Self Care Is Not Selfish

I am in a couple of mom groups on Facebook. A group for SAHM moms, a couple of groups for twin moms, a group for teacher moms, a group for lesbian moms, a group for parents/grandparents who do not want to raise their children in fundamentalist tradition, etc. For the most part, I have enjoyed these groups. I have learned a lot from of them and found support in so many areas. It’s truly beautiful when women come together to support and empower one another.

But there is always that one person…

Recently a person posted in the group for SAHMs looking for advice about having “Me Time”. She wants to hire a babysitter once a week to help with her babies so that she can have time to recharge and be alone and maybe for her and her husband to have dinner or see a movie together. However, her husband is very uncomfortable with the idea of someone other than one of the two of them keeping their babies. I understand. We’re picky about who can keep our boys. Several women offered ideas for how to help him become comfortable with the idea of a babysitter. They were positive, encouraging, understanding, and wonderful.

Except that one. The one who replied that “Me time ended when you became a mom” and it is “completely selfish to pawn your kid off on someone else to have me time”.

Y’all, I tried. I tried so hard to just keep scrolling.

But I know there are moms out there who really struggle to make time for themselves and now here they were being called selfish for trying and I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t keep going without defending all of us moms who are still people even though we have babies.

“Self care is not selfish,” I replied, “but mom-shaming is.”

I am not the kind of person who engages in Facebook arguments with strangers, so I moved on expecting that to just be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Of course Sanctimommy (a title she was given by another mom who replied to her mom-shaming comment) wasn’t “mom-shaming” she was “stating facts and truth and sometimes the truth hurts” and I “just need to face it.” She said that I was “disrespecting my SO by wasting their hard-earned money on babysitters” when that was my job.

So I politely offered some perspective.

When I became a SAHM, Steph made sure I was given time for self care and time to recharge. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t ask for it. It was Steph’s priority. I am the most introverted introvert who ever introverted. She has seen what happens when I don’t have my alone time and she does whatever she can to prevent that from happening.

So Granny comes over a couple of days per week so I can work. I have those two days per week to teach online, do my transcription jobs, write my blog, do homework, clean the house, clean our church, or whatever else I need to do. I don’t make a ton of money, but as a recovering workaholic, I am still making some money that contributes to running our household. It helps me not feel like a bum and keeps me intellectually stimulated. It isn’t just good for me, our boys love Granny and she adores them. There is no separating them.  

Also, it is important to Stephanie that I don’t lose my identity just because I am a mom. Yes, being Mama is the most important title I have ever held and it is my first priority after Wife, but I’m still Sarah–Sarah the Writer, Sarah the Painter, Sarah the Crafter, Sarah the Dog Mom, Sarah the Friend, Sarah the Coffee Obsessed, Sarah the Super Nerd. Those aspects of me and my life didn’t vanish because I harvested human beings with my body. I am not only an incubator and caretaker. I’m a whole person. And Steph loves all of me–even the not so great parts, so she makes sure I have time to be a whole person.

I feel sad for Sanctimommy.

According to her, my need to be alone, to be intellectually stimulated, and to be a whole person means that I’m just not a good enough mom. I’m lacking and I need to step it up.

A few years ago a comment like that would have devastated me. Now I am able to say, “If that’s what keeps everyone in your house happy, then you do you. Don’t shame others for having different needs and choices.”

Friends, Self Care IS NOT SELFISH. It is necessary. It is essential.

Three Reasons Self Care is Not Selfish

1. Self care strengthens authenticity

We all wear many hats and have many roles. We are a lot of different things for a lot of different people. But if we don’t take the time to step back and care for ourselves, we lose sight of who we are.

When I was a kid I would go spend the weekend with my older sister or friends. When I came home, I would almost always get in trouble for having a bad attitude. “If you can’t have a better attitude when you come home you’re not going to be allowed to go anywhere anymore,” I was told. I was so confused because I never tried to have a bad attitude, I wasn’t trying to be nasty, I just couldn’t help it.

Now that I understand more about myself and more about child and adolescent brain development, I realize that when I came home I needed to be alone. I needed to go to my room and recharge. I had been around people for however long I had been gone and I was not only physically tired, but mentally and emotionally tired, too. What I didn’t need was to answer a thousand questions from my parents and brother or have the television blaring in my ears. I needed to recharge so that I could return to being a kind, contributing family member.

That didn’t mean that I should be punished. There should not be punitive repercussions for being an introvert or an extrovert. These traits are beyond our control.

Through the years I have tried more than once to change that I am an introvert. And every time was a disaster that left me drained. In order to be a functioning human I need to take care of myself.

Practicing authenticity through self care helps you find purpose.  

After moms, the one group (in my opinion) who receives the most criticism for practicing self-care is teachers. Teachers are treated terribly.

When I was pregnant, I almost died trying to carry my twins to term. I did not want to have them early. When I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to monitors and IVs, I tried my best to convince anyone who would listen that I should go home and come back in a couple of weeks. Finally the doctor told me, “If we don’t get these babies out of you by Monday, all of you might not make it.” So I had an emergency c-section at 1:30 Sunday morning.

I was still in recovery when texts and calls about work began. I spent the night in labor & delivery, and by the time I moved to a mom & baby room (without my babies) Steph had taken my phone.  I was trying to recover from a major surgery, my children were in intensive care, I still couldn’t regulate my blood pressure, I was a brand new mom to twins, I could barely walk, and people were bothering me about work.

And not because they needed to. Stephanie is a teacher, who teaches the same content I did in the same district. She contacted the administration in my building and taken care of my FMLA paperwork. She had taken care of sub plans. I had entered the data they needed into a Google Sheet before I left for fall break the week before.

Teachers, like moms, are often treated like they are not allowed to be people. For real, both teacher and mom shaming can be debilitating.  

I have three main purposes in my life: be a wife, be a mom, be a teacher. Thanks to contract teaching–and the ability to practice self-care by stepping away from a full-time career–I am able to do all three of them well and with joy. I feel like my true, authentic self for the first time in years. I am overwhelmingly happy.

2. Self care cultivates empowerment

The opposite of self-care is sabotage.  Putting myself on the back burner time and time again is detrimental to my mental, physical, and emotional self.  It makes my goals and aspirations seem like nothing more than silly daydreams.  

This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to make willing sacrifices for others, but it does mean that you create healthy boundaries.  Learning to say “no” is freeing. Practice is the only way to cultivate this type of empowerment. A healthy dose of releasing guilt also helps.

Self-care has made it possible for me to not only be honest about my dreams, but take practical steps to seeing them come to fruition.

3. Self care enables us to care for others

Self care and selfishness are motivated by different intentions. Selfishness comes from a place of how can I make my situation better for me? How can I make this benefit me? Self care comes from a place of How can I improve myself so that I am able to care for others? What can I do to be better for my family/job/friends/etc?

There is nothing wrong with realizing you need a break from your children so that you can be a better mom. There is nothing wrong with using a sick day from work to take a “mental health day”. And there is nothing wrong with telling whoever you live with “I’m going to my room and I need to be left alone for a couple of hours to recharge,” or telling your significant other, “I need a break. You’re on baby duty.” Doing these things will refresh you and allow you to return with new energy and fresh perspective.

Taking these breaks increases our productivity as we care for others

Whether you are a mom, a wife, a friend, no matter your occupation, etc. becoming a stronger, more confident person will also make you better for the ones you love.

Our first week at home with the boys was amazing. It was so wonderful to have them at home. But it was also exhausting. I was still recovering from surgery and no longer had help from medically trained nurses and doctors. Steph and I were on our own. We had to figure out how to keep the two tiniest humans I had ever seen alive all by ourselves. Between diapers and feedings, especially considering Gryffin did not like to eat and Atticus had some severe reflux, there was barely enough time to eat and use the restroom. Any time I had I chose to sleep. When my mom visited the weekend after they came home, the first thing I said was “I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t showered since Tuesday. I’m going to take a shower and a nap.”

“Why haven’t you showered?” My mom asked.

“Because every time Steph said ‘I got this. Go take a shower or something,’ I slept instead.”

After that shower, I was a completely different person. Instead of taking a nap, I made dinner.

It was a long shower. I used my favorite shampoo and soap and lotion and put on my favorite, most comfortable sweatpants, and felt like a brand new person. It felt as though I had been recreated. I was ready to be more than a “mombie”.

And after that I was a better mom. I was better at taking care of my kids and my wife. I was a better human. All because figured out how to care for my infants and be productive because I took an hour to step away and take care of me.

Regular breaks also “fill up your love cup”

I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy. I first learned the phrase when I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. And I thought it was cheesy then, too, but the phrase has become a regular part of my and Steph’s vocabulary.

Our sweet boys have especially taught us about filling our love cups.  They are rambunctious fifteen month olds. In those little bodies are some big emotions they aren’t always sure how to deal with.  When one of them has a melt down (starting before they could even crawl) we will pick them up and talk to them, often also saying “aw, sweet baby, your love cup was just empty.”

Now that this has become their norm we have noticed that the boys often come to us for quick snuggles whenever they are feeling overwhelmed. In those moments, they practice self care; they realize they are overwhelmed and in need of a safe space. They come to us and receive love, attention, and/or comfort, and then continue playing happily. This doesn’t keep all the melt-downs from happening, but they do happen less often and are a little less severe.

It also taught me that self-care doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. The boys come to us to “fill their love cup.” We receive as much in these moments as we give. And it strengthens our bond as a family.

Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Selfish

In a world of increasing online interaction, where tones are misconstrued, and people can hide from taking responsibility for the damage their words can cause, it is easier than ever to attack others, to shame others, or to hurt others.

No matter what you read, please remember that YOU matter. YOU are important. And you need to take care of yourself.

Self care is never selfish.

Mom shaming is.

What is your favorite way to practice self care? Share with me in the comments!

8 Things I Loved in December

December was such a lovely month. Lots of family time, lots of celebrations, lots of laughter and love.

If I actually shared every single things I loved about December, we would all be here for days, so here is a very, very condensed list.

Potato Soup

The boys and I went to my parents for the day in the middle of the month to have lunch with my mom at work for a fundraiser–this is actually one of my favorite parts of December, but I didn’t take any photos, so I’m skipping over lunch and going straight to dinner.

My dad made potato soup. He said, “I’m not sure about feeding it to the boys. I put a little chili powder in it so it’s spicy.” (It was not spicy. I had no reservations about the boys eating it). Atticus was sitting in dad’s lap and when he realized Dad wasn’t going to share he helped himself. He pulled Dad’s spoon right out of his hand and fed himself some soup. Gryffin loved the soup, too.

Advent Books

Steph’s mom gave the boys 25 books, each wrapped individually, so each day of advent they could open a new one. This was great for so many reasons. 1) It was adorable. 2) It was fun. 3) It prepared the boys for opening their Christmas gifts. 4) You would not even believe how much the boys love books so it was very exciting for them.

Christmas Tree

We did not put ornaments on our tree this year. We evaluated the situation and decided chasing TWO one-year-olds out of the tree all day every day wasn’t worth it. Instead, we just put it up with the lights and a bow on top and bought the boys a felt tree on Amazon. They loved ripping the ornaments off the felt tree and scattering them all over the house.

Pizza Night

Steph and I love pizza. I think Stpeh would eat it every single day and not grow tired of it. Well, A and G are just chips of the block, because they love it, too. Atticus even climbed into the pizza box to be as close to the yummy-ness as possible.

Cricut Fun

I had a lot of fun with my Cricut Maker this year. I made cups for everyone in Steph’s family (I forgot to photograph before I gifted them) and I made the boys these adorable Christmas shirts. Crafting, and my Cricut, relax me. Best way to relieve stress.

Rings

Steph had these adorable rings made for my stocking. I wear them on a necklace and love them so much. Gryffin enjoys fiddling with them when we snuggle, too.

3 Years

Steph and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. It’s been an amazing three years and I’m looking forward to a lifetime of happiness and love. I made this video for our anniversary. (BTW, when I shared the video on our anniversary, FB told me I had to make it clear that I do not own the music, nor did I write or perform the music. So, just in case you somehow believed I was so talented, it is actually “The Day Before You” performed by Rascal Flatts).

Christmas

Oh gosh Christmas was so much fun. We had a whirlwind of 4 celebrations in 4 cities in 4 days. I didn’t get nearly as many photos as I would have liked, but here’s a few. Love these sweet, silly babies.

What did you love about December?

30 Things I Believe

One of my favorite writing assignments when I was a traditional classroom teacher was “This I Believe” Essays. No matter the writing ability of my students, if they tried they would write a poignant and beautiful piece. It was a great way to empower them and help them love writing. It was also low pressure because it didn’t require a ton of research, it was acceptable to use lists or bullet points rather than the usual 5 paragraph structure, and it was something they wanted to write about. 

So, as part of my countdown to my thirtieth birthday, here is my This I Believe Essay: 30 Things I believe.

As a wife, I believe

1) Miscommunication is the true root of all evil.

2) Insufficient sleep leads to many misunderstandings

3) Being loving is more important than being right. (This was hard for me to learn.

4) Making time to spend together is important.

5) If your spouse isn’t your best friend, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

As a mom, I believe

6) Every child is a blessing, no matter the circumstances.


7) Coffee should be its own food group.


8) There should be special parking for toddler moms. Especially twin toddler moms.


9)There are no better sounds in the world than: hearing little feet patter across the floor while I’m working my office, my babies giggling while playing together, my babies snoring in the back seat on road trips, the sweet way my boys say “hi” when they see me in the morning.


10) Being a mom is the most wonderful, most difficult, and most important job I’ve ever had. I have never felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now. And I love it.

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As a humanitarian I believe

11) Human suffering should be addressed wherever it is found. It is unacceptable to put children in cages.

12) Building a wall is the stupidest thing ever.

13) Black lives matter

14) I am in charge of my body. No one else. I am responsible for the consequences–both good and bad–of my choices. No one else.

15) Education is important. We should fund it and pay teachers what they deserve.

As a person managing an anxiety disorder, I believe

16) Hope is stronger than fear.

17) Chocolate can make you feel better, even if only temporarily.

18) Choosing to be positive, to practice gratitude, or to work out CAN fix a bad attitude but it CANNOT cure depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. Telling someone who has a mental illness they need to choose not to be sick is just as effective and stupid as telling someone with cancer they need to choose not to be sick.

19) Disconnecting for some peace and quiet is good for the soul.

20) Self care is not selfish.

As a recovering workaholic, I believe

21) Indifference is just as important as passion.

22) You should never stress yourself out for a job that, should you die, would replace you within a week.

23) Every employee is replaceable–and so is every job.

24) It is fun to be the leader, but sometimes the best way to be a good leader is to be a good follower.

25) Having a job is fun. Working is fun. But it’s not the only fun you can–or should–have. Let everything go sometimes and do something that makes you happy. It is okay to take a mental health day sometimes.

As a dog mom, I believe

26) Dogs are the best example of love I have ever seen. No matter what, they love unconditionally.

27) Dogs are the best judge of character. If your dog tells you someone is bad, don’t question it. If dogs seem to think you are bad, evaluate yourself. You probably need to make a change.

28) If you’re having a bad day or are stressed out, hug a dog. You’ll feel better.

29) If you need to cry, hug a dog. He will let you cry into his fur and then he will lick away your tears and he will not stop until you smile again.

30) Humans really aren’t good enough for dogs. We don’t deserve them. If you need proof that there is a loving creator out there, adopt a dog. Someone had to love us an awful lot to bless us with them despite our faults.

What do you believe? Tell me in the comments!

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5 Reasons Our Kids Don’t Believe in Santa (and 2 Ways We Still Keep The Magic Alive)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I love holidays. All holidays. I love celebrating and now that I’m a mom I love it even more.

Nap time with Atticus. <3

This year I had so much fun making family Halloween costumes (You can see them here). The boys really enjoyed eating Thanksgiving food. And now, it’s Christmas. I am in love with my Christmas tree, even if all we have done so far this year is put it up–no ornaments. And Steph bought family stockings that I have been wanting for years. I have all the crafts planned and all the cooking ideas and I’ve spent way too much money on Christmas gifts. But I love it.

However, I have had a concern prickling my subconscious: Santa

I don’t want to teach my kids to believe Santa is real. And not just Santa, but the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and that damn Elf on the Shelf, too. But at the same time I was doubting myself. What if I was stealing the magic of the holidays or the innocence of being a child by not convincing my kids to believe?

I think I may have found a solution!

There are five big reasons I don’t want to teach my kids to believe in Santa (et al)

1. I don’t want to lie to them.

I want my kids to know they can trust me with anything and everything no matter what. And I feel like if I create a foundation of dishonesty in their most formative years, I might not ever recover.

2. I’m not into bribing or manipulating my kids for good behavior.

I want them to make good choices and be good people because it’s the expectation and for the intrinsic rewards, not for gift-wrapped packages under a decorated tree. Also, I don’t want them to feel like they have to earn gifts or my love. My main love language is easily physical touch, but receiving gifts is a close second. I want to give my children gifts as an act of love and I don’t want them to ever feel like they have to do something to earn my love. I love them simply because they are mine and that will never change.

3. Santa is a creep.

He spies on kids all year long. He judges their worth. And then he breaks into their homes while they are sleeping. That does not sound fun.

Also, I’m not a huge fan of the fake Santas who pose for photos. I’m sure most of them are wonderful and have no ulterior motives. But some of them are disgusting.

I let the boys take a photo *near* Santa this year when we ran into him at a craft fair because there was no line and the photos were free.

We walked away and paused so I could get them ready to go outside and a couple of high-school-aged girls wanted to take a silly photo with Santa. The same Santa who had no problem with posing next to my stroller refused to take a photo with these girls unless they sat on his lap. They only wanted to stand next to him, but he pressured and insisted they sit on him.

The girls left without a photo, and I was furious. It was absolutely inappropriate for a grown man to insist that teen girls sit on his lap even though they made it clear that 1) they did not want to and 2) he made them uncomfortable. I worried about all the innocent children who sat on his lap throughout the day.

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4. “Santa” WAS real.

St Nicholas was orphaned when he was a teenager. His wealthy parents left him a lot of money. He heard about a man who was going to have to sell his three adult daughters into slavery because they were so poor he couldn’t afford food much less a dowry, which means they couldn’t marry. One night, the oldest daughter washed her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. The next morning, she saw a lump in her stocking and found enough gold inside to provide food for her family and pay her dowry so she could marry instead of becoming a slave. The next morning, another bag of gold was found. The third night, the father stayed awake to catch who was helping his family. When he was discovered, Nicholas asked the father to not tell anyone about his deeds.

St. Nicholas helped people throughout his whole life, and he always tried to help in secret. He didn’t want attention or thanks. I feel like it is more important to teach the spirit of Santa Claus/Christmas/St Nicholas is one of generosity and giving that should last all year long and not just during December.

5. I do not want to negatively affect my kids’ faith.

Religion is a tricky subject. I want to teach my children about my spirituality and faith. I want to teach them about the saints and Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas, and Epiphany, and Lent–all things I didn’t really know anything about until I was an adult. Some of them I had never even heard of until I was an adult.

And I want them to know it is okay to question. They do not have to choose the same religious belief system I have chosen–I won’t force that on them. But if I trick them into believing in mythical creatures and people when they are children, then later when they are questioning whether God is real or sovereign then what validity is there in anything I could say?

What will we do instead? Two Things

1. Giving

We will share with our kids what being a gift giver really means and how to promote the magic of Christmas by creating a spirit of thankfulness and giving and family tradition.

I love giving gifts, and I think I’m pretty good at choosing meaningful ones. I love making gifts (handmade gifts are my favorite to receive!). We will make an effort to teach our kids how much fun it is to give thoughtful gifts. We will demonstrate thankfulness in all seasons and conditions. And we will always focus on family and togetherness as most important not only during the holiday season, but all year.

2. Pretending

We will still do all the Santa things (and Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny) but we will tell the kids “This is something that we (children and adults) pretend because it is fun.”

Does tricking our kids into believing in Santa inspire creativity? No. Can we encourage creative thought and play and still be truthful? Yes. Imagining that Santa exists and believing that he really does are two completely different things.

So we will still bake cookies for Santa (peanut butter, because they’re my favorite) and we will still write him letters (duh. With two English teacher moms they’ll probably write several drafts of each letter). We will still read books about Santa (and St. Nicholas). We will still fill their stockings after they go to sleep on Christmas Eve. On Easter they will still wake up to Easter baskets. When they lose teeth they will still find glittery money under their pillows from the Tooth Fairy. But they are always going to know that we are all pretending these fun things together. Moms pretend to be the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

I know this isn’t ideal for everyone.

And that’s okay. I promise I will ask my kids not to tell the truth to other kids before I send them to school. But I am very much looking forward to building traditions with my family that include fun, love, and happiness for all of us.

What is your favorite holiday tradition from your childhood? What is your favorite tradition you celebrate with your kids? Tell me in the comments!

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30 Things I Learned From Harry Potter

In case it’s not obvious, I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. So much that our honeymoon was to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. So much that I have one child named Gryffin and another one whose middle name is James (just like Harry James Potter, who was a Gryffindor). I know, I know. I’m a super nerd. I’m not even sorry.

When I decided to write a list of 30 Things I learned from Harry Potter for my newest countdown to my 30th birthday, I thought it would be super easy. Um. Negative. I was super wrong.

JK Rowling is easily the best writer I have ever read. She has created a whole entire world and made it feel real–made me feel invested in it. I know that no matter what I put on this list, I will never, ever truly capture the magic of her Wizarding World.

But despite knowing I cannot truly communicate how magnificent the Harry Potter world is, here is my attempt. In honor of turning 30 in four months, here is my newest List of Thirty: 30 Things I Learned from Harry Potter.

(In case you missed them, I have also shared 30 Things that Make Me Happy and 30 Things I Want My Sons to Know)

WARNING–If you have never read Harry Potter, this list contains spoilers. Spoilers all over the place. (Also, what is wrong with you?!?! Harry Potter is the best. Go read it. Now. Then come back and read my list.)


1. Every life is valuable.

Whether it was Hermione fighting for elf rights, Hagrid nurturing terrifying three-headed dogs and baby dragons, or Harry showing kindness and respect to House Elves and goblins when the rest of society considered them “less than,” it was clear that every life is valuable and worth loving.   

2. Love is the most powerful magic there is.

You can call the Harry Potter series whatever you want, but at its core it is a story about sacrificial love. It all starts when Lily Potter dies protecting her son. She didn’t need to die, but she willingly placed herself between Voldemort and her baby. Because of her sacrifice, Voldemort was not able to kill baby Harry. This theme repeats over and over throughout the books and ends with Harry surrendering himself to Voldemort in the Final Battle–willingly facing death because he thought it would protect the people he loved.

3. We don’t have to be what our parents are.

I think this one resonates with me so much because I taught in Title I schools for the better part of a decade and saw first-hand the detrimental effects of generational poverty. Sirius Black was the first person in his family to ever not be sorted into the house of Salazar Slytherin–and as such, he was also the only one who did not become one of Voldemort’s followers. His brother, Regulus, did everything his parents expected before realizing how wrong they were. Draco Malfoy nearly died before he learned the ways of his parents–elitism, violence–were wrong.

4. But sometimes our parents are absolutely right.

Percy Weasley wanted to advance in his career so badly he turned on his parents. When he received a “promotion” during turmoil between the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore, his parents were afraid the Minister of Magic was using him to spy on the rest of the family, Harry, and Dumbledore. He asserted that they were jealous of his standing in the ministry and accused his dad of having a “lack of ambition” and blamed him for the family’s low socioeconomic status. It was not until the final battle that Percy made amends with his family and joined the fight against Voldemort.

5. Ask for help when you need it.

I didn’t necessarily learn this because I am literally the world’s worse at asking for help. It’s what makes us kindred spirits, Harry and me. Just like me, he always tries to go it alone. Sometimes people pretty much have to force me to let them help me. And the same was true for Harry. He intended to go find the Sorcerer’s stone alone, he intended to rescue Sirius alone, he intended to leave school and hunt Horcruxes alone…but Ron, Hermione, and others were always there to support and help him.

6. Be sassy.

If you’ve only watched the Harry Potter movies, you’ve missed out on some of Harry’s finer moments. Here are a few of my favorites.

“They stuff people’s heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall,” he told Harry. “Want to come upstairs and practice?”
“No, thanks,” said Harry. “The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it — it might be sick.” Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he’d said.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


“Why were you lurking under our window?”
“Yes – yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our windows, boy?”
“Listening to the news,” said Harry in a resigned voice.
His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.
“Listening to the news! Again?””Well, it changes every day, you see,” said Harry.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


“Do you remember me telling you we are practicing nonverbal spells, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry stiffly.
“Yes, sir.”
“There’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ Professor.”

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

7. Higher education isn’t for everyone.

In the magical world, formal schooling is for seven years. Young wizards begin their first year September 1 after their 11th birthday. The seventh year is optional. Fred and George attended their seventh year to please their parents, but it is obvious school is not for them. They like jokes and pranks and silliness. So mid year they left to open their own joke shop, Weasley Wizard Wheezes. My description makes this sound terribly boring when in all seriousness their departure is one of my absolute favorite scenes in all the books. Actually, it is probably my most favorite. It is hilarious and wonderful. Book 5–you should definitely read it.

8. Sometimes it is okay–and even necessary–to question authority.

Many times throughout the stories, powerful positions and institutions are undermined to benefit those with evil or ulterior motives. The Minister of Magic is unwilling to admit his failures or loss of control and many people end up suffering because of it. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were always quick to question authority, and most times were right to do so.

9. Kindness is always the best option.

After the death of his parents,  Harry lived with his aunt and uncle. They neglected and abused him his entire childhood. Despite that, he never lost his capacity to love. He wanted so badly to belong and be accepted and instead of internalizing his abuse and becoming hard and guarded, his first instinct was always to be kind.

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10. Earning the love of a pet is always a plus.

Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, knew the truth about Scabbers and the danger Hermione, Ron, and Harry were in and helped Padfoot reveal the truth to them. Harry’s owl, Hedwig, died protecting Harry from a killing curse. Hagrid’s dog, Fang, was always there to protect Hagrid and the students. Even Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, would tattle on naughty students to the caretaker. It takes a good heart to earn the love and respect of an animal. And it’s always worth it.

11. The media lies.

You may think the current American media is the first to report “fake news” [eye roll], but the truth is humans are biased and therefore our media will be biased. When Voldemort returned to power, the Ministry of Magic did not want to admit the truth to the wizarding community. Instead of organizing to defeat Voldemort, they made the Daily Prophet (newspaper) publish untruthful propaganda to discredit Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone who supported them. Sound familiar? As a matter of fact, Rita Skeeter–a journalist known for writing “fake news”–wrote an article for The Quibbler–a magazine publication of speculation or myths presented as truth–about Harry and Voldemort’s return to power, and it was the only article that was truthful.

12. When in doubt, research.

Wizards don’t have internet, so any time Hermione was unsure about something she headed off to the library to figure it out. This is how she figured out what was in the Chamber of Secrets, how she almost figured out who the Half-Blood Prince was, how she knew what Nicholas Flamel was famous for, and how she figured out the Deathly Hallows. When Hermione didn’t know something she went looking for correct information from reliable sources. It’s an important and necessary skill.

13. Appearances are deceiving.

Hagrid was a half giant who had wild, scraggly hair and a gruff voice and looked terrifying, but he was the gentlest soul in all the books. Dolores Umbridge was a small woman who loved pink and kittens and spoke softly in a sweet little voice, but she is absolutely the most awful character in all the books. I hate her more than I hate Voldemort. Don’t judge people on their appearances. 

14. Heartbreak is inevitable.

Harry does a great job of teaching us this sad, but true lesson. Hermione’s jealousy when Ron dates Lavender. Lavender’s heartbreak at Ron’s hands. Snape’s love for Lily that was never returned and made him bitter. We will all experience heartbreak at some point. Let’s hope we follow the example of Harry when Dumbledore, his mentor and teacher, dies. Harry continued fighting, continued the work Dumbledore began to end Voldemort. He continued to work for the greater good.

15. The love of a parent is so strong, there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do to protect our babies.

Lily Potter sacrificed her own life to protect Harry. Molly Weasley killed Bellatrix Lestrange to protect Ginny. Xenophilius Lovegood tried to turn Harry, Ron, and Hermione over to Voldemort to protect Luna. Narcissa Malfoy lied to Voldemort to protect Draco. I remember being a kid and reading about Luna’s dad calling the Death Eaters and then trying to stall Harry, Ron, and Hermione long enough for them to be captured. The Death Eaters had taken Luna because of information Lovegood had published in The Quibbler and wouldn’t return her unless he helped them. I was so angry. I couldn’t imagine someone sabotaging the only hope the world had at defeating Voldemort. But now I’m a mom, and I get it. I’d do the same damn thing and never think twice.

16. Choose your friends wisely.

Harry Potter was famous in the wizarding world. Anyone would have been his friend. But he connected with Ron and Hermione. And they were always there to help Harry. There was nothing the three of them would not do for one another. They argued. They fought. Sometimes they even stopped speaking for short periods of time. But in the end they always, always had each other’s backs. Quality friends are crucial.

17. Magic is real.

Maybe not in the spells and potions sense. I will never own an Invisibility Cloak. The wand on my desk will never be more than an ink pen. House Elves will never clean my house for me, a fact that deeply upsets me. But there is magic in everything. Our friends, our love, the books we read, the music we listen to. Magic is all around us.

18. Heroism doesn’t always look like a white knight.

Sometimes the hero is the kid who stands up to his friends because that’s a lot harder than standing up to your enemies. Sometimes the hero is the guy who is thought to be a double agent, guilty of murder because if the truth about his allegiance was known it would ruin everything. And sometimes the hero is the guy who is ashamed of how he unknowingly aided Voldemort’s rise to power but turns over the memory anyway despite his fear of judgement and condemnation. Finally, sometimes the hero is a little House Elf who defies his master and rescues his friends. Sometimes the hero is the cousin who notices you and says “I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”

19. Chocolate fixes a lot of problems.

When Harry and friends encounter dementors for the first time in book 3, they are pretty shaken. And who wouldn’t be, to meet a creature that feeds off sadness and sucks the happiness out of everyone it nears? A creature the author created when dealing with her own depression? Professor Lupin gave them all chocolate. “Eat. You’ll feel better,” he says. If that isn’t a man after my heart, I don’t know what is. Permission to eat my feels? Yes please.

20. Everyone has memories they would rather forget.

Speaking of dementors, when they are near, anyone in their proximity is forced to relive their worst memories. No one is immune to their evil. No matter how perfect or happy their lives look, no matter if they are magical or muggle, no one can escape the dementors. Be kind. You don’t know what kind of darkness others face.

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21. No matter how bad it gets, keep laughing.

After Harry won the Triwizard Cup and Voldemort had returned, he gave all his winnings to Fred and George to invest in their joke shop. He said the world would need a laugh in the coming days more than ever.

22. Gender stereotypes suck and feminism is awesome.

While the books may center around Harry, the female characters are actually very important. They are not just supporting characters. There’s the obvious: Hermione who, even Ron admitted, is the only reason Harry and Ron survived.

Ginny, who is about as interesting as a coffee mug in the moves, is incredible in the books. She also serves as an example of growing into yourself. When the novels begin she is a blushing little girl with a cute little crush on Harry. When they end, she is a fighter taking on Death Eaters. She also teaches us that a woman’s choices are her own. She has six older brothers…some of whom think they have the right to say something about who she dates and how she dates. But she is very quick to put them in their place.

Even Lavender Brown teaches us about feminisim. On the surface, she is the epitome of girly. She loves divination, she giggles, and she is clingy; when she and Ron date she is the most obnoxious character ever. She seems like the exact opposite of a feminist character. But she also dies a hero’s death in the final battle, proving a feminist can be girly. (Thank you, Lavender. This girly feminist has taken it to heart).

23. Babies are always a blessing.

No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, babies are always a blessing. Harry was born in the middle of the first wizard war. His parents and family loved him and welcomed him. Tonks and Lupin had baby Teddy just before the final battle. It was a bright spot of hope and love in a dark time.

24. Some things are decided for us and we have no control over them.

My dog Duncan loves his collar. When I take it off him to give him a bath or wash it or change it, he gets upset. It’s his and it’s his symbol that he belongs to me and not having it makes him anxious. In the wizarding world, your wand is your most important asset. Without it, your magic is useless. You cannot cast spells. It is a symbol of who you are and where you belong. But you can’t just go pick one. The wand chooses the wizard. Everything about it–the type of wood, the magical core, the length, the flexibility–says something about who you are and your destiny, and you have no control over which wand will choose you. Sometimes, things are decided for us. Sometimes we just have to accept what is and make the best of it.

25. There is no substitute for the real thing.

Authenticity is important. Gilderoy Lockhart pretended to be a hero. He wasn’t authentic and as a result he wasn’t respected. He had no friends. And in his arrogance used someone else’s faulty wand to obliterate his own memory so severely he lived the remainder of his days in a wizard hospital. The Sword of Gryffindor was vital to ending the wizard war, but a copy would not do. Griphook could sight a fake from a mile away. And speaking of authenticity, the sword would only present itself to a true Gryffindor–Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, Neville in the Final Battle, etc.

26. The world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters.

In our current political climate it is hard to remember this. I have a difficult time remembering that anyone who supports the vile acts and racist beliefs of the current administration could still be a good person. There are people who are not Death Eaters who are still not good people. And there are people who are Death Eaters who might be good at the core but were suckered in due to fear, manipulation, or promises of wealth and power. It’s not so black and white as Dumbledore’s Army or Voldemort’s Death Eater. There’s a lot of gray between them.

27. Competition is about more than just winning.

Have integrity. Harry always played a clean game of Quidditch, even against Malfoy and the Slytherins. Whenever he was given a seemingly unfair advantage in the TriWizard Tournament, he made sure to give others the same advantage. When he was set to rescue Ron from the bottom of the lake in the second task of the TriWizard Tournament, he couldn’t leave the others behind and stayed to make sure they were all rescued. He gave up placing first to make sure everyone was safe. He sets a great example with his integrity.

28. People are complicated.

Sometimes I feel like Ron was created to teach us this lesson. Ron is a very black and white thinker. Hermione describes him as having the emotional range of a teaspoon. But people are more complicated than that. Everyone has secrets. Neville’s secret is the condition of his parents. Snape’s is that he loves Lily. Dumbledore’s is that he regrets not valuing his family and how his pursuit of power hurt them. People are complicated and we will never truly understand one another. We should treat each other kindly.

29. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.

I cannot say it any better than Dumbledore. “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

30. It only takes one.

t only takes one of us to start a positive change. Harry didn’t win the fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters alone. He had many people fighting for him and with him. But he was unfaltering in his devotion to standing up to evil. He was the man everyone rallied behind. The task of ending Voldemort’s oppression required a lot of people, but those people would not have come together if it had not been for Harry leading the way. “Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!” (Dumbledore).  It only takes one to turn everything around. Be the one. Be the change.

9 Things I Loved in October

I thought writing my October review would be difficult because October was a kind of rough month: our sink exploded, I tripped over the baby gate and fell–bruising up the whole right side of my body and causing Steph to miss a day of work to take care of me, our dryer broke, and I have a flat tire (AGAIN). 

But actually, it was hard to narrow down the list of all the good things to a reasonable number. October was really wonderful, full of family and celebrations and good memories. 

ICYMI Atticus and Gryffin turned one in October! I wrote our birth story as well as a letter to them

9 Things I Loved in October

1) Pumpkin Patch

To ring in fall and celebrate Mommom’s fall break, we took the boys to the orchard for the first time. We had so much fun. We started the corn maze, but it was way too hot to finish it. Fall didn’t come to Kentucky until the end of October. So, instead, we sat outside and had apple cider slushies. It may sound gross, but it tastes delicious. The boys loved them.

The boys also enjoyed riding in the wagon, which prompted Granny to buy them a wagon of their very own for their birthday, which the boys love. And pumpkins were a big hit, too! (We very much recommend this wagon)

2) Birthday Party

The boys are officially one now! Their birthday party was awesome. They were surrounded by so many people who love them so much. We gave them each their very own smash cake and neither they nor any of us were disappointed. Most of the party was spent watching them devour the cakes. Best party entertainment ever.

3) Fall Festival

Our church had a fall festival this year that was so much fun. I love my little church. It may be small, but it is full of love and kindness.

Steph helped paint faces and I ran the coloring contest. My favorite part was coloring with my friends Bev and Alison.

4) Halloween

The boys have no idea what Halloween is or why we all dressed weird, but I don’t even care. Last year they had only been home from the NICU for a week and some change, so we spent Halloween snuggling and eating pizza. This year, we took them to the “Fright Night” at Steph’s school–all dressed as Toy Story characters. I’m Bo Peep, Steph is Jessie, and the boys were Slinky Dog. They were adorable, even if they neither one would wear the ears.

5) “Have a good week. Learn your alphabet!”

The last Sunday of the month, when we left church, one of the older members said bye to the boys by saying, “Have a good week! Learn your alphabet.” I didn’t hear it, but apparently she followed it up with “At least half of it.” I don’t know why, but that has amused me all week long. I love my church and the people there. They are truly wonderful.

6) Pumpkin Spice Coffee from Aldi

Even though I was risking being tarred and feathered, I shared this confession on Facebook and Instagram early in October. I am not a big pumpkin spice fan. I actually like the flavors of winter more than the flavors of fall–citrus, pomegranates, hot chocolate. But I found these at Aldi and they were inexpensive, so I thought I would keep them in the house for guests.

And now I’m on my second box.

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7) Sesame Street Fun

Sesame Street Board Books

The boys had a Sesame Street birthday party so we received a lot of Sesame Street gifts. These books (link above) are among their favorites. Steph, Granny, and I have just about all of them memorized. Since they received these books, Gryffin has learned to say “Read It” and Atticus has learned to say “Again!” 

I have looked for similar board books, and the boys are probably going to get these for Christmas!

Sesame Street Parodies

Speaking of Sesame Street, we also discovered Sesame Street Parodies on YouTube this month. Steph and I turn them on for us sometimes because we find them hilarious.

8) Marbled pumpkins

Instead of carving or painting pumpkins, we decided to try marbling them after seeing a video that made it look too easy to be true.

It really is that easy, though. Seriously–get a bucket/bowl of water, pour in 3-4 colors of fingernail polish, and dip the pumpkin. It’s not as messy or as difficult as carving or painting, but it looks just as cool.

**DO NOT stick your fingers in the water. It took straight up acetone to “un marble” my fingers.

9) Date Night!

We had a rare date night. Some sweet friends from church came over and played with the boys so we could have some time together. It was a super simple date night–we went to Olive Garden and had grown-up drinks and salad and breadsticks and chicken (we both ordered chicken dishes. Leave it to us to go to Olive Garden and not order any pasta). Then we went home and snuggled the babies. It was perfect, and exactly what we needed.

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What was your favorite part of October? Tell me in the comments!

What was your favorite part of October? Tell me in the comments!

30 Things I Want My Sons to Know

Last month I began counting down to my 30th birthday with my first post in my List of 30 series: 30 Things That Make Me Happy.

This month has been all about my boys who turned one on October 8. We have celebrated them and reminisced all month long. I finally got around to writing down our birth story. So, this month’s list of 30 is dedicated to them.

I never imagined I would be a mom before I turned 30. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever have kids at all, but always thought if I did, 30 was a good age to start. Now I’m five months away from my 30th birthday and looking forward to ringing in a new decade with my baby boys by my side.

In honor of Ace and G-man, I’ve written a letter to them–Thirty Things I Want My Sons to Know.

Dear Atticus and Gryffin,

You’re one whole year old. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. You will hear that your whole life, that time flies, but you will have no idea just how fast it goes by until you have babies of your own. Those are both things I hated for people to say to me before I had kids: “time flies” and “you won’t understand until you have kids”. Now look at me, saying them. They’re both true though.

I have never truly felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now that I am a mom. Your mom. I have so many hopes and dreams for you. I want to be so much for you: a mom, a cheerleader, an encourager, a teacher, and, when you’re adults, a friend.

As we tackle the next 30 years together, here are 30 things I want you to know.

1. Respect others

I hope you learn how to show respect to others even when you do not like them or do not agree with them.

I read once that some people view respect as being treated like a person while some view respect as being treated like an authority. And sometimes people say “If you don’t respect me, I won’t respect you.” But what they mean is “If you don’t treat me like an authority, I won’t treat you like a person.”

I want you to know that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just because they are people. You don’t have to respect others’ choices, perceived authority, or beliefs, but you have to treat them like they are people. And people deserve to be treated with respect.  

2. No means no

The end. Period. No is no. No is not “maybe” “kind of” “later” “not right now” or “ask me again”. No is no. And yes can become no at any time.

3. Learn to cook

Everyone should know how to cook. You may not be interested in learning how to be a fancy chef, but you should be able to cook enough that when you no longer live with Mommom and me you do not have to rely on fast food to survive.

I enjoy having you play in the kitchen while I am cooking, even if all you do now is make messes. When you were really little, Mommom would wear you while she cooked. She would say “Someday you’re going to call me and say ‘Mommom, how do you make pancakes?’ because you’re going to want to make them for someone special. Well, this is how you do it.”

So what I’m saying is, pay attention.

4. Learn how to throw a ball.

Mommom and Gryffin–the boys’ first college basketball game.

Okay, what I mean by this is that I hope Mommom teaches you how to throw a ball. I never did learn how to do it right. Even if you’re like me and not naturally athletic, and even if you don’t necessarily enjoy sports, I want you to have the opportunity to try. I don’t want you to be afraid to try new things or give up on something before you even give it a shot. I’ve missed out on too many experiences because of fear to let you develop the same attitude.

5. White privilege is real

You have an advantage because you are white, American males. White privilege is both something you must recognize as an unfair, unspoken advantage, and a cause of racism.  Having white privilege is not in and of itself racist. Neither is recognizing it.

This also doesn’t mean that white people don’t or never will struggle. There are historic inequities that have created institutional and systemic racist disadvantages for people of color.  Being aware of your actions, your words, and your position in society can change all of that. Educate yourself. Know when to speak up.

Having this privilege does not make you bad, but how you choose to use it can. I hope I teach you to make the world better. I hope I instill in you a passion for justice and equality. And I hope you learn to ask and then live out the answers to these two questions: What can I do to help build a new system?  What is my role in creating a new normal?

6. Win and lose gracefully

A sore loser sucks. But you know what sucks worse than a sore loser? A sore winner.

When you lose, it is okay to be upset, but you should still congratulate the winner and  mean it.

When you win, congratulate the loser on a job well done and genuinely compliment something they did well. Show them respect as a worthy competitor.

7. I will always love you.

There are no conditions or exceptions. There is not a subordinate clause that goes with that sentence. That’s the whole sentence, the whole thought, and the most important thing for you to learn. I will always love you.

8. Show kindness to customer service employees

Customer service is a difficult field. You will probably have a customer service position at some point in your life, and once you do you will finally understand how hard it is. Say “please” and “thank you”, look the cashier/waiter/whomever in the eye, be patient, use a kind tone, and show true appreciation when they go above and beyond. And always, always tip well.

9. It is important to stand up for yourself

Know that there is a line between defending yourself and being a jerk.  Don’t be a jerk.

And remember,  it is even more important to stand up for people who cannot defend themselves.

10. Be the kind of person who easily earns the trust and love of children and dogs.

No one is a better judge of character than dogs and babies. It takes them less than 10 seconds to know if you are worthy of their affection and trust. Be men who can win their affection.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi come to mind. The first time they met you was the first week of maternity leave that I had you all alone. Mommom had gone back to work and Nana was at home and it was just the three of us. At that point, Atticus, you only really loved Mommom. I mean, you loved me and let me take care of you, but you spent the whole day waiting for Mommom to come home. Then you would snuggle into her and go right to sleep. And Gryffin, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but I had the hardest time getting you to eat. There were days that you might not have eaten if Auntie Michelle hadn’t come over to feed you.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi came in. Grandma Sandi fed Gryffin the last of his bottle that he wouldn’t eat for me. Grandpa Bob held Atticus. I was nervous because you didn’t really like for anyone to hold you yet, but when he took you in his arms you woke up and looked around and sat so still. You snuggled into him and fell asleep. I already knew Bob and Sandi were pretty great, but you guys–at 5 whole weeks old–confirmed it. You knew they were trustworthy within ten seconds.

Be like them. It’s been a year and you still love them. You’re still genuinely happy to see them.

11. Experience as much of the world as you can.

I hope so much that you inherit your Mommom’s wanderlust. I hope you gain new perspectives by truly experiencing and respecting and loving other cultures.

12. Question everything

I don’t mean question everything the way I do–with doubts and conspiracy theories and cynicism. I mean explore all angles and possibilities. Don’t assume something is correct because someone in a position of authority said it. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes Mommom is wrong. And sometimes teachers, principals, preachers, bosses, managers, and spouses are wrong. Just because someone you trust says something does not make it true. Ask questions. Research. Read. Ask more questions.

Mommom and I will teach you how to identify a reliable source. Don’t go looking for answers that support your opinion. Go looking for correct answers and be willing to change your opinions because of unbiased facts.

13. Violence should always be an absolute last resort.

Violence breeds violence, which adds more hate and hurt to the world. You would not believe how much better you have already made this world in your first year of life. You have brought so much healing and joy to so many people just because you exist. I hope I teach you how to resolve conflicts peacefully. I hope you continue to make improvements in society by avoiding violence.

14. Don’t drink and drive.

Call me or Mommom or Auntie Michelle or anyone you can, but DO NOT ever, ever, EVER get behind the wheel drunk. Do not get in the car with a driver who is drunk. There are a lot of risky things you can do, but avoid the ones that can kill or otherwise negatively affect you and/or other people.

There is too much at risk.  Even if someone tells you that they “Aren’t really that drunk” it isn’t worth it. Just call someone else.

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15. Learn the custodian’s name

At school and when you are an adult in the workforce, learn the custodian’s name. Greet them by name every time you see them. Ask them how they are doing and how their family is doing. Thank them for their contribution to your school/workplace. Remember to give them a Christmas card. Try to learn when their birthday is. They have a thankless job. Many people demean them, but their job is very important. I promise you if they don’t do their job well or are out sick, you will notice and you will be inconvenienced. Make sure they know you value them.

16. Understand the weight of your words

In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Your words can cause a lot of damage. Once you say something, you cannot unsay it. You cannot make someone else unhear it. It’s done. Remember that when you are angry, sad, or disappointed.

Your words can also brighten someone’s day. Tell the people you love what they mean to you. Compliment strangers. Encourage classmates and coworkers. Words can be beautiful. They can be healing. They can be life-giving. Remember that, too.

17. Call your grandparents

You have no idea how much they love you or how much a phone call from you means to them. This includes all of your grandparents–even the ones we are not actually related to.

18. Learn basic home repairs

Since moms bought our house, we have replaced every single light fixture. Do you have any idea how much money we saved because Mommom could do that herself? (I get to stand at the bottom of the ladder and pass stuff to her, and I’ve learned a lot from that.)

Mommom has also renovated our bathroom and our kitchen cabinets, and she has cut a pass-through in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. She has re-tiled the floor in front of the door and just about any time something comes up, she fixes it.

A couple of weeks ago the kitchen sink broke and Mommom wasn’t home. I had to get help from the neighbor. And she didn’t have time to figure out how to fix it when she did get home, so we had to call a plumber. Paying other people to fix stuff in your house is expensive and inconvenient. Even if we have to learn it together, I am going to make sure you know how to do as much as you can on your own.

19. Strive to make good first impressions.

A strong, firm handshake, eye contact, and appropriate clothing are instrumental to making a good first impression. Employers will be looking for these things. Parents of people you date will be looking for them. Potential dates will be looking for them. Mortgage brokers will be looking for them.

20. Be thankful

Life isn’t always good. When it is good, be thankful. When it’s bad, try to still be thankful. Besides, bad times are what make the good times so good.

21. Live with someone before you marry them.

Living with someone is a huge step. It is a big deal, so don’t do it unless you are sure you are ready because breaking a lease early and moving out is very expensive.

You know what is an even bigger deal? Marriage. You know what is even more expensive? Divorce.

There is a whole lot you just can’t learn about someone unless you live with them. When you’re dating, you can veil a lot of undesirable traits by retreating to your home, but you can only keep that up for so long when you share a space 24/7.

Break ups hurt and they are awful, but it is easier to break up and move out than it is to go to court and file for divorce.

Also, while we are on this topic, never have unprotected sex unless you are married.

Don’t trust that someone is on the pill.

Don’t trust that someone is disease-free. Sometimes they might not even know they

have a disease because they haven’t been to the doctor yet. OR the doctor might not have told them. Yeah. That happens.

And never, ever, EVER just assume someone is disease free. That’s just dumb.

It is your job to be prepared. If you are not responsible enough to be prepared, then you are not responsible enough to handle the consequences that can result from having unprotected sex. Stay safe.

22. Never settle

Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t half-ass your way through life. Mommom and I have high expectations for you, but that can only take you so far. You need to have high expectations for yourself and you need to have the self-discipline to achieve your goals.

I’ll do whatever I can to support you, but I’m not going to do it for you. I can’t do it for you. So when it gets hard, don’t settle. Pick yourself up and keep going. Work hard.

23. Marry someone who loves you as much as Mommom loves me.

And when you find that person, love them as much as I love Mommom. Even more if you can.   

24. Find the smartest person in any room.

The smartest person is the best person to have a conversation with. They will be able to teach you, challenge you, and expand your horizons. Find them and talk to them.

If it so happens you are the smartest person in the room, first check yourself. Are you really–or are you just being arrogant? If you really are the smartest person, find a different room. Never ever think you know enough to stop learning. There’s always more to discover.

25. Practice self care.

Practicing self care is not only for girls. It is not bubble baths and face masks*.

Self care is taking care of yourself. Eat well, work out, meditate, reflect, treat yourself, get enough sleep, get a dog–do what you need to do to stay balanced and happy.

*There is nothing wrong with boys enjoying bubble baths and proper skin care is good for every gender. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

26. Be trustworthy

I’m going to be honest, sometimes having integrity, being the bigger person, telling the truth just really sucks. It’s necessary, though, to earn and keep others’ trust. Once you lose someone’s trust, regaining it is pretty close to impossible and takes a whole lot more work than it would have just to be trustworthy in the first place.

Sometimes there are consequences to having integrity that make it feel like it wasn’t worth it. And sometimes being the bigger person is the worst. But it is worth it. It is always worth it. Be someone who can be trusted.

27. Trust your gut

If your gut feeling is that you should not do something or go somewhere or trust someone, then don’t. Your gut instinct is very rarely going to be wrong.

Duncan, Gryffin, Atticus, Oliver–LOVE makes a family.

If you discover that your gut instincts aren’t all that great, adopt a dog and listen to his/her instincts. My general rule in life, “You don’t have to like my dog, but if my dog doesn’t like you, neither do I.” Lots of people have lead me astray. Zero dogs have done the same.

28. It is okay to be emotional

It is okay to cry and hurt and be sad. And it is okay to be angry. Disappointments will happen

and it is okay to be upset. Sometimes life isn’t fair, and it is okay if that bothers you. Don’t for a second think that just because you are a boy, you are not allowed to feel all the feels**. Also, don’t react or make a decision from a place of strong emotion. You will probably regret that later.

**It’s worth repeating. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

29. Love your brother

Having a sibling is pretty special, but because you’re twins, you two have an extra

special bond. You will have a connection with one another I will never understand. It is unique to the two of you. So love each other. Be best friends. Support one another. Be there for one another.

I love watching the two of you play together. I laugh because when one of you gets in trouble the other one gets upset, too. This week, you had to get your 12 month shots. Atticus cried when it was Gryffin’s turn and vice versa. It melts my heart when I put you in my bed instead of your cribs and you snuggle each other.

Watching you grow up is the most wonderful privilege I have ever been granted. I pray that as you grow up you also grow together. I hope you two always love each other.

30. Be you

In the words of Grandpa Bob “They’re twins, but they’re not alike.” You have two very distinct personalities. And I love it.

Atticus, Granny calls you Mr Hard and Fast. You fall all the time because “walk” isn’t in your vocabulary. You run everywhere you go, and you climb anything and everything you can. Nothing holds you back. You never meet a stranger. You’re vocal and mischievous and so silly. But you are also really sweet. You love to give hugs and kisses and you love to be snuggled. Sometimes you take a break from playing to give hugs and then run back to your toys.

Gryffin, from the moment you were born, you have done everything in “Gryffin Time.” It scares me that you might be my equal in stubbornness. You march to the beat of your own drum in everything you do. You are shy and particular about who can hold you or touch you. I can always count on you for a smile. You are equally as loving and affectionate as your brother, but you show it in completely different ways. Security is more important to you than adventure. You’re cautious and observant.

You are both perfect. I love who you are. Anyone who doesn’t like you for exactly who you are, doesn’t deserve you or your friendship. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not and don’t try to change who you are to make someone else happy. Be you. Just you.

Every single day for the past year I have said the same thing to each of you, and every single day I have meant it. And I will keep saying it as long as I live:

I love you. I love being your mama. Thank you for being my baby.   

Love,

Mama

What do you want the next generation to know? Tell me in the comments!

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7 Fun Alternatives to Halloween Candy

Yay for Halloween!

It’s almost Halloween, and I am so excited because Halloween is the start of the holiday season. Once we get to Halloween, it snowballs into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Epiphany… I love all the holidays. My standard answer to “Which holiday is your favorite?’ is always “Whichever one is next!”

Now that I have kids, I feel like I get to experience holidays through the excitement of a child again. I’m so excited for this Halloween because, even though they have no idea what’s going on, Atticus and Gryffin get to participate. Last year on Halloween they were not even four weeks old yet. We’d barely been home from the NICU for a week. We put them in Halloween sleepers, snuggled them on the couch with the lights out, and ate pizza with my mom and brother.

But this year! This year we are doing the things! We have made the boys a cute twinsy costume and we are going to show off how stinking cute they are all over town.

Halloween Treats

But I’m also thinking about all the Halloween treats. I mean, I LOVED trick or treating when I was a kid. It is so much fun. But it was also the ’90s and  people didn’t really give a hoot about allergies and sugar consumption. It’s sad, but true. So now I wonder about all the kids with food allergies who had to sit trick-or-treating out. I feel sad for all the little guys who can’t truly enjoy the holiday because of food allergies, and I cringe at the amount of sugar we throw at kids.

There was always that house that gave away raisins instead of candy (EW! No thanks). And the house that gave away toothbrushes because they thought they were so clever (though, honestly, I would have rather had that than the raisins.)

But when I think about the amount of peanut butter or nut filled candy I brought home every year, I worry about the kids with allergies. And even if you do offer an allergen-free candy, it is still so full of sugar. Despite having a terrible sweet tooth and intense love for baking (it just makes me so happy, even if it is more difficult now that I have twins), we try very hard not to give A and G a lot of sugar.

So I went looking for alternatives to Halloween candy that kids will still love (not raisins). 

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Halloween Treats that Are Not Candy

1. Airplane Gliders

I’m a former teacher so of course my first thought was something that is STEM-related. Kiddos build a super simple airplane that is way better than the standard paper airplane. These come with the plastic piece you slide onto the nose to make it fly smoother and farther. Which makes for great impromptu science experiments. The kids won’t even realizing they are learning things. 

2. Bouncy Balls

My Gryffin Micah would be so thrilled to get a new ball. Granted these aren’t infant-friendly and I would take it within seconds because he would put it in his mouth, but for those few seconds he would be thrilled. Also, I can already imagine how much fun it would be for him to watch it bounce like crazy all over the kitchen while he and Atticus are sitting in their high chairs and I’m cleaning up the kitchen. 

How cool are these glow-in-the-dark ones? Or eyeball ones? Kids would love these. 

3. Stamps, Temporary Tattoos, and Stickers

Maybe parents won’t love this idea, but kids will. Even older kids.

I had a Facebook “LIKE” stamp in my desk and even when Facebook became uncool because only “old people used it” my students still begged for a stamp. And putting it on their test if they earned an A wasn’t enough. They wanted them on their hands and their foreheads. (I never stamped their foreheads. But they asked every single time I pulled out the stamp. Every. Single. Time.)

One year when I was in elementary school, my mom bought me Valentines that came with tiny little temporary tattoos. Everyone in my class went to the bathroom to put on their tat. 

You know what, even stickers would be awesome. You would not believe how much a sticker will motivate a child. 

Or a teen. 

Or an adult. 

Yes, by adult I do mean me. I get ridiculously excited about my “I Voted” stickers. I always buy cute stamps when I go to the post office because they are like grown-up stickers. One time a coworker turned my Bitmoji into a sticker and you would have thought Christmas had come early. 

So yeah, stamps, temporary tattoos (these are cool, too!), and stickers are pretty much the best. They’re like currency to children.

4. Punching Balloons

I loved punching balloons when I was a kid. They would entertain me for a long time. This is also something older kids would really enjoy and you can even find some Halloween-themed ones for an extra festive touch. 

Yeah. I quoted myself. I think I’m funny.

While we are talking about balloons. If you’re super talented and cool, you could skip punching balloons and make each kid that came to your door (or car/booth because I don’t think people trick-or-treat at houses much anymore) a balloon animal. 

If you do that, send me an invite. I’m a sucker for balloon animals. 

5. Glow Sticks or Mini Flashlights

You can’t lose here. The kids will love them and they make it safer for them to walk around in the dark. These finger lights look like fun and I’ve never seen a kid turn down a glow stick

6. Whistles

Parents will hate you, but the kids will love getting whistles! I bought Atticus and Gryffin some airplane shaped whistles at the Dollar Tree a few months ago. They still haven’t figured out how to make them whistle (so they think I can do magic) but they love trying. If I hand them a whistle in the bath tub, they sit still while I clean them off. #MomHack

This past summer I worked reading camp with first through third graders. There was a drawing every day for prizes. The most popular daily prize was definitely the whistles with the bracelet. It was really cute. I think they would also love these whistles that make them look silly.

7. Pencils and Erasers

The kiddos might not be too impressed by the pencils, but I promise they will use them and teachers everywhere will love you for all eternity.

Erasers are great, too! I remember buying these erasers at the Book Fair when I was a kid. We all loved them! It was definitely the best part of the Book Fair, by far. (If you are an English teacher or an LMS, that’s totally a joke. The books were the best part. For sure.) Also–500 erasers for $12? Win.

I really like these, too, and can definitely imagine kids keeping up with and using them.

It’s awesome, right?

Simple, inexpensive ways to ensure all kids can enjoy Halloween and trick or treating. I tried very hard to include items that were comparable in price to candy, even though a few of them are a little bit more expensive.

What is your favorite Halloween treat? Or your favorite Halloween memory? Tell me in the comments!

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Dump Cake Three Ways

Earlier this month I promised to share some Dump Cake recipes with you! It’s taken longer than I anticipated due to a crazy month, BUT here they are!

Three easy peasy dump cake recipes!

Me before I had babies: I LOVE TO BAKE. It’s my favorite things to do. It relaxes me and I have a lot of fun. 

Me as a twin mom trying to bake cupcakes: I want to burn the kitchen down. 

When Granny came over a few weeks ago with a wonderful desert she had made, I had to ask for the recipe even though on the inside I was saying, “Yeah, right, Sarah. Like you’re going to bake anything like this.” But it was seriously the easiest recipe I’d ever heard–dump cake!

Every month that has five Sundays, the church group I am a member of–Daughters of the King–hosts coffee hour after church. I didn’t actually get to attend our most recent Sunday because I had stayed up all night teaching ESL to students in China, but I sent Steph with THREE dump cakes I had made Saturday evening–without burning down the kitchen, pulling my hair out, or even getting snippy from frustration.

Need a fast, inexpensive, and DELICIOUS cake? Look no further. There is something here for everyone. 

***I forgot to take photos of the finished, baked cakes before I sent them to church with Steph. Sorry. I blame Mom Brain.***

You know what goes GREAT with dump cake? A date night! Download my FREE date night scavenger hunt–which can be completed by dating couples, engaged couples, married couples, or best friends! And end the night with cake and coffee! PLUS, when you download, you sign up for my mailing list to get advanced notice about future posts and freebies! CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD!

Granny’s Lemon Blueberry Dump Cake

This was the cake Granny made and brought over. It’s lovely and light and perfect with a good cup of coffee. Even though it is seriously the easiest thing I have ever done, I still pestered Granny with text messages while I was baking to make sure I got it right, so I can guarantee this is a good recipe.

Ingredients:

  • One 21 oz can blueberry pie filling (There are two cans pictured because I thought it would take two, but I texted Granny before I added the second one (but after I took took the photo) to double check and it turns out, you only need 1. 
  • One 20 oz can crushed pineapple
  • 1 box cake mix–lemon flavor
  • 1 stick of butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 9″x13″ pan. 
  3. Pour blueberry pie filling and crushed pineapple into pan and mix together. 
  4. Sprinkle cake mix on top
  5. Cut the stick of butter into small chunks and place evenly over top of cake mix
  6. Bake 50-55 minutes or until cake mix is cooked and filling is bubbly on the sides. 

Voila! Done! It doesn’t get any easier, am I right?

Chocolate Covered Cherry Dump Cake

I’m addicted to chocolate. I can’t get enough it. And fruity chocolate is my absolute favorite–chocolate cherries, chocolate strawberries, and ESPECIALLY chocolate with orange. So there was no way I was going to make THREE cakes and not have a chocolate one. 

Ingredients

  • Two 21oz cans cherry pie filling
  • One box of cake mix–dark chocolate flavor (YUM)
  • One stick of butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease a 9″x13″ cake pan
  3. Pour cherry pie filling into pan. 
  4. Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling
  5. Melt butter and pour over cake mixture
  6. Bake 45 minutes or until cake is done and cherries are bubbling at the sides. 

I think this would make an awesome Christmas dessert!

Caramel Apple Dump Cake

I made these dump cakes for church for the last Sunday of September, so I couldn’t not make a fall-inspired dump cake. I’m not really a pumpkin spice person (Yes, I know. If you’d grown up eating my mama’s pumpkin pie, you wouldn’t be either. Just saying.) And Steph is allergic to cinnamon so we can’t do a lot of sweet pumpkin things anyway. So I went with caramel apple.

Ingredients

  • Two 21oz cans Country Apple Pie Filling (these apples do have a small amount of cinnamon in them. Enough that Steph couldn’t eat it, but not so much she was affected while I was baking it)
  • One box cake mix–french vanilla flavor
  • One stick of butter
  • Caramel syrup for drizzling

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease 9″x13″ cake pan
  3. Pour apple pie filling into pan
  4. Drizzle caramel syrup over apples–I didn’t measure. I just drizzled. Generously.
  5. Sprinkle cake mix over apples and caramel
  6. Melt butter and pour over cake mix
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until apples are bubbly and cake mix is done. 

There you have it. A perfect dump cake for a fall festival, Halloween party, Thanksgiving, or any other fall event!

Obsession

Will I try dump cakes again? Abso-frickin-lutely. They are easy and delicious. They freeze well so you can make them ahead and reheat later. They’re great gifts. They are super inexpensive to make. AND, my favorite part, the flavor possibilities are endless. They leave so much room for creativity in the kitchen.

Do you have a favorite dump cake recipe? Is there a dump cake flavor combo you’d like to try? Leave me a comment letting me know!!!

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Our Birth Story: Becoming Twin Moms

Today our baby boys officially turn one year old. It’s unbelievable that it has already been a whole year since their birth. It feels like only yesterday I was balancing my water cup on my big pregnant belly.

One of the most difficult things about my pregnancy was trying to figure out a birth plan. I knew that a birth plan was not a guarantee. I knew that very few deliveries happened as planned. That didn’t stop me from making a loose plan anyway. Originally I wanted a home water birth. Steph nixed that immediately; she insisted we go to a hospital. When two sweet babies appeared on that first ultrasound, I knew there was no way she would budge.

Instead of making an actual birth plan, I made a list of things I would like to happen.
  • Delivery, no C section–Not because I am brave or anything (I’m not) and not because I thought moms who had c-sections took the easy way out (I don’t). A c-section is major abdominal surgery. The only surgery I’d ever had was a tonsillectomy, but I was so little I don’t remember anything besides eating blue Popsicles. But I do have an unnaturally high pain tolerance, so I believed I could handle the pain. I didn’t want to have to recover from surgery while figuring out how to be a mom.
  • No needles in my back. I don’t mind getting shots or having blood drawn or donating blood. Needles don’t bother me–as long as I can see them. I did not want one of them in my back.
  • Full term. I was determined I would carry my babies for 40 weeks or more. I really wanted to have my boys on their due date as it fell on Thanksgiving Day. We found out we were expecting on St. Patrick’s Day and they were due on Thanksgiving Day. It would have been fun for our pregnancy to be book-ended by holidays.
  • No NICU time. This was why I wanted to carry the boys to full term. I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies that I immediately brought home. We did a tour of the NICU because it was encouraged for all parents expecting multiples. We were very impressed by the NICU and staff. When we left we were confident that if our boys were there they would receive the absolute best treatment and care, but I hoped I’d never set foot on that floor of the hospital again.

Since I was carrying twins, I knew the likelihood of getting everything on my birth plan wishlist was pretty low. However, I was lulled into a false hope with a picture-perfect pregnancy. With each passing week, I grew more and more confident I would carry my babies to term and might even deliver them.

Zero. Zero things happened the way I wanted.

My Pregnancy

Trimester One

I really did have a wonderful pregnancy experience.

The first trimester I was exhausted and occasionally slightly dizzy or nauseous, but I didn’t get sick. I didn’t throw up one time. Sometimes I was convinced I wasn’t actually pregnant because I didn’t get sick. There were two big giveaways whenever I started thinking like that, though. 1) I was emotional, which is absolutely not typical behavior for me and 2) I was not smart.

To say I was air-headed is an understatement. I would ask Stephanie what common words meant and I forgot everything–to take medicine, to lock doors, when I put stuff on the stove or in the oven. I’d get in the car to go somewhere and then forget where I was going and turn around and go home. One morning I forgot I had to go to work. Steph came downstairs and I was sitting on the couch reading a magazine instead of getting ready.

Eventually Steph wouldn’t leave me unsupervised. She took care of everything–even driving me to and from work. I just had to make it through the work day, sleep, and eat the amazing food she made for me. (I had a slight aversion to chicken during the first trimester and that’s pretty much the only thing I eat. Stephy to the rescue! I also craved grapefruit, of all things, so she always made sure we had plenty)

Trimester Two

My second trimester was perfect. I had plenty of energy. I completed an intense writing fellowship at a nearby university during summer break. We went to a few weddings and had a great time at all of them. Steph graduated from a deacon thingy and I spent the weekend with her at school for the graduation. I just felt good all the time.

I threw up once during the second trimester, and I sat on the bathroom floor and cried and cried because I had made it 21 weeks without throwing up and now it was over (Like I said, I was emotional). A few hours before I got sick, I was attacked by yellow jackets–literally, they chased me inside. They stung me several times before I got away and I had a headache for two days afterward. It took Steph the entirety of those two days to convince me I threw up because of the bee stings and not because I was pregnant.

Trimester Three

The third trimester was exhausting. My belly was huge and I had to wear a belly band for support to get through the work day. I had not had caffeine in over two years, but I had to pop into the office manager’s office every day during lunch to make a cup of coffee in order to make it through the afternoon. I had never in my life been more thankful for fall break or needed the rest so much.

The Last Week

I had a picture-perfect pregnancy for 32 weeks and 5 days. And then all of a sudden, everything went downhill.

October 3

On the Tuesday of fall break I was 32 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I had a routine ultrasound and check up with my doctor, Dr. P. Y’all, I love Dr. P. He is the most patient, kind-hearted, doctor I have ever met. He always answered any and every question I ever had without ever making me feel dumb. Even though he was always honest with me about risks, dangers, and bad news, he never made me feel scared. Dr. P is not an alarmist, and he has the best bedside manner I have ever seen. He’s phenomenal.

My blood pressure was a little high when I arrived at his office. My ankles were pretty swollen, too. We had been out shopping and running errands, so we didn’t think too much of it. I had been monitoring my blood pressure at home for a couple weeks and it was staying in a safe range. Dr. P. put me on bed rest for the remainder of fall break and had me do a 24-hour urine collection test (which is super gross), blood work, and a follow up in two days. At this point he told us if I didn’t go into labor within four weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section. I reminded him of my birth plan, he promised to do his best but couldn’t make any promises.

October 4

On Wednesday we headed back to Dr. P’s  office, dropped off my urine collection, and had my blood drawn. They checked my blood pressure, all was good, and we went home for more bed rest.

October 5

On Thursday we returned for a follow up and check in. My ankles and legs were still swollen. My blood pressure was pretty high again, but came down after I sat in the office with my feet elevated. We had an hour drive one-way to get to the office and my ankles started swelling from not having my feel elevated in that amount of time.

My urine analysis and blood work came back perfect, but my high blood pressure and swollen legs were a cause for concern. Dr. P put me on real bed rest–I would not be returning to work on Monday–and scheduled steroid shots to speed up the boys’ lung development because if I didn’t go into labor naturally within two weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section.

This was the first time I had felt fear. I was exactly 33 weeks pregnant and absolutely did not want to have the babies at 35 weeks. At the earliest, I wanted to have them at 37 weeks. I wanted to make it to November. But I trusted Dr. P so much that I never argued with him, despite the realization nothing was going according to my birth plan.It was too late in the afternoon to schedule the steroid shots, so we made an appointment for the following morning with his nurse.

I was super bummed about being on bed rest. My friend Amanda surprised us with a visit, ice cream in hand, and made me feel much better about everything.

October 6

33 weeks and one day. I went to the doctor’s office for the first steroid shot. My blood pressure was low enough that I could go home, but too high to be released back to work. The next shot had to be in 24 hours, so I received instructions about how to go to the hospital to get the shot and went home to sleep off the shot.

(PS–any time a nurse/doctor says something will “make you feel jazzed” they mean stoned. I had no idea what jazzed meant when the nurse kept saying it. Stoned. I was stoned.)

October 7

I woke up Saturday morning feeling really good. I was excited for the day. My mom, Steph’s mom, and one of our sweet friends from church had been working together to plan a baby shower for us on Sunday and our moms were coming to town that day to prepare. It was going to be a lot of fun, one last little party before Steph went back to work and I became a difficult, bored, bed rest patient.

When we arrived at the hospital, there was a couple checking in, and the woman was obviously in labor. When I walked up next, the registration lady looked at my belly and said “Wow, we sure are getting a lot of babies today! How far apart are your contractions?”

“Oh, I’m not here to give birth. I’m just here for a shot. I’ll be done and gone in 20 minutes.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

The nurses gave me the shot and checked my blood pressure. It was just around the too-high-to-go-home mark. I told her that I had been sitting with my legs down and if I laid down for a few minutes it would go down. She gave me twenty minutes but left me hooked up to an automatic blood pressure cup that recorded my blood pressure every three minutes.

Before the twenty minutes were up it set off an alarm because my blood pressure was dangerously high. She came in to reset the machine and take my blood pressure manually. This was the first time she mentioned being admitted. “Absolutely not,” I said. “I am going home today.” I was starting to panic, which was not good for my BP, obviously, so Steph took over.

On our way to the OR!

She tried asking questions and wasn’t getting anywhere. “I need you to understand,” she said. She had been so protective my whole pregnancy. Her Mama Bear instincts were coming out. “I am the wife, the other mother to these babies, not some random friend. When we ask questions we need answers.”

At this point the nurse realized how scared we both were and assured us we were not in immediate danger but she didn’t think the doctor was going to let me leave without blood work at the very least. (Dr. G was on call—another absolutely amazing doctor). He was currently in surgery, but they had contacted him and he would be in to see us as soon as he was finished. She left me hooked up to the automatic BP machine and gave us some privacy.

Steph, who could see each blood pressure reading as it came through, started preparing me for being admitted.

According to the Mayo-Clinic, Anything above 140/90 four hours apart is considered pre-eclampsia. When I arrived at the hospital, my BP was 142/95. The first time I set off the alarm it was 186/110. While we were waiting for Dr. G, I set off the alarm again with a similar BP. The nurse contacted Dr. G in surgery again so he could authorize blood work. Before she returned, I set off the alarm again. This time my blood pressure was 208/118. She immediately prepared me for being admitted. I was in a gown, with a bracelet, and being wheeled to a room by the time Dr. G made it out of surgery to greet us.

Dr. G explained how pre-eclampsia can develop into eclampsia and then into HELLP syndrome, which was life threatening for both me and our babies. He told us he would monitor me closely and treat the pre-eclampsia aggressively. I was given an oral medication, hooked up to a magnesium drip, and had another medication pushed through my IV. If my blood pressure wasn’t down in 20 minutes, they would double the dose and push more through my IV. 20 minutes later the same thing until I reached the maximum allowed.

I had monitors and wires everywhere.

I stayed hooked up to the automatic BP cuff, which had been reset to take my blood pressure every ten minutes. Baby monitors were strapped to my belly. Steph stood next to the monitors and watched everything closely, giving me updates each time I asked. Finally, after three doses of IV medications and an hour on the magnesium drip, my blood pressure reached a safe level.

I’m not sure if they told me and I just don’t remember, or if they only told Steph, but as it turns out if my blood pressure wasn’t making significant improvements in 30 minutes time, I was going for an immediate C-section.  Things did get better though, and I was sure we would hit the 12 hour goal (enough time for the steroid shot to make an impact on the boys) and I would leave the hospital.

“Those are going home numbers,” I told Allison, my nurse. “I can leave now.”

I think she thought I was joking. But I wasn’t. I believed I could go home if my BP went down, so I didn’t understand why everyone came to the hospital. Sarah and Kelly, some of our very best friends, dropped everything they were doing and drove from another state with snacks for Steph and games and activities to prevent boredom. Antonette, Steph’s “sis,” and her mom who we all call Nan dropped everything and drove two hours to be with us. Nan is a retired labor and delivery nurse and I wanted her to move in with us while I was pregnant. My mom and brother and Steph’s mom and SIL weren’t far behind them.

But I was going home. I was sure of it. I had my shot at 9:30AM and if my blood pressure was still good at 9:30PM, that meant I could go home. Who knows why I thought this. I’d had a lot of drugs that day and considering how crazy high my pain tolerance is, my drug tolerance is crazy low. So at 9:30PM when Dr. G said I had made it 12 hours, but 24 hours was best to give the steroid shot the most amount of time to benefit the babies so we would schedule a c-section for the morning I was shocked. And terrified. And so, so thankful to be surrounded by amazing friends and family.

We sent everyone to get some rest.

Sarah and Kelly drove the hour to our house to let the dogs out, clean up a little, and refrigerate the things our moms had brought for the baby shower we wouldn’t get to attend. Everyone else found a nearby hotel room and took off to sleep.

At 11:30, Dr. G came back. He had been ordering blood work every half hour to hour, and it was going downhill a lot faster than he wanted, my heart rate had also dropped. He had rescheduled a c-section for the next open OR. It was time to prep for surgery. Steph updated our family and everyone came back to the hospital.

While we waited for an OR, we visited with each group.

Steph’s mom and SIL sat with us for a while. They had both had c-sections and were able to answer many of our questions. I was so thankful for Steph’s SIL, who answered questions so calmly and gently. She was reassuring and soothing, which helped me hold it together.

Then Antonette and Nan came in. While Antonette took care of Steph, Nan rubbed my hair and talked to me. I finally–finally–got the nerve to ask the one question I had been holding in. It was the one thing that terrified me more than anything else, but I knew it was a silly question, so I hadn’t asked. “Nan, I know this is dumb, but I have to know. When I go to the dentist and they try to numb me, it doesn’t work. I feel everything. What if they can’t numb me for the c-section? What will happen?”

“That won’t happen. It’s extremely rare. It’s a completely different medicine. I promise you they will take care of you.” She didn’t laugh or scoff. She was perfect. She prayed a blessing over me, kissed my cheek, made the sign of the cross on my forehead, and headed out. Antonette gave Steph her rosary, blessed by Pope John Paul II himself.

Kelly and Sarah updated us on the dogs, who I was very worried about. They loved on us both and were just the best. They also brought us our “go bags” which were not in the car because we did not intend to have babies that day.

Eventually, it was just me, Steph, and our moms.

We had a very special few minutes. They stood around my hospital bed and we held hands while Steph’s mom prayed over the babies, the hospital staff, and me and Steph. It was peaceful.

After they left, the NICU doctor came down to discuss the boys’ treatment plan. I honestly cannot say enough positive things about the doctors and nurses who took care of all of us while we were in the hospital. They made the most terrifying days of our lives the best they could possibly have been under the circumstances.

After I was prepped for surgery, Steph and I had a last few minutes to be a family of two before we were taken to the OR.

Getting the spinal block was every bit as awful as I expected it to be. I almost passed out. But it worked. I could not feel a thing. And it kind of felt nice, like sitting in a hot tub. They told me when they started the surgery I would feel some pressure, but no pain. I didn’t even feel the pressure. They had to tell me it was happening.

October 8, 2018

At 1:34AM, Steph stood up to get the first photo of our first born, Atticus James. He entered the world ready to take over and nothing has changed in this first year. They swaddled him up and handed him to Steph. He was beautiful and tiny. 4lbs and 4oz of pure determination. Our friend Michelle has since commented that when she saw him in his incubator in the NICU she looked at his tiny, frail body and just felt pity for the little guy. He has surpassed all of our expectations; he has exuded a fierce strength over the past 12 months none of us saw coming.

At 1:36, Steph snapped a photo of our second born’s entrance, Gryffin Micah. Gryffin may be the second born, but he has not spent one minute of his life in his brother’s shadow. He makes his own mark on the world. At 5lbs and 8oz, he was born stubborn and ready to do life at his own pace. Gryffin does everything in Gryffin time. The nurses wrapped him up  and brought him over so I could kiss him and put him in his incubator. Steph said Gryffin’s head nurse just had a different style than the head nurse on Atticus’s team. Months, literally months, later she finally admitted that they rushed Gryffin away because he wasn’t breathing very well on his own.

While Dr. G finished putting my body back together, Steph accompanied the boys to the NICU and made sure they were settled. She snapped some pictures and came back to my OR. While the surgical team finished up, she sat at my head and showed me pictures and assured me they were doing okay. When I was moved to recovery, she headed out to the waiting room to visit with our friends and family and show them photos. Steph took the new Nanas to meet the babies before they had to leave.

I was moved back to my room and slept a little. Everyone headed back to their hotels/homes/our house. Steph took a shower, but I don’t know if she slept at all.

The next thing I really remember was the shift change at 7:00AM. The new nurse checked my vitals and explained that she would be limiting visitors because I needed to rest. I thought that was strange. I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to rest when I had no idea where my babies were or how they were doing.

We have never talked about it, but Steph instinctively knew I needed to be alone. Not necessarily for rest, but for processing. In the span of five days, we had gone from planning for babies within four weeks, to having babies in the NICU. I had come to the hospital for a shot, and ended up having a c-section. 

I had read that it can take hours to days for your stomach to deflate after you give birth. Mine was deflated by the time I left recovery. I laid in my hospital bed, no longer pregnant, and cried. These were supposed to be our first moments together as a family of four. I should have been snuggling my babies and soaking up all their newness and tininess.

It was months before I stopped missing being pregnant, before I stopped being jealous of women who carried to term, before I stopped getting uncharacteristically furious at women who complained about third-trimester discomfort on social media. If they only knew how badly I wanted to keep my babies safe and snug in my womb until it was safe for them to be born; if they only knew what it was like to have babies in the NICU because your body failed them; and if they only knew the unique and gut-wrenching guilt NICU moms feel, they’d never complain for a moment.

I Rested

Steph had loaded a playlist she made for me on an iPod. She took my phone so no one could bother me. I turned on the music and slept as much as I could while waiting to be allowed out of bed to go meet my babies. Steph hung out in the waiting room with Sarah, Kelly, Antonette, and Nan, which was exactly what she needed–to be surrounded and loved and reassured by her people. I will forever be thankful they were there to take care of her.

Sometime later that day, around 5:00 pm, I was deemed well enough to be moved from labor and delivery to a postpartum room. Once I was all settled and  had my vitals checked again and another round of blood work done, Steph took me to the NICU to meet my babies.

Becoming a NICU Family

As far as NICU experiences go, we were blessed for a number of reasons. Besides a top-notch hospital staff, our first blessing was that we did get to hold our boys. We were limited to 30 minutes to an hour twice a day at first, but we got to hold them. Many NICU parents have to wait days or weeks after birth before they can hold their babies. When I met them for the first time, the nurse took them out of the incubators and laid them on my chest and let me have a few minutes of skin-to-skin time with them. It was magical. It was life-changing. I experienced a brand new kind of love, and it was unbelievable.

After I settled in my room, Steph took the rest of our friends to meet the boys. Dr. P discharged me several days later. The Ronald McDonald House gave us a room so we could stay close to our babies. Two weeks later we brought them home. We were told we would be in the NICU for 6-8 weeks, so bringing them home after only two was mind-blowing and awesome and wonderful. Those were the longest, hardest two weeks ever, but every moment of the last 365 days has been worth it.

My birth plan might not have worked out the way I wanted, but that’s okay.

These guys are only one, but they have already made this earth a better, happier place. They have already made a positive impact. Being their mom is a true privilege and I am thankful for every single second.