The Monster Wall

There’s a monster in my kitchen. Actually, there are lots of monsters in my kitchen.

Most of them have googly eyes. Some have abnormal numbers of limbs. There are definitely some weird antennae poking out.

Yes, my kitchen has a Monster Wall.


The Monster Wall

I’m not really sure how the Monster Wall started. I’m guessing the kids were going through a monster drawing phase. From time to time, they produce freshly-created monsters from the guts of their backpacks. There’s always room on the wall for new monsters.

I’ll take monsters on the wall any day over the monsters that used to hide under their beds and which would wrench them – and me – from sleep. It’s been a few years now since our slumbers were shreakingly disrupted with visits from the monsters. Yes, we used to proactively diffuse monster spray at bedtime to evaporate any monster particles in the air that might threaten to make their presence known. We’d read books about monsters to poke fun at them. We watched Monsters, Inc. to see how cute and funny the monsters and their operations are. These days, my son likes to read spooky, scary books and they sometimes produce bad dreams but filled more with ghouls and specters, I think, that the fanged, cyclops, seven wiggly-armed variety. My daughter, with her feet firmly planted on the ground, has recently overcome an everyday monster – automatic toilets with their dreaded, soul-sucking flush.

But for the most part, my kids today are carefree, happily gliding from one experience to the next, with barely a care in the world other than the injustice of having to empty the dishwasher or the regret of a traded Pokemon card.

They will inevitably face other kinds of monsters as they grow. They could be bullies. Maybe self-doubt? Anxiety, depression, loneliness, heart break. So many potential manifestations that, as their mother, I cannot bring myself to conceive, let alone write. Monsters that cannot be soothed with a spritz of lavender spray or a comforting hug in the night.

I’m hoping that they will be strong enough to face their future monsters head-on, as they do right now, everyday when they sit at the kitchen table looking at our Monster Wall. I’m hoping I’ve prepared them, as much as any person can, for the inevitable monsters they’ll encounter in life. I’m hoping they’ll be able to see them for what they are: opportunities to seek help, express themselves, grow. I’m hoping they’ll still call out for me, whether from near or afar. I’m hoping I’ll be able to help.

Maybe I will miss those night-time monsters after all. These future monsters feel mighty scary to me.

monsters and bad dreams

There are monsters in my kitchen

Honest Lies, an excerpt from “Wide Awake. Every Week”

Last week I read a Facebook post written by my boss and friend, Beth Monaghan, and it started a chain reaction for me. It was an excerpt she had contributed to the book “Wide Awake. Every Week”, by Starla J. King with Ros Nelson, in which 52 contributors share a week’s worth of “aha” moments. Beth’s contribution touched me because telling kids the truth – or versions of the truth – is such a huge responsibility. I’ll let you read her preface and contribution to the book below.

I have a copy of this book sitting by my bedside. I haven’t opened it yet because I need to finish what I’m currently reading. But it’s there, calling to me. Not just with the anticipation of reading some amazing writing but also with the anticipation of a lesson to learn. Maybe even 365 of them ….

Honest Lies

by Beth Monaghan

I had the honor of writing a week’s worth of its 365 “aha moments” and it changed the way I think about them. I used to expect them to arrive as lightening bolts of insight during times of great joy or struggle. The writing process for “Wide Awake. Every Week.” reminded me though, that insight does not always reside with the momentous. Often, it’s up ahead slowly gathering energy until it begins shimmering through the cracks of everyday life. We have to look up, right now, and reach for the sparks as they flicker. I’ve included one of my aha moment essays below called “Honest Lies,” which appears on January 20 in the book:

I vowed to always tell my children the truth, and when our French bulldog died, I passed my first test. Izzy, then three, kept asking, “Ernie go on train to Boston? Ernie at Gamma’s house?” Sob. I told her the truth, “Ernie’s body stopped working and he can’t be with us anymore.” ~ A few months later she also asked my husband, who told her that we buried Ernie’s body. To that Izzy asked, “What about his head?” Phew. That one was easy, but as they grow, my children ask harder questions and the truth is that I tell them honest lies. ~ Monsters aren’t real. ~ Your dad and I will always keep you safe. ~ If you’re kind to others they’ll be kind to you. ~ There aren’t any “bad guys” in our town. ~ Gray hair is just something that happens. ~ We’re lucky to live in a country where everyone gets a fair chance. ~ It didn’t hurt when I had you because the doctors gave me medicine. ~ Seat belts will keep us safe in the car. ~Big girls don’t cry. ~ You don’t have to worry about a fire in our house. ~ Girls can do anything. ~ Motherhood has led me to the gray space between honesty and truth. I stand in its bubble holding an umbrella of security up to life’s “what ifs?” while I try to show my girls how to be safe, without teaching them how to fear. I’ll tell it all … one day, but the hardest truths can sleep through childhood. For now, I’m grateful that Izzy is only on to the truth about the Easter Bunny because she saw her uncle hiding eggs in the yard. Yes, please, let’s start there.

If you’d like read more grab a copy (or 10) click here to order on Amazon: Wide Awake. Every Week.

Wide Awake. Every Week by Starla J. King

I Really Miss Being Pregnant

Really, I do.

I miss being amazed at what was happening to my body. I’d seen so many family and friends experience it and I had so desperately wanted this. When my turn finally came – not without its own set of struggles and heartache – I was equally thrilled and terrified. Could my body actually do this? How would it feel? Was I capable of growing life inside me?

Fortunately the answer was yes, twice over. Every day, I was enthralled and amazed at how my body knew what it was doing, cultivating these balls of cells into bones, limbs, organs – life. Those first 20 weeks or so, as I expanded and expanded and expanded, and couldn’t get enough food into my body fast enough to extinguish the bottomless hunger and refute the fatigue, I actually doubted I was really pregnant. Maybe it was phantom? Maybe I really was just a greedy pig?

But as my expanding boobs and protruding pooch finally met in the middle, making me look less like a three-ton whale and more rotund like an actual pregnant person, I felt special, even glamorous. I imagined the life growing within me shone out through my skin, my eyes, my smile. My hair and nails never looked finer. And then I started feeling that baby move, confirmation that there was someone in there, moving and all too often, hiccuping. Hello baby, I’d say in my head, rubbing my belly, trying to connect with this thing inside me. Every thump in the ribs, every hiccup was a grateful reminder of this miracle in the making. It was, surely, the most beautiful experience. Though I’m not religious, this was the closest I’d ever felt to it.

I miss that.

Hey, don’t worry, I’m definitely not feeling clucky. That ship left the dock eight years ago. Quite frankly I’m too old and way WAY too tired to ever EVER do that again.

Because then I remember the heartburn. I remember the tossing and turning at night. I remember being oh so hungry but not being able to fit enough food into my stomach which was then situated precariously close to my throat. I remember how the muscles in my neck and back became increasingly thick and immobile. I remember how foods I had loved were either forbidden or became strangely unappealing. I remember exhaustion like I’d never known before (but quickly knew in the weeks following their births.) I remember how, especially with my first, I wasn’t just pregnant in front – I was pregnant all over! There was not a part of my body that did not expand. I remember the strange, dull ache in my loosey-goosey groin muscles. I remember the leg cramps (which have never left me since.)

My husband remembers me being a bitch for 40 weeks and 3 days the first time around, and then again for 32 weeks the second time. “When do I get my wife back?” he would sigh.

I remember contractions, my insides deciding they were going to repeatedly squeeze and contort themselves to force that thing out from inside me. I remember how medical it all was. I remember all the prodding and oozing and the machines that went beep and, ugh, that one nurse who had too much perfume on. I remember how frightening and weird it was that these people were cutting me open, putting my intestines off to one side and extracting a baby, all while I couldn’t feel a thing. My husband distinctly remembers how they counted all the swabs and tools as they closed me up.

So, yeah, maybe I don’t really miss being pregnant that much. Or at least, I choose to remember the magical parts.

Every mother has their own pregnancy and childbirth story. This is mine. And let’s not forget the prize at the end of the journey – the babies.


“I don’t like swimming,” said the little boy, five years-old.

“It’s too hard. And I have to do it every day at camp.”

“If you do it every day, then you’ll get better at it and then it won’t be so hard,” I responded.

“Hmmmm,” he remarked, twitching his little nose, dubiously.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. The boy looked at me, both curious but doubtful of the grown-up advice he was about to receive. I fully expected an eye-roll, selective listening or to be outright dismissed.

“If you believe in yourself,” I continued. “If you believe that every day you’ll get a little bit better than the day before, then I bet by the end of the summer, you will be an amazing swimmer.”

He looked at me.

And then returned to playing, or went off elsewhere. I don’t remember. This was probably the longest and most serious conversation I’d had with this little boy who I’ve known all his little life. But I presumed, to him, I was just another boring adult saying bla bla bla. I quickly forgot the conversation as I assumed he had.

A month or so later, his parents mentioned to me that suddenly he’s had a new attitude towards his swimming classes. He’s serious. Committed. Intent on doing the work and improving. He told them “Aunty Sam told me to believe in myself so that’s what I’m doing.”

Hearing this brought sudden hot tears to my eyes, surprising even myself. Who knew that the words that had come out of my mouth – without too much aforethought, admittedly – had actually been heard, instead of discarded? Those words were processed by that little mind. Absorbed and now, applied.

So many words. We say so many words to each other. Many without due thought, not even thinking about the impact they may have or unsure whether anyone is really listening.

But Sondheim was right: “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.

This was a potent, and precious, reminder.

Imperfect Model

by Kerri Ames

(The following was written and performed by Kerri for the recent Listen to your Mother Boston show. It is republished here with Kerri’s permission. You can – and should – read more on her blog (Un)Diagnosed and Still Okay.)

Photo credit: Amy/Emily Photography

Photo credit: Amy/Emily Photography

I used to pity parents whose child had a disability. I would see them in a restaurant, a movie theater or other public outing and think to myself: “Thank God that is not my child”.

I used to say the word, retard. A lot. As in “I’m so retAHded”, “stop being retahded”, the list goes on.

I would think to myself, God how awful for them. The parent’s whose child was in a wheelchair, had a feeding tube or a breathing tube. Wondering what made them decide to let the child live.

I would see a child having a temper tantrum in the grocery store and whisper to my husband, why don’t they just smack that kid.

I had my first, perfect child and became the paragon of how to be a working mother. I knew the answers to putting the baby to sleep at exactly 7pm. I let her cry it out and slept through the night. I had a schedule. I was that model working mom. The one you read about in magazines. The one who “does it all”, showers daily and who kept a clean house. Abby was well behaved, well-traveled and the child you could take to any event.  I could leave her with anyone for any amount of time. The girl, who sat quietly in restaurants, did her school work and reinforced my thoughts that “those other” children were just a result of poor parenting.

Five years later, my second daughter was born.

At just four days old I found myself in the NICU as I begged the doctors to do anything to save her life. I didn’t question brain function. I didn’t wonder if we were taking extreme measures. I saw my baby and feared she wouldn’t come home.

I bargained with God.

I offered my soul. I told him I could handle a retarded child. Just please, God, let my child live.

We came home with a beautiful little girl. One who vomited every 20 minutes, one who would only sleep if she was snuggled on your chest and who cried. A lot. If she was awake, she was crying, unless she was being held.

So I held her.

Bridget wasn’t achieving her milestones and the doctor ordered testing of her brain. We knew she was different. That she wasn’t the perfect child you dream. They performed genetic testing and told us she had a genetic mutation that had never been discovered. The testing revealed a slow brain pattern.

I asked, “Is my daughter retarded?” and I was gently told, “We don’t use that word anymore. But essentially, yes.”

The best advice I received that day was to never put limits on Bridget. Do not limit her with labels or assume she would not achieve greatness. That perfection has a new meaning.

One of the greatest things Bridget has achieved is changing the world view most of us have. We have more empathy for that mother in the grocery store. We have a smile for the parent who is pushing their child in a wheelchair. We buy a glass of wine for that mom in the restaurant. We look at our disabled child and think, “Thank God this IS our child”.

We have banned the “R” word in our house and in our lives.

Bridget has changed the lives of not just her parents, but her community. She is the mayor of her school. She is hugged in the grocery store. She has allowed friends to be comfortable asking questions. Hard and difficult questions just six years ago I would have been embarrassed to ask.

When I was told my daughter would be developmentally disabled, the world I knew was destroyed and recreated. I resolved that this would not change the way I would nurture my daughter, that she would be provided the same experiences and opportunities as her sister. By not placing limits, Bridget has created an advocate in her sister.  She has given an 11 year-old a purpose and a drive. One who includes her sister in everything because, in Abby’s words, “that is what sisters do”.

I have grown in so many ways since that first day in the NICU. I will educate when someone says retard.  I have become knowledgeable in any treatment, medication, therapy or doctor who can positively impact Bridget. It was through motherhood I learned the value of friendship, and which of those friends to leave behind.  Being Bridget’s mother has allowed me to find my voice.  We have created a village of support that includes therapists, friends and families who understand that life with a child who has special needs is still a fantastic life.  A life where the smallest accomplishments are celebrated.  A life where we cry and laugh with equal measure.

I am no longer that perfect model of the working mother who can do it all. Motherhood trumps meetings.  I frequently go a day without a shower, happy that I managed to brush my teeth. My house is rarely clean, but it is full of life.

Six years ago I bargained with God to let my daughter live.

It took being Bridget’s mom to show me what living was.

Kerri Ames is a working mom from Cape Cod with her husband, two daughters, untrainable dog and a bunny who was supposed to live outside. Kerri writes about raising two children, one whom has a rare genetic disorder, with humor and honesty at (Un)Diagnosed but Still Okay. Kerri possesses many titles: mom, wife, advocate, business manager, writer, trail runner and lover of wine. Her passion is advocacy for all children to be accepted for who they are regardless of ability. Kerri believes you can conquer any challenge in this world with good friends, family and a bonfire on the beach. She acknowledges that without her village of support her life would be infinitely more difficult.  You can follow Kerri on Facebook and Twitter at @undiagnosedbut.


A Lesson in Letting Go of Fear

I took my newly-minted eight year-old to the park yesterday to ride her bike. The snow had melted, the sun was shining and she was eager to be reunited with her bike after such a long, hard winter.

Teaching her to ride her bike and riding with her has always been her father’s job (I’m not a confident biker and I’d always rather walk on my own two feet than balance on two wheels.) As I wrote here, if it wasn’t for him, she’d have never learned for I was always too fearful, terrified she’d fall, scared she’d hurt not just her knees but also her confidence.

Oh, I was so wrong.

It wasn’t her who needed to conquer her fears, it was me.

She set off on her bike yesterday, pumping those pedals, the wind in her hair. “Be careful, don’t go too far out of my sight,” I cried out. But it was already too late. Her hair was streaming out behind her, her helmet getting smaller as she accelerated away from me down the path, picking up speed. Though I couldn’t see her face, I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.

She rounded the corner. I could still see her flying like the wind. And then, she was out of sight, around another corner.

I listened acutely for for the high-pitched wail that I would surely hear as she’d crash off the bike and hurtle to the ground. I hastened my already speedy pace, desperate to catch up to her or at least spot her in the distance.

A glimmer of stranger danger dangled on the edge of my nervous system, taunting my imagination with every parent’s worst fears. Yes, there were lots of people at this park but maybe among them, there might be one with ill intent, looking at her that way?

What if she gets scared when she realizes she can’t see me, I worried? I picked up the pace even more, blisters forming on my sockless-in-shoes-for-the-first-time-since-winter feet.

Panting and sweating and on the brink of panic, I rounded the corner and stared into the distance, squinting to make her out among the swarm of adults and kids walking, biking and skateboarding on this beautiful spring day.

Suddenly in the distance, I spotted the shape of her helmet, her long hair, her knees moving fast up and down, zooming towards me. Triumphant, happy, cheeks aglow. “Mama!” she cried. “I was pedalling so far, so fast. It was so cool.” She grabbed a sip of water and took off once again, yelling that she’d meet me back at the park entrance.

And it was then I realized.

She’s now a confident bike rider. There was no fall, no wail, no grazed knees.

She knows how to get out of a stranger’s grip. She’s a blue belt in karate – she can punch and kick and shout, really loudly.

She knows my cell number, we’ve talked about what to do if she’s lost, what kind of adult to find.

For parents, fear is a constant. Fear that we don’t know what we are doing, fear that we’ll screw up, screw them up. Fear they’ll get hurt. Fear they’ll get lost. Fear of strangers. Fear they won’t accomplish what we – and they – want to achieve.

Yesterday, for me, was a solid lesson in letting go of some of that fear and replacing it with confidence in my child. Confidence in her abilities and smarts. Confident that her father and I have equipped her with many of the tools to succeed. Fear will always be there, but as I learned yesterday, it’s my problem, not hers.


Turning Eight!

Today you turn 8. Eight. EIGHT!

Wow. That was quick. And long, too.

I’m so amazed and proud and a whole-lot awed by the incredible being you are becoming.

You, my love, are funny and fierce and happy and smart and diligent and quirky and forthright and self-righteous and snuggly.

Seven was the year when Katy Perry nudged aside your affections for Optimus Prime, just a little. Last night, you even told me that seeing Katy Perry in concert was the best part of being seven. And that, ever since, “By the Grace of God” is your favorite song.

In 2014, you wore a dress just the one time. (Because you had to – it wasn’t your choice.) You rose to the occasion, donned your fancy tights, sparkly (borrowed) shoes, necklace and shiny headband. And totally rocked the look. The remaining 364 days of being seven, you wore a variety of pants, tops, undershirts, underpants, socks and a fleece in different jaguar and leopard prints. And totally rocked the look.

You’ve spent much of seven researching what breed of dog you want (p.s. it’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever.) You’ve read about how to train a puppy. You are ready for the responsibilities of feeding and walking your next pet. Which you remind us about every day.

You are my “bounce back” girl. One year ago on this very day, you experienced a frightening car crash. More recently, you learned an important lesson in losing. You took both in your stride and I am grateful for such character and resilience. I could learn a load from you.

Recently, you explained to me that you have “grit” – I’m not sure from where or who you learned that phrase – but it made me stop in my tracks. Grit will take you places in life; grit will mean you won’t give up or give in or be bowed by the hard work. Grit will thicken your skin. I love grit.

I am still flabbergasted by your beauty. I try not to tell you that too much as I need you to understand that your beauty really comes from your character and spirit and actions. Not the remarkable shape of your eyes. Or the deep red of your exquisite lips. Or your porcelain skin, accentuated cheekbones and graceful forehead. You remain blissfully unaware of your beauty and it makes you even more beautiful.

Looking ahead: you still want to be a vet when you grow up. You have decided you wish to go to school at either Wellesley College or Boston University. (Our 529 needs more grit.)

Welcome to eight – it’s going to be awesome.

Dear Working Mom: I See You, I Admire You

Dear Working Mom of an infant. I see you. I admire you. I understand you.

I see you wearing lipstick and mascara. Maybe you’re trying to disguise your tired eyes or maybe you want to look pretty and presentable. It’s working. (No-one notices if there’s dried spitup in your hair or there are smears of something unidentifiable on your clothes.)

I see you juggling childcare. I also see you responding to emails, whether it’s from home, the pediatrician’s office, or elsewhere. Whatever it takes, I see you meeting deadlines and following through. I appreciate it.

I see you putting in a full day’s work, despite being up since the wee hours or maybe even most of the night. You hold your head high and get on with the job resolutely.

I see you trying to do it all. It looks like it’s working but I know – and so do you – that there’s a breaking point and you need to do something about it before it jumps out of the shadows and takes you down. Please, look after yourself. Ask for help if you need it.

I see you looking stylish. You might feel otherwise but I know the fact that you are showered and dressed – and looking good, mind you – every single day is an uphill challenge. But getting out of PJs and yoga pants, brushing your hair and putting on some eyeliner makes you feel like are a functioning, contributing colleague and I get that.

I see you keeping mum and not complaining about sleepless nights or fevers or teething to your colleagues. Go on, complain a little. It won’t damage our respect for you. In fact, we’ll respect you even more.

I want to tell you it will get easier. Maybe not for several more months, even years. But you will eventually get your sleep back. Today’s challenges will be replaced by different challenges, some smaller, some bigger.

I’m sorry to tell you there will always be laundry, and groceries to buy, and meals to cook – in spite of your having worked a full day. I hope your partner is an all-in contributor to share the load.

I’m here to tell you there will be a lot of wasted food along the way. And socks. So many odd, abandoned socks.

I’m reminding you that it’s perfectly OK if your house is not pristine. Clean homes are overrated. Weekends are for family time; your reward for surviving the work week. Weekends are not for scrubbing toilets. Unless you are cleaning up a blowout in which case please do scrub.

I’m want to reassure that you’ll be able to focus again. And have creative ideas. And plan and write and brainstorm and delegate and all that. But I’m also here to tell you that it’s unlikely you’ll ever get your sharp memory back. It’s called placenta brain. Because fetuses eat your grey matter. It’s the truth.

Mostly I want to tell you that I’ve been there. I understand what you are dealing with and how you feel. The relentlessness of it all. I admire you for getting up every day, dealing with it all its shocking, numbing weight, putting on a smile and doing your best. I respect and appreciate that. And I’m here to help whenever I can. Just ask.


A Lesson in Losing

Yesterday I stood by and watched as my kids were kicked and punched.

It was their first karate tournament and they were sparring. They’d practiced for months and today was the real deal. There were trophies to be won; there was pride at stake. Both kids thought they were each pretty good. Neither was nervous. My daughter calmly informed me she was “pumped up.” They weren’t cocky, just self-confident, assured that they knew what to do in the ring, no matter the belt, size or gender of their opponent.

This was also my first rodeo as a karate mom. Actually, it was my first time as a mom at any form of competitive kid’s sport. My kids might not have been nervous but I was, unsure of how to build them up, but not too much. Worried about their fragile egos. Hopeful they might win. Scared they might lose.

All around us were other parents, some new to this gig, some old-timers. There were those who quietly directed their kids, up close, looking them in the eye, reminding them of their lessons. There were those who were chill about the whole thing. And there were many vocally coaching their kids from the sidelines.

“Use your crescent kick!”

“Let him come to you.”

“Go on the attack!”

That wasn’t me. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to catch my kids eyes before they went on, giving them a small thumbs up of encouragement. Mostly, I watched mutely from the sides, mildly terrified, unprepared for this role and the psychology it would demand.

I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that they might not win. But let me tell you, receiving a “participation” trophy is a phony substitute. One kid took home two of those suckers. The other took one. They regarded these trophies with disdain, evidence of their not being good enough. There were tears of frustration and disappointment. Then to our surprise – and even his – my son took third place in his last match. His face lit up, and he fairly grew an inch with pride and delight. As if his earlier assurance had been warranted. His smile said “See, I can do this.”

At almost 8 years-old, my daughter had the hardest time repelling that ineffective phrase “It’s the taking part that counts.”

I wanted to win. But I lost,” she sobbed.

I wanted to provide all the justification in the world, encourage her to use this moment to look around and observe what it takes to win. To remind her that, with effort and practice, those trophies could soon be hers too. I feared she’d want to throw in the towel, abandon her karate altogether. Instead, I decided the best thing to do was to just hold her and let her absorb it all.

Because letting them fail is something we have to do, as parents. It’s a bitch of a lesson but it’s a healthy one.

The best part? She shook it off pretty quick and her happy spirits returned. And her brother, fortunately, didn’t gloat over his win.

I’m sure they’ve filed yesterday’s experience away. I’m hoping the next time they “suit up” for karate, it’ll be maybe with a little less confidence but a whole lot more determination and respect.

As for me, I’m also going to need to thicken up my game-day skin if we are all going to come out of these tournaments unscathed. It’s been a solid lesson in losing for me too.

These 11 Things I Believe

  1. I believe in the magical powers of cheese.
  2. I believe a good night’s sleep trumps getting up early to exercise. But I also begrudgingly believe that one helps the other.
  3. I believe we all should listen more and assume less.
  4. I believe that bagpipes are the devil’s instrument. Much like country music.
  5. I believe in silliness.
  6. I passionately believe that every gun-related death is preventable and that more can and must be done to reduce gun violence. I believe Congress must pass the latest proposed bill on background checks.
  7. I believe that colors, flowers and Stevie Wonder can positively change your mood.
  8. I believe my son could be a future Conan O’Brien and my daughter may well become a tattooed drummer in an all-girl punk rock band — and that’s cool with me. I think.
  9. I believe in optimism and dancing; both are good for the soul.
  10. I believe I alone am responsible for my destiny and my happiness. (Cheese helps.)
  11. I believe Olivia Pope and I are BFFs. She just hasn’t realized it yet.

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