Our Newest Tradition: The Book Advent

It’s been a few years since I’ve started our advent tradition (You can find my past lists here and here). The kids look forward to it every December now, along with the arrival of their elf, Locker. I’ve tied them both the advent and the elf together;  Locker comes the night before the advent starts, and the kids get a small bag with Christmas themed items (last year it was an ornament for the tree, a Christmas pencil, notepad, and candy cane with a little note from Locker about his job).  True fact: We may have two elves now because we may have misplaced the other one, and of course, two weeks after Christmas the first elf was located.  No, I won’t bombard you with a list of crazy things to do with your elf. Have you seen the lists on Pinterest? I’m exhausted just by looking at some of them! If I’m telling the full truth, you should know I barely remember to move it 24 times during the month. I cannot tell you how many times last year Locker stayed in the same spot and we had to make up a snow storm to keep him from his nightly run back to the North Pole.  The only reason I keep doing it, year after year is that a) it does help with the level of crazy oozing from the kids during the month of December , and b) the kids adore it.


Don’t shame me for being an Elf house, please?

Last year, I added a new tradition- The Christmas Book advent. I got the idea from Jenna from Stop, Drop and Blog a couple years ago, but didn’t manage to get myself organized to do it until last year (Since she’s been at this for longer than I, she has a way more extensive list of books for this). I didn’t anticipate that I would struggle to find 24 books, and yet, I did. We’re a non-religious home, and you’d be surprised at the amount of books that are seemingly non-religious but sneak in a sentence or two that has no relevance to the story and wind up making the book incredibly religious.

For this reason, and another that I’ll talk about in a second, I only wound up with 12 books. It wasn’t a travesty, especially since it was the first year I’d done it with the kids. They had no idea that it was supposed to be every day so it didn’t throw them off by only having a book to open up every other day. The other reason I wound up with only 12 books last year? It does take a mild investment to start this tradition. For instance, I’m buying the remaining 12 this year, and it’s going to cost me, even with free shipping (Thank you, Chapters Indigo!) and a mild discount for being a Plum Rewards member: $162.00.  Keep in mind, I am buying these books brand new. The cost could definitely be much lower if you searched out second hand book stores throughout the year (the closest one to me is over an hour a way, unfortunately). Those book orders they send home? They start putting Christmas books in them around October, and sometimes the deals are pretty awesome. You could even do it with library books, and that would cost you absolutely nothing! There are ways to do this advent for much cheaper than I have, so don’t let my costs sway you.

Each book is individually wrapped up, and displayed in a small cardboard box that I also wrapped in Christmas paper. I slipped it into a corner of the room, reachable for the kids. Every other evening, the kids would take turns picking out which book they wanted to open. I have to tell you, having these books around, especially as it got closer to Christmas was so great. You know how kids get into that OMG OPEN ALL THE PRESENTS TOUCH, TOUCH, POKE! phase around the 15th of the month? Yeah, this helped deflect that immensely. They knew they had their regular advent, and then a book to open every other day. It kept the Present Monster at bay, and gave us a nightly bedtime story as well.

Here’s a small taste of the books we added last year, or at least, the ones that wound up being favorites for both the adults and kids.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas,

The Night Before Christmas (there are so many variations of this poem with beautiful artwork!)

The Polar Express.

Jolly Christmas Postman,

Llama, Llama Holiday Drama,

A Porcupine in A Pine Tree: A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?

Finding Christmas (we love us some Robert Muncsh in this house!)

This year I’m adding  Pete the Cat Saves Christmas because Girlie loves her some Pete the Cat, this great series by Steve Smallman which showcases several Canadian cities, The Smallest Gift Of Christmas, and a whole bunch more that I can’t wait to actually read.

As an avid reader myself, it’s so important for me to integrate the love of story telling, especially at this time of year when stories seem to be a little more magical than they usually are. I love the fact that during this chaotic season, it also gives us an excuse to pause, and to soak in a new book together. It really is such a great tradition that I’m so exited to continue adding to as the years go by.


What’s your favorite holiday book? Do you have a holiday tradition involving books? 


Magic Stones

He sat on the couch, still in his work clothes, and pulled out a little package from his front pocket, “Girlie, come here.” In his hands, he held a golden embroidered pouch. It reminded me of a change purse I had as a young girl, that I filled with pennies.

The night before last, he’d shared with me that his coworker had overheard him and I discussing, over the phone, the lack of sleep that we were getting because of the nightmares that Girlie was having. It’s been a topic of conversation for the last couple of weeks; Either we’re being woken up several times in the middle of the night, or we’re having our bed taken over in the middle of the night by Girlie (which doesn’t bother me so much, really. It’s her sprawling and splaying out that does me in). All of us are really exhausted, physically and emotionally.

His coworker asked to speak with him privately, and told him her story. One that was similar to our daughters. One that matched the sameIMG_1975 reactions of certain family members who are/were more concerned with their own reputation. He listened, and told me later that he always felt completely out of his element when hearing stories like hers, and like our daughter’s. “She’s always going to remember this, isn’t she?” He asked me this later when he relayed the story to me, his face worn with concern, peaks of anger breaking through in the words he was using to describe what he was told.  I nodded, quietly, feeling the same sinking feeling that a parent endures when they feel as though they failed at protecting their own child.

During this exchange, my husband’s coworker offered to bring in something she’d used to help her sleep. She said it was something that she used as an older child to help keep the nightmares at bay, and while she wasn’t sure it worked so much it was a comfort to have something to put her faith in as she fell asleep for the night. The next day, she presented my husband with the golden pouch he now held in his hand.

“This is a gift from a coworker for you. She wanted you to have it. ” The last couple of words caught in the back of his throat and I could tell from my position across the room that he was more than overwhelmed. His eyes searched for mine, silently asking me for some help, so I jumped in,

” Sweetie, bring that here, let’s have a look.”  Girlie held the pouch gingerly in her hands, and tiptoed across the carpet in our living room until she was standing in front of me. I carefully opened the clasp, and unzipped the small zipper uncovering three rocks, all in different sizes, colors and shapes.

“These are pretty! Don’t you think?” Her eyes lit up excitedly, and she took each rock in her small hand, tracing it, “What is it, Mama?”

“Well, these are magic stones, I think. Daddy has a friend at work who wanted you to have them. She had something bad happen to her too, just like you.” We don’t have to say his name anymore, although, she does when she’s looking for reassurance that we’ll never see him again. We just have to mention the “bad thing”, and she knows. Sadly.

“Someone hurt her too?” she asked quietly, almost shocked. I could tell she thought, like so many of us do, that she was the only one.

“Yes. They did. And you know what? There were people who didn’t believe her too.”

Her eyes went wide, still clutching the three stones in her hand. ” That’s not nice!”

“It’s not, but you know what else? She also had bad dreams just like you.  To help her sleep, she used these magical stones. Every night, she put them under her pillow. She wants you to have them now.”

I watched as my daughter traced her fingers along the outsides of the rocks, thinking deeply,

“What do they do?”

I had no idea, so on the spot, I picked those stones out of her hand, and made up the magic powers they held.

“Well, this little one? It helps you fall asleep nice and quick at night. This white one? It’s to help you have nice long, peaceful rests with good dreams. And this one, you see how it’s sort of clear? Well, it traps all the bad dreams in it.”

She was in awe it seemed, of these special magical stones. Wiping her blond hair out of her face, she put each stone back into the pouch, zipped it back up and closed the clasp before she held it tight to her heart.

“Oh, I just love them!”

Before we could discuss it any further, she scurried away to show her new stones to her brother. Later that night, after the kids had been tucked into bed, I head the padding of tiny feet in the hallway. In her hands was a piece of paper, and she thrust it into my lap,

“This is for Daddy’s friend. I want her to have it because she doesn’t have her rocks anymore and I want her to be able to sleep still.”  On the picture were her renditions of the rock, surrounded by hearts and two girls holding hands.

“Who is that?” I asked her, pointing to the two girls.

“That’s me and Daddy’s friend. We’re holding hands because we had something bad happen to us, and we understand the bad dreams.”

Even if those stones aren’t really magic, and they aren’t really,  they have given her something more incredible: The sacred solidarity of knowing she’s not alone, and that there are others out there who understand her bad dreams.

He Was Just A Kid

With CNN still playing in the background, I stormed in the kitchen, half muttering to myself, half ranting to my husband about the Grand Jury made the decision not to indict Darren Wilson.

“This is just ridiculous. Does this guy hear anything he’s saying!? I just… He was killed, he was murdered. How is this okay? It’s NOT!”

My daughter looked up at me from the kitchen floor, continuing to play with her Barbies,

“He was just a kid, wasn’t he Mommy?”

I was struck for a moment, mostly that she had been paying attention to my husband and my discussion this evening but that so simply, she had pulled that tidbit of information out, over all the other pieces were spoken about earlier.

I nodded, and replied, “Yes, he was just a kid.”

Beyond all the many reasons this  whole situation in Ferguson (and in the States) is a complete travesty, the most haunting fact remains:

A mother and father lost their son. A sibling. A friend. A cousin. There will be no justice for that, just justification for why it doesn’t matter. Blaming everyone but the man who shot that gun, who killed that young man.

His name was Mike Brown.  He was just a kid.


Image Credit: Shawn Semmler
Image Credit: Shawn Semmler


Oh, The Lies We Tell (Regarding Housework)

After my always busy Thursday, I think to myself, “Oh good, it’s almost the weekend. My husband is home, we’ll be able to get on top of the cleaning, get organized for the week, and maybe I’ll get more writing done. But the house, we’ll get on top of the cleaning. Totally.”

Are you laughing? You should be. I’m laughing at Thursday Me. She’s ridiculously hopeful, an optimist who has a terrible memory.

On Friday evening after I’ve cooked dinner, I rationalize my plan.  “It’s okay to just leave the housework for tonight. It’s really not that bad, anyway. Maybe I can convince the kids to go to bed early so I can get a head start? Nah, we’ll just watch a movie together. I’ll start the cleaning and organizing tomorrow.”

Relaxing is a much easier chore than, well, you know, any real chore.

Image Credit: The Joy of Housework art by Gene Pelhem via Pieces of The Past

Meanwhile, the kids do that kid thing where they manage to make messes that just don’t seem humanly possible, and are sort of confusing. Despite the fact that this happens every single weekend, I always forget come Thursday. I also do this thing, because when your partner works 12-16 hour days and you only see them for half hour increments, sometimes not at all, you forget all their transgressions. I get excited, because he’s an adult. A real breathing adult! In my house! He can help with the kids, and I can go grocery shopping alone! I can write for hours! We can get up super early, and drink our coffee while discussing adult things like the adults we are! An adult!

That never happens. None of it. I don’t generally grocery shop alone, because one kid wants to come with. So I relent. We both are exhausted, so we sleep as late as the kids will allow. Writing can’t happen because the kids are loud and excited that Daddy is home, and they are home together and they have all the hours to play together.

Let me preface this next section by saying I love my husband. I do, I swear. However, in the span of two days, he manages to make the same amount of mess that the three of us do throughout a five day period. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him this via text while cleaning up dozens of gross dirty socks from the living room (his natural habitat on the weekend).  Or when I ask him if he’s capable of throwing the Keurig pods in the trash when he’s finished having ten cups of coffee in a day. I’m exaggerating, he says. Because he’s not like that at all. Except that he is, and oh my god, one day I can’t wait for him to realize I’ve been right all along. I do love him…really.


Now, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the house is in complete disarray. The kids are fighting over who gets the television for their own screen time while I notice that it should be cleaned off when we finally get to cleaning. Instead, I send them out into the backyard because the snow is great for building snowmen, and they could run some of that energy off. I’m certain I’ve scoured the corners of the internet, and think, “This is boring. I should do something. Clean? Nah, I’ll go grocery shopping.” At this point, I’m not even denying the mess. I’m just straight up avoiding it. Yep, the house is a mess, and I don’t want to think what I would do if someone rang the doorbell to visit right now. Even as I step on the damn flyers in the entry way as I walk out the door to the grocery store, I’m still ignoring it. Maybe it’ll go away in the short period of time I’m at the store?

It doesn’t. It never does.

On Saturday night, we do a quick clean up because the kids want to have their weekly “sleepover” in the living room which entails lots of movies, Minecraft, and staying up too late. It takes me an embarrassing amount of time to vacuum so I remedy that by getting the kids to dust the end tables, and the shelves. After we’re settled, I wonder, “Hmm, that didn’t take too long. I think we could get this whole house done in under two hours tomorrow. Mopping included!”

That’s really cute, actually. Mopping? Right.

In the morning, video games will be played on the beds lying in the living room until mid-afternoon, at least. There is some sort of sportsing event on television too, which means the noise will be increased by the shouts of my husband yelling at the players. I forget that I’m going to wake up, have a coffee, browse the net, figure out lunch and dinner, and look at my calendar for the week. This always tires me, so instead of cleaning the bathroom, I have a nap. Of course, I consider cleaning the bathroom, but decide I’ll do it later. The nap? It was supposed to be a short one, but it never is. I don’t understand people who can nap either on the couch, or for short periods.

It was a great nap, though.

Now it’s Sunday night, and I’m thinking to myself, as I clean the bathroom, and throw in two necessary loads of laundry so we can at least have clean clothes for the next day, “I’ll be able to get to this tomorrow. It’s easier during the week when no one is home, and no one is here to make a mess. ”

Yeah, except we have all the getting ready for school, all of the activities, and all of the other things that happen in a week. Then, the weekend will come and we’ll spend time together as a family, because that’s easier. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am going to mop the floor tomorrow though. I swear.

(I probably won’t)

Don’t Take Them Away

“Mama, your friend is real nice,” he said as we walked toward the car, the heavy snow falling fast, the wind blowing just enough to make you walk a little faster.

“Yes, she really is,” I responded, smiling. We had just been in the grocery store grabbing a couple of essentials to get us through the weekend. A friend of mine lined up right behind us, one I hadn’t seen since the night of Sean’s funeral where we cried and drank wine together. We chatted about the weather as my groceries were scanned up. When it was time to pay, I realized I had left my debit card at home, and had only change on me. In a moment, she was right beside me, offering to pay, telling me not to worry about it,  as I stuttered through my embarrassment.

“I’ve just been so disorganized this week. You didn’t have to do this, but thank you, so so much,” I offered, apologetically, my heart in my throat.

She smiled, and leaned over, “Just so you know, I’ve got a couple bottles of wine at home, too.”

With the groceries piled in the back of my car,  my son climbed into the back seat, and I into the front, brushing the snow off my face.

“How do you know her?”

I bit my lip for a moment before replying, “Uh, well, I met her through an adoption group.”

“Is she The Kiddo’s Mom?”

“No, hun, she’s not. She’s actually a birth mom like I am.”

I peered over my shoulder to check to see if the traffic was clear for me to pull out, but noticed that my son seemed to be thinking rather intently. Any time the topic of adoption comes up, he references it closely to what he knows about his half-brother, and the limited conversations we’ve had about adoption.

“Did she have a baby like you, Mama?”

“Yes, she did.”

“She didn’t keep her baby?”

“No.” I hesitated before continuing, unsure if he would understand, ” Her situation was a little different than mine, but she was forced to give her baby away,” I answered carefully. I knew the particulars, but I didn’t want to delve too deep  nor did I think he would be able to understand the insidiousness of the story.

“That’s sad,” he murmured quietly.

I nodded, not saying anything. As we pulled out of the parking lot in silence, his voice perked up again from the backseat.

Image Credit: shrinkin’violet

“Why do people do that, Mama? Why do people make Mommies give their babies away?”

My heart stopped for a second and I sharply inhaled as tears filled my eyes.

“I don’t know” was all I could manage.

When he spoke next, there was this familiar indignation in his voice, a frustration that I’ve heard when he feels like something isn’t fair.

“I don’t like people who do that, Mama. Your friend should have been able to keep her baby. And, you too.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “If your parents hadn’t made you give The Kiddo away, I’d have a brother to play with. Do you think he’d want to play with me? I’d really like that. I bet he likes Minecraft, just like me. Do you know if he likes Minecraft?”

I was flustered by the flurry of questions and statements he threw in my direction. I quickly realized he had thought about this more than just once or twice. He’s always thinking, even when you don’t think he is. Always able to come to conclusions that evade even the wisest adults.

“I don’t know if he does, but I can ask his Mom, or maybe ask in his next letter. Lots of boys and girls like Minecraft.” I replied steadily, carefully.

“Adoption is hard, isn’t it, Mama?” he remarked softly, with a hint of sadness marking the end of the question that sounded more like a statement.

“Yes, it is. It really is.”

We drove the rest of the way home in a snowy silence.

Breathe and Refocus

I wondered if she could see my eyes watering every single time we meet to discuss my son. I always blink the tears back so we can keep discussing, so we can continue to make appointments for him to see her, so I can tell her the things I’m noticing at home, and the things she notices in session. Tears don’t help when we’re trying to figure out ways to help him until we can officially find a name for what it is that he’s contending with. When she tells me that we could potentially have a diagnosis by January, if the psychiatrist has space to do so, I feel relief and sadness. It’s a strange feeling. On one hand, it’s not the year we were originally told, that alone is a miracle. It means we’ll have something to help him at school, at home, at his activities. It’s going to save us in so many ways. On the other, it means a Diagnosis. A word that will be attached to him for life. A word to sum up what’s going on in our lives.

It feels so much bigger than me. It’s so utterly and completely overwhelming.

The weight of each of these sessions always drops on me as we exit, and today is no different. I shoot my husband a quick text to tell him the news that we’ll potentially see someone in January. I tell him I’ve scheduled a session when he’s off for the holidays so he can meet the therapist. The kids race around on the sidewalk of our town’s main street, exchanging thoughts on the kind of ice cream they will get at our promised stop for the afternoon while pretending to be dinosaurs.

My husband responds quickly and shares the same relief I feel over seeing a psychiatrist sooner than later. He thanks me for scheduling an appointment so he can be involved because mostly, the onus of all of this is completely on me. I’m the one scheduling the appointments, and doing all the talking about the breakdowns we’re seeing at home, constantly scribbling notes here and there, reminding myself to bring these situations up, pulling him out of school and explaining his missed time in school. I’m the one who works with our son while he struggles through homework, and the one building him up when his marks don’t reflect the hard work he’s put in. In no way do I resent my husband for any of this because it’s just the way the cards have fallen. However, knowing that and saying that, doesn’t make me feel any less alone.

The kids quickly buckle themselves up, half-arguing over ice cream flavors as I take the driver’s seat and start the car. The radio softly plays some peppy pop music, and I sigh. I grab my phone, and text my husband,

“I don’t know how to say this other than to say, I’m completely and utterly overwhelmed by all of this, Dalen.”  I hit send, and as I do, the tears I was blinking back, fall down my cheeks slowly. Guilt washes over me. Why do I feel overwhelmed? This is the best process for us to be taking with our son. This is what we need to do to help him, and yet, somewhere in a deep corner of my being,  I wish that I could just be the parent who buries her head in the sand, and ignores the whole situation. It would be so much easier.

Sometimes, I imagine that this is all a bad dream, and we’re going to wake up from it any second. My daytimer won’t be full of appointments, highlighted with random concerns.  Even for the brief second I allow myself to go to this space, I wind up feeling selfish. The negative self-talk enters and I ask myself what sort of mother even allows herself to have these sorts of thoughts. It’s not normal, I whisper harshly to myself.

I put my phone down and put the car in drive. I know exactly how my husband will respond to my text, and I know it’s not what I want to hear or read right now. I have no idea what I want to hear right now, honestly. I don’t feel like the good mother everyone keeps telling me I am. I don’t feel like I’m an incredible advocate for my son. I don’t feel like I have any of this under control, even though I keep being told I’m on top of everything. I feel like I’m drowning in the magnitude of this situation, only reaching the surface occasionally, gasping for air. I feel like an imposter who has her shit together. Mostly, I feel so alone, and so tired.

“Mama, I just love my therapist so much. I love that I get to play with sand, and draw pictures, and play with her.”  His voice cuts through the music as we make our way down the road to the ice cream shop.

I peer at him through my rear view mirror, his smile blasting me like the sun. Somehow, without even seeing my tears, without even knowing how I feel, he delivered to me, exactly what I needed. Reassurance straight from the source. A reminder that no matter how overwhelmed I am, no matter how valid those feelings are (and they are), this is about him. This marathon we’re running right now to get answers? It’s for him. It’s about making his life better, and easier. Because for all the ways this is intense for me, I need to remember, that he’s the one living with of these issues.

I refocus my attention on the road, and, of course, internally, too.

“I’m glad, hun. I’m really glad.”

Image Credit: [mementosis]

Mornings Are Hard, Ya’ll

Phyllis at The Napkin Hoarder wrote out her morning routine after being inspired by this recent article in Forbes. I’ll be perfectly honest here: The routines articulated in this article make me feel like I am doing everything wrong. 4:45am wake up? Nope. I was likely up until at least midnight. Maybe I was writing or prepping for the following day (what is this nonsense?!) but more than likely I was trying to beat another damn level on Frozen Free Fall.  Organic food and free trade coffee? Uhh, no…I’m sorry? I’m lucky if my husband hasn’t grabbed the last Keurig pod on his way out of the house at an ungodly hour. I forgive him for it, mostly, because he has to leave the house before 6am. Working out? Unless putting Spanx on counts or doing a thousand laps up and down our stairs because I’m not organized in the morning. These women put me to shame.

In case you didn’t guess, I’m not a morning person.

These are all probably reasons I’m not a CEO of some fabulous company. No, seriously guys, if this morning is any indication, you should be frightened if I ever was slotted to take over a huge company. Or even a small company. Wait, no. Let’s make that any company.

* * * * * * * * * *

5:00am – Wake up because my husband’s alarm has already gone off three times. Tell him in my “nice” I’m trying to sleep voice, to stop pressing the damn button and get the hell out of bed. He grumbles at me, and tells me to just go back to sleep. I’M TRYING, man. The magical ring of your Blackberry alarm keeps waking me up. He concedes and gets out bed, but not before turning on the lights and laughing when I groan and dive under the covers. I move my daughter over to his side of the bed because I’d like to have at least two hours of sleep without someone kicking/snuggling/touching me. It doesn’t matter anyway, within seconds she’s almost on top of me again.

7:00am – Alarm goes off. I don’t press snooze. I hate snooze. If I want to sleep later, I set it later before I go to bed. I check on my email and other notifications and then wonder why I even bother because most of the time it’s just spam mail. I make a mental note to change my filter later that day. Confession: I won’t do it today. I will make the same mental note tomorrow morning and the next. And likely, the next.

7:15am – Get up, go to the bathroom, and brush my teeth. Throw my hair into a messy bun, thinking I should just cut my hair again, while also making a mental checklist of the things I need to do today. We have dance class today, and I silently praise Baby Jesus when remembering the Dance Mom who gave me two of her daughter’s old uniforms. I won’t be bested by my four year old’s disappearing act that involves her dance leotard. I’m already winning the day and I’ve only been up for 15 minutes! I also remember I need to register the kids for swim lessons in January. I also need to find my glasses because I haven’t seen them or much else for weeks.

7:20am- I go back to our room, turn on the light, and hope that might make my daughter up. It doesn’t so I loudly pick out clothes for the kids  from the laundry baskets of clean laundry that I didn’t manage to fold the night before. I still have at least four more loads to go. I hate laundry. I also hate picking through the piles so I make a promise to fold them all tonight. Maybe while I watch Scandal or Parenthood? Yeah, that’s a good plan. One I probably won’t execute because tweeting about those shows is way more important.  I lay the clothes out on my bed so I can send my son downstairs to get dressed after breakfast.

7:25am- Since the light didn’t wake my daughter up, I gently shake her and tell her she needs to start waking up so we can take her brother to school.  She groans at me and puts her head under the pillow. She’s like me and hates morning. It takes her at least 15 minutes to wake up. I contemplate just picking her up and putting her in the bathroom to get her going, but decide to let her sleep a little longer since she didn’t go to bed until real late the night before.

7:30am- I head up stairs. Turn on the Keurig so I can grab a cup of coffee. Turn on the lights in my son’s room and tell him to get up. He’s up in less than 30 seconds, wrapped in his blanket, and at the kitchen table. I wish I could wake up that easily.

7:31am- Realize there is no coffee. I drop the first f-bomb of the day. My son tells me that I said a bad word. I tell him when there is no coffee, all the bad words are necessary. He doesn’t agree. There will be a coffee run before school.

7:32am- Make my son his most favorite blueberry waffles from scratch. Ha, no. I put an Eggo in the toaster for him, while he rattles off all the books he wants to buy at the book fair.

7:33am- Curse myself for not loading the dishwasher the night before. Wash a plate for my son’s super healthy totally not organic waffle.

7:34am- Put syrup on both sides of the waffles, because obviously I’m adding to the health factor of the waffle. He won’t eat it any other way. Pour a glass of milk for him, and tell him to eat up. I tell him if he’s still hungry after the waffle, there are bananas on the counter he can have too. None of these items are organic, just so you know.

7:35am- Pull out my son’s lunch kit. When I open the pantry, I realize there is no lunch food. Just apple sauce. Second f-bomb of the day, but this one is quiet so I don’t get a lecture from my almost 7 year old. I tell my son to hurry up and eat because we have to head to the grocery store before school. This also means I have to get dressed. Another f-bomb.

7:36am– Head downstairs and wake my daughter up. This time, I pick her up and put her in the bathroom. I contemplate whether or not  to dress her in real clothes. The clothes are ready, but there is a high chance she’ll, in her morning angst, hate everything I picked out. Or want to wear shorts. Or a bathing suit. If I don’t agree with her choices, there will be a rag doll flop and lots of crying. I remember that there has been no coffee this morning.  I decide to leave her in her beloved cat pajamas.

7:40am- Stare at the bags under my eyes for at least a minute while deciding if I should wear yoga pants or jeans. I opt for yoga pants because I know I folded some last night, and put them away. This means they are clean, and I don’t have to do the smell test. I’ll get dressed in real people clothes later.

7:45am- Rush upstairs to look for my son’s agenda, and water bottle. I scribble in my initials for the entire week; that’s what you do at the end of the week, right? Did I remember money for the book fair, he asks? I try to convince him to let me go to the Book Fair for him. He doesn’t like this idea at all. He tells me he can just use the debit card. I laugh and tell him we’ll grab him some money on our way to school. Another stop.

7:50am– Tell the kids to get their stuff on. Snowpants? Yes, please. Throw the empty lunch kit in my son’s backpack, and realize I have no idea if my husband took the bank card. He didn’t, thankfully.

7:58am– Out the door, pleased with how little effort it took to get our snow gear on today. Buckle the kids in their carseats, while trying to figure out if I need to scrape the windows off or if the anti-freeze will do the job for me. I decide to scrape the windows hearing my husband’s voice chiding me for using all the anti-freeze last time.

8:00am- On our way to the grocery store. I drive past a Tim Horton’s and I cry a little. Need so much coffee.

8:06am- In the grocery store,  I tell the kids we have to be fast, and to please not ask for a million things. We just need lunch items. We grab IMG_1871all the lunch items, and I twitch knowing I’ll have to come back later in the day for the rest of our groceries. We need shampoo too. I may have used my kid’s shampoo when I showered the night before because mine had run out. At least I smell like blueberries?

8:21am- We’re back at the car. In the trunk, I pack my son’s lunch and laugh while wondering if I’m the only parent who has had to do a lunch run first thing in the morning. I’ll be better organized next time, I lie.

8:29am- Arrive at my son’s school, place the money in his agenda for the book fair, and ask him one more time if he’s sure that he doesn’t want me to go for him because he might not be able to go. He says no, and I tell him to politely ask his teacher if he can go during recess. He says he will. I also tell him to remember that his sister would love a book too, and he says that if his Minecraft book isn’t “too much”, he’ll get something for his sister too. He grabs his backpack as he exclaims that all his friends are on the playground.

8:30am- Drive to Tim Horton’s for a coffee. If I had been smart I would have grabbed some coffee at the grocery store earlier. I had tunnel vision, and obviously, thinking ahead is not my thing this morning. Oh well. Please add a shot of espresso. Thank the lady profusely for the coffee, which only makes her look at you funny. She doesn’t get it, obviously. Coffee is everything. Maybe I should have gotten a muffin? Nah, the coffee is good enough.

8:40am- Bring the groceries into the house, put them away and sit down with my precious, glorious coffee. We don’t have school tomorrow, I realize and I bask in the unadulterated awesomeness of knowing that means we can all sleep in. Maybe.

What’s your morning routine look like? Is it as a rushed, and disorganized as mine was this morning? Or are you like the women in the Forbes article?  

The Necessary Silence of A Nice Guy’s Victim

It had been just over three months since the day my ex had disappeared from our home, choosing to hide at his parents house, telling me about his infidelity via MSN Messenger. I wasn’t surprised by the confession; I had suspected that something was up for the last six months, but because of the abusive nature of our relationship, I didn’t dare make such an accusation. When I later told people about his confession, and the medium he used, most were stunned, and offended for me. For some reason, it’d never registered with me that I should be angry at the way he chose to confess his sins. By this point in our marriage, a short year and a half, I knew that he had no respect for me. What did I care if he used the most disconnected means to tell me about it? At least he wasn’t in front of me, I could react, and I didn’t have to fear his fists in my face.

And, there it was, an excuse for me. I could finally get out, and the responsibility was solely on his shoulders.

That naive girl. Even though she’d spent her childhood trying to get people to believe that her narcissistic parents were abusing her, she still thought she could get out, with no consequences. I didn’t expect to be blamed for his infidelity. I didn’t expect to be asked questions like, “Did you make him angry on purpose?” or “Do you realize that his disability makes him struggle with controlling his temper?” If his infidelity had given me any confidence, or feeling of power, it quickly dissipated. Accusations flew from every angle; friends we’d made together, and some that felt they owed him loyalty over me. A lot of accusations were subtle, but there were some people who took pride in boldly shaming me. I had no idea that I could be to blame for him cheating.

My ex husband created a long list of fabricated stories crafted solely to garner sympathy for himself. He had crafted a fantastic story about a happy marriage involving two strangers I didn’t really know. It involved a doting husband who had tried so hard to make his callous, angry wife so happy, but she never cared for him. She had, in her coldness, forced him to cheat. She had laughed at him, insulted him, and hurt him so deeply, that he had no choice but to find love elsewhere. There was no side story about abuse. Just a cliche, stereotypical description of a marriage falling apart, at the hands of an emotionally stunted partner. While that description mostly fit the bill, the roles were reversed, and somehow, I was the one on trial publicly, fearful of setting off a new round of rumors.

Originally, it had enraged me how easy it had been for him to create a false reality where he was the victim. I remembered quickly that this was the rouse of an incredibly skilled abusive man who knew how to manipulate people so he could get what he wanted. I knew this was who he was below the surface, underneath The Nice Guy costume he wore. There was nothing I could do to make it go away.  This was the side effect of leaving him, an implication many don’t understand or think of when they say things like, “Why did she stay?”

Only a few people asked me for my side of the story: close friends, my lawyer, the court clerk who saw me on a weekly basis because my ex-husband fought every single piece of legal document I sent his way. His supporters, without talking to me, had made up their mind about me because he’d created a reality that made it impossible for them to imagine hearing or believing my side of the story.  Casting me as the villain in this dramatic fairytale gone wrong just made sense. If they had been interested in my side of the story, they would have heard something dynamically and absurdly different that what he’d concocted. However, despite his need for sympathy, I did what most abuse survivors do- I stayed quiet. I used one sentences summaries to describe the failure of our marriage like, “He cheated on me.”  I didn’t want to delve any deeper than that, because I didn’t really want to relive the horrors that had been my life for the last year and a half.

I also knew, the quieter I stayed, the less likely I was to garner his attention, and of course, his rage. I didn’t want to inflame him because I knew what he was like in those moments of anger. And now, he had a mob behind him. I was legitimately afraid for my safety.  Saying nothing was best.

That is what abusers do. They intimidate their victims.

Ultimately, it was better if I just proactively tried to stay ahead of him. I let my lawyer deal with any legalities. I moved out of our once shared apartment, choosing to move closer to my work, with a roommate, in a building where I had to give access to any visitors. I changed my number, and told our church to cut all contact with me. I changed all of my passwords, closed our bank account, and took his name off of any of our joint bills. Basically, I tried to scrub him out of my life, the best I could, with what little support I had.

And, I had very little. Rumors circulated fast and furiously, especially when I began dating the man who would become my now husband. After I was subjected to another round of “slut” whispers during a work break, I took matters into my own hands. I forwarded a copy of a legal document that had my ex’s confessions, ones that I was accused of fabricating, and a bucket full of other items that he’d carefully left out of the plot line, to a handful of his supporters.  I tapped in “Proof” as the subject, and as I clicked send, I was certain that this would end the debate, the gossip and the lies.

Except, it didn’t stop anything. Even when I dangled actual legal proof in their face, with his signature attached, they still made excuses for him. I learned that once a narrative has begun, there are many people, smart people even, who will not deviate from the lines they’ve been fed. It was easier for them to believe that I was all the evil things my ex had led them to believe, than admit that he had completely manipulated, lied, and used them for his own protection.

When I see abuse allegations hit the news cycle,like they did with Jian Ghomeshi and now Bill Cosby,  I’m always disgusted by how prominent victim blaming is featured, “Why do they stay?” or “Why don’t they report it to the police?” or “Obviously, she’s lying. He’s such a nice guy.” It’s even more haunting to see the amount of people who take what an accused says as truth, or strictly at face value. It’s never as simple as they say it is.

Silence from a victim is never indicative of a lie.

There is an insurmountable depth of fear that lingers, even if you are able to find a way out. Most of us know these men intimately, and we’ve looked straight into their eyes when they were abusing us. We know what they are capable of. If we tell you that it’s safer for us to to stay hidden, and to move on with our lives, please listen. Our concern with safety should be yours too, and it doesn’t negate the events that we were exposed to. It only serves to properly demonstrate just how much power an abuser has. Personally, had I stuck my neck out and reported him, I could potentially facing an emotional,  social and even physical death. I wasn’t about to give him my life, when I’d already lost so much to him.

The societal mob that rallies around men like my ex-husband is a perfect illustration of why we stay quiet. We’ve been abused already; why would we subject ourselves to further abuse from strangers? Until we create a refuge for victims that supports them, and protects them, we can only expect their silence.


That’s Just How He Is

“I just want to help him, especially a student like him. He’s so polite and kind, a great student to have in the class. I just want to help him get over his nerves.”

I appreciated the sentiment, and the fact that she was praising my son. He is all of those things. I’m glad despite the issues he has, she notices those incredible qualities. We’ve had instances in the past where people only focus on the negative, and it’s an uphill battle to get them to see how amazing he is. I knew I had to choose my words carefully.

“He is a good kid,” I smiled in his direction where he was guiding his sister through the classroom, with ease and pride. “The anxiety, the nerves, I think he’s always going to contend with those things, especially in the classroom. It’s really not personal, honestly. At least in this case, I don’t think….”

My husband interjected,

“Yeah, he’s very nervous with me. Even with his grandparents, people he adores. The only person he isn’t really nervous with is Danielle.”

I could see his teacher’s shoulders relax a bit, so I continued,

Image Credit: Roberto Arevalo
Image Credit: Roberto Arevalo

“I’m glad that all you are seeing is the nerves right now. My fear is that the explosions that we’re seeing at home might and likely will cross over to school one day. Especially if he doesn’t have the right tools to cope. We’re working with him at home and at therapy to help him with that. The chewing? That’s a coping mechanism, and thank you for not trying to make him stop, but giving him something to chew safely. I’m not saying that school isn’t making his anxiety worse, because I think school in general is hard for him, but definitely don’t take his nerves personally. It’s just who he is.”

She nodded, “Is there anything I can do to make this easier for him? I want to help him be successful.”

I wondered for a second if she saw the weight lift off my own shoulders as my body relaxed. I was prepared for a fight, but I was glad I opted to find a different way to voice my concerns. The evening before, I was ready to flip a couple tables in utter frustration. That wasn’t going to be necessary, thankfully.

“There definitely is, but I think we’ll need to play around with what helps him. In all honesty, we’re not going to see a diagnosis until maybe the new year, and then possibly closer to the end of the year. Perhaps we need to find some time for all of us to meet- you, us, his therapist and the liaison at the school? I think he needs some adaptations made to the expectations he has in the classroom, and even with the amount of work he’s given to do at home.”

“Well, I’m usually here on Saturday updating the newsletter with the spelling list; I know he had an issue this week with it. Maybe starting on it over the weekend would help?”

Together, we brainstormed ideas to help things easier for him. We discussed potential triggers, things he’s mentioned in passing that have bothered him, and the fact that while we weren’t surprised by his report card, it wasn’t fabulous. He is, however, despite what it showed, working hard. We listened as he and his teacher had a conversation completely in french, my husband joking that they could be saying anything about us and he’d never know. For as much as he’s saying that he doesn’t understand, it’s clear that he’s understanding way more than he’s giving himself credit for.

We left on a high note. There was hope for him, for his school career, for future communication. It meant that we had a plan for him, and that alone was cause for a huge sigh of relief as we walked out the front entrance of the school.  I fear, more than I fear him falling behind in school, that one day he’ll get a teacher who doesn’t see the upside of his anxiety. The thoughtfulness that it leads to for him, the way he notices things that most kids his age don’t, the way he would rather listen than speak. I worry that someone will try to take that big giant heart of his and change it because he doesn’t function quite like the rest of his classmates. For now, we seem to have a teacher who sees all of this, and is just a bit lost, much like we are. Our goals, it appears are the same, and we aren’t going to waste precious time fighting each other on things that just aren’t important.

We aren’t going to lose him.

It’s going to be okay.