Categories
parenting

Straight from the Mouth of a 4 Year Old

I thought about writing a flowery post for Alice’s birthday, but that would do us all a disservice. Instead, I invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy Alice’s best quotes of the year:

Alice Advice

“Dad, it’s a little foggy out, so do your best” – to Chad while driving through rain

__________________________

“Drive slow, but be a little fast”

Alice Compliments

These Dino nuggets taste great! Last time you made them, they tasted like markers.

__________________________

After zooming in on a picture of my face “I have hair in my nose too, mom.”

__________________________

Why I have body image issues: “You have a hot dog booty and a pig face and pig legs”

Alice Logic

Alice saw me looking at a picture of newborn babies on Facebook. And she said, “are you gonna buy a baby or adopt a baby?”

__________________________

To her friend: did you know the sun could explode and everyone on earth would die?

__________________________

Me: Mommy is probably a little more grumpy than daddy.

Alice: more like a lot more. 

__________________________

Chad: hey girls, what does that cotton candy look like?

Alice: uh, moms hair?

__________________________

Avery: What’s better than cookies?

Alice: Grandma!

Avery: what’s better than grandma?

Alice: nothing!

__________________________

“If I was going to play hockey, I would go and sit on that spot where they rest (the bench) for the whole game.”

__________________________

“You can never have too much stuff!” 

__________________________

I have two friends named Gracie. One is named Gracie and one is named Gracie.

__________________________

Does anyone know which way your hands are supposed to go?

*Flips hands back and forth.

I like this way (palms down)- it’s my useful hand way.

__________________________

It’s hard to take care of 2 girls without a husband, right mom? (When Chad traveled for 2 days)

__________________________

“Everyone who comes to my birthday has to dress up as a star nose” 

Me: What’s a star nose?

“A kind of mole. And I will dress up as Wonder Woman”

__________________________

“I’m just an ordinary girl” (when explaining why she couldn’t try clam chowder)

__________________________

I can eat when I’m baking because I can eat with one hand and bake with the other. (MY GIRL!)

__________________________

I only have a few cries left, but they are really loud ones

__________________________

Mom! My left eye can’t fall asleep!

__________________________

“I thought it was markers, but now I know it’s my veins” (on the blue vein lines on her arms)

__________________________

An overheard bathroom conversation: “Maybe some of your alveoli dripped into your poop.”

__________________________

Alice: Siri is part of God

Me: No, Siri is not part of god. Why do you think that?

Alice: Because, Siri is always telling us where to go. 

__________________________

Me: Why don’t you put noses on the people you draw?

“Because, I like them that way and they look happier. “

Alice Weirdness

After blowing her nose: “did you see the smoke come out?”

__________________________

“It looks like a dead elephant squirting out his last water.” (Re: what a cloud looked like)

__________________________

“I have a video of her dying in the lava”- about the dead Barbie sister

Alice Anger

Get out of my room before I get to zero! *Speed counts from ten to zero

__________________________ 

“You’re not doing good as a mom if you are making us cry.”

__________________________

I have a case of the mean wiggles. I need someone or something to be mean to!

__________________________

Mad at Chad.

Me: should we put him in jail?

Alice: no! I want to put him in a cage!

__________________________

Go! Get out of here! Never return a-gain!

__________________________

I don’t forget treats. (After I ate her fruit roll-up, thinking she forgot about it)

__________________________

You wasted my time. The teacher said I had to eat all my healthy food before I could eat my cookies. There was too much healthy food!

Alice Learns

Avery: are they teaching you numbers in school?

Alice: no, they just teach us letters and how to use knives.

__________________________

“They are teaching me Spanish at preschool. “Gracias” means hello, and “see you later alligator” means goodbye “

__________________________

When telling me that they didn’t get to play on the playground today: “I wonder if the termites are back.”

__________________________

“China is real?!”

__________________________

“Mom, do people get sick from other people?”

Me: Yes

“Then what made the first person sick?”

__________________________

Church singer: the hand of the Lord will feed you

Alice: the ANT of the Lord??

Alice Cuteness

“When you get to heaven, can you ask God if he can send you back to earth for me?”

__________________________

“Thank you for this beautiful world.” @bedtime prayers 

__________________________

We gotta wait until it smells just like Grandmeres tomatoes (on when to pick a tomato) 

__________________________

Me: do you want French toast?

Alice: only with syrup, I declare 

__________________________

At whiskey tasting before every shot- whispered into my ear: “You’re going to wuv it”

__________________________

What are you doing Alice?

“Causing a ruckus!” 

__________________________

“I’m drawing a picture of our family. Aves, what color human do you want to be?”

__________________________

“Will you still be my mudder when I’m 10?”

__________________________

I’m fast, mom. I’m not a slowpoke junior 

__________________________

Happy Birthday, Alice Jane! We sure love you.

Mama

Categories
Journalism

Travel Nursing: Minimal Travel Required

This is an article I wrote for a journalism class. Though I didn’t end up successfully publishing it, I wanted to post it here. Writing this was a great educational experience, and I could not have done it without the gracious help of many healthcare providers. To everyone who shared their story with me, I am so grateful.

Before COVID-19, travel nurse Brooke Gozdiff says there were three types of travel nurses: “the young and fun, the empty-nesters with motor homes, and the diverters.” But now? Now, it is “Anybody and everybody,” she says. ” If I’m going to work short-staffed in a shitty job and have a crummy work-culture and work-life balance, why wouldn’t I do it greater than one hour away and make a ton more money?”

Brooke and her husband James Gozdiff both began travel nursing in 2014, a couple of years before they met. Brooke left her position as a floor nurse at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota, and James left his job as an ICU staff nurse in Idaho. Since then, they’ve leveraged travel nursing to fit around their lifestyle rather than mold their lives around their career. And they understand a part of travel nursing that the general public doesn’t: nurses don’t need to travel far to receive travel pay. The Gozdiffs are part of a growing number of people reaping the benefits of travel nursing without much travel.

The boom in travel nursing didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict. According to a study conducted in 2015 by Montana State University healthcare economists, almost 40% of nurses were older than fifty. So they were well on their way to retirement by the time the first group of patients presented with shortness of breath and fever in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.

Initially, hospital censuses decreased as people who would ordinarily seek treatment stayed home. And staffing was stable, with some nurses even able to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to protect their families during the hospital mask shortages of 2020.

Jennifer Higgins, Chief Nursing Officer at Lee Health located in Southwest Florida, explains that when the initial shock of a global pandemic wore off, Lee Health was bombarded with volumes of patients they had never seen before. And these weren’t your stay-a-night-for-observation kind of patients. These were your, holy-crap-she’s-gonna-crash, in need of an ICU bed, kind of patients. Higgins says that while they expanded their ICUs, they didn’t have the ICU-trained nurses they needed to run the units.

They needed more nurses, but so did every other hospital. Desperate, hospitals began offering increased salaries to lure in travel nurses. According to Indeed.com, a job search engine, the average salary for travel nurses in 2021 was $113,600, whereas the average registered nurse made around $80,500. Not only were hospitals paying their travel nurses more, but this pay was structured differently than that of the staff nurses.

Brooke Gozdiff explains that travel nurses receive two different kinds of income: their paycheck and their tax-free stipend. The tax-free stipend covers the secondary living expenses that the nurses accrue while traveling. This money is, just like it sounds, not taxed. So when travel nurses negotiate their salaries, they want their paycheck to be as low as possible, lumping as much money as they are allowed into their tax-free stipend.

But not just anyone can take advantage of the tax-free stipend. According to the IRS, if a nurse needs to sleep and rest outside of his or her tax home between shifts, he or she can qualify for the tax-free stipend. Joseph Conte, a tax-certified public accountant for travel nurses, says that a tax home is typically where a person accrues their income. But because travel nurses frequently move around, their tax home is often where their permanent home is located. Per IRS rules, the nurse must also continue to pay bills on their permanent home and visit it at least once per year, as the tax-free stipend is meant to cover duplicate living expenses.

Conte explains that often companies simplify matters by using a specific mileage rule to determine whether or not their employee can take advantage of the tax-free stipend. The Gozdiffs are familiar with “the 50-mile rule”: the nurse needs to live more than 50 miles from the hospital where they are travel nursing. Conte confirms that the 50-mile rule is not an IRS rule, and he points out that by IRS standards, nurses could live even closer than 50 miles to the hospital if they need to stop to sleep at a spot away from their tax home.

Conte says the volume of nurses taking advantage of local travel assignments has increased significantly over the past two years. This short-distance travel is known as local travel nursing, and it gives the nurses the best of both worlds.

The Gozdiffs are among the increasing number of local travel nurses. While they initially traveled across the country for job opportunities, they are now traveling close to home. Brooke explains their journey with travel nursing in her rapid-fire speech pattern while their one-year-old son naps. Back in her young and fun travel nurse days, Brooke met James, also a travel nurse, at a hospital in Puyallup, Washington. After that, they were inseparable, working together in Arizona, Nebraska, Maine, and Alaska. James proposed in Minnesota, and they married in Oregon.

Before COVID-19 hit, Brooke explains they couldn’t be too picky about placement for travel positions. But now she says, “Every hospital everywhere is hiring travel nurses because every hospital is short. The career is now nurse-driven vs. hospital-driven. You get to pick and choose. You lay out your demands and expect them to be met.” James ballparks that the average travel nurse rakes in $4,000 per week, while staff nurses bring home around $1500. So it is no surprise when he says, “The draw for everybody for travel is just the pay.”

But sometimes, money isn’t everything. After having a baby, the Gozdiffs wanted to be closer to family, so they settled down in Duluth, MN, where they took a break from travel nursing. James took a staff position as a nurse supervisor at Essentia Health. It was there that he watched as nurses from Duluth left their staff positions to cash in on travel positions 154 miles south in Minneapolis, MN. And sure enough, guess who showed up to fill the travel positions now open at Essentia Health in Duluth?

None other than the Minneapolis nurses.

Back at Lee Health, ICU nurse supervisor Betsy Groendyke confirms that the same trend is occurring. Many of their travel nurses come from Tampa, FL, and drive two hours south for their shifts. During COVID-19, her unit doubled the number of travel nurses they were utilizing. When the Delta wave hit, she says, “There were multiple shifts where every nurse had three vented COVID patients. When you have vented ICU patients on multiple drips, you want a two to one [patient to nurse] staffing ratio. And actually, we’ve read things where the best practice for these proning patients [patients who are on a ventilator and need to be positioned lying on their stomachs] is a one-to-one ratio. Well, that wasn’t even a remote option.” Beyond the logistics, they faced an emotional impact. Groendyke recalls a weekend when her ICU lost fifteen patients, “If that doesn’t impact you, then you don’t have a heart.”

And while nurses are used to shouldering the emotional burden, Higgins says, “Many nurses began to evaluate whether they wanted to continue in the profession, be exposed, and have their families exposed to this new variant that was very unknown.” She watched as nurses retired early or left the field of nursing entirely.

Higgins estimates that Lee Health brought on 350-400 travel nurses in 2021, compared to the seventy seasonal travel nurses they typically bring on from November to April when there is a seasonal population increase. She admits, “Most organizations are not going to be able to sustain a model like this. The only reason we were able to is because of the [high] volume [of patients] that offset that cost. But in the long run, long term, it’s not going to be the solution. We are going to have to figure out ways to make sure we keep our core people.”

One way Lee Health is doing this is by offering bonuses and extra shift incentive pay to their staff nurses. They also started bringing in a different food truck each day to prevent cafeteria food burnout and giving $5 gift cards to the hospital coffee shop to recognize staff members for a job well done.

Higgins thinks, “the market will settle down a little bit, but I think there will always be an increased pool of people that are willing to take the risk of being a travel nurse- taking advantage of the money aspect of it.”

Others are not so optimistic. Julia, a nurse who left Lee Health to travel two hours north, and requests to only be identified by her first name, says, “A lot of nurses are tired of being staff. We’ve set ourselves up for, at least, a few years of a complete disaster when it comes to staffing, even if the pandemic ends.”

Now back in Oregon, Brooke Gozdiff drives just over 50 miles away from their home in Keizer to work as a travel nurse. She makes triple what she would if she worked as a staff nurse in Keizer, Oregon. She supports the family on a single income, while James takes care of their one-year-old son and his mom, who was recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Travel nursing provides her and James with flexibility, adventure, and a cash flow that few other careers could provide.

But the Gozdiffs believe that travel nursing should be the exception, not the rule. James says, “I hope that people come back to the hospital systems because having a core staff that is highly qualified and highly trained and has worked together for years is ideal. The hospital and the unit run so much better when they don’t have a high percentage of travelers. Healthcare is better when you have a high number of staff.”

Categories
parenting Weekly Update

Lessons from a Bushcraft Class

Avery took a Bushcraft class this spring. Each Saturday morning, we showed up at a nature preserve, where Mrs. Becky taught a group of 5-9-year-olds survival skills.

When talking to my sister after the first week of class, I mentioned where we had been. I told her that the kids learned how to spell “HELP” out of logs so they could be spotted by a helicopter if they get lost. We both laughed uproariously. I envisioned Avery lost in the aisles of Target, spelling “HELP” out of lip liner.

I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten her into. But she loved it, and it was time spent outdoors, so I considered it a win.

Each week, I watched as the group of kids gained comfort and familiarity in the wilderness of Florida. The kids learned about plants that they could eat, plants with medicinal purposes, how to build shelters, and how to make a reservoir for water.

And then came knife skills. I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. I think I’ve said it before- I’m more of a free-range, entertain yourself, kind of parent. But on that day, I was a helicopter parent. Miss Becky started the day by educating the kids on “the blood circle” (no one should be within knives reach of where you are cutting), and “the triangle of death” (never cut in the triangle between your legs, to avoid slicing your femoral artery and bleeding to death). I was particularly amused and terrified by the terminology.

The day I became a helicopter parent.

I was even more terrified when Avery unsheathed her knife and tried to carve a stick. But she survived, despite nicking herself in the triangle of death.

On the final day of class, the kids learned how to use a striker and a ferro rod to make a spark and start a pile of monkey hair (nest-like material from palm trees) on fire.

When Miss Becky showed the kids how to do it, it looked easy peasy. But when the kids tried? Well, it wasn’t easy. A significant amount of pressure needs to be placed on the striker and ferro rod to create enough amount of friction to create a spark.

Avery tried, and tried, and tried. She tried for 30 minutes (it felt like, but maybe it was more like 15). It began to seem an impossible hope. And then, finally, she got a spark. Magic.

The key to lighting the monkey hair on fire is that a large enough spark hits just the right place at just the right time.

Avery and her classmates kept striking their rods; sometimes, lucky enough to throw a big spark but never lucky enough to start the monkey hair on fire.

It was hot, and the work was challenging. One of Avery’s classmates commented in despair about how he would never be able to set his monkey hair on fire.

His mom smiled and said, “It hasn’t set fire yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. “

And it hit me as maybe the best piece of advice I have ever heard.

Sometimes, in challenging situations, or when I am learning a new skill, my brain changes the narrative of “If I keep trying, it will happen” to “this is impossible. Because I haven’t succeeded thus far, I never will, so I might as well give up.”

When I was eight days overdue with Avery, my brain changed the narrative to, “I will be pregnant forever.” When I was depressed for a year, my brain said, “This is how the rest of life will be- no matter what.” When I pitch articles to a dream publication- my brain whispers, “You haven’t done it yet, and therefore, it will never happen.”

It’s hard to believe that fire is possible when you’ve only ever seen a spark.

None of Avery’s classmates started their monkey hair on fire. And most of them left feeling a little defeated because they didn’t know what the adults knew. The adults knew that it was dang impressive that these kids were able to make a spark, given the strength required. And that someday, probably soon, their muscles would get a little stronger, they’d understand the feel for it better, the monkey hair would be in just the right spot, at just the right time, with a large enough spark.

For those of us who had been there, done that, the fire wasn’t an impossibility. I hope Avery comes to know that sometimes amid despair, we forget that sparks lead to a fire.

Just because it hasn’t set fire yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t.

Keep on,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Thunder and Limes

I like thunderstorms.

I like the silence that descends before the water hits the ground and the way that the rain can start as splatters and crescendo into a downpour.

Even better, I like when it starts as a downpour, heavens releasing every drop of water they contain, unwilling to ease anyone into anything.

I like the way the sky becomes dark and it feels like night. It feels wrong, the midday light turning to that of evening dusk. But more than wrong, it feels very much right.


Also, I like cooking.

I’m not referring to the frantic, get dinner on the table, with four different variations to appease all tastes, kind of cooking. I am adamantly NOT referencing that.

What I am talking about, is the kind of cooking that involves chopping vibrant vegetables. The kind of cooking that evokes childhood memories. Basil in pesto, garlic on garlic, lemon. The sounds of bacon sizzling, the taste I sneak of the cake batter, the meatball hot out of the oven that I pop into my mouth. It is a meditation that involves all of the senses, wrapping me into a cocoon, reminding me that for this minute, I am here, fully present & all is right in my world.

The kind of cooking that leaves the kitchen dusted in flour, the dishwasher filled with measuring cups, scraps of sweet potato peels, and vibrant purple cabbage decorating countertops.


I love watching the drops of rain hit the ground, bouncing off of the steamy black pavement, or the raindrops racing across car windows, enveloping the other drops in their path, claiming victory at the bottom of the window.

The way the street shines, becomes glossy, and the world that I thought I knew by heart takes on an entirely different appearance.

Rain jackets and umbrellas, puddles for jumping, raindrop facials.

It is the same world I occupy every day, but with rain, everything is transformed.

When the storm lifts, when the sky brightens, I feel a little bit of sadness creep in, that this transformed landscape is returning to normal. The skies are done with their tantrum, the pause is over, everybody can just go back to what they were doing, forgetting that, for a moment that the world was different.


The mint and limes that once decorated my counters combine to create something they were not capable of alone. They are still them and they are also something new, the same way the sky transforms with the addition of nimbus clouds and raindrops.


It gives me great hope for this world, how things transform with simple additions.

Categories
Weekly Update

Metamorphosis

We bought two milkweed plants a couple months ago after a neighbor showed me her caterpillar-covered milkweed.

Alice followed me as I carried the plants out of the car. “Where are you going to put them?” she asked, big blue eyes darting around the yard. I told her I planned to put them on the side of the house, because, to be honest, the milkWEED didn’t really fit in with the landscaping.

Alice had other plans though. She wanted them front and center, right next to our walkway. Though it didn’t help the decor, there are some times it isn’t worth arguing with Alice. In fact, it is almost never worth arguing with the dimpled-handed, wide-eyed, dictator.

She helped dig up the sandy soil and wrestle the weeds into their new home.

The leaves were covered in small dark dots. Eggs.

We checked the plants daily. I grew impatient as the black dots remained black dots. I began to wonder if they even were caterpillar eggs, or if the plants were just diseased.

But one morning, as I examined the plants, I noticed tiny holes covering the leaves. I flipped a leaf over, and sure enough, there was a teeny tiny caterpillar, munching her way through a leaf.

In the beginning….

I was mesmerized. Alice and Avery were…. sort of intrigued?

Each morning, I dragged the girls outside to stare at the caterpillars. We watched as the tiny holes on the leaves turned into large holes. We watched as the caterpillars shed their skin and grew larger. We watched as entire leaves disappeared and as the caterpillars ate down the stems of the plant.

Caterpillar looking for milkweed.

The plants disappeared as the caterpillars grew chunky, and I began to wonder when we would find a chrysalis.

Google told me that when a caterpillar is around 2 inches long, it turns into a chrysalis. So I measured them. They were easily two inches. I looked at them expectantly. I checked on them hourly, not wanting to miss the big transition.

But they didn’t. They ate, and they ate, and they ate. Again, I felt impatient. The same sort of impatience I felt when I was nine days overdue with Avery.

Nature really irks me sometimes, with its slow, never rushing progress.

I grew convinced that the lizards who live in our petunia plants must be eating the fat caterpillars, so I bought more milkweed plants and moved the remaining caterpillars to plants inside our screened-in lanai, away from the lizard population. I put them next to the glass sliding door in the kitchen, where we could watch them.

Finally, one day, I watched as a caterpillar hung herself upside down in the “J shape.” And I knew, it was about time.

I camped out in the kitchen, unsure of what I was looking for, but not wanting to miss the transformation of a chunky caterpillar into a green, gold-studded chrysalis.

Well, it turns out they hang in that J-shape for 12-24 hours, sometimes longer. So the next morning, as I darted to take a shower, it shed its final layer of skin.

And when I returned to the kitchen, it was in the final throes of scootching, bunching, and swinging itself into its beautiful green home for the next two weeks.

Caterpillar -> Chrysalis

Again, the waiting games were on.

I examined the chrysalis multiple times each day, looking for a sign- any sign- that a butterfly might emerge. If I looked at the chrysalis from the right, sun-lit angle, I could see the wings, neatly folded up.

As the days passed, the chrysalis turned from bright green to a darker green, eventually becoming see-through right before the butterfly emerged.

Hours before a Monarch emerges.

And then one morning, right as the sun was rising under dark thunder clouds, I noticed that the shape of a chrysalis had changed. I went outside to investigate further, and watched, as a newly emerged butterfly hung, her wings still folded and crumpled.

The crumpled wings of a newly emerged Monarch

Consistent with the great timing of nature, I had to go drop Avery off at school, so I couldn’t watch the transformation unfold.

When I returned, her wings had expanded to full size, wrinkle-free, and breath-taking. I brought her out of the screened-in enclosure, outside to the world. Her dainty legs clung to my finger.

She began to flap her wings, testing them out.

And then she flew. As if she had never, as Chad likes to put it, slimed around, eating leaves.

As I watched her fly away, I was reminded of a question Alice asked weeks earlier as we watched the caterpillars devour leaves. “Mom, does a caterpillar know it is going to turn into a butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” I had replied at the time. I was struck by her question. It was so deep, and simply worded something I often wondered about myself.

But now, after watching the whole process, I don’t know if that piece of the puzzle even matters. Maybe they don’t need to know the end result.

Maybe, the end result is a tiny piece of the puzzle, holding the same weight as every other moment. While I was caught impatiently waiting for the next transition, the caterpillar moved at her own time. Each moment was beautiful.

It is in the becoming, that I learn a lot from these chunky creatures. That they didn’t rush. That transformation wasn’t a loud, crowd-drawing process. It was silent. And patient.

The world continued to revolve. The transformation took place without applause or encouragement. The butterflies didn’t listen to my impatient muttering about hurrying up, nor did I get a notification about when the caterpillar would change into a chrysalis, or when the butterfly would emerge.

The butterflies reminded me that the best things happen in their own time. They gain inherent beauty from following their own path, growing on their own terms, transforming on a schedule only they can determine.

And the end result? It is perfect. But so is every other step of becoming.

Categories
Weekly Update

Vast, Like the Trees

After making our descent over the orderly grid blocks of Minneapolis containing houses and trees with changing leaves, we touched down on the MSP Airport tarmac.

Our suitcases were packed with a contrasting mix of dress clothes- black, for my Grandma’s funeral, and white flower girl dresses for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was anxious about this trip: the last time we flew into Minneapolis was disastrous- Alice puking on the flight and dry heaving in the rental car, which prompted Avery to faint, and then sympathy puke.

But as we pulled out of the rental car lot, I exhaled. The trip had gone without a hitch.

The first thing I always notice when driving out of the rental car lots in Minnesota is the trees. They are tall and wide, expanding, the antithesis of the skinny palm trees that linger awkwardly, mop heads blowing in the wind. The oak and maple trees are wild and audacious– a stark contrast to the manicured trees of Florida, who are hesitant to grow just an inch outside of their preconceived outline. And I like that a lot. The trees of Minnesota have a lot to teach.

My Grandma passed away over a year ago, yet with the timing of COVID, we were unable to have a funeral. I was beyond the waves of tearful grief hitting at unexpected times, I could talk about her without crying, and it seemed as if grief had run its course.

Her zebra print swimsuit is framed in the bathroom that leads out to our pool. Her blue flowered china is neatly stacked in my cabinets. I have voicemails from her saved, asking if I could please, for the love of all things holy, deposit the check she gave me 3 years ago so she could balance her checkbook. She is no longer here- but she is remembered daily.

It seemed odd, gathering so late after her death, to mourn something that had ripped our hearts apart long ago. The wounds had scarred over and it seemed as if there was nothing left to heal.

But as the pastor delivered the sermon at her memorial, grief washed over me again- filling my chest and eyes with the heavy, crushing feeling.

I tried to hold back the tears, but they still found a way to slip out. And in case you haven’t tried it yet, crying in a mask is messy business.

When it came time to bury her ashes, I had a chance to hold the urn containing the grains that made up who she was. It was odd- holding every ounce of the feisty, vivacious person I knew, now a silent mound of dust.

But there was an indescribable peacefulness.

As we stood in a half circle around her urn, with the pastor uttering the final blessings, a warm wind that was powerful yet gentle wrapped around us. And I knew, that she was there.

I remembered a long run I had gone on soon after she had passed. I could feel her presence deeply, and had talked to her as the miles ticked by. “Hi, G,” I had whispered on an exhale. The wind gusted around me.

The pastor reminded us that Grandma or as we fondly refer to her- G-Dizzle, would live on through us. We all carry different aspects of her from the imprint she left on our lives.

For me, it is the love of pinot grigio, a dry sense of humor, and the pointer finger that comes out when I get fired up.

As I said my final goodbye, hand pressed against the wooden box containing her earthly remains, I was reminded that pain is rooted in love. That the heartbreak I was experiencing was because of the deep love we had shared.

And I wouldn’t trade an ounce of the pain in exchange for the beauty that my world holds because she was in it.

Two days later, I watched my brother and sister-in-law exchange vows under the silver maple trees lining the Mississippi river. I watched a leaf float down from the tree, released from its duties. The wind caught it and guided it to the ground in a zig-zag, fluttery pattern.

I was sitting between my nieces and nephews- little Abigail, less than 2 weeks old. The moment contained it all. Love, new life, loss, joy, peace, and beauty, oh the beauty.

And it was vast, like the silver maples.

Categories
Weekly Update

Path of Resistance

I received a message from one of my friends, joking that for the next mom’s morning out, we should do a swamp walk. Attached to her message was a link.

I was intrigued. Coming from Minnesota, I had never heard of such an activity, and it sounded like a bad idea, because…..alligators?

I clicked on the link. It detailed how you can sign up to be led on a walk through the swamp. Not on boardwalks, but in the water. The particular one I was looking at was rated 5/5 difficulty and was a 5 mile adventure through “a couple inches to a couple feet of water.”

My brain lit up. It sounded like something I was capable of. I love spending time outside, and a swamp walk sounded so… nature-y.

The stars aligned: I was somehow able to convince life insurance actuary husband who is healthily fearful of alligators and snakes to approve of my participation in such an event. AND, I was able to find a babysitter. So, I registered. Shockingly, none of my friends were interested willing to risk their lives.

So last Thursday morning, under the pink skies of sunrise, I found myself driving to the swamp walk with a considerable amount of anxiety.

I had already tried to talk myself out of it the day before, the survival-motivated side of my brain arguing that my allergies could be COVID and I should definitely not go and infect other people.

As I drove, my brain continued to bring up other valid arguments against attending: being unable to find the remote parking lot, alligators, snakes, not being able to keep up with the group, but mostly- the highest fear- was spending five hours, doing a rather intense activity, with a group of people I didn’t know.


As I ran through a list of the worries on loop, it occurred to me that often, when I am facing something I feel a lot of resistance towards- something that scares the crap out of me- it usually means I am on the right path.

I’ve encountered these moments before jumping off the diving board, before entering a room full of people I don’t know. The seconds that lead up to giving a speech, the pause before the gun goes off at the start of a race.

For me, these moments are marked by a racing heart, flip floppy stomach, and sweaty palms. I do not enjoy being in these moments. In fact, I almost despise them. I would completely despise them if I didn’t know, if I hadn’t learned, that these moments typically occur right before something great happens.

Usually, pushing through the resistance brings me to new places, new people, the opportunity to try something new. And almost always, I leave with a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe, these moments that I try to avoid should be sought out.


And so, as I turned off on a remote dirt road, lined by tall skinny cypress trees, hitting approximately 5 potholes per second, I ignored the voice in my head that said, “This looks like a spot you could get murdered.” And instead of following the voice in my head, I followed the dirt road, to a parking lot filled with the friendliest nature geeks you’ll ever meet and a disgusting port-a-potty.

The thing I had feared most- awkward moments with strangers- didn’t happen. I forgot that nature people are some of the most down to earth, hilarious, and friendly people.

We slogged through the water, stopping to look more closely at snail eggs, swamp apples, and the Lincoln Log cocoons of bagworm moths. We found a turtle, watched a water moccasin slither away, noticed a hawk feather, and then the hawk above, camouflaging into the tree, watching us curiously.

It was 5 hours of wonder, and it left me more refreshed than a massage. There is something about spending time surrounded by the color green. I left with muddy feet and new friends. It turns out, swamp walks are really good for the soul. Maybe just my soul?

Whatever it is for you, here’s to following the path of resistance. I’d highly recommend you give it a try. Safely. With other people. Because, as my mom reminded me, even the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) go out in pairs. Which is precisely the motherly advice I’d expect to receive after walking through a swamp containing alligators and snakes.

Laura

PS- I didn’t take any pictures in an effort to remain fully present. But you can check out this website for pictures and learn a bit more about “Wet Walks”.

Categories
Weekly Update

Wildflower

Country music gains a new dimension when listened to while driving through the country. The dirt roads, open fields, and endless blue sky add depth to the music; a new understanding. It’s one thing to hear it, another thing to be in it, completely submerged.

As we drove up and down country roads, the should-be exhaustion from a day filled with travel melted into calm. Our view was lit by a pastel sunset, hay bales, and cemeteries backlit by a gradation of colors. Black tree silhouettes stood firmly in the fading light. And I found my anti-country-music-self, humming along to Garth Brooks.

Dusk fell, and my eyes widened, trying to catch a glimpse of the fireflies that I knew were in the fields.


We took our annual trip to Iowa and Missouri, where Chad’s family has a farm and lake house.

Again, I found myself running up and down the endless hills of Missouri, trying not to die on the uphill’s, and distracting myself with views that only country roads can supply.

I was surrounded by open fields of wildflowers with farmland in the background, dotted by hay bales- a stark contrast to the houses that sit 4 feet apart in Florida, every inch of ground being developed and marketed.

The flowers gave me a good excuse to pause and catch my breath as I closely examined them. I ran among the milkweed, chicory, Carolina horsenettle, and wild carrots.

Coming from flat Florida, my legs were not ready for the rolling geography. I ran, fully present to a moment that contained both pain and beauty, focusing on just getting to the next patch of red clover, the next crack in the sidewalk, the next.


As my legs whined over-dramatically, I tried to distract myself.

I wondered how long it took for the flowers to spread across the fields. I wondered if certain wildflowers are more likely to grow next to each other- like friends.

I wondered if they were scared, when they took root. I wondered if their end goal was covering entire fields, or if they just focused on the beauty of the square inch they occupied.

One wildflower is beautiful. But a whole field? It’s next level.


It wasn’t until we were back in Iowa, bumping across the dirt roads that I spotted one, then many, fireflies rising from the ground. After tucking the girls into bed, I stood at the window, watching as they lit up the night.

One firefly is awe-invoking. But a whole field? Next level.

These moments, for a suburb girl, are pretty magical.


On the plane ride home, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have noticed the wildflowers if I hadn’t been stuck in the oxygen-deprived, gasping search for air as I ran up and down the hills. I wouldn’t have seen the fireflies if it wasn’t dark out.

Sometimes, I purposely put myself into these uncomfortable situations. Like when I laced up my running shoes and coaxed one foot in front of the other. Other times, I find myself in these situations as inevitably as day transitions to night.

Dark, but with beauty.

I’m intrigued by the combo. It seems they are often paired together, dark moments the perfect backdrop for the beautiful ones. Darkness, accentuating the light.

I don’t know what it means exactly, but I do know that we all experience darkness in one form or another. So the next time you find yourself in the dark; whether self-inflicted, or inevitable, find your wildflower or firefly to focus on.

Find your light.

Laura

PS- including links to my recent work published outside of this website:

You Don’t Need Another Parenting Book

Mom Jeans

I’m Not the Mom I Intended to Be

Categories
Weekly Update

4

She eats pepperoni for breakfast and lies on the floor when she’s tired. She still has dimples on her knuckles and calls pajamas, “Pajammies,” which in my book is the most adorable thing ever. She uses my back massager on a regular basis, to “relax” . She blames her gas on her dolls. She likes to eat butter straight up, and gosh darn it, I can’t blame her.

About 3 months ago, she developed a hobby that she named, “Stickering.”

She carefully layers the stickers onto a sheet of printer paper, ensuring that there is no white space between stickers. Her creation is complete when both sides of the paper are covered. She usually works in some sort of pattern: often, spiraling from the outside to the inside of the sheet. She works on these creations for about an hour a day and it takes about 5 days to have a fully complete product.

She tells me that when she grows up, she wants to be a “o-fessional stickerer”. I asked her what o-fessional stickerers can do & she informed me that when she’s an o-fessional, she will be able to sticker a lot faster.

She sits quietly, taking one sticker off the sheet and carefully placing it on her piece of paper. She works slowly, methodically, patiently, until she is done.

These are all qualities I never really recognized in her, but that she’s had all along. It’s funny how as a parent, you can impose your belief of who the child is, over who they actually are. Believing that you know them better than they know themselves.

The proof is in the pudding. Or in this case, the stickering.

She is entirely her own being, with no engrained people pleasing tendencies. She does what she loves, even when we laugh at her.

She dances whenever she hears music- in the aisles of stores, at hockey games, at church. She doesn’t sugar coat things. And there is a heck of a lot I could learn from her.

The idea that kids know less than us, that they shouldn’t be taken as seriously, can’t be right. Sure, maybe they don’t know physics, but I think they have a greater understanding of some things then we as adults do, because their brains haven’t been taken over by social norms and people pleasing tendencies.

They have an abundance of wonder.

She is a thinker. She won’t always respond immediately, but within hours or days, she will respond to situations with insightful thoughts.

And sure, I’m her mom. So maybe I am biased, but she’s pretty incredible.

She taught me to dance when I am happy. That sometimes, a good cry is all you need to wipe your tears and move on. To think outside the box. To relax.

She is perfect as she is, and I love every inch of her.

Happy Birthday, Alice Jane!

Love, Mama

Alice Quotes of the Year:

“It is an old car! It is missing part of the roof!” – Alice on antique corvette

Avery asked Alice if she could borrow some stuffed animals. Alice replied, “No you called them babies last time so you have lost your privilege!”

Alice informed me that her dolls real mom died when she fell into a volcano, but that before she fell in, she asked Alice to take care of her baby when she died.

I told Alice there would be consequences if she came downstairs during quiet time, to which she reliped, “There will be consequences for YOU, if YOU don’t get your butt up here right now!”

“We can only yell if there’s an emergency or if we are pooping during quiet time.”

We were waiting for a gap in traffic so I could turn left and Alice yelled, “Come on buddy! C’mon grandpa!” She got my road rage.

When Avery and Alice argue, I remind them to say, “I don’t agree with you, but I still love and respect you.” Alice has turned it into, “I don’t agree with you, AND I don’t respect you.”

Avery draws pictures of Jesus’ family and Alice draws pictures entitled, “The Two Runaway Children” and, “Evil Daddy Shrinking Mommy”.

Categories
Weekly Update

May You Be Fierce: A Wish for My Preschool Graduate

When the year started, Avery was, as us loud people brusquely diagnose, “shy.” She didn’t talk to her teacher for the first month of school. We weren’t sure if she would live silently forever, or if she would take root in her class.

It started gradually, a shoot peeking out of the ground. Each Monday, she informed us of the letter of the week. A few months in, we were excitedly told that she had been selected as “Line Leader”, a highly coveted position in the preschool class. By the end, we were counting fingers and sounding out words, talking about volcanos, and discussing composting. But it wasn’t the knowledge acquired that I was impressed by.

I watched as she blossomed. I watched as she started making eye contact when people talked to her, watched as she answered questions, talking in her “loud voice”. She developed quite a sense of humor, and along with it, the breathless kind of silent laugh that goes on for so long, you wonder if she’s getting enough oxygen as her face turns bright red. She aptly acquired the nickname, “Giggles”. She was comfortable in her skin, fully being who she was.

I watched as she interacted with other small humans kindly, thoughtfully.

And so, when it came time to watch Avery walk across the graduation stage, I felt, unexpectedly sentimental. I watched the same kid who didn’t talk to the teacher for the first month of school, shout-sing and dance in front of an auditorium jam-packed with people.

It was a new kind of feeling that I hadn’t experienced yet as a parent. And the feeling I got, from watching her be proud of herself; from watching her be so happy in being precisely who she is, being her total authentic self; I don’t know what that feeling is named. But it was a combination of joy and pride and beauty; it was the awe-inspiring and majestic feeling you get when you look at a mountain, or a waterfall, the feeling of being simultaneously captivated and devastated that you can’t stay in the moment forever. All of these feelings and emotions smooshed together in my chest and made me want to cry and laugh at the same time.

Also? It was heart-wrenching. Heart-wrenching in that I knew this moment wouldn’t last forever for her.

I so badly wished I could freeze time; solidify this moment. Her, in a tropical print shirt with a white skirt with fading gold Minnie Mouse heads peppered across, an outfit she happily chose that morning. She didn’t exactly fit in with her classmates in pleated dresses with matching bows, but gosh darn, she was glowing. Her, smiling over at me whenever she got the chance, occasionally waving with a gleeful grin. I wanted this part of parenthood to last forever. I wanted this relationship that she had with herself, the ability to be fully who she is, to last forever.

She’s too little to hear it; to understand it, but if I have one wish for her, it is that she somehow, in this society that is so critical of body image, where the soul-sucking act of fitting in is viewed as imperative for survival, remains true to her colors. Bold. Audacious. Able to recognize that these rules are something she can choose not to follow.

I am sad she’s graduating from preschool; moving on to the next phase of life. But overriding that sadness is a fear of what is to come. A fear of dipping my child into a world that is not always compatible with authenticity and joy. Fear of the hardships she will face. A fear that I have no idea if I will be able to raise her to be buoyant. It’s a part of parenthood that isn’t often discussed; it is deep, dark, and terrifying.


Sometimes we verge onto the edge of these discussions when we talk about how scared we are for our kids to have phones. Sure, security plays a role in our concerns. But more so? We know what phones have done to us. We know the magnifying impact that the ever-expanding world of media and technology can have on our adult brains. We know the ability they have to suck us in, to mindless scrolling and endless comparison against images that are not real, filtered lives that only show the best moments, or carefully curated moments.

Is it fair to submerge them in this world? Can someone please tell me how to raise a kid in a world that I have difficulty thriving in myself?

My fears layer atop each other. The line between fear for my kid and sadness about my own experience with the world is indistinguishable. They meld into one.

Is this a universal fear of parenthood? Did the cave people have an overwhelming fear that God forbid, their child was going to be an adult who used a fork? Would forks change society forever?

Maybe this fear is central to parenthood. Maybe, regardless of when you raise your child, you are fearful for the way the world will evolve by the time you die, by the time they have to take a stab at it themselves.

Will she be okay?

I don’t know. And that is the hardest, biggest, battle of parenthood. The anxiety, that hits the moment your child graces the world with their presence, that something awful will happen. The fear that we aren’t in control of the most important, precious, part of our life. That we can’t always protect. That bad things happen. That mistakes will be made and please God, let them be manageable ones.

When my Avery was first born, I viewed her as an extension of me. She had been literally, woven into my body. She was a part of me, and I, a part of her. When she learned to talk though, I faced the curious reality that she was an entirely separate domain from me. That she is her own little human, who has her own little opinions, and that, she holds these opinions fiercely.

And as annoying as it is when I tell her it’s time to brush her hair & she adamantly says, “No,” I hope with all my heart that she keeps this fierce part of her nature.

Because, as she will learn, if you don’t make choices for yourself, life will make them for you.


We are in the glorious and brief window of her, being completely happy with who she is.

It seems cruel, how quickly this period disappears. I desperately want to take her to an island where there is no TV, no social media, nothing. I want to cloak her, wrap her up, and keep her safe.

But I also know that she has to develop the skillset to thrive in this medium. It isn’t fair to lock her away from the reality which she inhabits. However, it is also my job to teach her to question this reality. To show her that the world isn’t everything it portrays itself to be.

That there is so much good. That it isn’t all dark, but also, that some of it is. That the world is full of beauty if you look in the right places. That human connection will be the key to survival; the key to thriving. That screens, while sometimes beneficial, are not the world.

And yes, I realize the irony that I’m looking into a screen as I type this, watching as letters combine to form the words and sentences that make up this essay that I hope one day she will read, and understand, and hopefully not be too embarrassed by her mom.

I watched in awe as she shimmied her hips, unabashedly, while the rest of her classmates followed the choreographed moves (which shimmied hips were not a part of). I was not in awe of the dance move- she got my dance skills. I was in awe of her willingness to take her own path, to veer off the train tracks, to be her one and only, beautiful, authentic, unique self.

And I hoped, one day, maybe, that I will be as brave as her.