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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”.

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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. 

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Weekly Update

Summer

Growing up, Summer began on Memorial Day with a race into the lake, winner being the person who was crazy enough to submerge in the frigid waters. The water of Long Lake was murky brown, and sketchy things happened on the shores- but I was too little to notice.

Summers were marked by peaches, plums, and nectarines ripening in brown bags on top of the fridge, raspberry picking in thorny patches, swimming “laps” in our kiddie pool, lunches outside, and hours spent aimlessly roaming. It was chasing Monarch butterflies, catching grasshoppers, and mosquito bites; lots of them.

I had mostly forgotten these things. But as I bit into a juicy peach this morning, memories came rushing back. I shared half of the peach with Avery, hoping to transfer the flavors of summer to a very blonde girl with very brown legs, who is growing up in the eternal summer of Florida.


After graduating college and heading to work, summers became a thing of the past. I carefully calculated my PTO so I could take a week off up North, but that’s about as close to summer as things got.

The first year of living in Florida was a year of summer, with no schedules to follow or home to maintain.

But this year, things changed. For 9 months, I drove Avery back and forth between preschool and home, 2 hours worth of commuting, 5 days a week. We were tethered to the schedule of pick up and drop off.

Two weeks ago, I watched Avery cross the stage at preschool graduation. I realized with a start, that despite the heavy feeling in my heart that I think all mamas get when their babies graduate from anything, we were about to slip into 3 precious months of freedom.

No longer bound to commutes or schedules, our days are lighter, containing fewer musts and more lets. Currently, we are enjoying not having to get dressed for the day, mostly wearing pajamas all day and putting on a new pair each night. Outfits are so complicated.

I don’t have to wake with my usual ferocity, trying to cram running and showering and praying and writing all in before Avery pads down the stairs. I do continue to try to fit all of these things in before her blonde mop appears before me, snuggling into a hug, but the pressure is off.

We spend our awake time slothing around, doing nothing in particular. This might be because preschool graduation was the perfect petri dish for a bug to take down the entire preschool class and their families. So mainly, we mope around, with junky coughs and sniffles. But hey, we are free.

Bedtime is later now, so we are no longer rushing against the clock to get the girls into bed by a certain time, to ensure a certain number of hours of sleep are acquired before the whole thing starts all over.

There is less math over how early we need to leave to be on time (or at least, not rudely late) and less battle planning over what things need to be packed for optimal survival of the day. There are a lot fewer calculations in this summer life.


After the girls are tucked in, I drag my yoga mat outside as the sun is setting; usually, not thrilled to be taking 30 minutes that could be spent loading the dishwasher. Slowly, I melt as downward dog becomes tabletop, and tabletop becomes child’s pose. During bridge pose, I watch as the clouds cross the sky, moving microscopically slow. Yet when I close my eyes for just a minute, I open them to an entirely different scene; clouds having sneakily rearranged themselves.

This summer will not be the same as my childhood summers; things are a little different here. For one thing, we will bake in the humid oven of Florida. Unlike crisp Minnesota lakes, the ocean is warm and leaves our skin sticky with salt and sand. Lunches will be enjoyed inside, in the cool reprieve of air conditioning. And raspberry bushes are a thing of northern states.

Yet while the clouds might have shifted, creating a new view, we are still under the same blue sky. The essence of summer; the late nights, popsicles, scootering and biking, pajamas for days, peaches and nectarines and plums, will remain. And that is what I most hope to transfer to my little nuggets.

Happy Summer,

Laura

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Weekly Update

The Healthy Vacation

Three years ago, for Chad’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Hilton Head, SC- just the two of us. This was back when we lived in MN, and the warm weather was so welcome. It didn’t hurt that they have great golf courses.

We went for a long weekend. The trip was amazing and we vowed to return.

Realizing that we only live 8 hours away now, it got put on the bucket list for 2021. Now living in FL, we visited for the cooler weather. Chad did his usual thorough research and found a reasonably priced condo on the ocean. Despite my concerns that there might not be enough to do, we booked for a week.

Given the length of this trip, I righteously appointed it as a, “healthy vacation,” vowing to eat well and continue exercising. I packed my running shoes, carrots and apples. I also packed a family size bag of peanut butter m&m’s. I will let you judge what my actual intentions were.

Each morning, I stepped outside in my running shoes to witness as the world quietly woke up. The sand of Hilton Head beach is firmly packed, providing solid ground for running. It took a minute to fall into the rhythm of the run- waiting for my jagged breath to sync up with the rhythm of the waves whooshing in, shortening and lengthening my strides to avoid stepping on jellyfish, all in the pinky purple morning light.

The sun rose as a big ball, hazy. Murky air surrounded it, giving the sky a pastel effect. Endorphins collided with beauty and peace; the best sort of outcome you can have with a run.

I ended each run by taking off my shoes and wading into the ocean, cool salt water enveloping my legs.


It was a heavy on nature kind of trip. We watched in awe as hundreds of tiny crabs emerged from holes in the salt marshes, waving their arms, and skittering back to their holes whenever they detected a threat. We caught, out of the corners of our eyes, jumping mullet, in the otherwise calm pond waters. We watched from our deck as a large pod of dolphins swam by, catching their dinner and occasionally stopping to play.

One day, we came upon a beach of horseshoe crabs mating. The female crab was buried under the sand, while multiple male horseshoe crabs attempted to attach to her so they could fertilize the eggs once they were laid. *

I explained to Avery and Alice what was happening. Chad shot me a look. It’s the same look that he gives me when I let the girls jump from a spot that is a little too high for his actuarial risk calculations, or when I pick up a millipede and ask if they want to hold it.

“Do you really want to use horseshoe crabs for your explanation of the birds and the bees? Five males on top of one female?” he asked, good protective father that he is.

“Fine,” I replied, “maybe you are right. I just thought it would be funny if the girls look back on life and remember that I tried to teach them about the birds and the bees with horseshoe crabs.”


It was the kind of vacation that left tan lines and chipped toenail polish. It was the towels out to dry over chairs, sand in our sheets, swimsuits count as underwear kind of vacation. The type where days meld together, sunrises becoming sunsets, days less governed by clocks, and more governed by whims. The kind of vacation where nothing was perfect and that is why everything was perfect.

By the end of the trip, my brain had also taken on the pastel effect; a little murky, but with beautiful subdued thoughts. I watched as Chad typed, “Stock Market” into his phone and wondered what sort of food they served at this market. When I saw the financial graphs and arrows appear, when I realized he was still existing in the non-vacation world, at least partially. And I was fully submerged: only concerned about my next meal, wondering about the food at the elusive restaurant, “Stock Market.”

We left relaxed. A week had been the perfect amount of time- long enough for our brains to fall into the lull of the ocean waves, long enough for endless bouts of family giggles, long enough.

When it was time to go home, we sleepily piled into the truck at 5am with sun kissed skin, a trunk that was packed to the brim, and memories for a lifetime.

And if I’m going to be honest, by the time we pulled into our driveway 9 hours later, we were exhausted. Already in need of another vacation.

But I think that is just how it goes when you travel with kids.


* Horseshoe crabs have been around, relatively unchanged for 445 million years- yes, they were here prior to the dinosaurs. They actually are not part of the crab family and are more closely related to spiders. Most importantly, in my subjective opinion, they are one of the ugliest creatures to inhabit the earth. You’re welcome, for yet another nerdy fact.

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Weekly Update

Catching the Wave

If you are looking to get writer’s block, I would highly recommend taking a writing class.

Now, I question every decision I make, every word choice. I miss the days when I could sit down and bang out a blog post in an hour. These days, it feels tedious, my once carefree process bogged down by doubt.

It is also true, I hope, that growth requires an awkward stage before the blossoming stage. I have arrived fully in the land of awkwardness, bags packed, unsure of how long I will stay. If my awkward phase lasting from 4th grade to junior year of college is any indication, I could be here awhile.


A few months ago, after a glass of wine on date night, I convinced Chad that we needed to buy boogie boards before we went to watch the sunset. Things get really wild after I have one glass of anything.

He didn’t quite understand the urgency of the situation; but good husband that he is, he went along with my wine driven aspirations. I tried to explain to him the joy of a perfectly caught wave. He looked down at me and smiled, blue eyes gleaming. Did he think this was funny?

Unfortunately, we arrived to a very still ocean that night; wave free. Glassy water. Murphy’s Law of Boogie Boarding: buy a boogie board and all the waves will disappear.


Boogie boards bring back memories of a family trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina after my senior year of high school. We rented a house on the ocean. The waves were huge and the water was full of jellyfish. But in his typical you’ll-be-fine-ness, my Dad had us all in the ocean within an hour of arriving to the house.

I look back in awe of my parents, sending their eight kids out into big waves, trusting that we were strong enough swimmers. Their confidence in us was (is) powerful.

They were the opposite of “helicopter parents” yet no one ever broke a bone, and I think the number of ER visits among 8 kids can be counted on one hand… not counting the time someone took a hockey puck to the face and got stitches in the bathroom at home. I can only hope I do half the job they did.

We spent every day of that trip on the boogie boards in thick humid air, riding the waves. We learned why rash guards are a thing, our bellies rubbed raw by the salt, sand, and seawater that sandwiched itself between our skin and the board.

It is addicting, catching a wave. Learning to time when you start paddling so you align yourself just ahead of a cresting wave. The force you feel behind you, the thrill of speeding toward shore, becoming for a moment, one with the ocean.

But before we got good at it, there was a big period of learning.

We had to learn the best spot to wait for the waves, and more dangerously, how to get there. We were knocked down and experienced nosefuls of saltwater until our Dad taught us to dive down, popping back up once the power of the wave lifted and released us.

Once we had that down, we had to figure out how to catch a wave: waiting for the perfect one- one that was just about to crest. One that was not too far, and not too close.

This was something our Dad couldn’t teach us.

Sometimes we started paddling too soon; other times, we were too slow. Waves passed beneath us, leaving us floating in almost the same spot where we had started.

But soon, we learned the rhythm. And when everything went right; when the stars aligned, it was magic. Pure magic.


A couple of weeks ago, my nieces came to visit- they are a bit older than Avery and Alice and the perfect playmates. When they are here, the girls run off, and for a moment, it’s like they can parent themselves. It is lovely.

We spent a day on a pontoon out on the ocean. The sky was cloudless and the water was warm enough for swimming. We brought along the boogie boards, hoping to finally get some use out of them.

On this particular day, there were small waves, but they had just enough oomph to give the girls a taste of catching a wave.

I tried to explain how to do it- waiting for the right wave, starting to kick at the right time, paddling until the the water swells and picks you up with its force.

But an explanation can only go so far; it is more of a feeling that one has to acquire- a sense. The girls went through the same learning curve- getting passed by some waves, catching others.

A lot of stars need to align to catch a wave.


Maybe writing is like that too.

I’m constantly missing waves, or being completely overpowered by them. Flattened by the great essayists, I begin to doubt there is value in my own voice.

I’m in waist deep water, waiting to understand the rhythm of a force much larger than me. I’m waiting for my senses to attune themselves with the cadence of the ocean.

For now, I am enjoying the salty water and the sand beneath my toes. I’m trying to accept the nosefuls of saltwater that come with the territory.

The learning is part of the journey- not just something to overcome. It is not “before”, it is “part of”. It should not be excluded from the rest of life.

So here’s to embracing the awkward, brace filled moments that eventually lead you to straight teeth. The moments of being knocked over by waves, that eventually become moments of catching big ones. The moments that are not always enjoyable, but push us forward, bringing us to new places.

Laura

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Weekly Update

Stomach Ball

Here is another writing assignment from my class: sharing a childhood memory. Enjoy!

I clearly remember the first time I performed brain surgery. The patient had thick blonde hair, but it only grew around the perimeter of her head, leaving an open patch of her scalp. This meant that no shaving was required before the operation. Convenient, because my mom didn’t let me borrow her razor, and the sharpest tool I owned was safety scissors.

My patient, Sally, required no sedatives. Her blue eyes were wide open with fixed pupils; typically an ominous sign, but not when your patient is a Cabbage Patch Doll.

I’m sure you have questions about a five-year-old brain surgeon.

  1. No, I wasn’t allowed to have a scalpel, so I used a red pen instead. It was handy because it left a red trail of blood.
  2. My knowledge of the brain was essentially nothing, but I did have a great “Body Atlas” book that I referenced during operations. And yes, this is the same book that inspired me to draw anatomically correct naked bodies on our driveway in chalk. While my dad seemed impressed by the detail, he hosed them off the driveway immediately.
  3. Finally, to answer your burning question: the head of a Cabbage Patch Doll was too hard to cut through with my red pen scalpel, so there was a lot of imagination involved in these operations.

I finished up operating just in time to say goodbye to my oldest sister, Rachel, who was off to the Science Museum for a birthday trip with no siblings.

Was I jealous? Maybe, but there were other important things to be done: collecting acorns, drawing brain tumors, snooping.

The afternoon passed and Rachel returned home, toting in a little white bag, her gift shop purchase. Inside? Stomach ball.

I was enraptured, but of course, I was simply a peon in her rule of the house. I would not be allowed to touch this precious object.

Hold up, you don’t know what stomach balls are?

I’m sorry. I thought everyone knew.

The stomach ball was about the size of a baseball, and squishy, like a stress ball. It was clear, and inside were the stomach and intestines, bathed in green goop. It made a lovely noise whenever it was squeezed, the same gurgle you might hear from your stomach right before encountering explosive diarrhea.

When Rachel was not around, I would find it and squeeze it between my fingers, organs oozing out between my thumb and forefinger. I was intrigued by the intestines. What were they made of? How were they so squishy? I wondered what they felt like.

They looked lonely. No one wants to be stuck in a clear ball. Except for hamsters, hamsters do seem to enjoy it.

How, I wondered, could this problem be solved?

Red pen scalpel poked me through my pocket.

My brain ticked. Neurons fired. A lightbulb appeared.

My brain surgeries on Sally had never gotten far because her skull was too hard. Also because my parents didn’t give me a scalpel. But stomach ball? Oh, stomach ball was teeming with opportunity.

My fingers itched. While Rachel was practicing piano, a mandatory 30 minutes, I snuck into her bedroom and snatched stomach ball from the shelf.

I pulled out my scalpel and attempted to make an incision. But the ball was too squishy and morphed around the pen, unwilling to pop.

Dang, these red pen scalpels. Worthless. The wheels in my brain turned.

A kitchen knife? No, I couldn’t reach them.

The saw in the garage? Too violent. I did not want to maim the intestines in the process of extracting them. This was not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

I needed something heavy.

I happened to know that beds are heavy because when I tried to run away, Rachel had helped me tie mine up so I could bring it with me. She was a kind one, that Rachel.

I lifted the mattress and slid stomach ball underneath, planting my 40-pound self on top, envisioning the ball bursting open, intestines oozing out.

I peeked under the mattress. Nothing. Stomach ball remained intact.

I found my sister Amelia and explained I needed help. This was a risk. Amelia was holy. She liked to play “nun.” I was not sure if she could be tempted.  

But it turns out Amelia is the kind of sister who is there when you need to pop stomach balls. She agreed; I needed more weight on the mattress. We both hopped atop the bed.

I remember laughing as we bounced, wicked grins plastered across our faces, sure our evil plan would work.

For a minute, we forgot about stomach ball and gleefully jumped on the bed. But I couldn’t be distracted for long; this was, after all, a pivotal moment in my life.

Carefully, we lifted the mattress. I pulled out stomach ball and examined it.

Sure enough, our plan had worked. There was a hole. I squeezed some of the green goo out and prepared to extract the intestines.

I was caught in the glory of the moment and hadn’t heard the kitchen buzzer go off, marking the end of piano practice.

Suddenly, the door barged open. Rachel stood in the doorway. Her steely eyes darted around the room. Scalpel. Stomach ball. Wicked grins.

She.

Was.

Furious.

Rachel ratted on us and our mom threw the stomach ball away. Rachel was devastated at the loss of stomach ball; I was devastated that I never found out what the intestines felt like.

Thirteen years later I went to college, and learned that skulls aren’t opened with scalpels; they are opened with saws. I got to touch real intestines; though the formaldehyde was overpowering and it was an anticlimactic moment.

Medicine, as it turns out, was a lot more fun when I was a kid.

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Weekly Update

Wide Eyed

As I mentioned last week, my focus will be away from the blog for a bit while I take my creative writing class. However, I thought I would share my first assignment with you: writing a profile of myself as a writer, sharing literary and life influences. Consider yourself warned, it is long.

As the sun dipped low in the sky, our mom called us in from the backyard, where we were submerged in the world of imaginary play. If it was summer, the chirp of crickets filled the air, signaling that night had arrived. If it was winter, we unlaced our skates, quickly putting on our boots before freezing air stung our toes.

We trudged up the hill, beckoned by the warm glow of the open back door.

After racing to put on our pajamas and vying for the best spot on the couch, we were quiet, ready to listen to our latest book.

No longer on the couch, I found myself barefoot in the grass, blue dome overhead. I listened to the narrative of Laura Ingalls Wilder, also a Midwestern girl with, needless to say, the best first name. I listened with wide eyes as she described a panther that silently stalked the family from the trees. I fell asleep with the sheets pulled tightly over my head to protect me from the panthers, though they still found me in my dreams.

While Ingalls Wilder captured the magic of the wilderness, Beverly Cleary captured each conceivable emotion of childhood through her character, Ramona.

I related to Ramona on so many levels. The way her mouth got dry when she was in trouble, the rising anger when her classmate Susan copied her owl, the love-hate relationship she had with her sister. I wished I could be as free-spirited as Ramona. I was in awe of how she acted on her impulses; how everyone knew exactly how she was feeling. Hidden in the mass of my siblings, I did my best to stay under the radar and away from the limelight.

“She ran from her conscience and from God, who, as they said in Sunday School, was everywhere. She ran as if Something was coming to get her. She ran until her lungs felt as if they were bursting with the smoky air.”- “Ramona the Brave,” Beverly Cleary


I also ran, but not from God. I ran until my lungs pleaded for oxygen and my legs drowned in lactic acid. I ran as my brain worked to convince my body it was not dying, despite the S.O.S. messages being fired between neurons. I ran.

My parents required me to do a sport freshman year of high school. Since I lacked hand-eye coordination, I joined the cross-country team.

The thing about running is you have a lot of conversations with yourself.

“Walking is so great. I should appreciate it more.”

“But you know what’s even better? Lying on the couch.”

“No driver! Don’t wave me through! I just wanted a minute to catch my breath. Gah, now I have to keep going. Screw you and your nice manners, you wonderful human, you!”

Through running, I found my voice. I had endless conversations with myself. I listened to plenty of conversations in my brain. I was both the participant and the observer.

Though I wasn’t writing yet, I came to know my voice well.

I continued reading, with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite book. I was inspired by Atticus Finch, going against the grain to take a stand for what he believed.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”- “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee­­­­­


Poking around in the peritoneal cavity of cadavers was as close as I was going to get to climbing inside of someone else’s skin.

In college, my days were spent pouring over anatomy and physiology textbooks, memorizing foreign words. I was captivated by the language of medicine. Mitochondria. Zygomatic bone. Patella. Cytoplasm. Lacrimal gland.

I told my friends I was going to name my first child, “Mitochondria” because I thought it would make a beautiful name. “Ria” for short. We all snorted with laughter as we downed our 10th coffees, cramming for the latest exam.


After I became a nurse, I worked on the blurry line between life and death, finding out for myself that fairy tales don’t have happy endings.

The prince fights cancer, not a dragon. Like the fairy tale, the prince doesn’t give up. He remains “Full Code” and undergoes CPR three times to try and make it to his daughter’s high school graduation. But the prince doesn’t win; cancer does, and the princess is left to attend their beautiful daughter’s graduation alone.

I ran, facing the emotions I had suppressed while doing chest compressions, the depressing fairy tale ending, the reality that medicine couldn’t fix everyone. I ran until I could face my nightmares, no longer about panthers. I ran until I was okay.

Working a rotation of all three shifts, night and day blended; time warped. Reading at this time was not books. It was charts.

“56yo Female, presents with confusion. History of liver cirrhosis, MELD score 32, jaundice noted bilateral eyes. Rectal tube placed. Lactulose Q2hrs. Will continue to monitor.”

“Alert and oriented x2. Oxygen sats 90%, HR 136, BP 80/40. Primary doc paged to notify. Will monitor closely.”

Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor.


I got married and learned that despite what I had been told, I was able to get pregnant very easily. Very as in, the night of our wedding, easily.

While pregnancy came easily, labor and delivery did not. Avery was born blue. The NICU team huddled over the incubator, where it took four attempts to intubate her. I watched as her oxygen saturation dropped dangerously low, the same pit forming in my stomach as did when participating in a code.

Except this was my kid, and now I was a mom, lying naked on a hospital bed under fluorescent lights, almost as vulnerable as she was. I was supposed to protect her; but instead, I helplessly watched as she struggled to take her first breath of air.

Though she was little, she was fierce. After her intubation, they were able to clear her airway. Three days later, we left the hospital. My world crashed. I morphed from having complete confidence in myself to absolute terror that I would accidentally kill my baby. Life seemed scarily fragile. Avery didn’t seem too shaken.

As a new mom, I prioritized sleep over reading. But when I returned to work, I listened to books on my commute. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only person overwhelmed by motherhood when listening to, “And Now We Have Everything,” by Meaghan O’Connell.

I was inspired to resume running after listening to, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis. “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, gave me the push I needed to leave my cushy job in cardiac research to challenge my brain with oncology research. I questioned the narrative I had created about my life after reading, “Braving the Wilderness,” by Brené Brown.

“The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives… It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind.”- “Braving the Wilderness,” Brené Brown


What better way to practice being simultaneously fierce and kind, than in the battle against cancer?

When I worked in oncology research, my mind was filled with beautiful words. Pembrolizumab. Nab-paclitaxel. Daunorubicin. Atezolizumab. Drug names that for some, meant a cure. For others, simply hope.

“These spots could be cysts. But if they are cancer, this is very bad news.” I listened as a young Indian doctor delivered this news, her big eyes sharp, her lilt lyrical, her news, terrifying. I watched as the wife squeezed her husband’s hand, trying to offer support on a journey only he could take. And I read the scan results three days later. Cancer.

With that, finally, I began writing. I wrote because I didn’t like the ending my patient was being given. I didn’t like the ending any of my patients were given. I wrote, for fear of what my ending would be.

Oftentimes, life doesn’t make sense. It is full of tragedy. It isn’t governed by the rules of fairness. But when I write, I can coax my brain to put the disjointed pieces of thoughts and emotions together, create a story, discover meaning, or at least, start to understand.

I journaled about motherhood, about work, about the darkness that coexisted with the light.


When we moved from Minnesota to Florida, I started a blog to keep my relatives updated. It was great because I no longer had to repeat the same stories when I caught up with people. But better, I uncovered a hidden passion.

I like the process of creating a blog post. Finding inspiration in a book I am reading, a podcast I’m listening to, a moment in nature, or simply a thought that crosses my mind as my brain is flooded with endorphins during a run. My words spill onto the screen, as I ferociously try to capture everything before I forget.

After leaving the word vomit alone for a bit, I edit.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Edit, until the thoughts that were hazy have come into focus. That is my favorite part.

Categories
Weekly Update

Thirty One

I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I like birthdays almost as much as I did when I was five. Maybe more, now that they can include margaritas.

There is a certain delight that surrounds getting cards and packages in the mail. My mom always feels compelled to write on the packages she sends, “Do NOT open until your birthday.” It’s as if she knows I still lack self control at the young age of 31.

This year she forgot to write it on the package, so she called me to tell me not to open it until my birthday. And it’s a good thing, because I would have opened it otherwise.

I like how the day feels special from start to finish; with even the mundane feeling extraordinary. Flossing my teeth is a lot more fun on my birthday, maybe because of the sense of gratitude I have for another year of eating without dentures.

When I visited the dentist last month, they had a section on the sheet asking what my dental goals were. Unsure of what they were looking for, I wrote, “Avoid dentures and root canals.”

My dental goals were just like my birth plan, simple and to the point: “Give me an epidural ASAP, and keep the baby alive.” The nurses liked that one. Also, I wanted Chad to play “Push it” by Salt N Peppa while I was pushing, but he refused.


I like the sound of thirty-one. It doesn’t end in the deeeeeee sound that thirty ends in. It sounds more concise. Knowledgeable. Wise?

This year’s birthday was full of my favorite things: A run in the morning, a chai tea latte, browsing a book store, opening packages and cards, chik-fil-a, writing, kayaking with the manatees, dinner with Chad & the girls, my in-laws and some friends, margaritas, better than sex cake made by my amazing mother in law, and yes, that is the honest name, despite the number of eyebrows it raises.

I’m not saying that the name of the cake is accurate, but I will vouch for it being super delicious.


If you haven’t had the chance to kayak with manatees, I’d highly recommend it. Manatees are simultaneously one of the ugliest and cutest creatures. (Please, manatees, teach me your ways.) They are HUGE, with small little heads and creepy/adorable black eyes, and whiskers covering their bodies.

It is terrifying and awe inspiring when they swim under your kayak. It makes me think about Moby Dick, because I fear my kayak will capsize. I imagine I am in the ocean, kayaking over a blue whale; but alas, it is just me in a river with a manatee. Just the right amount of adventure for this boring thirty one year old.

Also, I’ve never read Moby Dick so please excuse me if nothing about Moby Dick relates to capsizing kayaks. The picture on the cover just makes me think it might.

Did you know that manatees are related to elephants? And that they aren’t actually fat, they just have super huge intestines? Neither did I. Now you’ve learned something from my blog, after almost 2 years of reading it. Thanks for hanging in there.

It’s the 31 year old wisdom I’m channeling.


Two of my friends came for the weekend. One, I’ve known since babyhood, and for the other, since high school. They are the kind of friends that know so much of your history that conversations can quickly go deep since little explanation is required of past events.

As we watched the sunset together, on a chilly by FL standards night, we huddled close, wrapped tightly in beach towels. We had spent the past 3 hours discussing the bad and good that had made up our last year.

We all experienced different forms of loss. COVID changed a lot. Life changed a lot. We are not the same people who we were when we ran together in high school. Quite contrary, we all changed significantly through the different routes we chose to take through life.

On the beach, it seemed for a moment, that we had made it to the other side off the loss, the change. For a moment, we were suspended in the beauty of orange hues that lit our existence as the sun slipped down in the sky. We had made it through the past, we were sitting firmly grounded in the present, toes rooted in the sand, and for a minute, there wasn’t the future to worry about.

It was a beautiful moment. And then we smelled pot.

We looked around, trying to figure out who the guilty party was… but realized everyone was looking at US.

Now maybe I look like a pot smoker. To be honest, I don’t really know what a pot smoker looks like, but I envision baggy pants. That’s it, just baggy pants. I wasn’t wearing baggy pants.

*Steps on soapbox.

I’ve never smoked pot in my life. I’ve never done it, period. Because, you know… there are many ways to do it. If I were to DO IT, I would eat the gummies. Because I like gummies. But I think I like control too much to do pot.

I’m sure no one is shocked by this confession.

ANYWAY.

The funny thing is, that of all people on the beach, we were the least likely to be the pot smokers. In high school, we were the goodie goods. We left a party once because someone was smoking a cigar.

We were very risk adverse. Our parents had nothing to worry about and they knew it.

When we returned home from the party, I told my mom what had happened, wide eyed. (Again, let me reiterate, someone was smoking out of a cigar, so basically nothing happened). I’m pretty sure my mom had to suppress laughter.

So back to the beach. It smelled like pot and everyone was staring at us. The sun had set, so we packed up our things to leave.

As we walked to the parking lot, a guy yelled, “Hey, smelled like you were having fun over there!” We shook our heads and shrugged, “Wasn’t us!” He continued, “I was about to send Grandma over!” And then a Grandma looking lady waved her hands and cheered.

She looked like fun. Maybe someday, I will be fun like her.

But not for awhile. Today Avery told me that she wants to move to a different state because, “I don’t like living with grumpy people.”

Shots fired, Avery.


I bet you’re wondering how I’m going to conclude a blog post that covered the topics of birthdays, dentures, better than sex cake, “Push it” by Salt n Peppa, manatees, best friends, sunsets, and pot.

I also, am wondering the same thing.

Sometimes, life gives us a beautiful narrative, a storyline that is easy to follow. More often, it’s a mod podge collage of events that somehow make it onto the same poster board.

This past year of life has been a beautiful mess. It produced quite a few finished puzzles, melt downs, half marathons, quarantines, sunsets, zoom meet ups, clorox wipes (or lack thereof), and moments of quiet.

Here’s to another one,

Laura

PS- The blog posts might be fewer and farther between. I’m currently taking a creative writing class, which I am absolutely loving, but it does cut into my free time to write for the blog. The class ends at the end of April and things should pick back up around then.

Categories
Weekly Update

The Tiniest Details

We found ourselves surrounded by lush shades of green, the silence of a dirt path under our feet, and a view backlit by rays of the setting sun, flooding through the tree branches. The path we hiked started out as a typical Florida hike: flat land running along a river, mangrove trees with their roots dipping into the water, signs warning of alligators, and the forest floor covered in greenery, teeming with life.

A quarter of a mile into the hike, the palm trees made way for skinny stocks of bamboo, thickly populating the side of the path. Ten steps further, we were enveloped in a forest of full grown bamboo, reaching way up into the sky. They gently creaked as they shifted in the wind, and it felt for a moment, as if we had been transported into another world.

When we reached the half way point of the hike, the pace changed from the girls sprinting ahead, to the girls lagging behind, waving ferns that they had collected along the way, poking each other, and sweeping the dirt with their pretend brooms. My stomach was grumbling, and I was feeling very hangry. I just wanted them to hurry it up so we could get dinner.

After five times of trying to hurry Alice along, I realized I didn’t have much control over the situation (a seemingly common theme in my life). And that rather than being annoyed by it, I could just soak in the moment. It was a hard choice to make, given my hanger, but I decided to at least try.

I started to notice the tiniest details, easily overlookable, accenting our hike. The alluring pop of red berries the rosarypea vine flaunted, enticing enough to draw one in for a closer look, despite the fact that if ingested, can quickly kill a full grown human.

The understated white flowers of the hairy beggarticks, the plain jane beauty of the dried out blooms of rue, the climbing vines of the air yam, looking like doilies when used as a food source by bugs, and the trees covered in airplants, housing a stunning view if you only looked up.


Sometimes, life gets choppy and rough. It can be difficult to see the purpose, the meaning, in the fogginess of the storm.

Sometimes, in trying to find the big picture, we lose sight of the small details that make up our reality. We try to grasp for more, for a clearer view. The harder we look, trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, the hazier it gets.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to strive for the big things: new house, career, car; and yet, it’s the tiniest details that end up bringing the most joy? The tiny grains of sand between my toes, the way Alice absentmindedly pats my chest when I’m holding her, the exact same way she did when she was a baby, a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie, still gooey and warm.

While I am a firm believer in striving for improvement, trying new things, changing, I am an equally firm believer that beauty is readily available to soak in, and should not be overlooked in the pursuit of bigger and better things.


The beauty? It’s everywhere.

It’s the 75 year old worker at Lowes, wearing a veteran cap, who gave me his secretly stashed last small tube of clear caulk, patiently explaining to me how to re-caulk our kitchen sink, and telling me to get rid of the special caulking kit I had in my cart that he deemed, “not necessary to waste your money on”.

It’s the way Alice’s nose crinkles as she smiles.

It is in the sunrises and sunsets, the peanut butter M&M’s, the way Chad’s always knows the right thing to say when I’m out of sorts. It is Avery’s infectious giggle as she tells a story that only a five year old could find funny, the finger painted artwork that covers our walls, the “juicy kisses” that Alice gives each night, which I swear cause me to breakout.

Blink, and you could easily miss them; but mark my words, the moments are there.


In Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project,” she talks about the concept of “gazing in wonder.” It is one of my favorite take-aways from her book, and I use it often.

For me, gazing in wonder involves tiptoeing into Avery and Alice’s room after they are fast asleep, creeping up to their beds, and studying their angelic faces, peaceful breathing, and dimpled hands. It is the practice of trying to soak in, embrace, another moment with their little selves that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

Beauty abounds. If you read the news, you might not be convinced of that. But if you turn off your phone, shut your computer, and look, I guarantee you will unearth it.

Find your beauty. Gaze in wonder. Repeat.

Cheers,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Anchored

We drove past our old condo and passed a stretch of road I used to run. It was the route for my warm up loop, a slow and creaky first mile to shake the cobwebs out and wake up my foggy brain. I usually ran this route right as the sun began to rise, hoping to avoid the sweltering temperatures.

Along the route, there is a pond surrounded by palm trees and corporate buildings. It always has a fishy smell, especially when the fountain is running, blowing miniscule water particles onto your face.

I always held my breath when the fountain was on; I could not risk inhaling some waterborne illness, like brain eating amoebas.

If I ran past the pond at just the right time, I could catch the first rays of the sun peaking over the horizon and reflecting the hues of the sky onto the glassy pond water. The dark outlines of palm trees were backlit by the pinky purple sky.

The scene was calm; Florida was still waking up. Street lamps cast friendly cones of orange tinged light, and the silence was occasionally dotted by the whoosh of a passing car.

I ran this stretch of the loop in a western direction, so the only way I could catch this view is if I remembered to look back. Some days I was too tired and forgot, entirely missing a beautiful moment in time. But the more I ran the route, the more I remembered.

So much so, that as we drove past the pond in broad daylight, my brain whispered, “Look back”.

the view

Both literally and figuratively, I’ve been looking back a lot over this past month.

I’ve been working on compiling our family photo album for 2019-2020, which has flooded me with mostly happy memories of the big move and our first year in Florida.

Since moving into our new house, I’ve reviewed a lot of artifacts, trying to determine what holds sentimental value and what can be let go of.

I told myself I was going to review the contents of a box packed with keepsake items quickly, but I was immediately sucked into the vortex of memories, looking at photographs, reading old notes, reminiscing.

I read notes from those who are no longer here today. My diabetic Grandpa’s last note to me (and my all time favorite), “Greetings from the prison nursing home. It has been the best year yet for Christmas goodies. Sugar levels at an all time high.”

I laugh every time I read the note, envisioning his endearing to me, yet probably frustrating to his medical team, resistance to following a diabetic diet. He also had the hilarious yet very naughty habit of reusing insulin needles, which he told me about with great pride. I am sure his chart was plastered with the words “noncompliant patient”.

I could hear my Grandma’s dry humor when I read her encouraging note about parenthood: “It only gets worse.”

I looked back on old pictures. Old aspirations. My old self.


Sometimes I like to revisit my old self. The one who drew endless portraits of carrot looking people at age 4, the very serious poetry at age 10, the obsession with running in high school, the nerd phase of college, the shaky existence of post college life, trying to find stable footing while establishing a career and finding love, newly married, the earthquake of becoming a young mom of two young kids, and finally, now.

Each couple of years seems to have a theme. Something that I focused on, worked towards, loved. Each theme, a different strand that strongly knitted me into who I am today.


With the recent celebration of the New Year, I’ve begun to switch my focus in a forward direction: to what lies ahead.

I’m at a spot in life that doesn’t have a clear path. I have the freedom of being a stay at home mom, with a large blessing of being able to decide how to spend my precious moments.

It is scary: looking into the unwritten future, wondering about the right path forward. But also, freeing, exhilarating, exciting, hope filled.


If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that life is short.

Nothing quite drills that in like doing CPR on a body that was only minutes ago breathing, talking, living; now, splayed in bed with the a blank stare, surrounded by a team frantically working to put lines in, pump drugs, and rhythmically trying to push the heart back into remembering how it is supposed to beat.

Or the news of a sudden death. Or a terminal diagnosis. Or a lost pregnancy.

Life is, and then life isn’t.


There is this thing called “anchoring”. In boating, I’m pretty sure it is a good thing. In medicine, it’s a bad thing.

Anchoring is when in the process of making a diagnosis, the doctor gets stuck on one idea. And no matter how many other facts disprove their current diagnosis, they can’t see clearly. They are anchored, tethered on a line to an incorrect idea, unable to escape the pull of how their mind wants to portray the situation.

Unfortunately, it’s not just doctors who experience anchoring.

We all get stuck in one way or another, whether it is a dysfunctional thought pattern, only seeing life through a certain lens, or telling ourselves we can’t, or aren’t enough, or that we don’t have the inborn talent required.

This year I’m taking my own advice and leaving my comfort zone, embracing the messy, and trying new things.

Instead of a resolution this year, I decided to write a list of goals. I work well with goals and tend to be more inspired to follow a list than a resolution.

I’m taking a creative writing class, decreasing the amount of time spent on my phone, and running a 5K- a welcome relief to the long distances of half marathon training.

The list stares me in the face each morning as I sip my coffee. And I like it.

I would highly recommend you make your own list. Make time for the things you love, gosh darn it, because if you don’t, your time will fill itself.

Wishing you a messy, adventurous, brave year. May you try new things, meet new people, and question why you live the way you do. Because, when it comes down to it, we are currently living our one shot.

May you look back and remember where you came from: the people, places, and things that made you who you are today.

And yet, may you also pull up that anchor and move forward.

Onward,

Laura