What’s better than freshly-picked raspberries? A big bag of fresh raspberries given to you by a generous neighbor.
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Posted by samanthamcgarry on September 12, 2015
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.
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.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on August 23, 2015
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 ….
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.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on August 17, 2015
We made it. We survived another summer of camp. Yes, not just them. Us parents too.
It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with summer camp. In short, I love that my kids have 7-8 straight weeks of outdoors fun, activities and friendship during which their bodies get strong and brown, and their characters and friendships thrive. But oh my lawd, the preparation, the anxious mornings, the exhausted evenings. The hangry. The dirt.
This year, I thought I’d mark the highlights of 2015 summer camp with a report card – so here goes:
- Inches grown: At least half a foot each.
- Poundage of food consumed: Off the charts.
- Number of times we missed the bus: Six or seven
- Number of times we almost missed the bus: Every>Single>Day
- Numbers of times someone forgot their lunch: Just the once. Phew.
- Items of clothes irreparably stained: Every top my son owns. Most of his socks too. At least the ones that have fund their way to the laundry and aren’t stuffed down the back of the couch or strewn in a corner somewhere.
- Number of items lost: Surprisingly fewer than in recent years. Maybe a water bottle or two.
- Number of items found: Amazingly, a towel that was lost two years ago found it’s way back home. Welcome back, towel.
- Amount of sand brought home each night: The entire contents of the gaga pit. On my kitchen floor.
- Number of fist fights and disciplinary action: Just the one. But a first for us.
But seriously, hats off once again to the YMCA for another amazing summer of camp and for making every day at summer camp a day my kids look forward to; once I drag them out of bed, that is.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on August 16, 2015
People tell me I’m creative.
Sure, I’ve created two awesome kids and I can create stuff that people read with my words.
But get this. Two things I am good at – and enjoy – are deconstructively constructive.
And removing wall paper.
Go analyze that.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on July 27, 2015
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.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on July 10, 2015
“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.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on June 28, 2015
Twenty-one days. That’s how much time is left until my family’s weekday morning schedule has to adjust backwards by an hour.
Excuse me while I hyperventilate.
Yup, summer camp is almost here. And we all know how I feel about summer camp: it’s a love/hate thing. But the few weeks leading up to the transition from school to camp make my stomach churn with anxiety. How the heck are we going to get out of the door at 8am every morning, when doing it at 9am every day during the school year is so freaking challenging? The drama, the yelling, the last minute “oh I need a penguin for today’s xyz project?” or “I can’t find my shoes” or “mama I have no underpants” calamities.
And yet, every year, we seem to manage. I’m driven largely by a deep-rooted fear of missing the camp bus which would mean driving the kids 30 mins to a place that is entirely the opposite direction from my office. Yes, fear. It’s a big motivator.
So, to mitigate against drama, chaos, panic and so on, preparation is key and for this, I draw upon a few fundamentals from the world of business:
Procurement: Be sure to stock up on sufficient kids clothes (so you don’t have to do laundry more than once a week) and other essentials which will get lost, despite all and any attempts to label them or nail them to your kids backpack or body. These include: socks, shoes, T-shirts, underpants, swimsuits, towel, water bottles, hats, sun lotion, bug spray, goggles, lunch boxes (and innards), and so on. Not to mention lunch and snack stuff.
Inventory: No matter how much you have procured ahead of time, odds are it will not be enough and at some point during the summer weeks, you’ll run out of something mission-critical. Or they’ll lose their back pack. Or wreck their shoes. Be prepared to maintain and strategically top-up inventory.
Logistics management: I cannot stress how important it is to keep things moving to avoid a great big pile-up of drama-inducing chaos. Yes, this means doing laundry semi-regularly and actually moving things from the washer to the drier and back into closets. It means making sure that shoes get taken off at the end of the day and actually put somewhere where they will be easily found the next morning. No matter how much you have drilled your kids in doing their own laundry or shoe-putting-where-they-need-to-go, during the summer time, you will probably need to take back these duties or at the very least micro-manage them. It also means fanatically accounting for the whereabouts of everything. Which usually goes a little something like this:
Me: “Didn’t you take a blue water bottle today?”
Kid: “Yes I did.”
Me: “So why did you bring home a green water [or no] bottle. “
Kid: “I lost/traded/forgot mine.”
Business processes: New household processes must be executed. For me, this involves rinsing out the kids’ swimsuits each night because if they get actually washed in the laundry too often, they start sagging at the bottom. (Note: this is because I buy cheap swim suits. See point 1.) And nobody likes saggy swim suit bottoms. It also means ensuring that bedtimes are observed because late nights mean late mornings which means panic, drama, yelling and me being late to work. Working backwards, if prompt bedtimes are to be observed, this means that dinner needs to be ready swiftly upon getting home at the end of each day. Which means we need to know what we are making for dinner each evening. Which requires aforethought and, you know, grocery shopping. (See procurement/inventory.)
Workforce management, scheduling and integration: In an ideal world, both parents are fully invested in the New World Order that summer camp season mandates. Similarly, adaptations usually need to be made to who’s doing drop offs and pick ups. It may take a while for all parties to adapt to the new routine so be sure to integrate it into the family schedule. If you have one. (Note to self: work on family schedule.)
Closed-loop feedback: Communication is absolutely essential. With all parties. Spouses/partners. Kids. Bus drivers. Camp counselors. Other parents. It also means reading every crumpled, dusty and damp piece of paper (why are they always damp?) that get stuffed into backpacks informing you about something important happening, like “It’s Green Day tomorrow!” or “Dress Like a Parrot Day.” (Confession: I usually ignore these because the procurement/inventory/supply chain is simply not flexible enough to allow for unexpected wardrobe changes.)
Twenty-one days. That’s how many days are left.
Pass the brown paper bag.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on June 6, 2015
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.)
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.
Posted by samanthamcgarry on May 31, 2015
Being a parent is hard work. Being married to/living with a parent is also hard work. So here are a few handy tips based on my personal experience (and some from my friends) to help navigate the tough/busy/emotional times, balance out the domestic to-dos, and avoid frustrations, snark and general spousal pissed-off-ness. Note the below applies not just to husbands, but also to wives (like me). Read on, for marital and domestic bliss awaits you.
- Don’t make assumptions. About anything.
- When opening the fridge, take note of what’s not there, and add those items to a shopping list (physical or mental).
- When popping into the store, think about what’s on the physical/mental shopping list, and buy them. Heck, buy two.
- Do not question money or time spent at the hair or beauty salon. Budget for it in the family financial plan and tell her/him she/he looks lovely.
- Check with your partner before making purchases over a certain amount. Pre-agree what that amount should be.
- Don’t just talk about scheduling items; go ahead and put things on the family schedule. Physically or digitally. Just do it.
- Participate in meal planning (see items 1 & 2).
- Share homework checking and backpack management duties.
- Schedule regular alone time or time out with girl/man friends. Then do item 6.
- Don’t contribute to the general messiness and disorder of the house. Or at least try not to. And if/when you do, pick up after yourself. See item 16.
- Always be thinking/doing laundry. It’ll avoid those “I have no underpants” situations. It might even get you laid.
- Have assigned duties/roles (e.g. he handles finances/bill paying, she ensures kids has an adequate supply of clothes/shoes that fit even when they are growing like weeds which is like always.)
- Be united in your kid disciplining approaches. Kids can see through any weaknesses in a nanosecond and will use all and any leverage they can.
- Don’t make assumptions. I know, I know I said that before but, boy, it is everything.
- Tune in to each other’s work/stress load and proactively offer to take the kids out or handle a chore you don’t usually handle. Even better, take the initiative: book a babysitter, make a ressie and take him/her out for the evening.
- Just do it. Don’t wait to be asked. Like, if you see a mess.
- Listen. Put down your smartphone and listen.
- Watch/listen for unspoken cues. Like sighing, eye rolling or, you know, door slamming.
- Quash the temptation to snark about each other in public forums; instead celebrate each other on Facebook. (Snark about your kids instead. At least until they are old enough to read or use FB themselves. Cos then you are in trouble.)
- Never EVER assume (or state the words out loud) that time spent alone at the grocery store is the equivalent of real alone time.
(Am printing this off and putting on my bedside table to review on a regular basis.)
(Actually, am printing another one off and putting it on his bedside table too!)
Posted by samanthamcgarry on May 22, 2015