Going Home

Well, not home. Not really.

It was my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and we drove almost seven hours to rural Ohio to celebrate with her.
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It’s strange coming back to see her. And, if I’m totally honest, depressing.
Almost all of my mom’s family lives in this area, and when I was a kid, I desperately wished we lived there, too. All my aunts and uncles lived there. My cousins. My grandparents. They saw each other all the time, whereas I got to seem them a couple of times a year. I was sad and jealous.
I didn’t understand that my mother had joined the military to escape. She had a lot of very good reasons to leave, reasons that eventually included daughters of her own.
When I go back now, nothing seems like the world I wanted to join. Yes, my kids are drinking out of the same cups I used when I was a kid. My grandmother has the same rose-printed plates. Even the same wood paneling is in her house. But that’s where it ends.
When I was a kid, manufacturing was strong where she lives. Everyone had jobs, nice houses, and newer cars. We used to walk downtown for ice cream or to visit the Five and Ten.
Now, most of the store fronts are empty. Many of the beautiful old homes have been sub-divided into apartments. Others are in a sad state of repair. Piles of junk sit in yards further outside of the small town, especially old cars and boats. Paint is peeling. Front steps rotting. Out buildings collapsed.
Then there are the trailer parks. Unless you’ve seen rural poverty, you don’t know what I’m talking about. Think about a 1950s RV set-up on blocks. Old. Rusted. Windows boarded in places. Cinder blocks for steps. Now imagine twenty of them clustered together. A few miles away, another trailer “park”. Now imagine watching a little six-year-old boy with light blonde hair and a navy jacket struggling to open the rickety door as he balances on a part of the steps still intact.
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Why are things so bad now?
It’s a story told all over the Midwest. Factories that once employed entire towns are gone, and there are no new manufacturing jobs to replace them. Whenever we visit, another of my cousins have been laid off and is trying to find a job. The next job they get always pay less than the one they had before.
The jobs still remaining that pay more than minimum wage all seem to be in the medical field or other services needed by the elderly and retired. Especially in-home nursing. Few out there can afford assisted living even if they are no longer completely self-sufficient.
But those jobs tend to require degrees, and the ones that don’t require degrees pay even less than the few remaining factory jobs.
Doctors in the area live in mansions situated on sprawling lands. Even nurses do well. But I learned from my cousin that being a pharmacy tech pays less than working for Whirlpool. I can understand the growing fear and resentment as they scrape together to get by while a newcomer to the area is building a heated outbuilding larger than their homes to store his three boats.
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Even the skilled aren’t immune.
My uncle recently closed his business after it had been around for over fifty years. He used to sell and repair appliances like washers and dryers. He started as an apprentice when he was a teenager, and when the owner retired, he sold the business to my uncle.
My uncle did great at first. But then Lowes and Home Depot moved into the area, and he simply couldn’t compete with them on price. Eventually, he closed the Main Street shop and focused on repair.
But with how cheap appliances were becoming, more people just replaced broken ones rather than repairing them. So, he had to start letting the technicians that worked for him go. Then his secretary.
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Finally, he closed his business and took a job as an electrical inspector for the county. It sucks. After more than thirty years of working for himself, he couldn’t make a living at it anymore. Thank goodness he’s a master electrician and was able to get other work.
Yeah, they’re my family and I’m biased, but these aren’t dumb people. Or lazy people. Most of them work damn hard. They simply have no way forward. They’re trying to eek out a living without giving up family, friends, and community. They’re trying to find a way forward after manufacturing was gutted from the Rust Belt.
And there is no safety net for them. No retraining for them. No real hope for things to ever improve.
College is a dream. Something rich kids do. Something they wish they could give their kids. But when most families of four earn less than $40k a year, even state school is out of reach.
Some young men and women join the military. It’s a way out, a job, and it promises to teach them real skills. Two of my cousins tried to join, but one failed the physical and the other hurt his knee to the point it required surgery two weeks before boot camp.
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Still, I’m amazed how many of them have friends that joined the military, and how many of them know someone that gave their life. You see pro-veteran signs, slogans, and even graffiti everywhere. Makes me wonder if this is why.
It’s people like this that voted for our current president. They’re the ones that propelled him to victory. People who felt lost and left behind. People who want the family and community my grandfather had. Or, what they think he had. They want the jobs back. They want hope.
If you haven’t driven through rural Ohio, it’s hard to understand. If you have, you may still not agree with their choices, but you can understand them. I hope our president doesn’t disappoint them.
How about you? Does your family live near you? Or are they far away? Did you grow up with a large family and love it, or maybe you had a small family and loved that? Ever been through rural Ohio?

Shark Attack

Ahh, the car ride into daycare.  I’ve mentioned it before, and boy how my daughter likes to spring the big questions on me when I can’t wiggle away. It’s like she knows exactly how to make me squirm and delights in doing it.

So, we’re in the car, and she waits until I’m pulling out of the driveway.

“You’re married to daddy, right?”

“Yes,” I say. I’m thinking this is going down the path of discussing her friend whose parents are divorced. My daughter still struggles with wrapping her head around it.

“So, you’re a girl and you married a boy, right.”

“You don’t get married until you’re a grown-up, but yes.”

“Boys can marry boys, too, right?”

I pause. I’m in new waters, and the sharks are circling. I know everything I say will be twisted around and retold on the playground. “Why do you ask?”

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“Bronson said so.”

“Well, Bronson’s not wrong.” For once.

“That means girls can marry girls.”

I pause again, feeling like the sharks are getting closer but still not knowing what to do or where this is going. “Yes.”

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“Well, I’m going to marry a girl when I grow up.”

I pause again. “Why is that?”

“Because boys are gross. Did you know Bronson farts and doesn’t say excuse me?”

I’m thinking, yeah, that doesn’t change much with age.

“What do you think, momma?”

“That Bronson should say excuse me.”

“I mean about me marrying a girl.”

And the shark just ate the surfer. Yeah, I knew something was coming, but I didn’t know until the moment the jaws closed.

I take a deep breath. “I want you to marry someone that loves you, is good to you, and will always be there for you. If they do that, I don’t care who they are.”

“I love you, momma.”

“And I will always love you, sweetheart.”

And at that moment, I realized everything I said was true.

 

How about you? Anyone ever spring a hard or unexpected conversation on you? How did you respond? Do you ever feel like your children, nieces, nephews, or whomever are baiting traps for you? Ever fall in? How did you get back out?

It'll Be Fun, They Said

Ah, the family vacation. We didn’t take these much as kids as our family simply couldn’t afford it. Family vacations in my childhood primarily consisted of me being sent off with grandparents so our parents could get some time away.

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DH and I didn’t take too many vacations when our first child was small, partially because of the restrictions I was on as we tried to have a second.

Now that both children are older, we thought it would be fun to try a quick three-day vacation. We all were excited, and I had high-hopes.

I’d done my research, having both searched the internet and talked to lots of other people as to where a good place would be to go with a toddler and pre-schooler in the winter. I wanted to be close enough to home we could come back if we needed to, but far enough away that we’d test out the over-night thing.

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After selecting where we were going, then came all of the planning. Making sure we had snacks in the car and in the room. Enough  drinks. Enough clothes to get us through. Toiletries. Entertainment for in the car.  I felt like I was planning a military assault. Perhaps that should have been a clue.

And yes, the vacation was as horrible as some of you are imagining

They had all kinds of up-charges for different things to add to your room, but none of them including giving you a “toddler proof” room. You forget what it means for your toddler to have access to every cord, every cable, and every outlet in a typical hotel room. There are no toddler gates barring off stairs, no toddler locks on doors.

There is no safe place in the room where she can play for ten minutes while you catch your breath. And if you try to make a play area anyway, there were will be tissues scattered across the carpet and you’ll find yourself sprinting across to room to stop her just as she attempts to figure out how to unplug the lamp.

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Vacation also meant being subjected to kids out of their comfort zone. Out of their comfort zone and over-tired, cranky and irritable. Everyone’s favorite kind of child!

The biggest issue to my having fun of any sort was my expectations. I went into the long weekend wanting a vacation. Time to relax, unwind, and recharge. This was anything but that.

They were kids at a water park. They needed constant supervision. I knew that going into it, but what I didn’t understand was how much work this was with none of the fun.

See, my oldest child is big enough to do a lot of stuff at a water park. I figured DH and I would switch-off going on the slides and rides with the oldest, and then spending time in the toddler zone with the little one.

What I didn’t anticipate was that my oldest child would want to do nothing but play in the baby area with her sister. No water slides, no fun rides. We literally spent hours in water up to our ankles. Our knees when the oldest finally got a little braver.

Yeah, fabulous way to spend our time at the water park.

Our issues were compounded by DD1 being an early riser. She’s up at 6am and ready to go. The park doesn’t open until 9am. This means her having to wait and me having to listen to her ask “if it’s time to go yet” for three hours. By the time we got the water park, I was ready to leave.

Let’s also remember that I’m an introvert.  Being stuck in a huge crowd of people I don’t know, wearing only a swimsuit, is already not my idea of fun. I thought this was going to be tempered with the excitement of water slides. I was wrong.

But it did teach me some valuable lessons. One of them is that we’re just not ready for a family vacation yet. None of us.

I work full time and so does DH. If we’re going to do a vacation, it has to be a vacation for the whole family. Something we’re all going to enjoy.

I know DD1 had a blast. She will be talking about it for weeks.

I’m just glad to be home, book in hand, and iPad waiting.

 

How about you? Did you go on family vacations as a child? Did you like them? Do you go on family vacations now? How are they?  Where did/do you go on vacation? A favorite place come to mind? Something you really loved?

Five Tools in the Battle Against Eczema

My daughter has eczema. She developed it around three months old, and it literally covered her body. I will not disgust you with pictures of what eczema, particularly on an infant, looks like. Trust me (or, if you don’t, Google it), it’s awful.

To “cure” it, (those of you who suffer from it or know someone who does, are laughing right now), we started with her pediatrician. After failing to get it under control for weeks, he referred us to a pediatric dermatologist She told us it appeared to be caused by an allergy. She referred us to pediatric allergist.

At this point, the allergist had my daughter and me (I was nursing at the time) remove all of the following from our diet for 16 weeks:

  • Peanuts
  • Seafood
  • Cow’s milk (including cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • Tree Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat

 

Imagine a diet without this for four months. No pizza. No bread. Nothing pre-packaged as most of it has wheat or soy or both in it.

Probably the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life, but it meant absolutely no going out to eat. If we went to a friend’s house, I had to pack my own food. But I did it because I’d do anything to make my baby not hurt and itch.

At the end of 16 weeks, there was no improvement. It wasn’t food based.

As we were going through this, I began to research.

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I read anything I could get my hands on regarding eczema. Reams of it. Some of it was good, a lot of it wasn’t.

 

Here Are 5 Things I Learned

1.It’s All About Moisture. – My daughter’s eczema clears up in the summer and comes back in the winter.  We are fortunate she doesn’t have it year round, and this gave us clues as to what was causing the issue.

Her skin is losing more moisture in the winter, and this is giving the eczema the weakness it needs to take hold.

I tried lots and lots of eczema friendly skin moisturizers. Best thing I found was coconut oil gently rubbed into her skin (dye free, and the scent is all natural). We follow this by slathering her with baby aquaphor.

 

2.Household Cleaners: Most of the cleaners we use aren’t eczema friendly. Goodbye Formula 409, hello apple cider vinegar.

 

3. Dryer Sheets – I learned about dryer sheets, why I shouldn’t use them, and what to replace them with (and that I had to wash out the inside of my dryer). I use these from an Etsy seller. She was super helpful about how the balls were made so I could be sure they were made in a way that wouldn’t further irritate.

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4. Detergents – I learned all about detergents, how they worked, and how they could cause eczema. This was HUGE. Detergents are in everything. Why? Because they are cheap and extremely effective.

I found a way to make homemade dish soap for our dishwasher. It works, but it’s not as good as detergent.

I still needed to tackle washing clothes and washing us.

Trying to find real soap (and not detergent in disguise – which darn near required me to get a chemistry degree) was incredibly hard. After a lot of searching, I eventually came across this place.

It’s amazing. Almost anything sold there is safe. Everything I have tried has smelled good and worked. It looks like the owner of the store might be a sufferer himself, and when he couldn’t find the products he needed, he went into business making them.

Nothing here is cheap, but it’s good stuff (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that). As a matter-of-fact, since switching over to these products, my husband no longer gets super -dry scaly hands in the winter.

5. Contact – I learned changing things out for just the little one wasn’t enough.  Any of us that touched or held her had to use the same products or the residue on our skin could inflame her eczema.  I had to wash all of our clothes as I did hers. We all had to use products that were okay for her.

 

We were fortunate. A combination of these techniques worked, and she is mostly eczema free. I just put in another order for the special hand soap as we’re getting low.

She still gets the occasional flare-up, and we have to reassess what might be causing it.

 

If you’ve ever had to deal with eczema, any tips on what you’ve tried? Anything work really well? If not eczema, something you ever spent a lot of time researching when traditional methods failed? What worked for you?

 

 

The Fear of Regret

“Enjoy it now, because you’ll miss it later,” is a refrain I hear all the time.

I have two small children, a spouse, I work full-time, and I carve out time to write.

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My life seems full of regret.

  • I regret the time I’m at work and not with my family.
  • I regret not pushing harder in my career.
  • I regret the time I spend writing.
  • I regret when I don’t write.

DD2 insists on being on my lap all the time. She’s going through a powerful “momma” phase, and while it’s super sweet, it also seriously limits my ability to stuff down around the house. If I try to slip away from her, she’ll grab my arm and pull it around her. If I leave her anyway, we have a full melt down including real tears.

I can’t walk away from that no matter what anyone says. She’s my toddler. So, yes, it’s a tough time for both us, but whenever I mention it, I’m told how much I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Yes, I probably will. And, in a few months, I probably won’t remember the dishes that needed to get done, the floor that needed to be swept, or the laundry that needed to be folded.

I probably won’t regret how much time I spent holding her and being there for her.

But fear of regret holds me back.

Have I tried for some of the toughest jobs in my field? No, because I’m afraid I’ll regret spending less time with my family, that I won’t be the spouse and mother they need.

I feared I’d regret it if I didn’t dedicate myself to our family and soak up every precious moment. So when we decided to have that family, I put aside writing for years. How could I not regret taking time for writing when I only had a few hours with my spouse and daughter?

Yet, I also regret the years I didn’t spend writing. I frequently wonder where I would be and what I could be doing if I’d taken it more seriously. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. It’s one of the few things that’s remained constant in my life.

I want to shove regret aside. Learn to live in the moment. Learn to follow my heart (and learn to accept a messy house with two small children).

 

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My role model!

 

How about you? Anything you don’t do because you’re afraid you’ll regret it? Or are you like a cat and regret nothing? Have you learned to accept a messy house?

Invasion of the House Snatchers

I had no idea what I was in for when we had kids. I have a touch of OCD, and I like my home clean, neat and organized. Especially the kitchen. I know, some of you are already laughing.

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When I lived alone in an apartment, I traveled for work a lot. As in about 80% of the time. My apartment was usually immaculate. As in, company could drop by in 5 minutes or less as I tucked away the 3 pairs of shoes I’d left out. Yeah, I know, and I’m still awful about my shoes.

Then, I got married. Marriage involves compromise, and my husband has never been as compulsive about cleaning as I have. As a matter-of-fact, we sat down and made a house-cleaning list so that he would understand everything I thought that needed to happen in order for the house to be considered clean.

The end list required compromise. My mother used to spend every Saturday cleaning our house and she drilled into me what was expected. I was never as good as she was (sorry mom!), but I tried.

DH loosened those standards a bit more. And that was on Saturdays where we bothered to clean. There was so many things that we wanted to do, that we tried to clean the house once a month or when “comany” was coming over.

This worked for a long time. Well, for the seven years of our marriage that we didn’t have kids.

Then we added a child.

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That was rough. Working full-time and taking care of a child, even with my husband’s help, was hard. Especially as there was so much more work to do. I couldn’t believe the amount of mess one small child could create. Until that child grew a little older. Then she made even more of a mess.

Then we had a second child.

My house hasn’t been really, truly clean since…well, since the Christmas after our first child was born when we were hosting. We made a real effort to truly clean the house. All of it. Haven’t done it since, though I told myself things would change as the kids got a little older.

I had assumed that children could be taught to clean up after themselves, especially once they were no longer toddlers. More experienced parents are now wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

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We grow, change and adapt. And I simply didn’t have the time or energy needed to keep my house clean anymore. So, I had to adapt.

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This didn’t quite work out for me as DD1 was terrified of the vacuum. 

Adapt I did. How much I’d changed was brought home to me hard the other morning as I was picking up toys, again, and putting them away when I found a crust of peanut butter and jelly toast tucked onto one of DD2’s bookshelves. Clearly, she was saving this for later. My pre-child self would have been utterly horrified. My post-child self sorta shruged, threw it away, and decided it was time to take a break and check my e-mail.

 

How about you? Do you keep your house super clean? Is cleaning a weekly ritual? Monthly? When you have guests? Have you found it super difficult to keep things clean with children?

Welcome Home

At the end of June, kidney failure claimed my darling kitty. He’d been my companion through some trying times, and as pets do, loved me unconditionally through them. Including DD1 and DD2 that he was teaching how to pet him properly.

I was not ready to get another cat, but our remaining kitty was suddenly quite lonesome as DH and I work all day and the girls are in daycare. Lonely to the point of launching himself through the house the moment someone came home to greet them, and then sticking to them like glue for the rest of the night.

We decided to welcome another addition to our family, and our first stop was the Humane Society. I was originally looking for a kitty who was a couple of years old but still liked children. Our search was going poorly when a co-worker told me about a friend of hers with kittens.

I wasn’t sure I could tolerate kitten antics, but of course, a few kitten pictures later and we were deciding it was fate as we made arrangements to go out and see them. There is nothing quite like kitten silliness to bring a smile to your face.

DH and DD1 originally wanted the grey one, but we agreed to go out and meet them.

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These have to be the healthiest, most robust “barn” kittens I’ve ever seen. The little girl wanted nothing to do with us, but both boys were pretty friendly. After a few minutes, the orange one rubbed up against DD2 and let her pet him. Over the next half hour, he climbed over the girls, played with them, and let them pet him.

He came home with us.

I am surprised how much he loves to cuddle. I had thought a barn cat would be standoffish, but he cries to get picked up. And he’ll cuddle into the crook of your arm, on your lap, on your chest . . . wherever he can find a spot!

While I wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready for another kitty, it’s amazing how quickly your heart opens up when you have a little ball of fluff purring happily on your lap.

I still my miss my kitty a great deal, but kitten antics can’t help but make me smile.

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Stress and Creativity

I came across some interesting articles recently about the effect of stress on creativity.

This one, from the American Psychological association, pertains more to grad students, but many of us who work full time and try to fit in writing, family, and whatever else we do have a similar stress load. Even if you don’t, there could be other equally stressing factors.

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Most days feel about like this, but I don’t look so graceful or poised.

 

One from Forbes talking about the effect on creativity and competitiveness at work.

There are quite a few more as it appears this is an area of study, many of which are scientific enough that I have to get out my Six Sigma stuff to understand the statistical analysis.

But this brings me to my point: the scientific community knows that stress kills creativity. While the brain is expending resources on the lower order functions in a fight or flight response to keep us alive, it’s not giving much of anything to higher order functions like creativity.

Makes sense. Your brain doesn’t really differentiate from the stress caused by a lion attack and the stress caused by an impractical deadline at work. So your brain is going to “save” you from the “lion”.

I have been on this fight or flight roller-coaster since early May.

At that time, we learned DD2 was developmentally delayed, and we’ve had to spend a lot of time and money to figure out why and then start her treatment. As part of her treatment, I learned quickly that the medical profession in my area expects you to either be a stay-at-home mom or miss lots of work as there’s no such thing as early morning, night, or weekend appointments. Not even Friday appointments in the summer, as it turns out.

We then got to experience first-hand the joys of insurance denying everything, even things they had told us previously they would cover. Lots of stress fighting them and mostly losing.

About 3 days after my daughter was diagnosed, I was asked to start a massive cost-benefit analysis of shutting down a plant that has been around since 1946. Had to be done completely in secret. So lots of sneaking around and asking weird questions with made-up reasons. The analysis confirmed what the executives expected, the announcement was made, and now I face the constant daily stress of working through the plant closure and reporting out on it.

So, yeah, no wonder my creativity dried up in May and hasn’t really returned.

I need to find a better way to deal with the stress than I have been, but I’ve yet to figure it out.

 

 

 

Guilt

Guilt is an insidious little bastard. Creeping into your thoughts and feelings and making you feel bad even when you shouldn’t.

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I feel guilty most mornings for snuggling with my toddler rather than getting up and exercising. I use my lunch hour to catch-up on work most days so I don’t have to stay late, otherwise I sneak in a little writing. And my evenings with 2 kids are chaotic, and exercising too late makes it hard to get to sleep. So, if I’m going to exercise, it has to be in the morning.

But that means giving up precious snuggle time. Time I won’t get in a year. I love the way she cuddles, and when she’s finally ready to wake up, she leans over and gives me kisses. Then she sits up and starts babbling. We “talk” for a few minutes then get up and start our day together. I work full time away from her, so these mornings are precious.

To hell with morning exercise and what I “should” do. Not giving up morning snuggles. And not feeling bad about it so it diminishes the experience. I’ll have to be more creative and figure something out at night. Or squeeze in a short walk at lunch. Something is better than nothing, and I’m not compromising my precious time with DD2.

And I’m done feeling guilty about it.

Just like I’m done feeling guilty about “not writing”. I’ve finished one book including rewrites and finished a second book including a first rewrite. All in 1.5 years. With two children, a spouse, and a full time job.

I should be proud, not guilty. And if I want to take a week or two off to percolate ideas, I’ll consider it a creative rest.

No guilt.

It robs me of enjoying a few weeks to let the creative juices flow, to let new and interesting ideas percolate, and to recharge my battery.

I’m going to enjoy my time thinking about new characters, just as I am going to enjoy morning toddler snuggles.

Kids

This is a bit of a tangent from trying to chronicle my writing journey, but I realized, it’s as much a part of the journey as rough drafts, revisions, and the submission process.

Balancing writing with kids.

DH and I were “older” when we had kids, and we’d already been married seven years when our first child was born. DH had agreed to be the primary care giver as my day job is more demanding. And many of you are laughing at this.

DH does an amazing job with our two little ones. It’s just biology that’s against us. When they were very little and needed to be nursed, that was mom. When they get hurt or sick or injured, they want mom. When they want to play, however, they are daddy’s angels.

With all the illnesses we’ve been up against lately, they have needed a lot of mommy time. A part of me is frustrated, and a part of me melts when they want to climb into my lap and cuddle.

After we had our first child, I stumbled across a bunch of research showing that childless people are happier. As there are no guarantees that children will support you in your old age, and given how insanely expensive children are (read a mortgage payment a month per child for daycare), the study recommended socking that money away and using that to pay for your care in your later years.

At the time, I was mortified. What had we done? Would this precious little bundle really cause us that much trauma? Of course I was high on new mommy hormones when I thought of her as precious. She taught me the error of my ways as she howled, not cried but howled, every time I put her down. Wouldn’t tolerate a baby sling or Bjorn, either. I learned to do everything, and I mean everything, one handed so she was always in my arms.

So the answer is more complex for me than the research indicates. Some of the happiest moments, angriest moments, and proudest moments have come because of the kids.

It’s more like a roller coaster than the steady state happy we were at before kids. The baby babbles happily in the background as I write this, making me smile even now. That smile will morph into endless frustration tonight when she refuses to sleep and thinks 2 am is playtime when we have to be up for work in a few hours.

My writing journey includes them with it. Sometimes detouring me or slowing down my progress, but never maliciously. Never on purpose. They are little and need a lot of me right now, and I am trying to keep that in perspective. Trying to remember all the people that have told me how much you’re going to miss it when they’re not this little.

I wonder if those people’s kids had them up at 2 am every night.