Summer 2021

Summer 2021

I write with Wells sleeping next to me. I listen to him breathe and I thank God for my beautiful, healthy children. I don’t want to forget the memories we made this summer; when Millie’s thirty, asking me questions about her childhood, I pray I’ll remember but if my memory fails, there’s always this blog.

We would sleep in every morning, all three of us. Wells was still breastfeeding so he’d sleep next to me and I’d kiss his little hands. His feet would curl up and rest on my stomach. That boy would sleep all day if I laid next to him. Millie would wake up to the sounds of her daddy getting ready for work, come into our room still half asleep, and crawl into our bed for another hour or two. Millie insists on putting her own toothpaste on her toothbrush and she received a fantastic dental report at her first dentist appointment this summer.

Both kids enjoyed playing on Mawmaw’s back patio this summer. Millie loved redecorating the fairy garden and Wells loved to destroy it. Maw had a faux pond made of blue stones that Wells would put in his mouth, sometimes three at a time. Maw would fill up a plastic, clear tote with water and they would splash and play; Wells’ head being in the 100th percentile made him a bit top heavy so his head would go under the water anytime he would bend over the edge. Maw bought guest passes for her neighborhood’s pool and we able to enjoy that this summer. The first time we went, Wells stuck his index finger out to a wasp who was trying to escape the water and it repeatedly stung him. It swelled up pretty bad but maw got him some children’s Benadryl and it was fine. Millie made some new friends and even braved the water slide by the end of the summer.

The trampoline park was a good time for the kids. We went once with Lindsey and her boys and once with Papa. Wells couldn’t really bounce on the trampolines but he enjoyed running around. He didn’t like keeping his socks on. One older lady saw him and said, “He looks like a football player!” Both kids liked throwing the balls. Millie met a worker there named Isla that she referred to as her “big sister”. Isla was sweet with Mill and played with her on the trampolines.

We went to the zoo many times this summer. Twice with Lindsey, Logan, and Ben. Once with Mawmaw, and once with Papa. Giraffes are Millie’s favorite animal and Wells loves the elephants (he can buzz his lips together to make a trumpet sound). When we went to see the elephants, I held Wells in front of Hank, the male elephant. Wells held out his elephant stuffy like he was giving it to Hank, it was so sweet. Millie did an excellent job being brave and riding the camel this summer. Both babes rode on the carousel; Mill wasn’t a fan of the up and down motion of the horse and poor Wells was terrified when we started moving (he was shaking, wasn’t breathing, his eyes were wide, and he was turning red). I held him until he was ready to get back on the horse and by the end of the ride, he didn’t want to get off!

Zoombeezie Bay was an unforgettable outing. This adventure with Lindsey was planned “day of” and it was doomed from the start. Dublin, Ohio had a 15% chance of rain but we figured we’d chance it and maybe less people would be there. I had one swim diaper. Lindsey forgot her stroller. We went straight to the kids splash area; my kids loved the slides but Lindsey’s boys were not into it. Wells amazed me with how brave he was getting wet and maneuvering around the other children. We enjoyed the water for maybe an hour before the sky opened and it down poured. While we waited for the storm to pass we watched the stingrays in their new exhibit. Millie did not want to touch the stingrays. The rain continued despite the iPhone forecast so we saw some more indoor animals (we called it the ghetto zoo because this enclosure had crows and cats lol). As we were heading towards the exit, there was a seal show about to begin. The kids really enjoyed the seals. Wells chose to sit by himself on the stairs and he clapped along appropriately which was cute. We got drenched on the way back to our cars – I used napkins from my glove compartment to wipe myself off. Millie loves to say, “We’re going to Zoombeezi Bay!” when playing make believe so maybe for the children, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Going to the Franklin Park Conservatory was always a good time. We went many times; Maw, Lindsey, Logan, and Ben, Katey, and we had a “girls only” play date with Brooke (a friend of mine from work) and Mya her four year old daughter. The kids loved to explore the children’s garden. They climbed on rope webs, played in the water, made music with sticks, watered the flowers, played in the mud house, had puppet shows – Mill used the owl puppet and told a joke, “Who turned the owl upside down?” She held the puppet upside down and the answer was the owl! It was so cute seeing her come up with a joke like that on the spot. Wells fed the Coy fish his puff snacks. They both loved seeing the banana plant and climbing to the top of the tree house. They enjoyed watching the toy train with Charlie Brown characters on it.

We moved into a new house this summer. This is the third house that Millie has lived in, in her three years of life. Maw watched the kids while we moved the majority of our things into the new home. Millie slept in bed with us the first two nights we were in the house. When we did our final walk through of our previous house, Millie was with us and had to go potty. “Mommy, I don’t remember where the potty is in this house!” Both babes adjusted to the new home just fine.

We went to the Outer Banks with Chris’ family for a week vacation. Instead of driving straight there, we broke up the drive and stayed a night with my mom in Virginia. From there, it was a four hour drive to the beach that we caravanned down with Chris’ family. We made a stop at a farmers market along the way and picked up some corn on the cob and blueberries for the children. The man sitting on the porch cut up a peach with his pocket knife and gave us slices to try with the dirt still on it. Both children traveled well, between downloaded episodes of Pete the Cat and the Chipmunks movie, they slept, and ate snacks to pass the time.

We stayed in a beach house with his parents, his grandparents, his aunt, his uncle and his family. Our room was on the first floor and together we shared a king sized bed. Wells was particularly fond of the bed because he could reach the light switch. He thought he was cool stuff, “eee” every time he flipped them. Wells also would wave at the pelican and lizard statues every time we’d use the staircase. Wells wanted to be included in everything; corn hole, bocce ball. He was overwhelmed by the beach initially but once he experienced the waves and the sand over the course of the week, he warmed up to it. Millie was still hesitant to swim on her own but she loved jumping into the pool to her daddy. She got to bury Michael’s girlfriend in the sand, make a sand castle with her daddy, and fly a kite on the beach with her grandpa.

Thankfully, I didn’t watch any shark documentaries before we went. Apparently, the sharks are attacking much closer to the NC shore and Chris took Mill out into the ocean many times to his waist level. (Definitely won’t be doing that next summer.) Since the beach, Wells has been particularly fond of sharks; he wants to watch them on tv and makes growling sounds when he sees one. He got a Baby Shark Outer Banks shirt and every time he wears it, Millie sings the song, “Do do do do”. On a rainy day, we took the kids to the aquarium in Manteo and they had a blast. Wells would wave at the fish and Millie loved the interactive touch screens. Grandpa bought Wells a baby shark sing along book from the gift shop – which continues to annoy us months later.

Our last summer hoorah was a trip to PA on Labor Day weekend. We went to an amusement park called, Idlewild that has Daniel Tigers Neighborhood attractions. Millie wore her Daniel tiger shirt and brought along her character stuffies. We got there just in time for a performance so we found seats in the shade and waited for Daniels appearance. Like the wind leaving a balloon, gone was Mill’s excitement upon seeing, “big head Daniel”. She hid behind my back peering over my shoulder for the remainder of the show. Wells chose to sit by himself, just like he did at the seal show, and watched curiously. At the end of the show, we all took a picture with Daniel and seriously, he must have been 6 foot 5 in that costume. When you watch Daniel on TV he’s supposed to be like 5 years old. What five year old could start for the Chicago Bulls?

We rode on an interactive trolley ride and both kids liked that. The characters along the trail were made out of cardboard and Mill did not let that detail slide. We found Daniels house (also made out of cardboard) and Millie was afraid to knock on the door, but not Wells. Wells particularly loved the children’s only trolley ride. He sat across from Millie and through the windows, we could see them holding hands. Wells’ arm rested on the window sill and Chris and I laughed at how grown he looked. We stayed the night in a hotel and ate breakfast in bed the next morning.

Things I’ll miss most from this summer:

– taking walks with the kids and my dad

– watching the new season of Bluey, listening to both kids sing the intro

– Wells’ love for corn on the cob

– knowing when I went to sleep that the next day I’d get to spend it with my children all over again

Would the Owner of the White Car Please GTFOH

Would the Owner of the White Car Please GTFOH

As we settled into our new home we noticed a car that seemed to never move, parked outside our house. My friends assumed we bought a used car; it was always there, on the curb. One morning as I was watering the plants, our neighbor introduced herself to me, “I am 72 years old and we will never leave this home.” … our initial interaction was odd but I chalked that up to her age. The next morning as I was watering my hydrangeas I asked my neighbor if she knew who’s car was parked in front of my house, “Yeah, it’s mine”. After that, the car moved for about a week but then it was back for good.

I was chasing Mill up the sidewalk when I ran into a neighbor who was all too eager to gossip about everyone in our cul-de-sac. She told me that her neighbor was socially awkward (like he might keep women in his basement – her words not mine) and that the boys who ride their bikes around are autistic. Between her assumptions and fabrications she did spew some interesting information about my next door neighbor, “If the white car is out front, that means her son is living with them again”.

The interactions with those neighbors were minimal. We’d wave to the old man as he mowed his grass. I would talk to the woman about the weather as we watered our flowers. As the weather got colder and snow covered the streets, I would shovel their sidewalk along with mine. Millie and I made them a plate of cookies for Christmas; an assortment of cookies with a card that she signed. We bundled up and walked over to their house but left the cookies on the porch because nobody answered. (We assumed it was because of COVID.)

March rolled around and the kids were desperate to get outside. On a particularly nice evening, after dinner, we took a family walk. Chris pushed the stroller and we let Millie run around in the grass by the pond. As we were headed home, we ran into a friend of mine, a sales representative for instruments and repair. We knew that he lived in our neighborhood but had never seen him out before. As we were chatting, Mill and Wells were playing with his dog. During our conversation about home values and mulch fundraisers, he mentioned that he thought we lived in close proximity of a child sex offender; he thought the man lived on our street and that he might in fact be our next door neighbor. The conversation moved onto back patios and football then oddly enough, his neighbors lawn mower caught fire right in front of us. Even an explosion wasn’t enough to get my mind off of the potential threat to my family.

I sat on the couch, pulled out my phone, and frantically began searching the internet. Our county has a website that allows you to search for sex offenders near you. I typed in our home address and my fear was confirmed. We had five offenders within a two mile radius of us, with the closest being the house next door. The mugshot associated with the address was not of the owner of the home, but their son. The site listed his name, age, employer and his work address, crimes committed, vehicle description and license plate number. This confirmed that the white car in front of my home was his, a man convected of pandering a juvenile male.

My anxiety heightened as the night went on. “The children played outside in their bathing suits this summer! I literally walked Millie over to their porch to deliver Christmas cookies!” Chris and I knew that we had to have more answers before we started to assume the worst. The following day, Chris walked over to speak with the neighbors. I could see him from the window above my kitchen sink. The old couple sat with Chris on the porch for what felt like an eternity. When he came back home, the news was not comforting.

Our neighbors were incredibly forthcoming with information. They assumed we knew about their son, the sexual predator. Chris explained to them that we were unaware and that we were concerned for the well-being of our children. They commended Chris for wanting to protect his family and told him that he was the first person in the neighborhood to approach them with questions. They told Chris about their 46 year old son who had his doctorate in French studies. What started as one glass of scotch a night became two, three, four, etc. He began downloading child pornography – they claim he didn’t realize that the children in these videos were being abused. According to his parents, he went to court, lost everything, and was living with them because he was suicidal. He struggles with the guilt of knowing what he had participated in. He was assigned a probation officer and a physiatrist that he spoke with daily. He chose to do his grocery shopping during the school day while kids were at school, he limited his time spent outside, his internet rights were taken away – but in the six months his probation would end.

I feared the worst. Could my children ever play outside without me worrying? What if he hacks into our WiFi and illegally downloads filthy things and the police thinks it’s us?! I couldn’t wrap my mind around him watching the 15+ children on my street. Why wouldn’t his parents move him away from the temptation? I called the non-emergency police line and spoke with a deputy about my options. His words verbatim, “We protect those bastards and because he registers as an offender, he continues to have the same rights as everyone else.” I was advised to not say anything in the form of signs or fliers because I could be sued for defamation of character. The officers advice to us was to move away. He said, “Don’t play Russian roulette with your children.”

Watering my plants was no longer enjoyable. I was on high alert whenever I was outside. I was uncomfortable getting my mail, playing in the yard with the kids, and eating dinners on the patio. I knew it was time to get serious about moving. We contacted our realtor, who swears she had no idea about the proximity of the sex offender, and she put a for sale sign in our front yard. That sign was a visual representation of taking control of a dangerous situation. The market was insane but we sold our beautiful home (that we only lived in for eleven months) and we were able to move out of that neighborhood and into one with two schools within a mile (so no sex offenders can live there).

I remember the first interaction I had with that neighbor, telling me that she’d never leave – what a bizarre thing to say to someone you just met. Now I realize why she said it. She thought we knew about her son. She thought I was curious if the sex offender on the street would be moving any time soon. As I walked into the post office for a change of address form, I noticed a sign hanging on the lobby cork board with fines and penalties for sending illegal mail; $50k for reusing postage. $10K for sending child pornography. My eyes have been opened in a whole new, terrifying way.

Pandemic Parenting

Pandemic Parenting

On March 3rd 2020, I delivered Wells with my husband, grandmother, father, and photographer in the room. If I would have had him on his due date, just two weeks later, I would have had to birth him alone. While we packed up our bags from our hospital stay, breaking news declared a mask mandate in Chicago and we feared Ohio would be next. We asked my nurse for masks; “I’m sorry, we are down to our last two boxes on this floor.” Chris immediately regret discarding his mask from labor and delivery.

My mom planned to stay with us for six weeks; helping with Millie and the housework while I focused on healing and bonding with Wells. Chris didn’t get any paternity leave so my moms help was a Godsend. A week after we came home from the hospital, the government shut down the state boarders around New York; my mom couldn’t stay with us indefinitely if Ohio chose to follow suit. Selfishly, I wanted my mom to stay and help but alas, my mom went back to Virginia.

Planning for this pregnancy, we knew that I would not get paid for the entirety of my maternity leave. My sick days accrue; if I work a month without taking a sick day, I earn a day of sick time. I had proudly saved twenty sick days which meant I would get two pay checks during my six-week maternity leave. After my sister passed in September of 2019, I used three weeks of my sick time, grieving her loss. On top of being pregnant and losing my sister, I was definitely stressed about the amount of unpaid leave I would have to take. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a weeks worth of sick time from myself so we would receive at least one paycheck during my six-week, maternity leave.

I had one sick day left to use when I got a phone call from a friend and fellow teacher that we were going to start teaching, virtually. Could I also work virtually (make money) while still on maternity leave? I was able to convince my OB that I could, “return” to work as long as work meant teaching from my couch. I fed Wells, Millie watched Mickey Mouse Club House, and I was posting music assignments at the same damn time. The pandemic allowed me to stay home for 21 weeks without a single, unpaid day.

As if new mothers aren’t paranoid enough, add a global pandemic to the mix. Thankfully, Chris’ company assigned his department to work from home so we weren’t getting germs from his job. Groceries were bought through delivery services and bags were sanitized at the door. Once Wells gained back his birth weight and was no longer jaundiced, we didn’t take him to another pediatric appointment until he was six months old. I should have gone to my six week OB appointment – I didn’t. I had a terrible, terrible pain in my right nipple from a latch issue – I didn’t receive outside help. My cousin unexpectedly passed away and we didn’t attend her funeral. I wasn’t comfortable breaking our “bubble”, so we stayed in.

Chris working from home turned out to be a blessing. He was able to hold Wells during his lunch hour and help change diapers between meetings. Wells definitely got more time with daddy due to the pandemic. I had planned on spending quality time watching Cubs baseball during my maternity leave, but the season was postponed and there was no baseball to be watched. We used this time at home to potty train Millie. She didn’t like feeling poop in her diaper so she would take the diaper off and the poo would get everywhere – it was time. We stripped her naked, packed away the diapers, gave her tons to drink throughout the day and constantly encouraged her to sit on the potty. We rewarded her, even if she sat on the toilet just to toot. We bought her cute undies with Frozen characters on them. We experienced more victories than accidents, but there were many accidents, especially when we would play outside. Within the month, she was completely potty trained.

The week before Wells was born, our realtor called wanting to show us a house that checked every box on our “wish list”. We dropped Millie off at my dads and I waddled through the open house. It was in a neighborhood with better schools, gave us a thousand more square feet, and had a fenced in backyard. Also, homes in our neighborhood were selling quickly at above asking price. The market was right, the house was perfect, but I was doubting how the timeline would work for us. The same day Wells was born, our offer on the house was accepted.

The worst part of selling our home during the pandemic was having to leave the house during showings; there was no where to go because everything was closed so we would load both kids in the Jeep and drive around, praying that no one entering our home was COVID positive. I would sit my postpartum butt between the two car seats and read to the kids while we ordered French fries through the Burger King drive through. The house inspectors and appraisers were weeks behind because of the shutdown. The contractors that installed our new floors had to break for two weeks because they had been in close contact with COVID-19.

All of our activity memberships expired; COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory, the Zoo. Zumbini went virtual and we tried classes through Zoom but Millie lost interest. She was getting stir crazy staying home; heck, I was too, so we would do at least one activity together everyday. It was nice to spend some one-on-one time with her because well, Wells. She loved when I would ask her to wash the dishes in the sink or when I’d let her scrub her toys. We made multi-colored foam in her water table. I taped shapes on the floor for her to organize her blocks. She loved to finger paint. We colored eggs for Easter. We became quite the bakers; she loved watching the baking competition shows and trying new recipes. We jumped in puddles on rainy afternoons and watched for, “sworms”. We would adventure in our yard where she found some fallen pine cones which she called, “coconuts”. If we were blessed with good weather, Chris would take Millie to the park across the street on his lunch break; until yellow caution tape was wrapped around the slides and the playground was off limits to promote social distancing.

The holidays were different, to say the least. We celebrated Palm Sunday by fanning around artificial leaf decorations left over from Millie’s second birthday and blowing bubbles in the back yard. Thankfully, I bought Easter gifts early because most stores were shut down. Church was virtual and we watched Easter service from my phone. Maw surprised us by decorating our tree in the front yard with eggs shaped like rabbits and ducks. She didn’t come in because she knew she’d want to hold the kids and she just couldn’t. (She had been in and out of the hospital after our cousin’s liver transplant and it just wasn’t safe to be around each other.) There was no Fourth of July parade and although we heard fireworks all through the night, we could not see any.

In November, Millie turned three and our governor had given clear instructions that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather together. Realizing I couldn’t throw Mill the birthday that I wanted for her, made me empathetic towards those who had to cancel their events due to the pandemic; weddings, trips, graduation parties, etc. It broke my heart to tell family members and friends that they could not come over to celebrate with us. So on Millie’s third birthday, my parents and the in-laws came over to celebrate and we FaceTimed others while she blew out her candles.

One very ordinary evening in December, Chris had a sore throat. Neither of us thought anything of it until he had chills throughout the night. He called our family doctor who then scheduled him to be tested for COVID. By the time of his test, he felt like he had been hit by a truck; even sitting was painful. Chris received a positive covid test and two days later, Wells and I had symptoms; body aches, fatigue, and a fever to follow. Wells slept the worst he ever had in his life. I could tell by his cry that he was in pain. Following suite, within the next two days, my grandmother who watches the kids during the week was symptomatic. Her and I both lost our taste and smell. Covid had infested our family.

Five days after Chris tested positive, Mill still had no signs of the virus. We were so impressed with her immune system! We must not have knocked on wood quick enough because without warning, my energetic fire ball was melting into the couch. Millie was lethargic and had a fever of 100.3. We called the pediatrician and she told us to give her children’s Tylenol and monitor her symptoms. We put her in the bath tub and encouraged fluids. Once the medicine was in her system, she was back to her normal self. You could tell when the medicine would start to wear off – she’d slow down, get rosy cheeks, and her eyes would gloss over. She took her medicine while I sang, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Sweet girl didn’t fight it at all. Her symptoms lasted 48 hours.

The virus did not keep us from:

  • Worshipping the Lord
  • Celebrating birthdays
  • Going to VA
  • Playing in the snow (Millie makes the best snow angels)
  • Moving my grandma into a new condo
  • Making Christmas cookies and giving them to our neighbors
  • Sending Valentine’s cards
  • Going to the zoo
  • Dedicating Wells

Not everyone had our same comfort level for socialization during the pandemic. We were not fearful of a virus with a 98% survival rate, we had faith in our immune systems, and we agreed with Pastor Doyle when he spoke about togetherness. Unfortunately, many family members missed out on important birthdays, holidays, and other once in a lifetime events because of their own anxieties about safety. The thought process was, “I want to be around for the holidays that they’ll remember.” but no one can guarantee tomorrow. [Millie (3) and Wells (1) just because you might not remember this year, doesn’t make your experiences any less valuable. I’m blogging so that if one day you don’t remember, my words may be enough.]

“If you’re a pandemic baby and you’ve been in quarantine your whole life, you get overstimulated by everything ’cause all the strangers that you see have masks on, and you’ve never really had a playdate in your life.”

I worry about how much this year has affected our children. One year out of my thirty is nothing, but one year to my three year old? That’s a third of her life. Wells? His entire life. Children aren’t as resilient as we like to think, you know? Why do so many adults find themselves in therapy – childhood trauma. We have absolutely no idea the ramifications of living this closed off, pandemic life. Millie was supposed to start dance this year and Wells doesn’t know what it’s like to be around other children. I’m heartbroken and concerned for our children, this generation now labeled as, “Gen C”.

Crazy things about COVID:

  • This started during an election year.
  • People hoarded toilet paper and sold it for obscene amounts of money on the internet.
  • Your Great, Great Uncle Bobby, who is bedridden in a nursing home (suffers from strokes) survived the virus!
  • There were directional arrows on the floors of stores and MawMaw became the aisle police. Although, she told me if I needed to go down an aisle with an arrow facing the opposite direction, to just walk backwards and act like I “forgot” something.
  • Millie was told she had to wear a mask upon entering the Disney store.
  • People were also concerned about murder hornets (I’m still not positive about the murders – were they murdering bees? People?)
  • The sports stadiums were empty (they broadcasted with fake audience cheers, it was bizarre) but some stadiums offered fans to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the seats. Gam got Millie a cutout for the Shoe so she was “at” the Buckeye games.

I thought I’d finish this blog post months ago (I began writing in August of 2020) but the pandemic trudged on. Ohio is now in a state of “purple” meaning we are worse off when we were in the “red” during our initial shutdown (the colors are arbitrary). Children are back in school full time, sporting events are being held with spectators, vaccines are being administered through drive-thrus – I don’t know what’s next for parenting in the pandemic but I’m glad this blog can be updated because I’m sure it’s not over.

Love and Loss

Love and Loss

My Millie,

This post has been so difficult for me to write because my current reality is incomprehensible. When you are able to read this, time will have lessened my waves of sorrow however, right now, it’s all very raw and emotional. I’m going to try my best to write through my grief so you can see your mother’s honest vulnerability.

On September 22nd 2019, your aunt, my only sister, completed her battle with bi-polar depression. How can I begin to explain the person she was? Words cannot describe her contagious laugh. The mere stories I will tell over the years will never give justice to her vibrant life. No longer is the person who would sing to you in your car seat to make you smile. How can I possibly make you feel just how much she loved you?

Your aunt was the sun, our Shani-sunshine.

Bright– Shani was so incredibly smart and she was such a good student. I teach with women who taught your aunt in grade school and they all loved her personality and work ethic. They refer to her as one of their favorite, most memorable students of their careers. Throughout her schooling, she had completed her masters degree in psychology and was working towards a Psy-D, Shani was always the “teachers pet” and proudly, the top of her class. I always thought, if Shani was in school, her mind was in the right place. I knew nothing about the mania that accompanies bi-polar disorder and what she felt necessary for the success in her prestigious, doctoral program. Her energy source was the same disorder that would lie to her and put her down.

Nurturing Our bodies need the sun’s vitamins and you could call Shani, my vitamin D. If I was having a bad day, or I was walking alone in a parking lot, if I needed someone to talk to, Shani was only ever a phone call away. She loved to FaceTime with you and we would, daily. She was the first person to babysit you while I went to my six-week OB appointment and she took the sweetest pictures of you inside of your stocking. During the last phone conversation we had together, she commented on how sweet your little voice sounded and how much she missed you. We were making plans for her to come visit for your second birthday and how she thought I was ridiculous for wanting to rent a kangaroo.

Shani and I would talk about our futures with one another; pool side, on the porch, sitting on her bed in the early hours of the morning. She always said she would carry children for me if I wouldn’t have been able to. She was so excited when I told her I was pregnant for you. She said that she would be the “cool aunt” that you could go and live with during your rambunctious, teenage years. She wanted you to be able to talk to her about your crushes and all the awkward things you wouldn’t want your mom knowing about. She threatened me by saying that she’d tell you all about my years in high school. She had plans to help pay for your college. She had plans to care for you and her future family.

Your aunt knew a song for every occasion and she had an incredible voice. When she auditioned for women’s chorus in high school, she sang, “Lean on Me”, which is incredibly fitting for the friend that she was. If we couldn’t spend Thanksgiving Day together, she’d call me up and we’d sing the turkey song over the phone. On the day you were born, she kept singing, “Edelweiss”. Small and white, clean and bright. You look happy to meet me. She listened to all genres of music; gospel, show tunes, rap, country, etc. She even dabbled in recording. Her range was great and she had an ear for harmony. I had amazing opportunities to hear Shani sing; beautifully at a wedding reception, in the church at Bridgewater, and my favorite memory of her voice – singing to you cradled in her arms.

Shani cared for everyone. It didn’t matter race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. When we were kids, she would find dead mice in our garage and make beds for them out of old shoeboxes and try to keep them as pets; completely disregarding Gams wishes to throw the dead rodent away. In high-school, she started an equality club for the LGBTQ community (sorry if I didn’t use the correct acronym, Shani – she would be quick to correct me if it’s wrong). She got a speeding ticket in college while taking her sick roommate to the hospital. Shani had no money to give but she gave freely to friends and causes, despite what I had to say about it. She had clients who clung to her every word and had her cellphone number incase of emergencies.

Shani would make sure everyone was well fed. She loved tomato sandwiches in the summertime. Shani was always the one to cut up the fresh pineapple. Your aunt worked at Johnny Rockets, a diner where she would dance and sing in between serving milkshakes and she had so many regulars because of her bubbly personality. She had so much fun baking my bachelorette party cakes; one black and one white, you’ll understand that when you’re older. Shani was always first to try my vegan recipes and was supportive of our family’s lifestyle. Last year, she urged everyone in the family to stop using plastic straws for the sake of the sea turtles.

She took you to the beach when you were six months old and bought you toys to play with in the sand. She always bought you things that would help grow your brain. The Veggietales DVDs and Noahs Arc toy were gifts from her for your dedication because she wanted you to grow in Christ. She wrote you a book and bought you so many books; she didn’t just read them to you, but she encouraged you to read them aloud. Shani cared about the students that I taught, too. My second year of teaching, Shani bought my entire classroom clipboards for my birthday. She helped run a fundraiser for my class to get ukuleles. On her spring break, instead of sleeping-in, Shani ran the music for my choir concert.

I desperately wish that she could have turned off the voices inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. To everyone else, she was vitamin D.

Dazzling – Her beauty was effortless. We are so fortunate to live during a time where pictures and videos can be retrieved in seconds because some of her radiance was captured in those quick moments and short clips. She exuded confidence. (Now, I question how much of that was a facade due to her disorder.) Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. She would talk about getting her ears pinned back, having an eyelid procedure, and needing a boob-lift; I vetoed the surgical nonsense every time she brought up because your aunt needed none of that. She had the most shiny hair, the quirkiest placed dimple under her eye, an hourglass figure, a pixie nose, and most petite hands and feet. The Friday before Shani took her life, I told her that I wished she could see herself the way that I saw her, but now I know that the darkness of the disorder would prevent her from feeling that way.

Consistent with the rising sun is unforgiving darkness and unfortunately, Aunt Shani experienced that, too.

Your aunt struggled to find men who were worth a damn. There were plenty of men interested in her and she would date them when she felt like it but she was notorious for falling for the guys who needed, “fixing”; the divorcee, military men with ptsd, her exes. I told her many times, you can’t force someone to change and that we only have control of ourselves – but the disorder kept her from having control of her feelings. Shani told me that she would never, “settle” in a relationship and that she believed in soul mates; I argued with her about this. I wanted her to find stability in a relationship. Now, I wish I could have done more to help her obtain stability within herself.

We shouldn’t stare directly at the sun. I would wait for the “right time” to tell my sister things, not knowing how she would react. If you would ask Shani a personal question about her love life, significant choices, or her mental state, she would quickly change the subject, get irritated and defensive, and remind you that she was, “fine”. My sunscreen was you. No matter how frustrated she’d be with me for asking too many questions or how upset she’d get when I wouldn’t agree with her on a political stance, I could change the subject to you and her entire attitude would change. She always agreed with my parenting choices and would never tire of the stories I’d tell her about you.

I don’t remember life before my sister was born because as far back as I can remember, shes been there. Shani has always been there just as the sun has been burning for 4 billion years. I never thought I’d have to live life without her. Life ceases to exist without the sun and I’m having an impossible time without mine. Learning to navigate this changed world is incredibly difficult; the finalization of death. There are nights when the tears won’t end. I no longer listen to the radio or watch television for the fear that something will remind me of her. I have to push myself to speak to my friends, do anything outside the house for myself, and celebrate the holidays. And I’m sorry for the times you see me crying in the kitchen – I just hate that you’ll never get the opportunity to be in your Aunts wedding or to hear her beautiful voice at Christmas time.

But you, my love, are a light and I need you to know that during this time of heavy darkness, you will forever be my saving spark, my energy source, and the illumination that keeps me going. I pray that God will carry us through this time of heartache and that Shani is resting in paradise with our Heavenly Father.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

I love you, Ashani Leigh Pompey and I’ll never stop. It sucks that we can’t make any new memories together but I know that one day, I’ll get to see you face to face and tell you all about this crazy, beautiful life. On the other side, my baby sis, my sunshine.

Sweet Summer Time

Sweet Summer Time

“PSA to parents – you only have 18 summers with your children, so make them count.”

Talk about pressure.

I don’t know where I heard that quote but it has definitely stuck with me. I love that I can spend fourteen weeks of summer with Millie but here we are, two summers deep and I already can’t remember what we did during our first summer together! Thankfully, this blog helps to jog my muffled, mommy memory. Leaving Mill every weekday is rough. I love teaching music and the start of a new school year is always exciting but I miss our snuggle time in the morning, eating lunch together, and I especially miss taking mid-morning naps. So, here’s a post to commemorate our summer (because God knows I will forget by fall).

Millie’s favorite breakfast was a bowl of multigrain Cheerios with almond milk and a side of fruit, usually strawberries or blueberries. She’s gotten really good at using a spoon! Her go to lunch was veggie chicken nuggets (dipped in ketchup), steamed broccoli, and black olives that capped her fingers before they went into her mouth. She breastfed twice a day; before her afternoon nap and bedtime.

It was impossible trying to keep the living room clean. I’ve heard, “You can have a clean house when the kids grow up and leave the house but once they do, you’ll miss them in your house, messy and all.” and my OCD does not care about that for one second. Every time one mess would get organized, Mill would have two more activities out, while playing with something totally different! Then inevitably, it would be meal time and I’d have to walk away from the mess in the living room, just to make a new one in the kitchen! It was definitely one step forward and two steps back when it came to cleanliness this summer. It was best just to clean everything at night, after we put Mill to bed, so we could start fresh the next morning. BTW- she started sleeping in her own bed, in her own room, and through the night this summer..so there’s a win!

Traveling to Texas and Washington DC were easily some of our most memorable adventures this summer. (You can read all about our Texas vacation in the previous blog post.) We went to the DC Zoo with my mom, step-dad, and sister. We drove about two hours, braved the heat, and saw pandas for the first time! Mill loved them. Her paw-paw Kev got her a panda book and stuffed animal panda bear. She’s gotten pretty good at saying their Chinese names, too! On an episode of Daniel Tigers Neighborhood, (that’s a regular show in our house now) there was a quick clip of an actual panda playing in his enclosure and before they said the bear’s name or even the name of the zoo, I was able to identify both. Needless to say, we got a little “panda crazy” this summer.

“Pool?” Mill’s little voice would ask constantly because she loved being in the water this summer. She rotated between a striped, watermelon bathing suit and a hot pink, pineapple suit. To dry off, she used the cutest, hooded Daniel Tiger towel. We set up a small, blowup pool in our backyard, which ended up being more work then fun; it would only stay clean for a day or two before getting slimy and gross, the hose water was freezing, and the pool killed our grass no matter where, or how much we moved it. Next year, we’ll be getting a sprinkler. Mill loved going to her Gam’s pool while we were in VA; she would play with other kids, go under the sprinklers, and go swimming in the deep end with her Aunt Nani. At Zoombeezi Bay, a waterpark connected to the Columbus Zoo, Millie enjoyed going down the water slides (she was too little for some of the slides and would end up with a face full of water). On two occasions, Mill got to play in splash pads. Although she loved it, I was a nervous wreck with the possibility of her slipping and falling on the wet concrete; thankfully, that never happened. She liked playing in her water table, especially on the day that her dad and I attempted to power wash the house; we all got soaked.

We did another session of Zumbini this summer with an instructor that Mill loves. The class was early on Monday mornings and every week, Millie was excited to get dressed and go. Mill surprised me with her dancing and instrument playing; she can play the triangle with great technique and started to twirl and stand on her toes. Frustrating to me, some mothers would bring their newborns with them to class, which of course distracted Mill because she loves babies. She would want to touch the babes and play with them instead of listening to the instructor. And sometimes the moms would get irritated with Mill wanting to see their baby – hello don’t bring your newborn to a toddler class. My grandma made Mill a scarf like they used in class so she could continue to practice her Zumbini dances at home. This girl loves to dance.

Millie loves people, being outside, and anything loud so we decided to take her to our community’s firework show. Her patriotic outfit was absolutely adorable and her pigtails had sequin bows. She rode in her wagon and waved at children we passed finding the ultimatum viewing spot. Mill and her daddy kicked around a soccer ball while we waited for the sun to go down. Once it got too dark to see the ball, I tried my best to explain to Millie the loud booms the fireworks would make. I showed her a fireworks video so she would know what to expect from the show. During the fireworks display, she bounced between mine and Chris’ laps, completely unafraid. Mill was interested in the fireworks for the first three minutes and then asked for baby videos; she loves babies.

We found out in July that we will be having a baby, expected in March! Good thing Mill has taken such a liking to them. Next summer will be different but I’m sure just as memorable.

Turd in the Tub

Turd in the Tub

Millie has always enjoyed the bath. I will never forget balancing her on my left forearm while bathing her in my kitchen sink. When she first learned to splash, she’d get water in her face, blink, and gasp; inevitably I’d get soaked. She would try to grab the water coming out of the faucet with her clumsy, little hands. I still love to rub oil on her clean, baby body when she’s fresh out of the tub. And how adorable are baby towels with the hoods?

This summer, Millie loved swimming in the pool; she would relax in her floaty, letting the water move her around. We swam in three different pools this season and each got Mill’s approval. When Millie was six months old, My grandma, Mill and I traveled to VA to visit my sister, who lives on the beach – I’m so jealous of her daily view – and Millie loved the ocean; she would yell at the waves when they would ripple away.

Millie takes a shower with me every Saturday morning. She clings to me while the water hits us. I spray shaving cream on the wall for her to play with. She doesn’t mind when the water hits her face and it’s probably because she dumps water on her face, daily. When Millie attempts to drink from a cup, she tips it back too quickly and the water splashes out and spills everywhere – she doesn’t seem to mind getting wet.

I read in, What to Expect When You’re Expecting: 1-2 years, that babies can start to revolt against the bath around 15 months. I shrugged it off considering how much Millie enjoys the bath – my karma. The next evening, after a delicious (but messy) taco dinner, Millie needed a bath. I undressed her, set her down in the tub, and she started to cry, real tears. I checked the temperature of the water; fine. I checked to see if she was sitting on anything uncomfortable; nope. I began singing to calm her down; didn’t help. I gave her, her waterbaby to play with; she pushed it away. I quickly washed the black beans off of her arms and face and took her out of the tub. As soon as I lifted her from the bath, the tears ceased.

I feared that the tub was now a time of terror and unfortunately, the next time a bath was necessary, cue the waterworks. I was determined to not let bath time turn into a habitual melt down, so I stripped down to my undergarments and joined my daughter in the tub. I poured water on myself and said positive things about the tub with a smile on my face, trying hard not to think about the baby pee that I might have been sitting in; and it worked! She stopped crying and began splashing and kicking her legs under the water. I felt victorious having navigated my daughter through a developmental hurdle.

That feeling soon changed when I saw a stream of bubbles floating up from Millie’s backside. I turned my attention to her face and she was turning a shade of red; pushing. As I lifted her from the water, attempting to sit her over the toilet, a turd accompanied us in the tub, corn kernels and all. A turd. In all its glory. A floater in the tub. The What to Expect When You’re Expecting book did not properly prepare me for bath time trauma we endured!

Why the Bonnet?

Why the Bonnet?

“Stop making her look Amish.”

Chris and I changed many aspects of our lives when we found out that we were expecting; we censored our language, started using laundry detergent with cleaner ingredients, we re-carpeted our second floor, we stopped drinking alcohol, etc. We both agreed that we wanted to raise Millie differently than the loud, flashy, plastic, commercialized, technology-promoting, societal-norm.

I envisioned raising Millie holistically; knit clothes and wooden toys, piano lessons and singing together, oils, nature walks, rocking chairs, home cooked meals with fresh ingredients, speaking to each other around the dinner table, and church on Sunday morning. I understand that we may not be able to live this way 24/7, but striving for a simpler life was my prerogative. Texting my children that dinner is ready, eating McDonalds on T.V. trays while watching Pat Sajak on The Price is Right, is not my ideal family environment. For some families, I just described their quality, family-time and that’s cool for them, it’s just not the “goal” environment for us.

I first put Millie in bonnets when we began taking her outside of the home; she was around 3 months old and bald. Not only are bonnets nostalgic and darling, but they also help to protect from the wind, rain, and sun. In early March, I was worried that Millie would catch a chill if her head wasn’t covered, so she wore a bonnet. In the aggressive July sun, I didn’t want her fair skin getting burned so she wore a light weight, brimmed-bonnet to shade her face.

The bonnets she wears fit snug on her head, so they stay in place, and she keeps them on all day. Millie has knitted, brimmed, cotton, linen, embroidered, and reversible bonnets. Just as I change my accessories upon my outfit, she has different bonnet options. Her bonnets are nothing like the plain, white bonnets that Amish children wear. Millie’s bonnets have beautiful patterns.

We have received many compliments on her bonnets; at church, at the doctors office, exploring around Cleveland, etc. Once, a lady told me, “I love when babies wear bonnets, it makes them look like such, babies”. Isn’t that funny? Why are we so quick to dress our babies like adults, give them tablets, and sit them in front of a screen for hours at a time? I digress.

When Millie is older and can vocalize her wants more, maybe she will choose to not wear bonnets. Until then, Millie will keep wearing bonnets and I will continue nurturing and protecting my bonnet-wearing, babe.

Locks of Millie

Locks of Millie

How is it possible to take such pride in a strand of hair?

White, moving follicles I observed from your ultrasound.

Hair that I washed while holding your body effortlessly in one arm.

Counting the strands you lost during your first nights sleep.

Covering, protecting.

Longer it grows; you are beginning to take steps on your own.

Growing thicker from the nutrition you continue to receive from my body.

Independently combing your hair by running a tooth brush behind your ear.

Your hair. Different than mine.

I cherish the smell of you through your hair.

Zumbini

Zumbini

Before I had a child, I knew I’d be the monitored screen time, oil using, breastfeeding, crunchy-kind of mama. When Millie was born, the television wasn’t turned on for weeks because I read in a parenting magazine that baby’s can sense when you’re multi-tasking, like folding laundry and watching Grey’s Anatomy. Multitasking can make a baby anxious so the tv remained off. My mom finally said, “You have to be able to put her down for a moment and the tv will help.” She found a channel called, Baby First and Millie was entranced!

The vibrant colors, the songs, the high-pitched voices, the close ups of baby faces; Millie loves it. There is a a flower in the corner of the screen and the petals change color based on the learning elements in that particular show. The best aspect of the channel, in my opinion, is Zumbini. I love to dance and Zumba is my favorite way to work out. Zumbini is a baby’s Zumba. It incorporates dancing, singing, instrument playing, ball rolling, etc. Millie loves to dance and sing to the short Zumbini episodes in our living room. She smiles and rocks her body – she is completely engaged! At the end of the show it instructs the viewer to, “Go online and register for a Zumbini class near you!” So, I did.

The class was being offered near my undergraduate campus so I felt comfortable with the location. The instructor was quick to answer all of my questions and she was just as helpful and kind when we met in class. I am a music teacher and a “retired”, collegiate Zumba instructor so one could assume that I would be judgmental towards another’s class however, I’m new at this parenting thing and I have nothing to gain from judging and everything to gain from creating experiences with Millie.

When registering for Zumbini, we received a book with the lyrics to all the songs in the class, music downloads, and a little doll (that has seriously won over Millie’s heart, she loves her, “TJ”). Zumbini promotes freedom for the children to do as they please as they listen the up-beat music. I dance with Millie on my hip, I dance in front of her while she sits on the floor, I play instruments while she puts hers directly into her mouth. At six months old, Millie was the youngest in the class however, everyone was willing to help her, they doted over her and her big, blue eyes, and it never felt like she didn’t belong.

The music from Zumbini, incorporates different languages, styles, tempo, and time. I like that Millie is exposed to such diversity. The class materials include rhythm sticks, scarves, miscellaneous percussion instruments, balls, and bongos. Mill has taken two, nine week sessions and we don’t plan on stopping. This girl is shaking what her momma gave her!

Managing Migraines

Managing Migraines

I have always hated bumper cars. I would drive my car around the edge of the raceway, as to stay clear of the congested middle. The steering wheel, violently shaking, was difficult to hold onto. WHAM! Rear ended; stalked for the “bump”. My body jolts forward, my head ricochets off the back, and then nausea. This is exactly what has been happening inside of my head; bumper cars.

Light; crash! Noise; ouch! Touch; bam! Every sense was hypersensitive and I couldn’t focus. I didn’t have an appetite. I drank water and I ate salty food but felt no relief. I took two ibuprofen and still, no change. I tried to sleep but was frequently interrupted to breastfeed Millie. The pressure behind my eyebrows was difficult to ignore. I have never experienced headache pain like this before so this feeling was new and unwelcome.

I woke up the next morning with an unsettling, dull ache beneath my skull and I made an appointment with my family doctor. My 20/20 vision was distorted from the intense pain and driving seemed dangerous. Thankfully, my grandma was able to drive me to my appointment and I rested my throbbing head against the passenger side window.

I arrived at the doctors and was pleasantly surprised with the number on the scale. I was further impressed by my blood pressure, especially because eclampsia can occur after delivery and headaches can be a symptom. My lungs sounded fine and my heart murmur had subsided. After two neurological tests, I was told that I had been experiencing postpartum migraines. I immediately felt angry; yet another issue from pregnancy that I’ve never heard of. Postpartum migraines occur due to the hormonal fluctuations while breastfeeding; migraines can last for days at a time – great. I was instructed to lay in a dark room and stay on a regiment of ibuprofen; three pills, four times a day, with food. If I wanted to take migraine specific medication, I would have to pump-and-dump – not an option. I know others who dull migraines with caffeine however, because I don’t consume caffeine on a regular basis, my doctor did not think that caffeine would help me. I was instructed to go to the ER if the migraines got any worse. Thankfully, 48 hours later, the bumper cars stopped.

Preeclampsia, rupturing ovarian cysts, postpartum migraines; I’ll take it all as long as Millie is healthy. And praise God, she’s perfect.