play video games like a normal kid? What the hell was I doing wrong?

That’s the thing when you have a Spirited Child – you constantly blame yourself, and you’re constantly looking for a way to “fix” your kid. For a very long time I was sure it was my crappy parenting that made Carter the way he was. I didn’t eat enough Omega-3 fatty acids when he was in utero. Once he was out I didn’t read enough/craft enough/hug enough/yell enough/play enough/do anything remotely good enough. If only I were a better parent, he’d be a better child.

And then, in the blink of an eye, Carter changed. He was no longer the untamed maniac that couldn’t sit still for more than 30 seconds. He learned to read and write and choose his own clothes and not care if they weren’t blue or had an evil tag that was plotting to kill him. He started building Lego cities without overdramatic tears of frustration. He even used the microwave instead of the dryer. He began telling other people “to be quiet, please, I’m trying to concentrate.” Something in his brain clicked and he did the impossible, practicing self-control and recognizing the triggers that pushed him over the edge before he spiraled over to The Dark Side. The child I was so sure would end up in prison has become a joy to be around, not to mention one of the smartest kids in the first grade.

And that’s something that we tend to forget about Spirited Children – they’re freakin’ smart. Once their constantly spinning brains stop long enough to focus, they have a sixth sense that sets out to unlock the mysteries of the world. Carter spends so much time learning, packing every ounce of knowledge he can into his ever-growing beautiful mind. And, for me, now, that’s so much better than having a kid that sits on the couch playing video games all day.

So if you’re averaging three hours of sleep and using coffee with 5-Hour Energy creamer to hang onto your last thread of sanity, or if you’re currently standing next to your locked car in tears as your toddler honks and waves, hang in there. It gets better. So, so, so, so, so much better. I promise.

A New Beginning

Ahh, a new year. Gyms packed with newbies, cranky people giving up chocolate/soda/cigarettes/fast food/etc., etc., etc., in an effort to “resolve” to make themselves better. Over the years I’ve resolved not to make New Year’s resolutions. Not because I don’t have things I need to work on, but because I’m a big believer that bettering ourselves is a constant process, something that shifts and grows throughout the year along with our ever-changing lives.

That being said, I still have a few things I’m working on – not resolutions, mind you, since I started them long before the clock turned away from 2015, but things. I’m going to sleep more. I’m going to eat more kale. I’m going to spend more time doing fun activities with my kids and less time telling them, “Just a minute!” I’m also going to spend less time nagging myself how I can be better and more time saying that I’m pretty good as is.

And finally, I’m going to finish the two books I’ve been working on and break into the world of fiction. I’ve been spending lots of time with these characters, “my other dysfunctional family,” as I like to call them, and I can’t wait for the world to meet them. It might be this year, it might be next year, or it might be the year after that, but it will happen. Because as the epic basketball player Michael Jordan once said, “If you put in the work, the results will come.”

Happy New Year everyone!

Sign this petition!

While there is no way of knowing if better screening could have prevented my daughter Avery’s stillbirth, it will remain a question that will always haunt me.

Unfortunately, the number of stillbirths in the United States continues to grow each year. This has spurred a movement to declare stillbirth a national health crisis, encouraging the government to provide funding to study cord issues, create guidelines for doctors to implement additional screening, and discard the 39 week delivery policy that inadvertently may increase stillbirths.

Please help other families avoid the “what-ifs” by signing the petition to declare stillbirth a national health crisis.

You Get What You Get

IMG_7874“Are you mad you don’t have a girl?”

The question caught me off guard, like the car in your blind spot when you’re changing lanes, the one that lays on the horn and gives you the finger and sends your heart into a series of herky-jerky palpitations that make you wonder if you should dial 911.

I had just finished telling the story of Avery’s stillbirth to a near stranger, a story I’ve told hundreds of times, a story that typically elicits awkward nods and sad smiles and “I’m so sorrys,” not brutally honest questions with the potential for politically incorrect answers.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

A saying danced through my head, words stolen from my son’s kindergarten teacher, words I tell my kids multiple times throughout the day. “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” It’s true, too. Whether you’re talking about a Happy Meal toy or second place in the spelling bee or horrible diseases or even death – there are so many things that are out of our hands, things we humans wish we could control but are ultimately powerless against.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I’m sad that seven years ago my daughter died. I’m frustrated that I did everything right but nobody saw it coming. I’m irritated that I had to have three full-term pregnancies to have two children. I’m heartbroken that I have to try to explain to my boys how the sister they never met died, and how that little girl changed so much about our lives. But am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I think of the parents that only have girls, up to their ears in glitter and bows, twirling through a world of dance recitals and nail polish, and wonder how they see me. I wonder if they feel a little left out of my world, the world of fart noises and monster trucks, the world of bug collections and pretty-eyed mama’s boys whispering, “I love you so much, Mommy,” right before their lids become heavy with sleep.

I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m missing out on in the Land of Pink. I’ll never shop for bras or prom dresses or wedding dresses. I’ll never know that special mother – daughter bond that people always post sappy memes of on Facebook. But am I mad I don’t have a girl?

“No,” I finally answered. “I’m not mad.”

And it’s the truth.

I’ll always have that tiny pang in my heart – perhaps mine is a little bigger than most because once upon a time I had a girl and then all of a sudden I didn’t. But I’m not mad. I adore my boys; I adore my life. It would be useless to be mad about something so out of my control. To hold onto anger like that would only cloud the spectacular road ahead and keep me from truly enjoying the ride.

Even if that ride is in a monster truck riddled with fart noises.

While I was away…

11825805_10206618548678356_2981678389871303118_nEvery summer I venture back to the deep woods of Northern Michigan to remember my roots.  (And to visit my family and be eaten by mosquitos the size of helicopters.) Cell phone service is sketchy there to say the least, so imagine my surprise when I discovered, three days after it was published, I had a little snippet about Avery published in The New York Times!  You can check out my story, as well as the stories of a handful of other brave women who chose to share there experiences with stillbirth, here.

An Early Gift

Avery Birth RecordEvery now and then my book Holding Avery gets entered into a contest – the latest was the Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.  It’s a well-known competition in the literary world, with other winners being the likes of screenwriter Zack Whedon and the infamous Dalai Lama, to name a few.

When I found out I was a finalist a few months ago I was thrilled; I know it’s entirely cliche, but, given the competition, it truly was an honor to be nominated. I knew that winning was a long shot. The awards were given out this past Friday night at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I wasn’t there – I was sitting on the couch watching House Hunters International with a very jet-lagged husband who had just returned from a work trip overseas. I was trying to convince him that it was completely practical for us to move to St. Croix when I got the email. The winners had been announced, and I had to blink a few times before I processed that it was Holding Avery that won the Gold in the Grief/Grieving category.   My little book, my little story, my little daughter – the big winner.

It’s exciting being a winner.  It’s incredible to have people talking about Holding Avery, to have people recognizing it not just for the writing but also for broaching an uncomfortable subject that is often ignored.  It’s not The Nobel Prize but it’s enough to make me feel special for a few days, to reaffirm that I made the right choice writing such a personal book in the first place.  Winning is also very timely.

Avery was born on July 2, just three days from today.  (It’s 1:32 p.m. as I type this; she was born at 1:43 p.m.) Surprisingly, July 2 doesn’t really bother me – it’s tomorrow, June 30, that puts the pit in my stomach.  If you’ve read my book you know that June 30 was a pretty boring pregnant day back in 2008.  I took a walk, I ate a sandwich, I went to Target. A few things happened that had me convinced Avery was on her way, and just past midnight my water broke.  Seven years later I still find myself doing a play-by-play of that day, wondering how and why things turned out the way they did.  I said it in my book and I stand by it today – as the years pass, it doesn’t get easier.  It gets different. I already feel the beginnings of that squirm in my stomach, that feeling of sadness and loss blended with the happiness of the beautiful life we’ve built post-Avery.  This year I can add the accolades of my book, Avery’s book, to that cocktail of confusion.

Yes. It’s nice to be a winner. But I’ll never forget that Avery’s loss is what made this all possible in the first place.  Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  This year you won the Gold.

Time flies when you’re having fun…

CheerstoSummer1As a former teacher, I’m always amazed by the end of the school year.  You’re just chugging along, teaching, learning, and BAM!  Just like that it’s over.  In two short weeks I’ll have a kindergarten graduate, and then it’s time for me and my boys to embark on the lazy days of summer. Or the rainy days of summer, as we’ve experienced so far in the Dallas Area! (See ya later, drought!)

I always have a hard time when summer vacation starts.  Right now I have a fabulous writing schedule that I’ve done a great job of sticking to this year. I’ve been working on lots of guest posts for blogs and organizations, and I’m also nearing the end of my first piece of fiction. (I’m biting my nails just thinking about it.) Now, with two little boys in the house all the time, I’ll need to make some adjustments. But as we all know, time files, and before I know it I’ll be taking first day of school pictures of a first grader and a preschooler (who really thinks he should be a kindergartener).  I’m also hoping to have that pesky book finished – but Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I’ll cut myself a little slack.  For now.

If you have time, be sure to stop by the blog Beautiful Mommies and read the latest review of my book Holding Avery!

 

 

A Reminder This Mother’s Day…

IMG_6072I remember the first Mother’s Day after I lost Avery.  It was a strange day filled with sadness and complex emotions. I was also angry, furious at a holiday that seemed to be made for everyone except me. Every TV commercial reminded me of what I’d lost, every grocery store display reminded me of the child I’d held in my arms but couldn’t keep. Avery was stillborn, and I struggled with my new identity as a childless mother.

Prior to being discharged from the hospital after my daughter’s birth/death, my doctor had grabbed hold of me, looked me in the eye, and whispered, “You are a mother.” In that moment, I believed her.  But after being shoved back into the real world, surrounded by a society that doesn’t fully understand stillbirth and people that couldn’t look me in the eye, I wasn’t so sure.  I knew I was a mother, but did anyone else? I had a nursery, a closet full of baby clothes, three strollers, a Baby Bjorn, toys, car seats, pacifiers…I had everything I was supposed to have. But I didn’t have the one thing that truly makes you a parent. I didn’t have a baby.

But I did have a baby.

I had a baby that I nurtured and sang to for nearly nine months. In those fleeting moments, we had thousands of conversations about the past, present, and future.  I knew how her foot tickled my ribs, how her fingers brushed the inside of my belly when she did her daily gymnastics. I knew every single time she had the hiccups. Avery was the first person to ever hear my heartbeat from the inside. How could I not be a mother?

It took me a long time to realize it, but I finally realized that other people didn’t determine my maternal status – it was up to me. I had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and Mother’s Day was still my holiday. So on that Sunday in 2009 I celebrated my motherhood. I picked up my daughter’s urn and sang her a song.  I shook her ashes, listening to the soft swoosh-swoosh that always reminded me of her heartbeat. I sat with her for an hour, remembering that while her short life brought me incredible grief, it also awarded me immense happiness.

I was a mother.  I was Avery’s mother. And no one could take that away from me.

It’s been seven years since that first Mother’s Day without my daughter.  I’ve since been blessed with two healthy, rambunctious little boys that have made this holiday so much brighter. Yet as this Mother’s Day Weekend approaches, I can’t help but think of all of the other mothers out their struggling.  For some the wounds of stillbirth may still be very fresh; others may have been grasping at an identity for quite some time.  To all of you, please remember that even though your child may not walk this earth, you are still a mother.

And don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

 

 

Through the Heart

I recently had the pleasure of being the guest blogger for the fabulous organization Through the Heart, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide support to anyone who has experienced a pregnancy loss.  You can read my post here!

#InItToWinIt

winner-1I had a really crappy day today.  Last Friday, on my way home from getting the boys a couple of Happy Meals to celebrate a great week at school, I got rear-ended.  (Thankfully we are all fine – my bumper was the only casualty.) This set off a chain reaction of lengthy phone calls and insurance claims and body shop estimates.  Everything was going smoothly, too smoothly, I suppose, when I dropped my car off yesterday to get fixed. The rental car company was supposed to pick me up an hour later at my house, and I waited. And waited.  And waited.  And made a phone call.  And waited.  And made another phone call…

Long story short, 36 hours later I had to drag my especially spunky children to the rental place along with two car seats, then make a few more phone calls to the insurance company, then try to maneuver these car seats into this rental car that evidently is not designed for car seats, all while my children picked up cigarette butts from the parking lot and practiced their Karate Kid moves on every stranger that walked by.  (Why on earth did I let them watch that movie?)

By the time I got home my head was pounding, my blood pressure was sky high, and I was about to book a one-way ticket to Timbuktu – then I checked my email.  “Congratulations!  You are a 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards finalist!”  In my state of delirium I’d forgotten that the finalists of this elite competition would be announced today, and it was a welcome, much needed surprise.

My kids are still fighting and my car is still in the shop, but now I’m smiling.  I’m so excited to announce that Holding Avery is a 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist!

Stay tuned.