Old Family Pictures & Genealogy: Our Connection to the Past

grandma2I can still remember sitting at the dining room table in my grandma’s house and looking at old family pictures. Those days were at least 25 years ago now.

When you’re a kid, time almost seems to stand still. Those Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house seemed like they would never end.

Now I cannot believe how much time has passed.

The photo to the right shows my grandma’s family around 1921. My grandma is the girl in the front, about 8 years old here. She grew up in a family of nine (her younger brother hadn’t yet been born here) in Cleveland, Ohio.

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My grandparents in 1942: Love the hat!

Those old photographs now belong to my mom, but I have scanned several of them. They reside in a box in the closet, on my computer, and in my heart. I look at them now with an awe and appreciation I couldn’t as a child. Now I’m a mother. My mom is a grandmother, and so the cycle continues.

Seven years ago, I dove into genealogy and researching my family tree on both sides. I used Family Search as a free resource to find a lot of my information, but I was also fortunate to have documentation of my own. I used My Heritage to build my family tree online and share it with my family. Next week, I will share more about my experiences with family tree creation, so come back to check that out!

I wanted to update and document my family tree, as heritage is important to me. Knowing where I come from is part of who I am. When I see old pictures of family members, I can look into their eyes and smile with them, feeling that connection. I am transported back in time, and Grandma is sitting next to me at her dining room table again, telling me who all those people are in the photographs.

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What’s Holding You Back from Your Dreams?

Everyone has dreams, and I don’t mean the kind you have at night when your mind slips into an unconscious state.

When you’re asked what your dreams are, what do you say? Do you freeze up, unable to articulate your dreams because you claim you aren’t sure? I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet the uncertainty that plagues you is fear.

Maybe you won’t even name your dreams or dare to dream because of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, and caring too much that others think or say (which is mostly in your mind, anyway) are all factors of not daring to dream in the first place.  

I have been following a vlogger on YouTube for years now who I think is beautiful (inside and out), talented, adorable in her antics, inspiring, and a fighter.  She admits often that the persona she portrays to the world in her videos is much more confident than she really is.

I used to be shy, but now I am able to talk and usually joke around with just about anyone. I can laugh about life when I’m in a group, even the things that bother me. Put me alone with my thoughts, and I am not that outgoing, confident person.

I get what this vlogger is saying. We can put on a smile on the stage. As I wrote in one of my novels, a smile can cover a lot of pain. Laugh enough and it doesn’t hurt so much, right? Yeah, something like that.

I look at this lovely young woman who I know only through the Internet and marvel. She has enormous support, but with any sort of fame come those who are all too happy to belittle, threaten, and hurt. Funny how 99 people can compliment you, but it only takes that one person to tear you down. What do we focus on? The negative.

Like this vlogger I follow and think the world of, many people suffer inwardly. She admits to turning down several opportunities because she doesn’t feel worthy. She has wonderful dreams, but her low self-confidence gets in the way. That is what holds her back from her dreams. She knows that.

For years, I said I wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, at least one of them. Yet for years, I did very little to make my dreams a reality. I had ideas for my first novel (based off my late grandma’s life, who I loved dearly). You can read more about the inspiration behind my first book here.

I managed a few pithy chapters. I read my grandma’s diary and a few pages she had written about her life while growing up. I jotted down several notes. This was between October 2006 and January 2009. I then left the book sitting on my hard drive. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but whenever I thought about sitting down at the keyboard and writing, I faltered. Overwhelmed at the prospect of writing an original story, I let fear dictate my actions and reasons.

Fear wasn’t the only culprit. It was easy to find excuses, a hundred other things that needed my daily attention. Many of those things were legitimate, like caring for my young kids and the house, but I believe if you really want something, you will do whatever you need (within reason) to attain it.

If I wanted to work out more, I would get to the gym more often. If I wanted to eat healthier, I wouldn’t buy chocolate or go through the McDonald’s drive thru. If I wanted to save more money, I would stop buying unnecessary items.

Sure, I want these things, but how much do I want them? Not enough, apparently.

pablo (25)I came to the hard realization that even though part of me wanted better or more, I must not have wanted those things badly enough.

I have written about having no regrets in a previous blog post. This one ties into that. Both topics involve fear of failure.

I believe the only way to fail is to do nothing.

In March 2015, I finally make a life-altering decision: I would write every day on my original story, even if I never published it, even if no one ever read it. Tired of traipsing through the lands of other authors and their characters in the world of fan fiction for 20 years, I knew that if I was to take myself as a writer seriously, I NEEDED to write every day, even if only for ten minutes.

Ten minutes. That’s all I told myself. It was a realistic goal.

To reach your dreams, you must set realistic, attainable, often short-term goals. Setting the goal of writing a whole book could have been too much. It was for me for years. As I said, overwhelming. I had already committed to exercising at least three days a week and had been doing it for three years at that point. If I could do that, I could write for ten minutes a day. Besides, I loved writing. I believe and have always believed that writing is in my blood, my fourth child (I have three actual ones), and was one of my purposes in life.

Your life purpose is what drives your desire to have dreams, but getting there is the intimidating and often difficult part. Goals at the stepping stones, every inch of pavement poured to create the road you travel from purpose to dreams. Day by day, little goal by little goal, you get there.

I finished my first draft of my first novel ten months after seriously sitting down to write it. I published it seven months after that. Once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I now have published a second novel, completed two more, and am nearing completion on my fifth.

Besides all this? I have joined a writers group at my local library, which you can read more about here. I have made invaluable friendships with several of these wonderful people who are like-minded. They are writers. They understand my raison-d’etre. I get them.

I have days when I question my ability to write, but they are fleeting. Our days are numbered in a fleeting life, so why do anything other than go for your dreams? If I hadn’t overcome my fears, I would have never gotten where I am today. I wouldn’t have shared my stories. I wouldn’t be spending time doing what I love daily.  I wouldn’t have met so many lovely friends.

Speaking of friends, a long-time and dear friend of mine has written extensively on the topics of life purpose, goals, and dreams on her blog. I highly recommend you check her blog out if you would like to seriously pursue these topics further.

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It’s funny that I had this blog idea for months and how its placement at the beginning of February coincided with my friend’s recent blog posts about the same topics. Fortuitous? Meant to be? I would like to think so.

Keeping dreaming, my friends, but if you’re serious about making your dreams a reality, you have to do the work. Pave your road with goals, not good intentions. Build your life with action, not ideas.

As any good writer knows, a story is driven by action. Ideas are good and all, but a good idea doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. You have one life. Make it a good story, even a great one.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

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My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

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No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

 

 

Why Perseverance Matters

It’s a new year. While the topic of this blog may have the feel of a resolution, I believe we can choose to start a new habit anytime.

But really, what better time to speak about perseverance? The gym is packed with people who will fade away before the month is over. I will still be trekking away on the elliptical at least three days a week like I have for six years. People will try the latest diet fad. I will just continue to eat modestly and mostly healthy and not calorie-count or deny myself a glass of wine or a bit of chocolate. I will keep plugging away at my writing, doing it every day for at least thirty minutes like I have for three years.

Sound magical?

It’s not. I promise you, I am not some sort of disciplined guru. I suck at time management. I try to squeeze too much into a short period of time and grow upset when I fail to accomplish everything I set out to do in a day. I am always ten minutes late, despite my good intentions otherwise. I slack in making myself look decent most days, choosing the easy I-am-a stay-at-home-mom look of yoga pants, a T-shirt, no makeup, and hair in a ponytail.

So I ride the struggle bus, too, folks. I get overwhelmed by committing to too much and then go into hibernation mode. Hint: This just happened this month.

But I am back to blogging weekly. Yep, I took a break from it during the insane month of Christmas, um, December. Part of perseverance, I believe, is balance–knowing when too much is too much, when enough is enough.

To many of us, we will picture persevering as plowing on through the storm, despite all odds, that somehow giving up or giving in is cheating, taking the easy way out, or being a wimp.  Now, let me ask you something: Do you honestly think it’s taking the easy way out to admit you are overwhelmed and need help, need to take a breather, to relax and then get back on the bandwagon? I don’t think it’s being cowardly to be sensible. Keeping the balance and perspective keeps a person on the path of perseverance.

Anyone who has been in a committed relationship long enough knows that perseverance takes a lot of time, effort, willingness, and energy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. People who are married for fifty years didn’t have sunshine and rainbows every day, but they learned to appreciate the sunshine after the rain.

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So, I ask you: What’s holding you back from embracing perseverance for the companion it is? Fear? Failure? You can only fail by not trying in the first place. You can find a thousand ridiculous things to fear every day and forget to live. Life is not meant to be a race or an emergency. It’s meant to be enjoyed.

We reap that joy fully by persevering through life. If you want to try something new, if you want to lose weight, if you want to write a book, if you want to travel more, then DO IT! Laziness is no excuse for stopping you. Failures or setbacks will happen, but you need to see them as stepping stones paving your way, not stumbling blocks.

I didn’t establish my gym routine or writing routine by sitting on my sorry ass. (Sorry–no, not really.) I worked at it every day, little by little.

I leave you with a quote by the less-than-formidable president Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Happy New Year, folks. Make it a goodie. Persevere.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Way to Fail is to do Nothing

No one wants to talk about, or even think about, failure.

Fear of failure is what keeps us from acting, from trying new things, from fulfilling our dreams.  Because there’s that little nagging voice in the back of our heads that whispers, “What if you fail?  If you don’t try it in the first place, you can’t fail.”

Lies, I say!

I used to subscribe to this way of thinking…for years, in fact.  I have always been writing, but I haven’t always written original stories like I do now.  I spent years and years living in the wonderful world of fan fiction, both reading and writing it.  I was comfortable playing with other people’s characters, but create my own?  Well, that was downright scary.

What a daunting task!

Even after I woke in the middle of one mid-October night in 2006 with a fictional name on my lips and an idea to write a story based on my late grandma’s life, I still didn’t fully embrace conquering my fears.  The momentum of excitement over the idea drove me for a few weeks.  I created a family tree with character names, read my grandma’s accounts of what it was like growing up in the early twentieth century, took notes, and even wrote two chapters.  Over the next two years, I turned out two more chapters.  In early 2009, I had four chapters and not much else.  

Of course, during this time, I was prolific with writing fan fiction.  That took center stage.  But write an original story?  I’d have the idea in the back of my mind and think about sitting down to write more, but I rarely actually opened the document.

I told several friends that my dream was to be a published author.  I had a couple of people who would ask how my story was going.  My answer: It’s not.

And as much as I wanted to be an author, I didn’t really think it would seriously happen.  Ever.

Then a funny thing happened in March of 2015.  I wasn’t writing much fan fiction any longer, my life filled with taking care of my kids.  I thought, “Why don’t I just try it?  I’ll commit myself to writing for fifteen minutes a day, every day, and see what happens.  Even if I never publish it or share it with anyone, at least I can say I wrote an original story.”

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Ten months later, I had my first draft.  A few months after that, I had a final draft and tried querying agents.  Scary, right?

It wasn’t scary at all, but rather liberating and amazing!  I couldn’t believe I’d done it, and I was now serious about writing more books, already in the process of writing two more manuscripts.  

I was prepared for rejection from agents, as I had read a lot about the process.  Few unknowns get their foot in the door.  That was okay with me, because the bigger accomplishment was writing and then editing the story!  I had looked my fear of failure in the eye and owned it.  It wouldn’t be a failure to me if no agent picked it up, because I had done something to be proud of.  I self-published the book, and now I’m living my dream.

The failure wasn’t in not traditionally publishing it.  Nor was it is not making a ton of money or having a load of people read it.  

Because I wrote it.  I tried, really made the effort.

The only way I would have failed would have been to not write the story AT ALL.

So you try something and decide it’s not for you, or you start something and give it your all and it doesn’t pan out.  Okay.  You did NOT fail.  You tried, really tried.  You didn’t let fear dictate your life.

I have come to firmly believe that the only way we fail is to do nothing.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

That’s in the same spirit as my belief about the only way to fail.

Be bold.  Be courageous.  Be triumphant.

Because life isn’t meant to be lived in a box.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Facing Loss and Embracing New Possibilities

Loss.  It’s a word we don’t want to hear, let alone experience.  Yet we all experience it.  We all know loss, not just of it.  Some of us have known it on a first name basis for too many years.  If we’re lucky, some of us know it only as an acquaintance for brief periods throughout life.

When I say “loss,” what comes to mind?  Losing a loved one to death?  Divorce or a tough breakup?  Loss of a job, a friendship, a dream?  Or maybe just all the socks that lost their mates in the laundry?  Sorry, I had to throw a random joke in.  This is a tough subject matter.

Chances are, if you’re lived long enough like me, you know loss intimately enough to define it, to know the emptiness it leaves in its wake, to know healing is hard, to know that moving forward after a great loss can seem insurmountable in the moment of grieving.

I was in a Bible study once where the question was asked: What do you think the saddest word in the English language is?

My answer?  Hopelessness.

Whoever wrote that study agreed with me.  Now maybe you have another word, but I’d suspect that hopelessness would be in your top ten most depressing words.  Hopelessness and loss are often intertwined like a tight braid, held in place by an elastic of grief, anger, sadness, and denial.

Then where is acceptance, which can lead to hope?

My earliest memories of loss aren’t deep: a goldfish being flushed down the toilet, our outdoor pet bunny escaping and running away, attending wakes and funerals of people I didn’t really know.

For me, the loss of my innocence at an early age, something precious ripped from me, was the type of loss that affected me the most at the time.  When I was eight years old, two boys in my neighborhood, barely older than me, sexually molested me.  They had access to pornography.  It wasn’t sex, but it was bad enough.  I knew enough to know that “stuff down there” could cause pregnancy and AIDS, which had just come out as the latest big disease scare.  For months, I thought I was going to die of AIDS and prayed several times a day to God: “Please don’t let me have AIDS.”  Luckily, I told my parents what happened, and they went to the police.  I stayed away from those boys, but it never went to court.  No one was held accountable.  Maybe worse than thinking I had AIDS was that it seemed like everyone at school knew my secret.  Those boys told other kids.  I remember feeling dirty and violated for years after the incident as I walked the halls, sometimes being asked, “Were you raped?”  As a child, I couldn’t pinpoint terms like “dirty” and “violated” to describe the uncomfortable feeling of a slimy snake creeping inside me when people stared and asked rude questions, but I know now that was what I was feeling.

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But I survived because of the kids who were my friends and because of my family.  I had parents who loved me.  I had a few good friends who stuck by my side, and as the years passed, the news of it died.  Understanding more about “stuff down there,” I knew I wouldn’t die of AIDS.  I stayed away from those boys as much as possible.

My next experience with a huge loss came when I was 15 and lost both of my grandmas within two weeks of each other.  My dad’s mom had been battling cancer for over a year, and she lived in Kentucky, so I rarely saw her and wasn’t that close to her.  While my dad and brother attended her funeral, my mom and I stayed home to be with her mom, who was in the hospital.  We received the news no one wants to hear–the cancer had metastasized to her lungs (from a sarcoma on her leg the previous year), and there was nothing to be done.  Even chemo would only give her a small chance.  She was already 81 years old and didn’t want to go through that.  Despite being given two to six months, she passed a mere two weeks later.  She was at our house, so she died surrounded by family and didn’t suffer for long.

I had always known my life with my dear grandma.  We visited her every Sunday after church.  She had that warm voice that greeted us and those rosy cheeks and that beautiful smile.  She always had candy in her purse and cookies on top of her fridge.  She had her quirks from living through the Great Depression of watering down her shampoo, of saving a hundred plastic bags, and of using the smallest amount of batter left to make a quarter-sized pancake an eighth inch thick.  She burned her pizza that tasted like cardboard, but her pork chops were marvelous.  She spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with us.  She went on numerous vacations with my family.  She was special.

pablo (2)So how could I, at 15, understand what it meant to face life without one of the most important people?  While she was still in the hospital, I wrote a letter to her, where I told her brave she was, how much I loved and admired her, and asked her to send me a sign upon reaching Heaven.  She passed on a dreary early April day.  The rain continued until the day of her funeral four days later.  After we came home from an emotionally draining day, my mom called me to look out the window with her.  Stretched across the clearing sky was a beautiful rainbow!  I knew this was her sign to me!  Just as soon as my mom and I saw Grandma’s rainbow, it faded.  I had no doubts.  I found comfort in that rainbow.  Even though I would miss her dearly, time had helped heal the immediate stabbing loss.  A scar remains on my heart, but my grandma and her rainbow would go on to create something miraculous.

I wrote her life story in a fictionalized account and published it a year ago.  She has been my inspiration to write more books, to embrace what I call my heart’s song, my raison d’etre.  Not only died my grandma give me hope and the possibility to write, but my daughter is named after her.  Emma was a surprise child, not planned but welcomed and blessed!

Out of loss came immense possibility that became reality.

As the years went on, I would know the loss of a relationship with a boy who I once was in love with, but I would then meet the wonderful man who would become my husband and the father to my children, who I’ve been married to for 14 years.

We enjoyed several years of marriage where it was just the two of us.  We got to know each other more intimately.  We travelled to Italy, Hawaii, the Caribbean.  We focused on our careers.  We got a house together and made it our own.

The next step seemed obvious: children.  I was in my late twenties.  Everyone around me seemed to be getting pregnant, so I knew I was at that life stage when it was time.  My husband, Erik, and I were ready…as ready as we could be.

pablo (3)Little did I know how hard our journey to conceive would become.  Every month would come and go the same: hope that this would be the month we got lucky, only to flee with more tears and heartache at an empty womb.  This trend would continue for the next two and a half years.  My husband and I went through testing.  They could find nothing wrong.  We tried artificial insemination three times…nothing.  We were told fertility drugs would only increase the chances slightly, so we held off.  As 2008 drew to a close, we were on the verge of trying in vitro.  Drained beyond panic and exhaustion at this point, I suggested we held off for six months and just tried to relax and enjoy life again.  We had put so much pressure on ourselves to conceive that I was just done.  With it being Christmas, my favorite time of year, I didn’t want to deny myself drinking some wine and the general fun of the festivities.  

That Christmas was great.  Pictures from the time show a true smile on my face, surrounded by coworkers, friends, and family.  I stopped thinking so much about conceiving.

The New Year came.  I was late.  Of course, there had been a few months when I had been tricked before by this very thing.  Why did early pregnancy symptoms have to mirror the ones I got when it was that time of the month?  I knew the stabbing pain of loss from too many months of not conceiving, and I didn’t want to be tricked again.  Why get my hopes up?

But I couldn’t wait.  It was now five days past.  In the bathroom at work, I took a pregnancy test.  When two lines appeared instead of one, I thought for sure this was a dream.  You can imagine my elation!  Finally!

All those months of loss died upon receiving this amazing news.  My pregnancy would continue as healthy, and I gave birth to a 7 pound boy right on his due date of September 10, 2009.  Luke was a miracle baby, a baby so many friends and family, and my husband and I, had been praying for for years.  

As Luke grew, we knew we wanted to grow our family more.  The stresses of trying to conceive were no longer a problem because we knew we could do it.  Luke was now a toddler, a happy kid who was walking and beginning to talk.  A younger brother or sister would be great for him.  As we wanted our kids close in age (2-3 years apart), we decided the time was ripe.  On New Year’s Eve of 2010, I had a hunch I was pregnant and took a test.  It was positive!  The exciting thing was that this second baby would be due the same date as Luke’s birthday!  We attended a friend’s party that evening, and I declined the wine.  The other girls gave me knowing looks, two of whom were pregnant.  We all squealed quietly.  

On January 12, 2011, I miscarried.  Sure, it was early…only six weeks in, but the loss of my baby hit me like a train.  Loss of life is tragic, no matter how old.  A mother carries her child in her for the first nine months.  She and the child are literally a part of each other during that time.  I think I cried more that day than I ever had.  My prayers to save the child went unfulfilled.  I was devastated.  How could I possibly move on from this?

One thing I knew: I didn’t want to keep my loss to myself.  Having a miscarriage is understandably a very private thing for many people, but suffering alone is daunting.  I shared my experience with those around me, mostly other women from church and my friends.  What did I immediately notice?  How common miscarriages were.  How many people related and understood what I’d been through.  If it weren’t for these brave, strong women supporting me through this tough time, I wouldn’t have been able to heal.  Of course, a woman never can forget her lost child, but with the support of friends and the passage of time, healing can occur.

My doctor encouraged me to try to have another baby after allowing my body (and mind) to heal for a month.  Would you believe I got pregnant that first month?  After the hardship of trying to conceive with our first child, there was no pressure.  I had another healthy boy that November: Josh.

As my boys grew, life seemed to fall into a comfortable routine.  I continued to stay home with Luke and Josh.  The boys played together and were both generally happy kids.  As Luke got older, however, we noticed that he wasn’t developing socially and verbally like other kids his age.  We had already enrolled him in speech therapy soon after turning two, as he didn’t have many words.  Seeing little progress over several months with therapy and Help Me Grow intervening in our home, it was suggested that I take him to a developmental pediatrician.

Luke wasn’t even three years old when we got the diagnosis: moderate autism with a speech delay.  My husband and I sat there as the developmental pediatrician, a speech therapist, and a psychiatrist gave us the news.  We were inundated with information in the form of tons of papers of what we should be doing as far as intervention, plans to move forward, what the diagnosis meant, and so much more that I couldn’t process it all.  

I went home, determined to be proactive.  I enrolled Luke in occupational therapy (OT) for his fine motor delays.  Help Me Grow got us set up with the preschool in our city, and he would be receiving services there.  We would continue private speech.  I read through the information and tried to arm myself with knowledge, hoping that early intervention would make a difference.  My son was still so young, after all.  He had time to catch up with his peers.

Luke made progress, but it was slow.  He, to this day, speaks in single words or short phrases to express his wants and needs.  We paid a lady to come into our home to potty train him over a weekend, and it was successful…only to have that work undone a couple of years later when he regressed with no understandable reason why.  We haven’t been able to completely get back to where we were with toileting.

While usually a happy kid, Luke has been prone to meltdowns, especially when overloaded due to sensory processing issues.  Loud noises, crowded rooms, hunger, cold, heat, tiredness, and more can trigger a meltdown.  When he was smaller, it was easy enough to pick him up and put him in his room until he calmed down.  

As he’s grown, his meltdowns have gotten harder to control and more violent.  He kicks, hits, pulls hair, throws thing, and pulls pictures off walls.  We’ve had to remove the lamps and anything breakable from his bedroom.  He is on a medication to help with the meltdowns, and while they are less frequent, they can happen without provocation.  His mood can change like someone has flipped a switch.  As his mother, it breaks my heart to see him like this, to know he cannot express himself like he wants to.

pablo (4)My biggest struggle is facing the loss of the son who I thought I would have.  I will be honest.  I hate autism most days.  Look what it does to my son.  As moms, we have these too-perfect dreams of what our kids are going to be like.  Sure, we expect them to have some struggles and quirks, but a diagnosis like autism… Who expects that?  I often rant and rail at God at the unfairness of it all.  I have cried bitter, angry, dejected tears in the middle of the night or locked away in my closet because–let’s be honest–it’s not fair.  Even yelling at God is prayer, however.  Any communication with God is prayer.  Knowing that helps.  God can handle my anger.

Soon after the diagnosis, after a few weeks of trying to hold it together and be proactive, depression grabbed hold of me and pulled me down.  I took out my anger and hurt on those closest to me.  Sadly, from time to time, I have turned to this dark place because sometimes I just cannot take it.  I feel unqualified, underprepared, unable to raise a special needs child.  Did God really think I could handle this?  

I have been through plenty of times of loss in my life, but those losses have either resolved themselves or have found a way of healing.  This time, this loss is ongoing.  There’s no end in sight.  This is lifelong.

So what do I do?  How do I choose to face this epic loss and embrace a new possibility?  Hard truth: I embrace the loss of my picture-perfect dream and truly embrace the boy who is my son.  Because he is my son.  He is a person worthy of love and deserving of understanding.   No diagnosis changes a mother’s love for her child.

If it weren’t for Luke’s autism, I would not have met many other precious people in my life.  I have cried with other moms “who get it.”  I have hugged and been their source of encouragement, and they have returned the favor.  Other people have been strong for me when I couldn’t be.  My parents, my church, my friends…they are the true heroes here, not me.

And God.  I cannot understand why Luke has autism, but I believe God works good from the bad.  My heart and mind have been opened by raising a special needs child.  I believe I am more compassionate and understanding of others who have various diagnoses.  I believe we all will go through some sort of diagnosis at some point in life.  It’s all part of living.  God holds us and sustains us through, often by using other people in our lives to carry us when we cannot walk.

Whatever loss you’re facing in your life, I ask you to take some time to try to see a new possibility in it.  Every experience is a chance to grow, to learn something, to continue in hope.

That is a much better place to be than alone and suffering in your loss.  Loss is just as much a part of life as gain.  I believe there is much to be gained in loss–hope for tomorrow.

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“Who Am I?” Asks Mom

Note: This blog post is aimed at moms with young kids and is a throwback to a post I wrote a year ago.  Being on vacation this past week, I wasn’t able to write a new post, but I think this one is worth re-sharing.

My alarm was set for seven o’clock.

But it’s my daughter crying in the next room that wakes me.  For the third time that night.  Only it’s no longer night.  A quick check of my phone shows it’s 6:45.  My husband has just left for work.  It’s only fifteen minutes, but it’s fifteen minutes of sleep I was denied.  My sleep is like gold to me; it’s that precious.

I’m being robbed.

As I struggle to sit up in bed, I inwardly curse the sunlight.  Sunlight means morning, and I’ve never been a morning person.  As I rush and fumble to make her bottle, I wonder if morning people were only created to make the struggle of another new day that much harder.

As I lift her out of her crib and pacify her cries, the squeals of my sons aren’t far behind.  

And so it goes nearly every morning – or some variation thereof (pick which kid you think wakes first tomorrow!) – as “Mommy” fights to get dressed without an audience and make her coffee before she needs to be piling the kiddos into the van or standing at the bus stop.

I’m a stay-at-home mom of seven years.  It was my choice, and I don’t regret a minute of it.

I’ve heard it said many times that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I must have gone insane a LONG time ago.

So, I spend my days carting kids to camp or school.  I pay the bills, scrub toilets and wipe all around them as I clean the disgusting leftovers from raising boys who don’t aim well, pick up the groceries, and curse that I’m making a second and unplanned trip to Costco or Aldi that week because A) I either forget something the first time or B) my kids decided they suddenly loved Oreos more than Chips-Ahoy… and yep, we’re out.  Somewhere in there, if I can squeeze in a thirty minute workout on the elliptical at the Y and/or my weekly reward of a tall decaf nonfat latte from Starbucks, I find a simple and way-too-happy level of satisfaction.  By late afternoon, I’m fretting half of the time that I didn’t think ahead enough to pull something out of the freezer for dinner.  And the kids are hungry and cranky.  And so I am.  And tired.

Then there’s laundry.  Endless, forever and ever laundry.  Need I say more?

There are the lowest levels of motherhood that involve butt-wiping, changing out socks for ones without holes, and scraping something (I don’t know what) off the wall that’s probably been crusting there since Apollo 11.  There are silent tears and woe-is-me moments in the closet.

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There is the “I-need-to-take-a-shower-just-to-wash-my-damn-hair” and “I-really-need-to-shave-my-legs-so-can-I-please-take-a-short-bath?”

By the end of the day, my husband and I wonder how we do this.  All of this.  We hope for a good night’s sleep, for our minds to just shut down, and for more time with each other or just to ourselves tomorrow.  Because it didn’t happen today.

“Welcome to motherhood,” older moms (read: empty-nesters) tell me.

Yes, thank you for that, because it wasn’t already clear to me.  Unlike the glass doors to my back yard that are covered in tiny handprints.

But then there are those moments when I stop.  Just stop and marvel.  I watch my oldest son, who has autism, as he engages in a swim lesson and think, “My God, I love you.  I’m crazy about you.  I just love you.”

Or I am amazed at the stuff my four-year-old boy comes up with.  The questions he asks: “Mommy, if the Earth is round, why does the ground look flat?”

And I can never not smile when my baby girl laughs and smiles at me.  Even on the worst day, her happiness infects me.

This is motherhood.  The thing I signed up for: taking care of little people who drive me crazy but who I’m crazy for.

And yet… sometimes I ask: Who am I?  

motherhood1

Sometimes I just feel like a servant who cleans up poop, feeds everyone else before her, worries about her kids endlessly, talks only about her kids with other moms, who… talk about their kids.

I am a mom, first and foremost.

But I am also me, Cynthia “Cyndi” Hilston.  

If you’re a mom, I suspect you know what I’m getting at.  You probably find yourself identifying with other moms as you all wonder: “Is my kid the worst behaved kid in the world?”  “What doctor do you take your kid to?”  “Are you happy with such-and-such school?  Do you feel like you have no time to yourself anymore?”  “When’s the last time you went on a date?”

So I asked other moms: Do you feel like you have an identity apart from being a mother?  Do you have something that you do that’s only for yourself?  How do others see you?

Because, although we’re moms, we’re more than that.

It reminds me of people, who, when asked their name, also say, “Hi, I’m Tom Smith, and I’m a mechanical engineer.”  As if their job title were their identity.

Or when someone has depression and others use that label to basically define them.  Or autism.  Or ADHD.  Take your pick.

People are more than their jobs.  People are more than their mental conditions.  People are also more than just parents.  

I believe we are more than the sum of our parts of our identity, but somewhere along the way of being moms, many of us feel like we’ve lost who we are as a whole person.

Being a mother is very fulfilling, but it’s also the most challenging, most draining “job” you’ll ever have.

We live vicariously through our children.  We cheer for them on the sidelines at soccer games.  We cry with them when they didn’t get the grade they wanted on the paper they worked extra hard on.  We laugh with them when they’re telling silly jokes that don’t really make sense.  We hurt for them when we watch, helpless, as they suffer with a lifelong learning disability, or even a short term illness, like a cold.

But we all know that we can’t really live our lives through others.  Yes, even our children.  

Because they are their own people.  One day, they will grow up and move on, although hopefully not out of our lives!  We want them to grow up to be independent, happy, healthy, successful – any number of good things.

But some of us are also fearful of feeling left behind.  Empty.  Forgotten.

Because… without our kids, what are we?  

When I posed my identity questions to other moms, the responses were overwhelming.  Mothers obviously had a lot to say on the subject.  Although not everyone felt like they had trouble with the “Who am I?” question, many moms admitted to feeling like they have no idea who they are without their kids.  It downright scares some.  Many stated that they feel awkward talking with other adults about anything other than their kids.  

Although it’s impossible to put people into perfectly separate groups, trends became apparent once moms started answering my questions.  Mothers who continued working, whether full time or part time, admitted to feeling like they still have an identity apart from being only a mom.  Having a place they go to daily for a few hours gives them adult interaction and fulfills something that many stay-at-home moms feel they lack.  Many moms who work full time, however, admitted to feeling guilty that they don’t get to spend enough time with their kids. So, even though a mother works, she still seems to identify first at a mom.  

Those who work part time feel it gives them the time with their kids and the time they need to feel like they are doing something for themselves and getting to talk with other adults.  Many of the stay-at-home moms who feel they’ve lost their identity beyond “mom” thought working part time might help them regain some of what they’ve lost.

To further complicate matters, some moms feel judged because they work or stay home with their kids.  It seems like an already frazzled, stressed mom just can’t win!  This topic is enough to generate into whole other blog, so I won’t further ponder this.  I will say this, however: It’s unfair to judge a mom for working and say that she’s selfish for not spending more time with her kids; it’s just as unfair to judge a mom for staying at home and say that she’s lazy, as if being a stay-at-home mom isn’t a job!  Um, excuse me?

But I digress — sorry.  

Working part time isn’t the only option for helping a mom keep her whole person.  Some moms take classes, volunteer in the PTA or in other school programs, go running, do independent sales jobs, and make sure to schedule time to spend with their friends and husbands/partners.

In the struggle to keep up with friends, many moms also stated that they don’t know what they would do if they didn’t have their fellow mom friends and neighbors.  Despite questioning their sanity, like I have on numerous occasions, most moms believe that having kids has given them purpose in life and that they like who they are more as a person now that they are mothers.

So, where do we find our balance?  Because that’s what it all seems to be about.  Balance.

We juggle schedules daily, trying to remember if it’s Meet the Teacher on Monday or Tuesday evening for William and if Wednesday was supposed to be Lexi’s ballet practice.  We drive from one event to another, driving ourselves slowly crazy, until it all boils over like a pot of over-cooked spaghetti noodles.

My suggestion would be to start simple.  If you really feel like you have absolutely no “you” time, take five or ten minutes a day.  It can be whenever, whether scheduled or not.  I sometimes like to do this right before bed, even though I’m tired.  I can just lie there and think about my day and where I can be thankful.  Read for ten minutes.  Write a simple journal entry.  It doesn’t have to be much, but it’s something that’s just for YOU.

As impossible as this may sound, try to schedule date nights (whether once a month, every other month, or every season), but try not to go more than three months without going out with your husband/partner on a date.  The biggest strain on a marriage is children.  It’s even more important to keep in touch with your significant other now that you’re parents.  If money is an issue, just go somewhere for an hour and take a walk.  Walk the mall if it’s winter.  Tell yourself that it’s just as important that you have that date night as it is taking your kid to the doctor.

Also make time (again, once a month to every three months) to hang out with your friends.  Even if it’s just movie night at one of your houses after the kids are in bed.  It’s something!  

Dates and getting together with friends don’t have to cost a ton of time and money.  We can always come up with a zillion excuses about why we can’t find the time or money, but the truth is, if something matters and is important, then you can make time for it.  Re-evaluate your weekly schedule.  If you’re constantly driving around, ask if your kids are too involved or if you’re too stressed out because you’re spreading yourself too thin.  It’s okay to say “no!”  Really, it is!  Sometimes I think a mom just needs to hear someone else tell her that it’s okay to actually say it.  So, I’m giving you permission to say “no.”  (Not that you needed my permission!)

Finally, if you’re not doing something for just you, find something.  Maybe you had a hobby that you let fall to the wayside after having kids?  Try it again.  Or discover something new.  Mine is writing.

I’m going to be trying a yoga class next month.  I also make sure to get a massage once per month.  There’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself, because remember, if you don’t take care of you, you aren’t much help to anyone else, including your kids.

So, it’s hard.  There’s no denying that.  But the moms that said they feel like they still have an identity apart from being a mom have managed the balancing act in their lives.

However you manage to find that balance, keep it in mind, and when it starts to feel unbalanced, go back and rethink things.  You matter.  You are a mom, so you’re already amazing.  But you’re also you.  And that’s pretty amazing, too.

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