It’s me…or these toys.

It’s the middle of the night.  I get up out of bed to stumble to my kitchen and grab a quick drink of water.  My kids are both peacefully sleeping, which in my house, doesn’t happen in the middle of the night all that often.  I step outside my bedroom, slip, and fall directly on my ass.  I slipped on a book that was sitting on the floor outside my doorway.  I did the whole banana peel schtick, with Bear’s New Friend in the dark.  …and then my kids woke up.

Nina and her “posse”

Does this sound like your life?  Have you ever plopped down on a plastic crown when sitting on your kid’s bed?  Have you ever stepped on a Thomas the Train idol coming downstairs?  Do you clean out the space under the couch when you want your kids to have “new” toys?  Who’s with me?  If you are, you know- these freakin’ toys are taking over.  Sure, at the end of the day, we rock out to the clean up song.  “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…”  It’s my jam, people.  But, my kids are little, so sometimes a car ends up at the base of the stairs or a book ends up in a doorway.

What can be done about this toy overload?  We rotate toys out, we try to save new things for a “rainy day” and then take something away to make room for the new thing.  We try to have toys that allow for many play situations- blocks, art supplies, musical instruments.  But, there is just this overwhelming amount of stuff.  And some of the stuff talks to you.  I mean, seriously, it talks to you.  It can get a little creepy when you’re walking around in the middle of the night.

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Nothing, and I repeat nothing, beats blast off in a “rocket ship”

We are moving soon, and so I decided that we would thin out the heard.  A few days ago, my daughter and I had a talk about moving to a new house…and that not all the toys would be making the move.  She got a little belligerent at first…”sheep stays with me, mama.”  She was clear- her animals stay.  But as we have talked about the rest, she is ok to give up other things.  Forgotten toys, lesser puzzles and books- she might be totally happy mind you, but she’s on board.  We will still have our rainy day box, some toys, and a bunch of cardboard boxes.  And hopefully less eventful late night trips to the kitchen.

The real happiest place on earth

We all have places, foods, or activities that remind us of our childhood.  These nostalgic feelings hit in waves as we enjoy our throwbacks and we feel good- safe, loved, comforted.  I know this may sound silly, but a grocery store fulfills all three of the above categories for me.168s

As a child, my mother would take my brother and me to Wegman’s in Pittsford, NY every weekend to go grocery shopping.  If you’ve been reading, it wasn’t often like the Trader Joe’s experience I recently had, though I’m sure one or both of us threw a tantrum at some point over a sugary cereal we were told to put back.  When we were little, my mom would get us each a cookie and we would chatter along through produce and dairy items.  When we got older, she would give us each an item from her list to go get.  We would race off, running back to the cart with the item in hand, ready for the next challenge.

The place, the food, the atmosphere; it all became a part of my childhood.  I looked forward to visiting Wegman’s when I was home from college.  I told people about the store when they visited us in Rochester: “you have to visit!”  166350_10100163932469819_464579_nWhen my (then) fiancé and I were looking for a less expensive alternative to the crazy wedding cakes, I called upon Wegman’s to provide 200 cupcakes for our guests.  They also created a “wedding cake” out of a cupcake that we cut- everyone raved about our cake.  And when our babies were born, we made special pilgrimages to Wegman’s to introduce the next generation to the “real” happiest place on earth.10247505_10102782631451069_546923500_n

So, it should come as no surprise that when we were planning our son’s first birthday and a cake was needed, I called upon the Wegman’s near us.  Now, when I say “near,” I mean 45 minutes away…but I was happy to drive it.  The thing is, when I walk into Wegman’s, I have a feeling of being home.  We all crave that feeling from time to time.  Some of us grow up, grow a family and live in the same place; some of us move far away, but no matter where we are, we want to feel the comfort and love of being home every now and then.  Say what you will, but I love the place. It is a little piece of home even when I’m far away.

The night I bit my husband

I write letters to my children.  I was inspired by my father who wrote us letters on our birthdays every year and then gifted us these letters in beautiful wood boxes years later.  In honor of my son’s first birthday, I share the first letter I wrote him.  Each of my babies have this letter- an accounting of their birth day.  As I re-read it this morning, I laughed, and cried, and remembered the pain and joy; but mostly, I remembered my intense love for this tiny human.  Happy birthday, Ryan.  Mama loves you

My sweet little Ryan-

You came into this world fast and furious on March 10, 2014…but that isn’t where the story begins.  This story really begins in July 2013.  Your father and I had your sister 11.5 months before we found out we were pregnant with you.  We were shocked, we were overwhelmed, we were (and are) overjoyed.  From the moment we knew of you, we loved you.  From the moment we thought about you, we felt like you were a part of our family.  You have made our circle complete.

Everything about my pregnancy with you was more mellow than it was with your sister.  I had less nausea, less heartburn, less insomnia, fewer headaches.  You were a mellow resident in my body.  Until March 9th.  And here is where the story gets good…

The morning of March 9th, I felt big.  I felt fat, and tired, and cranky.  I was anxious about your arrival.  I wanted to make sure everything was taken care of.  Something you’ll learn about me in the coming years, is that I like to pretend I am in control of everything.  I know, deep down, that I’m not.  But, a girl can hope.  So…there I was with your father checking last minute items off my to-do list.  I had gotten my hair cut, packed my bag, picked out your outfit for the hospital, called those who needed to be called to say “nope…no baby yet!”  And, I was anxious because I couldn’t control what was coming or when it was coming…but I had a good plan.

March 9: Your sister needed tending to.  PK was on his way.  Your father had his last shift to work for a few days.  March 10: My doctor (a woman I like and admire- who had delivered your sister) was on call- perfect!  PK would be here, Daddy would be home.  So, I just needed you to wait to be born until late in the day on Monday.  It would be perfect.  You had other plans.

On Sunday, I met a friend for a manicure and pedicure.  We got our nails done and chatted.  I innocently told her that I had been having contractions since that morning.  But, not to worry, I told her.  With Nina, I had contractions for almost 36 hours before the main event.  She warned me not to get cocky.  I was so sure.

After my nail appointment, I came home to wait for PK to show up.  He was coming to help and was due to land at the airport around 4pm.  Nina and I played outside in the backyard.  You rolled around in my tummy.  Daddy went to work- he kissed us goodbye and told me to keep him updated.  I think he was nervous to leave us, but he had a shift to work- he had to go.  I promised to call if anything changed.  I would keep him updated.

PK arrived at the house just in time for dinner and we got Nina fed, bathed and in bed.  As PK and I sat down for our dinner, you got a little more insistent that I pay attention to you.  The contractions were getting harder but they weren’t evenly spaced or easily tracked.  I gritted my teeth and pushed through them- at this point, I knew you would be a March 10th baby, so I made my list of things to get done that night before heading to the hospital the next day.  As it turns out….I was right…sort of.

As the night progressed, I did a load of laundry, submitted a writing sample for a teaching job I applied for (I subsequently got that job), went to Dunkin Doughnuts to get PK doughnuts, built a chair for Nina, got Nina’s food and clothes squared away for the next day and made sure my bag was packed.  PK went to bed around 10- he asked me if I was ok.  That’s when things started to go sideways, little boy.

I started to feel pretty intense pain.  It wasn’t “bad” pain- in that I wasn’t afraid anything was wrong.  But it was INTENSE.  I started pacing the floor.  I thought I was going crazy.  I called your Aunt Jaci, who woke up from what sounded like a dead sleep, to talk to me for a while.  I let her go back to bed and decided to take a shower and shave my legs.  Now, Ryan, years from now, this may gross you out.  But, I’m telling you, should you ever have a wife who is having a baby and she tells you while she’s in labor that she wants to shave her legs…you support that decision.  It’s an important one.  No one was around for me to worry about, so I got in the shower and shaved my legs.  I washed my hair.  At this point, it was almost 11:30pm and I had had it.  These contractions were still uneven but they HURT.  “Justin, you have to come home.  Now.”  Your dad asked if I could wait for him to sign out.  No.  Get home.  Now.

I woke up your PK.  “Um, Dad [PK]? I’m going to go have a baby.”  I was wearing yoga pants and a tank top.  I had my shoes on.  PK helped me get my bag to the door.  We waited for Daddy to come home and get me to drive me right back to the hospital he was coming from.  The contractions were so strong, I considered having you on the living room floor.  You were coming and you were coming fast.  PK started to worry that I would be cold outside- it was afterall, almost midnight in the middle of March.  He got my sweatshirt and, instead of throwing it in his face, I put it on.  He’s my daddy and he wanted to take care of me.

I’m going to skip all the expletives I was thinking and shouting.  I was in some pain.  Your father pulled up to the house with a squeal.  He was definitely moving.  If I could have run to the car, I would have, but I got in and off we went.  I rolled the window down because, despite the coolness of the evening, I was so hot.  You may not remember as we have likely moved from the house we lived in when you were born, but we lived less than a mile from the hospital.  It was across the street.  Literally.  And I didn’t think I would make it.  Your father pulled up to the hospital and I got out before he put the car in park.

I walked passed the triage nurses without speaking…I couldn’t really.  I was making weird noises, I was worried, pissed off, hurting, and somewhere, in the back of my brain, excited.  So, I just walked into the triage area.  The nurse who chased me in told me that I would need to put on a gown and, as I paced the room she showed me into, making that weird, low animal noise, I started taking my clothes off and throwing them on the ground.  “I’m going to have this baby now!” I told the nurse.  She was less than impressed.  And then she checked me.  “Don’t. Push.”  And your father and I were whisked to the elevator.  The nurse was calling the labor and delivery team in transit.  The doctor met us at the elevator and started talking to me.  Your father was holding the gurney, telling me I would be fine, and, as another wave of contraction hit me…I bit your father’s hand.  That was my low moment.

We got into the birthing room and, while a lot happened and not a lot happened, the low down is I pushed twice and you were out. 10013970_10102799440096409_8881248540233038845_n You, my sweet little boy, were so excited to meet us that from the time we pulled up at the hospital to the time you were born was 13 minutes.  You were 6 pounds and 14 ounces, 21 inches long and you were perfect.  I was dazzled.  The pain of the past few hours was erased from my mind and I was focused on your sweet face.  I love you so very much and I am so lucky to be your mama.  I love you more every day that I get to spend with you.  I’m ready for this wild ride, little one.  I hope you are.

All my love, now and forever,

Mama

A love note…to my nephew

Dear Hudson,

Today you are 5 years old. That’s a momentous birthday- you are a whole hand.  I remember, vividly, when I held you for the first time in the hospital.  You were this little tiny baby, tiny button nose, and the sweetest fingers there ever were.  You held my heart with those tiny fingers and I have watched with awe as you have grown through stages and years.  Now, you are a little boy who knows not only how to run and jump and play, but you know how to be kind and curious. You are smart and, let’s face it, just a little bit devious…but that’s ok…maybe you got it from me.

You, Hudson, were the first grandchild born into our family.  You were the first truly awesome thing to happen after a slew of not-so-awesome moments.  I have watched you grow and I have loved you as only an aunt could- with wild abandon, in an ice cream at 8am kind of way.  Being an aunt, you see, is so very amazing.  Unlike being a mother, it allows for a little more wiggle room.  I love the wiggle room.  And I do so love ice cream at 8am (don’t tell your cousins!).

I was standing in the backyard of our house in North Carolina when your father told me I would be an aunt very soon.  Then, I was working out at the gym, when your mother called to tell me… “he’s coming!”  When I got off the plane, got to the hospital and held you in my arms, I knew, without a doubt, that being an aunt to your sweet face was for me.  I have since had children of my own, and they are amazing in ways I struggle to fully explain, but you, my sweet boy, hold a special place in my heart.

You were with me when I married your uncle.  You reminded me of how special The Polar Express can be.  You sang You Are My Sunshine to my first baby when she was only weeks old and rocked her in her stroller.  You have been along for my ride as I have been along for yours.  I’m looking forward to all the twists and turns that are to come.  I’m looking forward to ordinary days splashing in puddles and family vacations and momentous birthdays.  And I’m so looking forward to a belated birthday hug the next time I see you.

I love you, Hudson.  Happy Birthday.

Aunt Sarah

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An open letter to the well meaning people in Trader Joe’s

Picture this: a woman in her mid-thirties. Hair in a messy pony tail, yoga pants, UGGS and a sweatshirt on. Her two small children are energetic, talkative and sometimes impatient. The young girl, maybe 2? 3?, is pushing a child sized cart next to her mother. Even as the mother warns her daughter to “be careful”, the young girl pushes her tiny cart into a wall. There is laughing, chatting and then, coming as quickly as it leaves, crying. The baby is in the cart this whole time and is chewing on whatever he can get a hold of- a toy, an apple, the shopping list, his shoe….  You’ve seen this woman in the store…or you’ve been this woman. I was this woman the other day.

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day with my two children. They are 2.5 and (almost) 1, so they keep me on my toes, but I was armed with a list divided into categories, applesauce for my son and the multiple activities that Trader Joe’s provides for my daughter.6a00e554d86f248833013484b79c1d970c-800wi But, she’s a toddler and about half way through the store, she got excited and her small cart (with our juice, yogurt, black beans and apples, toppled over and brought her down with it. She often bounces back from that kind of spill…but that particular day, I was not so lucky. So, on came the screaming and the crying. As I bent down to sit on the floor with her and help her calm down, the advice started coming. A woman nearby shared, “You know, they have lollipops here.” Then from another patron, “Maybe you shouldn’t let her carry such heavy items in her cart, they tip easily.” Followed by: “Your son is chewing on his shoe…”

Thank you. Really, thanks for the support. But I’ve got it. It might not look like it, but I promise, I’m good. And that, I think, was the source of my frustration as I gathered my daughter up and replaced the shoe with Sophie– these strangers were making me feel like I wasn’t capable. With a smile on my face, a lot of F-bombs in my head, and my son’s rogue shoe in my hand, I made my way to the check out and told myself to ignore the well-meaning tips. Because they are well-meaning. But does that mean they are actually helpful?

Upon reflection, I started to think about how often we assume our way is the right way or we know the answer to the problem. How often we believe that we know what’s best for everyone else out there. This video certainly speaks to how some parents feel an innate right to judge others for their choices. Who am I to tell any parent, or anyone for that matter, how to conduct themselves? I may make different choices, but does that make them better choices?

Ultimately, I want to be quietly supportive when I see a mom with a kid melting down in Target. I don’t need to tell her what to do- I assume she knows what to do. When I talk to my friends who don’t have kids, I don’t want them to feel like they need to defend their position.  When I speak with my students and they share varying opinions on feminism, gay marriage, and abortion, I feel happy they were comfortable enough to share. It isn’t up to me if people buy organic. I hope they are deciding instead of sliding into these choices. I want to talk to people and have good conversations, not judgmental ones. My husband and I try to make informed and thoughtful decisions…sometimes we miss the boat, but that’s ok. As my Dad says, “That’s why they make erasers.”

The thing with the Trader Joe’s experience is that everyone who shared small tips or suggestions with me had good intentions. I’m good with advice when I ask for it, but maybe on that Trader Joe’s floor, while my daughter was crying and my shoe-chewing son was looking on, I needed some quiet support.

Thanks, friend crush.

1. A friend who inspired me 

25. Trader Joe’s sparkling lemonade

42. Going to Target alone

347. dropping Nina off at school and watching her play with friends

I have a friend crush. What’s a friend crush? Think elementary school- innocent, sweet- meeting someone and wanting to be friends. I met Jessica when my first baby was just 2 months old and ever since, I’ve had a bit of a friend crush. Jessica is kind, supportive, funny, smart and artistic. She is a mom who has made it through these first hard years and has been open to listening, chatting and having coffee when our schedules allow. She has also inspired me to be grateful in an everyday kind of way.

One of the things that almost anyone who knows Jessica knows is that she loves the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.imgres This book, above all else, centers on a message of finding the joy in our every day lives. Now, it is a religious book- there is a whole lot of Jesus- so if that’s not your cup of tea, proceed with awareness. I will say though, I have read this book cover to cover, and as a person who grew up in an interfaith home and continues to question everyday, I put the religion aside. That wasn’t the point for me. The point was to find large and small things that make me happy. The point was to find 1,000 things that I am grateful for.

5. coffee

30. summer thunderstorms

31. screened in porches to watch thunderstorms from

128. FaceTime double date night with my brother and sister-in-law

143. wine and chocolate

For the past 2 years, I have been keeping a list. It is on my laptop desktop and every now and then, I open it up and add a few items to the list. Sometimes I just add one; sometimes I add a few. I’m not as far along to reaching 1,000 as you might think. As of today, I am thankful for 428 things. I don’t do it everyday but I am also not in a rush. I try not to repeat things, but let’s be honest…I’ve got two small children, I’m sleep deprived, and I have 428 things…coffee is on there twice.

11. Nina’s “battle cries”- they won’t last forever and they’re fantastic

30. evening walks with my family

138. Feeling my little boy kick 

149. laughing until it hurts

256. having a really good cry

I started keeping this list as a result of a conversation I had with Jessica two years ago. I was exhausted, cranky, and feeling frustrated. For a lot of reasons, I was having a personal pity party. I happened to see Jessica that day and she, without knowing how ungrateful I had been feeling, told me about a talk she would be giving at our mother’s group meeting. She would be talking about this book and her own personal list making. I set out to investigate and ended up starting my thankful list to remind me of all the good there is in my life…even when I’m low.

415. flowers from my mother in law

428. sugar free vanilla soy lattes from Starbucks

I’m not there yet, but I think about hitting 1,000 things and get a little sad. This has been a great exercise. It’s also sort of a time capsule of my life- I read the list and think about what inspired each thing. Maybe I’ll go for another thousand.

Just jump

Years ago, prior to teaching, I worked as a student affairs professional. You ask, “What is a student affairs professional?” Basically, everyone who isn’t a professor or administrative support at a college or university is a “student affairs professional”. Coaches, academic advisors, residence hall staff, student life advisors, and on and on. My goal as a member of this profession was simple- support and challenge college students through programming, leadership, individual conversations and group events. I loved it, but towards the end, I was frustrated. I felt unsupported by my boss. I felt frustrated with the limitations of my job as it was being described to me. I wasn’t doing what I wanted. It was a nuanced decision with a lot of mitigating circumstances, but one day, after many days, weeks and months of emotional days, anger, tears and angst (sounds dramatic, huh)…I just quit. No safety net. I just jumped.

My husband was relieved. My dad was concerned (Understatement). My brother and sister-in-law were supportive. My friends were of the mixed nut variety. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that none of it mattered because I felt free.

I needed to figure out the next step. It took some months and a few failed ideas before I ended up falling into teaching. The truth is, I started freaking out that I had screwed up. I was happy, but happiness doesn’t bring home the bacon. I began stalking college jobs sites and found an open teaching position in the Developmental Studies Department at a local community college. The requirements were vague, so I applied- what could it hurt? After a few interviews, I was hired. I began that first semester teaching Study Skills and Developmental Reading.

I was scared shitless. I had teaching experience, public speaking experience, and experience with the content comprising my course. But I had not been an actual “teacher” before. I walked into that first classroom with a whole family of Monarch butterflies in my stomach. And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Sure- there are moments, there are students, there are days that are frustrating. But I love teaching. Spending the time getting to know my students and utilizing my student affairs training to encourage more than just academic development in my classroom has been incredibly fulfilling.

Fast-forward 6 years later and I’m still teaching. I have transitioned between subjects and institutions, but the passion remains. I strive for lessons that transcend the modern student’s desire to check Twitter or get to the next level of Bejeweled. I struggle (within confines of my young family) to carve out time to grade all of the papers, discussion boards, quizzes and in-class reflections. Even with all the headaches and challenges, I love it. I have a ball. And I’m good at it! It feels amazing to love what you do and feel confident about it.

As if the universe conspired in how I was reflecting on my work this past week, I received my student evaluations from last semester yesterday.  This warm fuzzy is going directly into the rainy day folder…

I would like to say that Professor Stowens is one of the best teachers I have ever had. She encompasses all that an educator should possess as an effective teacher. She is not only very knowledgable in her field, she expresses that knowledge in a way that gets through to her students with her passion, humor and desire to educate about these very important topics of society. My hopes are that WU values her employment.”   -student

Then, because the universe has a sense of humor…came this one:

She gives dumb tests and keeps us for the whole class [period].”     – other student

…so, there’s work to be done. I love this job.