Senior animals are worth fighting for

Oh, I’ve been keeping a big huge secret for quite some time now. Mostly, because it wasn’t my secret to tell. But now that it’s officially a thing, with all the papers filed, and t’s crossed and Facebook has been notified, I can now share here.

My friends started an animal rescue.

Not just any animal rescue, mind you, but one specifically for senior animals.

Those of you who know me, know how much I love my Sadie-dog and Beau. While, we didn’t adopt Sadie as a senior, we did with Beau, and it was the best decision we made in 2014. At ten, we opened our home to him, and with a little work, patience and persistence, he’s the perfect family dog.

So let me tell you about it. It’s called SPAAR, or Senior Pet and Animal Rescue. Our tag line is, senior animals are worth fighting for. Because they really are.

There’s an odd stigma that comes with adopting a senior animal. When we adopted Beau we got mostly positive remarks, but there were a few people with comments such as, “Won’t you worry about expenses?” “That will be hard to get attached to him, then have him die so soon.” “Aren’t you worried about him not being able to learn how to fit into your family?”

Legitimate concerns, for sure. I get that. But, I say this: Beau didn’t choose to be 10 and surrendered to a shelter. He didn’t ask to be looking for a place to retire. He certainly didn’t do anything wrong to bring him there. There are a million reasons why animals are surrendered to shelters every day. Senior animals shouldn’t have to spend a single day in that situation.

So SPAAR’s job is to help senior animals, by taking them out of the shelter life, and put into a foster home. We will still promote them as a shelter would, using Pet Finder and the like, but they will be in the comfort of someone’s home, getting all kinds of attention until their forever home becomes a reality.

SPAAR will also offer assistance, in time, to help senior animals stay in a family’s home. Jen, the cofounder of SPAAR decided that had to be a thing when SPAAR was created, because she was in that very situation. Her dog, Ferdinand, who is a very sweet, kind pitbull, found himself pretty sick, with thousands of dollars in medical fees to boot. She realized that sometimes people need help, and it’s okay to get it. Friends and family helped pull money together and now Ferd is happy and healthy.

Because of this, she started Ferdinand’s Fund.The mission of Ferdinand’s Fund is to provide the resources owners of senior pets need to keep them in their homes. Medical bills, vet visits, food, and medication are only a few of the items that this fund covers.

So what’s all this mean? It means big things are happening. I get to be a part of it, too, as Manager of Social Media. I, of course, still have loyalties to the Animal Rescue League, and that will never change. They still have my heart and all those amazing dogs I get to run with. I can’t really run with the senior dogs in foster care, now can I?

What do I need from you? Support. Even if it’s just a “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome!” or “Yay! Senior pets rule!” I’ll also take checks, too. Because we really do need donations, as this is a 100% donor funded rescue.

Want to help? We need supplies and have set up an Amazon.com wishlist for it. We need volunteers. We need fosters.

Sadie has always been my girl. Since before marriage, and mortgages, and babies, there was Sadie. She’s my world. But, Beau has given us so much happiness, too. I couldn’t imagine him not being in our lives, even if it may only be for a short time. Plus, he sleeps all the time, anyhow, so he’s kind of the perfect dog.

And not to forget, but we also have our senior cat, Lila Monster who will be 10 this year. She’s the happiest cat who likes to flop on anyone willing to pet her.

So yay! That’s my good news. SPAAR! Because senior animals are worth fighting for!

Do you hear me mom? I’m sorry.

My personal parenting motto is “Do not raise assholes.”

Well, assholes they have been.

It started Saturday night when I started having flu like symptoms. Full body aches, chills, the whole bit. It was lovely. Sunday morning came, and I had to run with a few dogs, because I promised I would. There is someone in search of a dog that runs well, and the volunteer in contact with her asked if I could test a few out to give her an idea of a dog that’s good running partner. And before you think, Well, why doesn’t she just come try running with a dog! Some dogs are NOT good jogging partners, and when you begin to run, they can sometimes become amped up and begin leash biting and become a little hard to handle. That is not what you want to send a prospective adopter out to discover. Most dogs are great running companions, but I’d feel terrible if she got one that just isn’t down for running.

And well, since I was out that way, why not get the grocery shopping done?

It’s not new news that I’m a stubborn person. Plus, it hurt to sit still. When I’d move, I felt better. Well, better than when I stood still. So when I parked the cart back at the return, I had to give myself a pep talk to be able to sit still on the fifteen minute drive home.

I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself and trying despirately to stay warm.

Matt flew out for New Orleans Monday morning. The kids were fully aware that I felt awful, and Mae and Audrey were on their best behaviors as I slogged through our regular Monday routines.

It really began after dinner when I asked Luca to take a shower, and he said, “No.”

A common phrase around here is, “Do you get to tell me no?”

The answer should be, “No, I don’t, Mom.”

His was, “Yes I do.”

Strike two, little dude.

I was more patient than usual, because he’s getting over strep throat, so he sat and sulked on the stairs, as the girls were in the tub and I folded laundry. He then said, “I want to take a shower.”

I told him, “Too bad, buddy. It’s too late now. It’s bed time. Get dressed.”

“No.”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said as I plucked him up and plopped him down in his room, as he kicked and screamed.

Then I closed his door and finished the laundry.

Audrey then began to splash in the tub and started telling me no, since, you know, why not? Luca can.

So I plucked her up out of the tub and plopped her butt down in her room, and closed the door. I sat there in the hallway, with crying children coming from two rooms, just shaking my head.

I got them all ready for bed, and even got smiles out of all of the kids before I turned off their lights. I collapsed into the couch,and I promised myself tomorrow would be better.

It wasn’t.

Luca didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. He didn’t want to eat breakfast. He didn’t want to get dressed.

So lucky me got to dress my almost six year old, keep my mouth shut when all I wanted to do was tell him how I really felt about his attitude, and kick his butt off to school.

Tuesday night was met with more resistance and at that point, I figured, if I can’t beat them, join them, right? So Luca decided to tell me that, no, he wasn’t going to clean up his room. So after I took the shirt off his back, (don’t judge, it works and it’s my house,) he went up to his room to clean up his train set. Audrey, who was also grumpy and screaming no, got to join him.

I closed the door, and got to listen to Luca say, “AUDREY! Stop crying!” “NOOOOOO!” “AUDRREEEEEEEYYY!”

And it was awesome.

When we got home from the gym, he was on a better behavior, and even got himself ready for bed without me having to ask. I figured, yay! We’re over this mood.

Nope.

If you ever wanted to know how many days it takes to break me, it’s three. It took three days, but the kids broke me. I asked Claire and Luca to take the garbage and recycling to the curb, and at first they both complained, but Claire, seeing the desperation in my eyes, put on her shoes and coat and acquiesced. Luca stood at the top of the stairs, looking towards the basement and refused to move.

That was it. That was all it took. I went downstairs, found his shoes and shoved them on his feet. I asked him again. He did not move. So when Claire came back in from bringing the recycling to the curb, she found me standing in the kitchen crying. Luca, was still standing in the hallway, doing nothing.

“I try not to complain, guys, but I’m done. Do you guys know how hard it is for me when your dad travels? Do you know how hard it is to do all the things I do in a normal day, let alone, being sick, alone, and with kids who are being jerks? Do you know? Did you even once stop and think, my words hurt. By my not doing what mom asks, it’s making her job harder, and doesn’t solve anything? Did you even once apologize for your poor behavior over the past three days? Did you once even think that it would be nice to say, “Let me help you with that, mom. Let me put the dishes away. Or let me vacuum. Or let me put my clothes away without you asking.” Because I keep asking and telling you to do things and you tell me no. You’ve purposely been rude to me and it hurts. My feelings are hurt and I’m sad.”

Luca stood there, looking me right in the eyes, and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

Then he walked over, hugged me, and said, “Do you hear me, Mom? I’m sorry.”

Tomorrow will be better.

Tales of a Mostly SAHM

On Tuesday, Luca had a physical at school. With all the issues with Highmark and UPMC (our doctors are UPMC, our insurance is Highmark) I figured it was so much easier just to have the school physician give him the required physical. The doctor turned out to be someone I know very well, a resident at the time when I worked at St. Margaret. A fantastic doctor. It was a very nice surprise to see him. When we saw each other, we both smiled and he asked, “How long have you been away from St. Margaret? We sure miss you there.”

It’s a standard question, one I get a lot. I’ve been out of practice for going on a year and a half. I, of course, made that decision when I was working only one day a week, a Saturday, and Matt and I realized that it wasn’t for anything but pride at that point. I wasn’t making enough money to sustain anything. All my paychecks went to savings or school clothes shopping or to pay extra on the car. I was missing time with Matt and the kids together.

When Matt’s in town, he leaves the house around 8:30, to see the kids off to school and hang out with the girls, then gets home sometime around 7 or later. The kids are in bed between 7:30 and 8. It’s just not enough time for him, and I get that.

I had to ask myself, why? Why am I missing out on time with my family together, which clearly is a rarity?

The answer was, because I like being a nurse. I liked being good at something that wasn’t just a good mom. But mostly, it was because I have always had a job, since I was 12. Always. I’ve never gone longer than a few weeks without a job. It’s all I’ve known, for 18 years. At first it was liberating. I could do whatever I wanted to, not having to worry about having to be anywhere. Then it set in. I don’t have to be anywhere. Where is my worth?

Early this morning, after seeing Matt off for a client meeting, I sat in the quiet of the house and read an article that may make me stop saying I’m just a stay at home mom. That for Matt, it allows him to do his job, without worrying about anything else, so we can live the life we have. Moreover, it may make me feel less like a glorified nanny.

“And suddenly, when I read those words, it all made sense. Well, of course, it would be a luxury to the spouse who works out of the home to have a partner who stays at home with the children. Someone who is always there to take care of the inevitable days of sickness, arrange the doctor’s appointments, make sure the cupboards are stocked, and heck, to ensure that no one steals the FedEx package off of the porch. And then — goodness! — to have someone to save you the worry of sending your kids into the world, someone to always be there to kiss a scraped knee and take care of the potty training and maybe even have a hot meal waiting for you when you come home?”

Part of that last sentence kind of rubs me the wrong way, however. Kids will grow up just fine, even if a parent doesn’t stay at home with them. In fact, some may be better off for it. I know, coming from a single mom who worked a lot, you learn to be more self sufficient than if you have a parent at home doing everything for you. Not that all stay at home parents do everything for their kids, but I’m pretty sure more gets done. My personal parenting style is to be more hands off, in that, I make my kids do chores, clean up, and be independent. Some afternoons I’m here, but I’m not, if you know what I mean. I make them figure it out. Work out their sibling squabbles, find their own missing library books, and guide themselves through their homework.

Yesterday, I had a reminder of what it was like when I worked part time. I had a class at 5:30, but Luca was red. Like, his face was red and he had a rash all over his trunk. At his physical, the doctor noted that his tonsils were really big, but since he had no symptoms, there was no reason to worry.

Of course, the next day he came home from school crying when I’d even just touch his skin. Everything hurt, and he even threw up. I may be out of nursing practice, but I know strep when I’m looking right at it.

It was too late to cancel my class, and my neighbor was sitting with the kids until Matt got home to relieve her so she could go to a choir concert. My neighbor, who is a nurse anesthetist,  took one look at Luca and said, “Yah, he should get to the doctors.”

So on my way to my class, I called the doctors and was able to get him a 6:40 appointment. I also had the Volvo. There was no way for Matt to take all four kids in his Jeep, so then I began the scramble to try to find someone who could sit with the kids so Luca could get to the doctors.

There I stood, pacing, outside of Club One, calling every neighbor I could, then every nearby friend, then, I took a chance and tried my friend Kevin, who lives in the city and had never met my littlest kids, even though we’ve been friends since I was six. He could hear my panic, and left right away.

In that moment, I was reminded of how stressful it was when one of my kids were sick and I was at work, Matt was at work, and we had to arrange for someone to get them to the doctor. I was also reminded of the fact that I have some pretty awesome friends.

Of course, Kevin became best friends with Mae, and he even said she’s just like he imagined her to be.

Point is, I’m okay with being just a stay at home mom. I’m okay with making sure that my kids get to their activities and their appointments. I’m okay with doing laundry and cooking dinner. I’m okay with reading the same book over and over and over.

Okay, so I’m not that okay with it. But I’m feeling a bit more fine with my decision.

I’m also happy that I have a job that allows me to bring my kids. I get to work out for free. I get to relieve my stress while someone else watches my kids. It’s kind of the perfect setup.

When my kids are all in school, I can get a job again.

“I realized, for the first time ever, that I didn’t have anything to prove. That I had been working so hard to work from home and always have it spotless and do all my educational activities with the kids because it was my job and I’d better darn do a good job of it if my husband had to work, that I never stopped to consider that my being home with our children could actually be a gift to my husband.”

All this time, I’ve been feeling like I’ve had to prove myself worthy. As if this isn’t a job, rather an excuse to not have a real job. It’s so hard to describe the struggle I have in my mind over it. I can’t buy those shoes, I don’t make any money. I can’t plan vacation, I didn’t save for it. I shouldn’t ask for an afternoon alone, because I didn’t earn it.

One day I will get over it. One day.

 

Team Baby Turns Two

Hey Soupie.

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So here we are. Another year older.

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Did you know that you remind me of your brother, because you love your blanket and your thumb?

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But you also remind me of your sister because you love to dress up and sing Let It Go.

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And you also like superheroes and magic and imagination, like your other sister?
10881710_10152683431838791_2319086170355807763_nI remember thinking, three kids is good. I like three kids. I can handle three kids.

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But then, here you are, my fourth, my baby, and we’re doing alright.

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Your big sister, Mae, never acted like the baby. But you? You have it down to a science. You know the fine art of, “Up, peese, mama!” and “I sit, mama!” and “Cheese stick, peese, mama!”

Have I mentioned you love your mama?

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There’s always that time that comes, where babies can’t get enough of their dads, and they’re over their moms, but you, dear one, have not had that happen yet.

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You spent the entire time at the beach with me. Sitting on me, laying on me, splashing in the surf with me.

Did you want your Grandma? Nope. Did you want your dad? Nope. Did you want your Papa? Heck no.

Mama.

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I guess that’s okay. At the time it was really annoying, I’m not going to lie, but looking back, you are my last baby, and you were my surprise baby, and even more than all that, you were my miracle baby. So I’m okay with holding you a little extra, because, honestly, I almost never got to hold you at all.10367572_10152301025658791_5989418407606963898_n

So you take that knowledge and run with it, making dinner with me, brushing my teeth with me, planking with me.

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And even putting on your own makeup.

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Let me tell you a quick story. Your brother, Luca, is very quiet. He’s the sweetest boy ever, but it’s hard to know that when he’s so shy. The day you were born, and he came to see you at the hospital…I can’t even describe it. Audrey, he looked at you, begged to hold you, and that was it.
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You guys have been inseparable since.

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I would often worry that you’d be left out, what with being the youngest. So far, it hasn’t happened. 10432111_10152332362288791_2031503442917478432_n

You’re kind of everyone’s favorite.10478527_10152616704438791_2473720437621752978_n

You like to copy your sister.10624957_10152421330528791_2252123437331451944_n

You’ve already started to give me looks.10641276_10152451460713791_898035875302779323_n

You love your dog.10665696_10152492572798791_9157231106050389341_n

When you’re not teething, you’re generally such a joy to be around.
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You are already super independent.10950696_10152770109468791_5651299440669556488_n

And we all love you.

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Very much.10671353_10152593504643791_7307428003359000693_n

To my sweet baby on your second birthday: I love you. You have grown faster than any of your siblings, and I really wish you’d stop. I could sit here and write out all the ways you make me happy, but to sum it up to, I look at your smile, and there it is. That’s how you make me happy. By being alive. By being here. By being the miracle I never knew I needed.

In your two short years, you’ve brought me so much joy, so much happiness. They say you never miss something if you never had it, but, Audrey, if you never were, I would miss you so much. I don’t really know what else to say.

Always be patient. Always be kind. Always love your mama.

Love,

Mama

Wishes for babies

Late last year, my best friend Jessica sent me a text. She was pregnant. She was nervous but excited, and we celebrated via no wine and lots of emojis.

A little while later, she called. Jess doesn’t call often. We are more down to text or gchat, so when I saw I had a missed call from her, I freaked out.

Twins.

She’s due in a few weeks, and in April I’ll go down there to play nanny for a long weekend so she can get a little rest and I can spoil her two big kids, Sarah and Norah.

Her baby shower was this past weekend, and it killed me I couldn’t be there. One of the activities was to finish a sentence. I think that’s such a great idea, so I thought I’d play, too.

Wishes For Babies

I hope that you always love life. There will be times where it’s not the greatest, and you may not like it, but you two may not realize this yet, but you’re so lucky. Don’t get caught up in the day to day, and remember there’s always a bigger picture.

I hope you have your mom’s loyalty. Your mom is one of my favorite people in the world. She is always there for me, and I’m not just saying that. Always. Every time. No matter how silly.

I hope you have your dad’s quiet presence. He has a very calming nature about him, because he listens. Always remember to listen.

I hope you learn that it’s good to make mistakes. A lot of them. But learn from them.

I hope you aren’t afraid to fail. Failure has happened to me so many times, but each time I’ve failed, I’ve gotten back up, more determined. It’s important to remember that. To remember that with failure comes success, and sometimes a few good laughs.

I hope you love to sing and dance. And be silly.

I hope you laugh all of the time.

I hope you never forget to breathe. Sometimes life is going to get pretty rough. It’s just the way it goes. But remember to breathe, because sometimes you can’t fix everything. Sometimes things are just going to be hard. Breathe, then ask for help.

I hope you respect your bodies. Guys, take it from me, you need to treat yourself well. You need to know your worth, and you need to know your limits. Push yourself, but don’t abuse yourself.

I hope you become the best version of yourself. Right now, your mom and dad have big dreams for you two. I want you to take those dreams, make them your own, and then surprise yourself.

I hope you grow and grow and grow. And that when you stop growing tall, you keep growing wise. You come from a family of very smart people. Kind people. And now you two are one of those people. Grow into who you need to be, and know that I will always be here for you. Both of you.

Love always,

Cassie

Your words hurt

I remember when Claire was just a baby and she wasn’t sleeping…ever…and I kept thinking, in my sleep deprived state, it can’t get any worse than this, right?

But then something crazy happens. Kids grow up, and with growing comes a new set of obstacles involving emotions, and stress, and teaching them how to be a caring, responsible, honorable little person. Suddenly, I’d give anything for those sleepless nights where I knew how to fix it. Where I was absolutely certain that I could solve the problem.

I have four kids, and each one (well, Audrey is still TBD) has their own personality that is completely different from the next. Claire is smart, almost too smart. Caring, almost too caring. A feeler, but feels too much.

Luca is quiet. Likes to build. Doesn’t like attention. Doesn’t like to play with Maelie when Claire is around.

Mae is me. She is loud, and conversational and adventurous and a little annoying because of all of that. She tries to play with Luca every day and gets pushed away, but she doesn’t let it get her down. She’s persistent for sure.

Audrey is the quintessential baby. She loves her mom. Her mom wishes she didn’t love her so much all the time. But I digress.

Claire is the first child, so of course with first children comes a certain set of obstacles. We as parents screw up a lot. We give them complexes. We have no idea what we’re doing, but we don’t like others to know we have no clue what we’re doing.

95% of the time, Claire is an awesome kid. I’m not just saying that because she’s my kid, rather, because it’s the truth. She, however, has her own set of demons, and it’s in the form of the spotlight and anxiety.

Claire gets the spotlight a lot, be it because of me, or because of her, she’s in it a lot. Animal Rescue stuff aside, she’s smart. She was tested into accelerated reading, which lifted her spirits a little bit. She is pulled aside in class to do advanced math, which brings her up a little higher. She may be tested for gifted at the end of the school year, which is, again, making her walk pretty tall. The problem is, at school, she’s perfectly humble. She doesn’t talk down to a friend or fellow student. She doesn’t say anything to make the other kids feel badly that they aren’t where she is. I’m very proud of this.

However, when she gets home, she sort of lets loose a little bit, and she comes undone somewhat. Without going into too much personal detail, because I respect Claire’s privacy, all this comes at a price for a kid like her. She feels, too much. Far too much, and it comes at the price of anxiety and panic attacks. She knows, as well as a seven year old can, that she’s different. She cries and says the work is too hard for her, but she coasts through it, while claiming her friends don’t have to do this hard of work. I tell her, if she really wants to, she can ask her teacher to give her easier work, to which she replies, “But that would be boring.” She’s proud of the fact that she gets special work, and can do more than her friends, but she also is envious of her friends’ homework at the same time. It has to be a weird place to be in.

And it’s not so much what she says, rather how she says it. I can see her walking tall, which is every mother’s dream for a daughter. A daughter with self confidence and pride. But at what point do you have to knock them down a few pegs for being too proud?

Last night Claire tested for her blue belt in taekwondo. For those who have no idea what that means, the color belts for taewkondo go: white, orange, yellow, camo, green, purple, blue, brown, red, red-black, black. In between every color are midterms, so there are multiple testings to get to where she’s at now. I believe this was her 12th testing. She worked very hard, and I was very proud that she got her blue belt. Mostly, because last Saturday, she made mistakes in her form, and didn’t get permission to test. Determined, she practiced extra and on Wednesday she pretested again and earned her permission to test.

Today Luca is testing for his yellow belt midterm. (It’s the test between belts. Next testing he’ll go for camo belt.) Today is Luca’s day to shine. Claire, proud of her blue belt still, wore it around the house all morning, and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her wear it to Luca’s testing. I explained to her that she needs to go and be proud of the tiny tiger students today. That she can be proud, but she needs to also be excited for other people. It’s Luca’s turn.

Luca, being the quiet one, listens really well, and heard Claire when she said, “But he didn’t work as hard as I did.”

I’m pretty sure my brain exploded when she said that. While, yes, Luca didn’t do as much work as Claire did. That, during testing, he does his form with an instructor, and Claire does hers alone. That when I say, “Guys, please practice your TKD,” she does and he doesn’t. That we tell Luca that if he goes through his form x amount of times, Matt will play Legos with him for 20 minutes. I get that. And in a seven year old’s brain, it’s not fair. I have to explain to her that, Luca isn’t seven. That he isn’t her. That Luca doesn’t like being watched like she does. That he would rather be in a quiet room building Legos than in a room with 100 pairs of eyes on him doing a form.

It’s always been a bit of a dance with Luca and taekwondo. He even went as far as going on hiatus for 6 months. We let him. We let him tell us when he was ready to come back, and when he did, he picked up where he left off. We are very proud of him for that, but then Claire makes these side comments like, “If you didn’t take a break, Luca, you’d have your camo belt by now.”

He hears that, Claire. And your words hurt.

So I guess that’s where I’m at. I’m sitting here, thinking about the good days where she couldn’t talk, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t over think, couldn’t freak out over little things, couldn’t brag. When her words didn’t hurt.

95% of the time, Claire is an awesome kid. But sometimes she isn’t. And I’m at that place in life where I don’t even know if I’m doing anything right.

I’m also sure that my words hurt, too.

And that, in a nutshell, is parenting, is it not?

When I was two, I ….

Last month, you started this new phrase, “When I was two, I….” and then you’d proceed to tell me all the things you had done and some things you thought you had done when you were two years old. “I fought a dragon, I bonked my head on the corner and got my head glued…I can’t tell you any more.”

Sitting in the backseat, you tell me stories about your made up friends. Most of the names sound as if they belong in an IKEA ad. Your friend Poonta likes to play Barbies, Keeya has a brother named Pedro, and Oohla likes to dress up like princesses. And you go on, telling these intricate stories to me while I drive.

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It seems our best conversations happen in the car. You keep me up to date with all your school friends, (even though you don’t actually go to school.) You tell me about science. Like, why the sky should be pink instead of blue. You tell me that Grandma is going to take you to the old Cookie Park (read: Eat ‘n Park) by the Super Gym (read: The Club in Monroeville.) You often remind me that I’m driving and that I’m not allowed to crash. You also remind me that I’m going to die.

Yesterday, you took it upon yourself to take some acrylic paint and, very quietly, began to paint the side of my mom’s dollhouse. The dollhouse was built by my grandpa when my mom was a kid. I was cleaning the kitchen, listening to the Lumineers and I noticed it got very quiet. But you had previously been building with Legos, so I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until you came into the kitchen, with your hands behind your back, looking for a towel, that I noticed you had paint all over your face.

I’m pretty sure the neighbors could hear me yelling “Why!?” at you. didn’t even know my voice could get that loud. You stood there, staring at me, eyes so wide they were nearly double in size, and you shrank down and said, “I’m sorry.”

After time out, I plopped you on the counter and smiled. I said, “Mae. What you did in there is exactly something I would have done when I was a kid. In fact, when I saw your work, I immediately thought about how much fun you must have been having. So, while it’s a very pretty paint job, and I do admire it, you can’t do that, okay?”

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That wasn’t what you were expecting at all, because you were waiting for me to lay into you about how you need to listen, and that was wrong and how could you? Instead, I realized that, well, you are exactly like I was as a kid, and to be honest, I quite liked myself then.

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is, when my mom told me, “I hope you have ten kids just like you,” I never really thought it would happen. But every day you do or say something that makes me think, “Wow. I totally have done/said/thought that.”

You still love dance class, and now you’re learning how to do things properly, so you constantly critique my dance skills while we’re bopping around to Fireball on Pandora. You’re also very opinionated. So when a song comes on that you don’t like, you take it upon yourself to thumbs it down, even if everyone else likes it, including yourself the day before.

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Mae, you’re a delight. You are the kid that is most remembered because you make yourself known.

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You dress yourself every day, and there’s no telling you what you should wear.

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You’re also probably the most self sufficient kid I’ve ever met. If you want something, you get it done, no matter what it takes. If you want water, you drag something that looks slightly sturdy over to the sink and stand on it. You decide when to wash your hair, even if that means wetting down your hair at the gym. If you want to paint, well by golly, you’re going to paint. If you want your hair to be short, why wait for mom? You’ll just cut your hair at 6 am. (And do a surprisingly good job.)

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If you want a manicure, you just look at your dad with those big ‘ol eyes and, bam. Manicure.

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That’s not to say you get away with everything. If anything, I’m probably harder on you because I can more or less anticipate what you’re going to do, or why. Sorry about that.

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You’re a typical little sister, but when the big kids don’t want to be around you, you find something they’ll want to do, so you can weasel your way in.

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Mae, when you were born, you looked at me and I knew. I knew that you would be the kid who would make yourself known. Even when you couldn’t talk, you would tell me all kinds of things. (We call that phase the Mae-Rage phase.) When you finally did learn how to talk, you could make me laugh more than anyone else.

From the moment you entered our lives, you have brought with it so much joy. You’re just that fancy. Happy Birthday! I love you.

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(Look mom! I’m two! No, Mae. You’re three in this photo. No I wasn’t. I was two. Mae, seriously, this was last year. You were three. Ugh. Mom.)

It just takes time

A while ago after teaching BodyPump, a brand new member came up to me asking about quick ways to lose weight. If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me about that, I’d be a very rich woman.

I often have to put myself in the perspective of the person asking. There stood a woman, recently sent her youngest child off to college, started a new job, is a cancer survivor, and was looking for a fresh start. And she stood there, looking at me, a fitness instructor of 3 plus years, a runner, a lifter, a spinner.

I smiled at her and told her that there’s really no fast way to lose weight, rather consistency and variety of your workouts, good food and lots of patience. We talked for about a half an hour, worked out a basic plan, and she seemed excited to begin.

I still see her around at the gym and she’s working so hard. I told her, she has the attitude to be where she wants to be, that’s half the battle.

Often times, I need to remind myself that I’ve been there. I did, after all, have four kids, and any woman who has had a child will tell you, losing the baby weight is the absolute worst. I mean, my back would jiggle while brushing my teeth. Talk about kicking a girl while she’s down.

Today, while looking at my Time Hop app, a photo popped up that was a side profile of my body, with the caption: Every few months I take a photo of myself to see my progress. Some days I feel like there’s been none or that I’ll never have the body I want. But today, when I took this photo, I had to give myself some credit. Am I supermodel thin? Heck no! But that body has carried four babies. One just under a year ago. If I keep going in the direction I’m going, I may not have the body I’ve envisioned, BUT, I’m farther today than I was yesterday. So I’m going to keep with it.

Sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that change, no matter what it is, takes time. A year ago (left), I was at a certain point and today (right) I’m farther from that.

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There’s a note on the wall of one of the clubs I teach at in the hallway as you walk towards the main gym. It says, “In three months, you’ll thank yourself,” and it’s so very true. Two years ago, I was very pregnant with my fourth baby, overwhelmed with the thought of how I had to, yet again, lose the baby weight. Today, I’m here, and I’m proud that I was patient enough to make it. (Which is saying a lot, since I’m so NOT patient with much.)

You have to figure out what you want, and how you want to get it. For me, I spend my time with some amazing people who make my job easier. And they subsequently make working out so much easier.

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These people show up, week after week, and have for years. They’ve been with me through a lot, and I honestly couldn’t do it without them. If words could truly express how much I love, respect and admire them…well, I just hope they know. Because I do yell at them a lot.

“But you get paid to work out! So of course you’re in shape!” Ugh. I work hard, if not harder than the people in class. I have to. I strive to be a role model for every member, and that means giving it my all, every time. Even if it may not show in my face, I’m dying up there. When it stops being hard, I know I’m not working to my potential, and I need to figure it out. Yes, it is a giant perk that I get paid to workout, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

When I got my first tattoo, the artist said to me, “You are at a rare point in your life, where your body is a blank canvas. Shape it how you want.”

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Six tattoos, several piercings, a few scars, a lot of lifting, running, biking and a lot of time later, and my body is a canvas I’m very proud of. It’s not blank so much anymore, but I still have spaces for change and color. I wouldn’t go back to being 18 for anything. At 30, I’m right where I want to be, in more ways than just my body shape. (I said it! I said I’m 30!)

I was told as a young child to always love yourself, so you can be proud of who you are. I told that to the member at the gym, and today after Pump, she turned and said to me, “I remember what you told me. And I love myself now more than ever. I believe in myself.”

Sometimes it just takes time.

Unseen

I remember when I was 15 and I wanted to see the whole picture. The whole thing, all at once. Why are we here? What are we doing? Where are we going? Who will I become?

I wanted to be a physical therapist or an athletic trainer or something that used my hands. I thought I’d go to Slippery Rock and join the crew team. I wanted to show my strength and be a person someone could rely on in high pressure situations.

I still can’t remember why I chose to join the Army. I was fearless then. Or maybe I didn’t care much about myself. I know a lot of it had to do with me wanting dog tags, but the rest is really a mystery. I was in the final picks for the Governor’s School for the Arts, which was a high honor, but I was afraid that going there would test me in ways I wasn’t comfortable with. I was good with shading but really no other form of art, so why would I waste their time? Maybe I would have then chosen art school after and become an interior designer.

Instead I chose the Army and with it the unknown of what I’d be asked to do.

When I was 16, I went through a horrible phase, as most 16 year olds do, where I was confused and frustrated and couldn’t see beyond the next day. Again, I wanted to see the whole picture, but at the same time, I didn’t want much to be seen. I knew that if I just flew under the radar, I could get by.

A year later, things proved to be the same since the last thing you ever want in Basic is to be seen. You want to keep your nose down and do your work. Which worked out well, since, let’s face it, the majority of the time was spent with my nose to the ground. Literally.

In yoga today we did a pushup series twice, once in sun salutations and again in back work. One of the members said, “Wow, I remember when I could do all that on my toes.” I thought to myself, well I can do it on my toes, but my wrists don’t like it much.

I think that is from the Army. I remember when we had to do pushups on the drill sergeant’s time. Down. Wait. Wait. Wait. Up. Down. Wait. Wait. Wait. Up. I prided myself on the fact that I could. I could hold low. I could push up. I could do what they told me to do. I could do it all, because as long as I did, I could be unseen.

I had a best friend there. His name was Brown. I still get sad when I think about him. We pulled each other through some of the worst shit you could imagine. For example, one time Drill Sergeant decided to play a game with me and dropped an open canister of tear gas in my fox hole while in the field. Brown, who was the platoon leader at the time, knew it was coming so he warned me right before it was dropped, and I had my gas mask on in time with little damage. D.S. was impressed enough and left me alone the rest of the three days out in the field. When I had to do my final ruck march, Brown knew my hip was busted up good, so he kept walking back to me to tell me how much further we had, even though no one else knew. He’d say, “Keep going, Reed. Only another three miles.”

When we graduated, we exchanged numbers and we promised to keep in touch.

I remember the next time I saw him, he pulled up to the gas station off I-80 in his pickup truck and stood there waiting for me to get out of my red Ford Ranger. I ran to him and we hugged for what felt like forever. We had a friendship that was built on trust and camaraderie. There’s really no other way to describe it. When you go through what we did, if you get along, you hang on to that.

He had a girlfriend, I had a boyfriend. We were friends and I never thought anything more of it.

We kept in contact via phone and email for the next year. We would talk about everything. His girlfriend had long since left him and my boyfriend and I were on the outs. We jokingly talked about him moving to Pittsburgh because that’s where his best friend was after all. When he was deployed to Iraq, I would get random phone calls at 4 am from him telling me he was safe, that he missed me, and to wait for him.

Somehow things got lost in translation and I never caught on to the fact that he thought of me more than just a friend, and when he came home from Iraq, I was living with Matt. I guess I never really grasped on to the concept of “wait for me.” We had never had a romantic relationship, so while I truly could have seen myself falling in love with him, I wasn’t there when he was.

I haven’t seen or talked to him since. He was hurt, and I can’t blame him, and that’s where our friendship stopped.

I miss my friend.

In this day of technology and Facebook and Twitter, you’d think it’s easy to find someone. But, I don’t even know where to start. He has a generic name followed by the fact that he was deployed twice and I don’t even know where he’d live now. I don’t know where to begin.

Last week I had a dream about Basic. It was a memory. In the middle of the ruck march where it became twilight, we came to an open field to our left and woods to our right and the sky was lit with a million stars. We took a water break there. Everyone was looking at it. Just staring. Brown came up to me and, while we weren’t permitted to talk, we just smiled because how could you not at that sight? We had been through hell and back for almost 10 weeks. When I dislocated my thumb, he put it back in. When he tripped on a run, I helped him up. When D.S. cut off six inches of my hair because of a violation, he told me it didn’t look that bad. When we battled in pugil sticks, he didn’t go easy on me. In fact, he busted my lip open pretty good. We were there for each other.

Part of me fears that where we have been and where we are now are so different that perhaps it’s best to remain unseen. I don’t know if he’d be proud of the Reed I am today. I wonder if I am the way I said I’d be.

Jacob Brown, of Basic Training, Alpha 2-10, 4th Platoon Renegades, Ft. Leonard Wood, MO: I really miss my friend.

Squirrel Story

During the summer, and early fall, you’d find me at the Y lifting with my strongman boss, Joe. Mae has a very active imagination. She frequently tells stories that aren’t even remotely true, but she will tell it with such a passion that, well someone has to believe her, right?

One afternoon after a lifting session, I picked the girls up from the daycare and one of the daycare ladies handed me a paper and said, “Oh you’ll like this.”

They were always handing me papers, because Mae drew a lot and of course, I was supposed to gush over every last scribble.

I got to the car and read the paper handed to me.

I had to laugh. Mae was always telling people to write down her stories. “Mom! I’m telling you a story. Can you write it down?” “Mom! I’ve got a good story. Can you video tape me? It’s awesome.”

Here’s the story she demanded (probably very cutely) the daycare lady to copy down.

It was titled: Squirrel Story

It’s a squirrel running around. It’s going to Antarctica. He’s going to figure out what he’s doing. The squirrel daddy is thinking about something. He’s thinking about squirrels. There’s chick-monks and they don’t like people. They hate people. They live up in the trees. They eat their pinecones. They comb down and go on the wires and it goes CH CH CH- they got electrocuted. And then they died in the water. And then they got dead. The end.”

 

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