Category Archives: Everyday Life

Hold My Hand

We walk through the parking lot headed to dinner, a store. My son runs ahead, jumping, shouting, and getting off a bit more energy before being confined to a brick box and shushing and rules. Without looking, a hand slides into mine, never breaking the rhythm of my arms’ stride as I walk. My daughter’s warm hand fits perfectly, holds me firmly. I don’t look at it or say anything. I just take in the simple moment. For however long it lasts, she’s still my little girl and she still wants to hold my hand. Tomorrow she may not want to.

When my daughter was younger, I’d grab her hand to cross the road and she’d yank it away. “Let go!” she’d yell. She was a big girl at two. She could do it. It was always a battle. But I learned she wouldn’t run off. She stayed with us without holding anyone’s hand. I’d have to live with her independence, heartbreaking as it may be.

Sometimes I just wanted to hold her hand, to feel her still-soft baby skin nestled in mine, to feel her squeeze my hand tight and reassure her. Sometimes I just wanted her to reach out because I knew that whole handholding time was short. I didn’t want to be gypped.

But I let it go. That time came and went. It was never something she liked, not at two, not at five. Until now. Now, at eight, when I’m not looking and that hand slips into mine. For a moment, everything is good and she’s not too old just yet.

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Raising Kids Who Are Pleasers

I want my kids to break rules. It sounds crazy, but my husband and I agree. We want our kids to not be so straight-laced and tightly wound that they crumple like a dry leaf when they get in trouble at school. That doesn’t happen often. My kids put so much pressure on themselves to do right. They put pressure on us to follow the rules. Drive five miles over the speed limit and my son will tell me I’m speeding. He’ll repeat it until I slow down, that quake in his voice lets me know he’s worried.

At some point, my kids need to learn that people mess up and it’s OK. They need to know that some rules aren’t hard and fast. They need to know that some rules are stupid.

My kids follow the rules because we taught them to. But I don’t want my kids to be so scared that if they break the rules, the world will end. We’ve created pleasers. My kids don’t want to let anyone down. They don’t want to tell anyone no, even a friend who wants to trade them for their favorite toy pony or bracelet. “Sure, you can have that one,” my daughter has said, only to cry about it later.

My son will let someone demonstrate a cool trick on his arm, giving him a burning mark in the process. Then he’ll let them repeat it. “Why didn’t you tell him to stop?” I ask, inspecting the redness. He liked it. I think he’s afraid that saying no will spoil the friendship.

He’ll give in to a friend who begs to eat his chips every day. But is that really just bullying at some point? Fifth-grade teachers are strict about bathroom time this year. One girl has already wet her pants. My son has already been denied several times. I gave him strict instruction to break the rules over peeing on himself. This is a stupid rule. “Don’t wet your pants,” I told him. “Get up and run to the bathroom.” No fifth grader will live that down. “But I’ll get a check,” he said, terrified of the thought of a tiny checkmark at the teacher’s desk proving he broke a rule.

I know where my kids get this from: the mom who can’t say no. I am easily talked into some PTA committee I should have walked away from or agreeing to a friend’s favor I didn’t want to do. But I figure I’m available or I’ll already be at the event, so why not help out?

Being a pleaser isn’t a good thing. I’ve never gained anything from it but headaches. I’ve rarely gotten the return favor that helps me out. I’m learning to say no more and not give reasons. “I can’t” must be enough.

I want my kids to be more assertive. My son can’t always be the nice guy. My kids don’t need to be perfect. I tell them that. “Get a checkmark,” I told my son. If a teacher wants to give him a checkmark for going to the bathroom, let her be the bad guy. I’ll deal with her.

Shouldn’t I be proud of good, nice kids? Sure. But I was a kid once. I see cause for concern. When my son is older, what would he say to a friend who asks him to hide a mysterious bag in his locker at school? What would my daughter say to someone who asks for the answers during a test? What would either say to someone who wants to vandalize school property? Those consequences are damaging.

The truth is, there will be times when I want my son to be a jerk. He can be cool for sticking up for his beliefs and still be kind to people. It takes guts to not follow the crowd. And girls need to know that a lot of women broke stupid rules and made history. Being a pleaser never got anyone anywhere. No is the most empowering word I can teach them.

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What Is a Picture Worth?

The afternoon sun catches my son’s face, his often-serious tone. He’s lost in a thought, about chameleons or frilled lizards or some other scaly beast he yearns for. I snap a photo. He looks up at me. A wave of brown hair covers one hazel eye and he flashes that boyish grin that melts my heart. Snap. Got it.

My daughter chomps ice on the front porch, pretending to ignore me, looking everywhere but at my camera. Quickly she shoots a smile toward me, the ice as her teeth. Snap. She smiles again and crinkles up her freckled nose. She has the best smile, the kind that uses every muscle in her face. Without realizing it, you return the favor. Her smile is contagious. Snap. Snap. Even a photo can’t capture the beauty of it sometimes.

My kids complain that I take too many pictures. For all the moments I capture, there are tons more that I miss. First steps. That stink eye my daughter used to give us before bursting into a fit of giggles.

Do I need a picture of every moment of my kids’ childhoods? No. But I’m a sentimental person. I document in many ways to keep memories alive. Pictures fill in the holes of a memory that fades more each year, like a quilt airing in the sun. Even more, I want my kids to see themselves, to see how I see them.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my early childhood. Sure, there are plenty of those awkward years that I’d like to forget. But I’d give anything to have more pictures of the good stuff: random shots of my sister and me playing in our rooms, snuggled in bed together every Christmas Eve, playing at the beach where we went every weekend, dressed in any Halloween costume. All of those memories are tucked in my head where I can show them to no one.

I want to see the old house where my grandparents used to live. The kitchen where my grandmother ate ketchup sandwiches and peaches and cream. The room that held the old fridge where I’d squat and decide which flavor of Nehi I wanted that day, or the upstairs bedroom where at age five I’d sit and talk to my great-grandmother in her bed. We’d rub our hands over the patches on her quilt and discuss our favorites. She told me I could have that quilt when she died, and it wasn’t long before I found it on my own bed. I wish I had just one picture of her and me together.

nehi

The bottles are smaller but oh, the flavor takes me back.

I wish I had pictures of a lot of things but I don’t. We simply didn’t take a lot of pictures. So I do it for my kids. I want to remember.

I look at pictures of my kids and I’m transported. I hear their voices, their giggles. I remember the moment. I snapped a shot of my daughter tasting sand in the sandbox and her brother giggling at her toddler stupidity. I treasure the image of the two of them snuggled in her crib after her nap. When she woke up, he’d race into her room and jump in with her before I could even stand up. I’d stand in the hall and listen as they giggled, so happy to see each other after two hours. Six years later, those few photos are all I have of those lost moments. Bedhead and sleepy eyes and dimpled grins, my son looking adoringly at his sister. And knowing my memory, fleeting moments like that in childhoods that pass too quickly would soon be forgotten, taken over by the next cute or funny thing.

So to me, ten thousand pictures is not too many. Nor ten thousand more. When you put them together, they’re a reminder of the beautiful life you are living.

lighthouseme

I even take pictures of myself from time to time. Usually I’m behind the lens.

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Honesty and the Price of a Fish

Three fish darted frantically around the plastic bag squatting on the counter. The cashier punched in two codes, and then announced a total.

“You forgot a fish,” my son said, looking up at the woman. “There are three fish in the bag and you only rang up two.”

He was right. She had missed a $6 fish that he would be paying for with his own money. She rang it up, he paid, and we left.

“That was a nice thing you did in there,” my husband said. “Not many people would have pointed that out.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I would have pointed it out. I hadn’t even noticed the cashier had missed a fish. Maybe I would have figured it evens out with all the fish that die within a week and we never bring back.

Not a fish in my son's tank but one he'd like.

Not from my son’s tank but a fish we had to stare at for a long time.

My son is a fairly honest boy. He’s never been a good liar. Oh, he’s tried. But I can look at him and he caves. His guilty conscience gets him. Faulty cashiers aside, I have the guilty conscience of a hundred nuns. When I know I did something bad, my guilt eats away at me like a fleet of gnawing rats. I punish myself worse than anyone else ever could. I see this trait in my son. While I grew into it, he seems plagued by it now.

He follows rules. He gets antsy when he notices from the backseat that I’m going five miles over the speed limit. When left with his grandparents for an evening, he’ll remind his sister that they can’t have ice cream again because they already had some that day.

That is a trait he did not get from me. Sure, as a kid I knew what it meant to be reliable and I was scared to not follow rules, but I would have easily forgotten a little thing like extra ice cream. I would do anything to get something sweet. I stole a box of brown sugar from the kitchen and hid it in my room to eat whenever I wanted.

I learned the hard way that lies lead to more lies and that you get caught. I stole my parents’ checkbook and hid it in my doll cradle for some authentic play. I didn’t even fess up when I knew they were looking for it. Finally, I returned it when they closed the account.

I didn’t fear dishonesty the way my son does. My daughter seems to be experimenting with dishonesty right now, testing boundaries with little white lies. Her lies often grow out of competition, not wanting to be left behind. When we heard an owl in the middle of the night, she heard it too. She even saw it from her window. In the dark. Three different nights.

Sometimes being the youngest is hard. I remember. When her older brother describes a movie that’s too old for her, my daughter insists she’s seen it too. We all know she is lying.

“Who’s the main character then?” my son quizzes.

“I can’t remember his name.” Hmm, it is a boy.

“What does he look like?”

“Uh, brown hair.”

“Wrong! He has dark hair!”

“That’s what I said!”

The interrogation continues and so does my daughter’s stubborn will.

But when I least expect it, she shows that guilty conscience too. And honesty. After a normal afternoon, she’ll burst into tears and admit she got reprimanded hours earlier at school.

At some point, I know my son will tell me lies. And at some point, I know my daughter will stop. Honestly, it’s what kids do. One day I may even look out my daughter’s window in the middle of the night and see that owl.

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I’m a Person, Not a Convenience

I am not a coatrack. Or a bookshelf. Or anything else upon which you put things. My kids see my hands or lap as an invitation to hold their things. Yesterday my daughter stared me down, determined that I would hold her books in the doctor’s office. The chair next to her wouldn’t do. I stared back, determined not to hold her load. Sometimes it’s a matter of power. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of habit.

I am not a maid or a servant or any kind of hired help. But I fear the kids see me that way. When the kids were younger, I did things for them because they couldn’t. When they were old enough, I taught them. That’s the part we’ve had trouble with.

Sometimes my kids think my hands work better than theirs. My hands make quick work of putting away toys, cutting neater along the lines, and pouring without spilling. But my hands have had decades of practice.

While driving, I am expected to hold the steering wheel and juggle a wrapper someone threw in my direction, while wadding up a tissue and tossing it swiftly into the backseat. “Mom, you missed.”

“No, you missed,” I mutter under my breath. Can’t they move an inch?

When the kids were small, I didn’t mind taking their chewed sucker stick and disposing of it as I drove. Little did I know what monsters I was creating. At the time, I thought putting used gum away was better than finding it stuck to a seat somewhere.

Later my kids would bypass three trashcans in search of my hands and me. When they would find me, they offered me something—a bit of string, a used tissue. How many times can one be offered a booger? At ages when they want to be independent, my kids sure are fickle about it. My daughter has walked through the kitchen to hand me her dish to put away. At what point does it sink in that they can accomplish this task on their own? “Dishwasher,” I say.

My kids simply can’t multitask like I can, but I’m providing opportunity. Our van doesn’t have automatic doors. Someone has to actually take two seconds to close them. Every day after school, someone leaves that damn van door open. My hands may be filled with bags and keys and a water bottle, but my kids can’t seem to handle an extra task when their load is on their back. I’ve learned to hurry to the house, remind the last one out to close it.

Habits are hard to break, even for a mom who constantly tells her kids she isn’t the family maid.

The kids have come a long way in doing things for themselves. They still need reminders. When they do need me—for a hug or help or to tell me about their day—I’m open.

And every now and then, I still look down to find that I’m holding my daughter’s book, and I wonder how it got there.

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Practice: The I Don’t Like It, Aha Moments

As much as I hate the consequences of what I’m about to say, I nod my head, commiserate for a moment with my defeated child, and take a deep breath.

“You just have to keep practicing. It’s the only way you’ll get better,” I say as gently as I can.

I brace myself. Either tears or a swift crack of the recorder against the chair will come next. “I hate this thing!”

“I hate it too. God, I really do,” I think.

“Squeeeeeee, skreee, skree, squeeee, squraaaa squaaaa-eeeeeeeek—BANG! BANG! BANG!”

“Don’t bang it. You’re going to break it. And you can’t expect to learn it in two minutes. Practice some more.” I leave the room.

recorder

Stuck on one song…It’s Raining, It’s Pouring will never be the same.

My son is not a musical child obviously. At least, he won’t be now because learning the recorder for school has not been a good experience. He was excited for this with his very first squeak. Now, not so much. He won’t be trying out for band in middle school, so what’s the point of learning this thing, he huffs.

I know his pain. It’s exactly the way I felt about math from fourth grade on. I’m sure I threw a pencil or two. When would I ever use math? Little did I know I’d be punished decades later with a job that required me to know those same stupid elementary skills and two children who squirmed through math homework. No end in sight to that last one.

I hate to admit it, but I think my son gets his need of instant gratification from me. I hated to practice. If I wasn’t good at something right away, well, it wasn’t for me. Even though I wanted to write from the time I started kindergarten, I was never one for revisions. I thought my first drafts were perfect. Teachers and professors and editors must have wanted to snap my bony limbs in half. Why did they never call me out on my cockiness?

My daughter reminded me last night that she is cut from a different cloth. She wants to learn to do a handstand. I tucked my shirt in my jeans, raised my arms overhead, and pointed my left toe straight out. Like gliding on roller skates, it all came back. I moved forward and felt my body take over. I proudly did a dozen handstands and I can still walk today. My daughter tried for 45 minutes to do a handstand. I watched as she somehow got her hands stuck under her knees and landed smack on her face. She laughed and she tried again. And again. And again. She still can’t do one.

Practice makes perfect. Unless you don’t want to be perfect at it—if it’s something you hate.

As for my writing, I wrote all the time in journals—practice I never realized I was getting. I knew what I could get away with for a passing grade on papers. I finally started to listen to my editors. Now, revise, revise, revise.

And my son? No, I don’t think he’ll ever master that recorder. He’ll put his efforts into another passion another day. But I do fear he’ll end up with a child who wants to play first violin in the orchestra.

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What I Know About Nos

I tell myself that it’s parenting but sometimes it feels more like I’m getting away with the thing I’m telling my kid not to do.

“You’re not good at taking no for an answer,” I huff.

“I don’t care!”

“Well I do! And that’s the end of it!”

That was our good-bye this morning. No head buried in my chest for a quick hug. No fingers through hair for a quick fix. No I-love-yous. To anyone. Because my son was so intent on taking five books to school and I was so intent on telling him no. We argued about something neither of us was willing to give in to. I could see the stupidity of it as soon as he walked out the door and what-ifs began racing through my mind. In the quiet morning, I felt too dumb to run out in my pajamas and say, “I love you” to my family. I would forever be ashamed if those angry words were the last ones they heard from me. I was surprised when my kids offered limp waves as my husband’s car rolled away.

All year we’ve told our son he doesn’t need to take a stack of books to school. His backpack is thick with a school binder, lunchbox, and those reading books. He can’t even get it zipped some mornings. Extending a good foot off his back some days, he resembles the Hunchback and I worry it can’t be good for him.stuffed backpack

But he needs those books. He needs that fix. One won’t do. He could finish it during the day and then be left without a book to read, the horror! What is a ten-year-old boy to do?

It could be worse. I know it could be worse. And I know I have to pick my battles. I just get so frustrated that he can’t take no for an answer that I find myself standing too firm when I shouldn’t be. No triggers a bad reaction in him, probably every kid. I always feel it’s something he needs to work on.

But when a kid comes at you wanting a chameleon that will eventually require a 30-gallon tank, or next week bats his blue-green eyes wanting a sweet brown guinea pig with promises to keep it in the bathtub until he saves enough money to buy its cage, you become pretty adept at saying no. You get creative. You point out that his father is the one who feeds his fish most days and didn’t he just get those two months ago for his birthday anyway? You never really say the word no, you just point out the facts.

Then during the busiest weeks, the kids spring on you that they want to go to skate night. It’s easy to say no. “No, we had sports last night and we have a game tomorrow night. I can’t do something tonight. No.”

Parenting is full of nos. Maybe I say it too much. Maybe some things can be learned the hard way. I thought a sore back would be the answer to too many books. But I have to stop being so hard on myself. I’m the parent. And when it comes to lizards in 30-gallon tanks, the answer is going to be no.

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Lost in the Parking Lot, Parenting Realization Sinks In

As we walked away from the sea of cars and into an even bigger sea of people, I realized I hadn’t taken note of where we parked. Hmm. “We crossed over one grassy median and then up onto the sidewalk past another lot. We’ll find it,” I thought. And I figured we would find our van. When I’m alone, I rely on my memory to bail me out. For as much of a planner as I am, I can be remarkably spontaneous when it comes to finding my way.

After our day at the zoo, the kids and I made our way back into the parking lot. It was much more crowded than when we arrived. We made our way to where I was sure I had left our van, only it wasn’t there. My daughter piped up with her mental notes. “We walked four rows,” she said. “We’re not here. We’re over there.” While I still pondered why my vehicle wasn’t in the row I was sure I parked it in and began to wonder whether it had been stolen, my son had an obvious solution. “Just hit your remote button, Mom.” And that’s when I realized I can’t pass for a figure-things-out-as-you-go kind of mom if my kids are the ones figuring it all out.

We walked a few rows over and my daughter was right. Our van was across another median, four rows of cars.

I thought about this on the drive home. No wonder the kids roll their eyes at me, especially my son. When they’re young, the kids put us parents up on a pedestal. They think we know everything and I certainly never told them otherwise. If my son started asking about planets or primates, I regurgitated every random fact I knew. What I didn’t know, I Googled and told him later. I was a bit of a show-off. And then around third grade, my son started to doubt me. He started to think his teachers knew more about his favorite book characters. He didn’t believe I could help him with grammar, even though my job is correcting others’ mistakes. Then he started to believe his friends. He’d believe things that came out of their mouths over mine.

Now my kids see me do stupid things like forgetting where I parked the car. So they know I don’t have all the answers, I can live with that. But the time is near when they’ll think they know more than me. If you’ve ever heard a ten-year-old explain life at the dinner table, you know you can’t afford to lose that credibility.

While I thought I could redeem myself after the parking lot incident, I took the wrong road out of the zoo and ended up on some rural back roads. The kids would have never known, but while I was recalculating my kids’ perception of me, that cocky GPS navigator was loudly recalculating every wrong quarter mile–increment I sped away from her intended route.

My kids know I’m human. And I knew I couldn’t stay on the parenting pedestal forever. But I just can’t lose points in parking lots.

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My Life Resembles a Movie…Groundhog Day

“I don’t hear any brushing!” I yell as I come up the stairs.

Every morning while the kids yammer on about who won the game last night or whether they have art today, we rush them along through breakfast, then herd them upstairs to brush their teeth. I think they’re finally making progress only to be assured of my stupidity with shouts and giggles. I come upstairs to find my daughter at the sink while my son lies on the floor yanking her feet. Shouts and giggles echo down the hall.

I order my son to get his books, socks, and glasses while she brushes. Five minutes later, he is rolling around on the floor and still isn’t ready. “What have you been doing? Get ready for school. We do this every day.”

I could understand them having trouble getting the hang of this if it were a choreographed Broadway routine, but none of this is new. Yet every day we say the same tired things.

We are stuck in some bizarre time loop where everything happens over and over again. “It’s like the movie Groundhog Day,” my husband observed the other night. We are reliving the same day every single day.

It’s hard to get through the monotony of regular life. Days become routine because we follow a schedule: school, homework, play, dinner, more play, bed. It’s not a tough schedule to learn, even if we break it for a night for sports. I’m not sure why after so many years my kids can’t figure out that after breakfast comes brushing teeth, not rolling around on the floor. When has that ever been in the schedule?

After school the kids have boundless energy. They come home in a whirlwind and drop their mess in front of the door. Brother annoys sister during homework by drawing pencil marks on her paper or singing. “Stop it!” she yells constantly. I referee while trying to balance chopping veggies and helping with math. We do this every day.chop

Hours later, bedtime ritual craziness begins. “Mom, I’m ready for bed.”

I go into my daughter’s room to find her not in pajamas and her clean clothes not put away. No outfit has been laid out for tomorrow.

“Dad, I’m ready for bed.”

My husband is telling my son to clear the books off his bed and put his clothes away. “Have you brushed your teeth?” he says.

My husband and I go back to our room and read. We wait. Yells and giggles come from the bathroom. “I don’t hear any brushing!” I shout.

My son slowly walks by our bedroom door numerous times doing a stupid dance. “Get ready,” I say, unimpressed.

When it appears my son is ready, he has forgotten his book or his glasses or to go to the bathroom. Why can’t they get this right? We do the same thing every night.

Before bed comes brushing teeth, then books. Again, no surprises. I’ve never told them, “Hey, go jump on the bed for 20 minutes and get those wiggles out.”

The next morning, my son wants to know who won the game. After breakfast, the kids race upstairs to brush their teeth. Shouts and giggles echo down the hall. “I don’t hear any brushing!” I yell as I come up the stairs.

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Some Days, ‘I Love You’ Must Be Enough

The morning game of getting dressed begins with a kiss, a smile, and quickly dissolves into tears, fussing, and a mad rush for the right pants. “What’s wrong with these pants or these?” I say, flinging pairs from my daughter’s drawer. Those pinch, those won’t stay up, never mind that she’s been wearing them for three months and chooses this morning with exactly 27 minutes until departure to boycott all of her clothes. She wants the dirty black pair from the laundry room. Fine. Wear stinky clothes. Anything. Come on, come on, come on!

Finally downstairs, the morning didn’t start like anyone intended. Over breakfast, we sneak a peek at each other. I wink—a truce. I won’t send her out into the world holding a grudge over pants.

Mornings aren’t always smooth in this house, but with raccoon eyes and cereal breath, I plant a kiss on the kids’ heads before they bury them in my soft robe, then run out the door.

After school isn’t much better. In two seconds they undo everything I’ve spent the day doing. They toss backpacks, jackets, and muddy shoes on the floor—and I just swept. The contents of their backpacks spill out, covering the entryway like debris from a natural disaster. “Where do our coats go? Please bring me your lunchboxes! Stop pushing your sister! We have three bathrooms! Stop fighting over that one!” Less than a minute in, I’m exhausted and cranky. I try to remedy it by asking about their day.

afterschool mess

Hurricane Kid, after school.

Every week it’s the same rut, never perfection.

I yell. When I’m busy, I only half listen and mm-hmm in all the right places when stories go on for ten minutes too long. Sometimes I’m the mean girl I want my kids to stay away from. I mention that that outfit doesn’t match or that habit of talking like a baby extremely annoys me. I don’t try to be hurtful. In the seconds after it slips from my lips, I wonder if that statement will be the one to give my child a complex for life. I apologize quickly.

After four farts at the dinner table, I’m not amused. Can’t we just eat for once? My dad and I had this same scenario thirty years ago. I excused myself and he hollered, “There ain’t no excuse for it!” I giggle at the story even now. One day my son will tell our stories and laugh at how they angered me. He’ll describe that instant when my face transformed from the sweet mother who tucked him in at night to mean mommy and back again. Why, when early morning around here is a free-for-all and my kids once dubbed me “Fart Powder” after a book they found?

When girl drama rears its ugly second-grade head, I have little patience. It takes me too long to realize hugs cure a lot. When hobbit adventures and Star Wars battles unfold for repeats, I’m quick to interrupt and fast-forward to the ending. I slam cabinet doors when I’ve had enough bickering. Some days I’m just a terrible mother. Some days start out well enough, but in an instant, I ruin it.

I’m not a perfect mother. My list of flaws could cover our driveway written in tiny childlike script. If mothers were required to fill out applications, I’m not sure I ever would have been qualified. So many others seem to do it better. But the one thing I do get right, always, is letting my kids know I love them no matter what ugly thing may go down. A bad day is just a bad day.

Whether we argue over homework or wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees out, I still hug my kids, kiss their cheek, and tell them I love them because they should know there is nothing they could do that would ever make me not. I just hope they’ll always love me back. And if they happen to be too cold, well, that’s their own damn fault.

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