Tag Archives: fear

Sometimes My Kids Make Me Brave

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 It’s no secret.  Motherhood changes a gal.

“What are we waiting for?” Emily squealed.  “Let’s go in!”

There was an expanse of seaweed between us and the ocean.  First it was crisp and stinky, buzzing with flies, up on the hot, dry part of the beach.  As we got closer to the water, it grew damp, then sodden and squelchy.

Emily didn’t seem to mind it as she dragged me down sand towards sea.

If there is one thing I have always hated it is seaweed.  It is so nasty and slimy and there could be a million things hiding in it that want to slither around or snap at my toes.

But I didn’t have long to muse on my loathing of slimy stuff, because my eye caught something clear and glistening in the sun.  “Oh my gosh!  Look, Emily, it’s a jelly fish!  Eeewww!”

If there is one thing I hate more than seaweed, it is jelly fish.  Disgusting!

“Can I touch it?” Emily immediately asked.

“No, Baby.  It might sting you.”

Truthfully, it was one of those “mostly” harmless jellies that wash up on the beach here, but I’ve heard they can cause some skin irritation, and my daughter does have very sensitive skin, so I preferred she not commune with the jelly.

We walked up the beach.

Well, I walked.  Cautiously.

Emily skipped with the exuberant glee of a puppy, straining on the leash of my arm.

I’ve always been a bit of a neurotic mess.  I’m scared of practically everything, and phobic about some things like snakes, clowns, and crowds, and crowds of snakes and clowns.

But like I said, motherhood changes you.  I’ve found myself shoving aside some of my -er- issues for the sake of my children.

Until I had my first child, Jack, I had a paralyzing fear of the dark.  I was so scared of the dark, that if I woke in the middle of the night with a full bladder, I would lie awake and in discomfort until day break because I was positive Hannibal Lector was lurking behind my shower curtain, just waiting for me to get up and pee so he could “have a friend” for a midnight snack.

See, I told you.  Neurotic as a Siamese cat.

It is like being pregnant and birthing a baby altered the molecular structure of my brain, because after bringing Jack home, there was no fear of the dark.  Not that walking around in the dark is my favorite thing, and not that I don’t still get jumpy, but when you have a little baby crying for you in the middle of the night, you can’t exactly stay frozen in bed for fear of fictional serial killers.

Last summer I also put my fear of slimy stuff aside to pet a shark and sting ray at a local aquarium.  Jack wanted to, but he was a little skittish.  Logically, I know there is nothing unsafe or threatening about these things, and it was in a supervised setting.  I didn’t want Jack to be afraid, or to be deprived of the experience.  So, I stuck a finger into the tank and pet the shark.

Oh my gosh, you guys, it felt awful!!  It was so cold and gross and I hated every second of it!  But I loved that my gesture gave Jack the courage to do the same.  He also found it icky, but at least he made his own informed decision.

Truth be told, Jack is cautious and a bit on the anxious side.  He is tentative about heights, new situations, and squelchy stuff.  Like me.

Emily is much more of a dare devil.  She has always been very physical and energetic, has loved climbing and jumping off of stuff, and has boldly gone forward in situations when Jack would have been slow to warm.  In short, she is rapidly turning all my hair grey and taking minutes a day off my life with her antics.

So, it was really no surprise this girl wanted to prance through the seaweed so she could wade into the water.

We walked down the beach until we found the least seaweedy spot.  Then we did it.  We waded in up to our knees.

I never would have done it if Emily hadn’t been there.

Something about her courage to boldly go, inspired me.

I didn’t love the experience of sticky seaweed swarming around my ankles, but I loved Emily’s delighted laugh, and how her entire body seemed to smile as the gentle surf splashed us.

We waded for a bit and then I went up and sat on our blanket for a few minutes as she ran between me and the water’s edge, throwing balls of muddy sand into the water’s edge.

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Let Them Eat Cake. . . or Whatever: Food and the Family

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20140625-103925-38365945.jpgTo maintain my clinical social work license, I have to attend a certain number of trainings every two years.

Some of them are inspiring and really help me grow as a clinician and a human, like the training I attended on LGBTQQ issues.

Other trainings suck up eight hours of my life and make me itch from the inside out.

The training I attended on Food Addiction was one of the latter.

I suspected it was going to suck balls, but I really needed six more continuing ed units so I could renew my license and stay employed.

For the record, I went with the attitude that maybe it would be super interesting once I got there.

It was not.  It sucked balls from the get go.

The first presenter was a nutritionist who spoke about gut health, and for a moment, I was excited to hear what she had to say about bacteria and micro biomes.  But once she started preaching about how we were all going to hell as a species if we let our kids eat cake at a birthday, or a jelly bean at Easter, I realized she was way too orthodox for my taste.  (Get it, “taste”?  See what I did there?  Thanks, I’ll be here all week.)

She lost me entirely when she stated that autism could be totally “cured” with “proper” gut health (don’t even get me started on that one),  and that it was “crazy” for a colicky infant to be on acid blockers.

Ummm. . .  I had a baby who was wicked colicky and was on medication for it.  Does that make me “crazy”?  Did I screw up my kid without knowing it before he was even a month old? Am I a horrible mom?

I couldn’t resist sticking up my hand to ask these questions, a bit ironically, because I already knew the answers.

No.  No.  And JUST NO!

I am not crazy, and I did not screw up my kid.  Well, I’m sure I’ve screwed up my kids, but let’s be honest, we all do that as parents because we are human and we make mistakes.  It doesn’t mean we are bad parents, or that our kids won’t get into Brown and become super productive and kind humans.

I go to these trainings, and my social worker ears hear stuff and my social worker brain thinks, “Umm hmm. . .  Okay, fair enough.”

But my mom ears hear stuff and my mom brain thinks, “HOLY CRAP!!!  I am doing everything wrong and now my kids are going to suffer horrible lives because they didn’t eat kiwi and avocado as their first foods!”

Then I get a grip and think about all the things I do well, and how loving and bright my kids are.

And I think it might be okay.

I’m not knocking anyone else’s nutritional choices, per se, although I may cringe when I see toddlers drinking bright blue “juice” in their sippy cups.

I am in complete agreement that we eat way too much processed food as a society, and it causes massive health problems.  I buy organic when it is available and my wallet can handle it.  I also limit Happy Meals and encourage fresh choices at home.

A super strict approach just isn’t for me, personally.  It also doesn’t work for my family.

Some folks, including the presenter at that training, believe everyone in every family should eat the same thing as everyone else in the family at every meal.  If this works for a family, that’s great.  Back when I was a perfect mom– i.e., before I had kids and when I was pregnant –I was of the same mind.

Then I had said children and shit got real.

My son is an incredibly picky eater.  He is well nourished, muscular, active, and growing like he is meant to.  But there are like four foods he really likes to eat, and he won’t eat vegetables, so we feed him tons of fruits to give him vitamins.

We’ve tried, believe me we’ve tried.  We did all the “right” things to encourage healthy eating, including offering foods multiple times, and being strict about eating what’s on the table.  And we continue to offer all the choices, limit sweets,  and encourage him to explore flavors and textures, but we are not strict about it anymore.

Some nights, my husband and I eat what I cook and my son eats peanut butter and jelly.  Or yogurt.  Or fruit, veggie burger, spaghetti o’s. . .  you get the picture.  (Oh wait, that’s actually more than four things.  Hey!  I win!)

My daughter is not as fussy, and she will usually eat what we have, but if she wants peanut butter and jelly, so be it.

Look.  I spend so much time away from my children as a working mom.

So when we are together, I pick my battles.

I pick my battles very carefully.

If it isn’t a major safety issue, or some really important life lesson, I try my best to let it go.  This does not come naturally for me, because I do tend to be anxious and rigid.  So when I feel the hard interpersonal work I’ve struggled with is being challenged, I feel anxious and oppositional, as I did at that conference.

In the long run, I’ve decided I don’t want to fight at the dinner table, when we are able to be there together, and I’ve made peace with this decision.

So, if we are eating four different meals, I don’t give a tiny rat’s pooper, so long as we are together and doing our best to enjoy each other’s company.

I refrained from sticking up my hand and getting defensive about this at the conference.  As I sat there, in agitated silence both as an incensed mom and a bored social worker, I comforted myself by being pretty sure my kids would not develop eating disorders or food addictions as a result of my slip shod dietary practices. I used to be really fussy too, and I’ve grown to have an incredibly diversified palate, so I have faith we are all gonna’ make it.

It gave me an opportunity to examine how sensitive I/we can be as moms when we hear something that a.) we do not like, or b.) makes us feel like we are parenting wrong because our kids are munching on cake at birthday parties, and frequently enough in between.

It also reminded me that food and the family is as loaded an issue as the most amazing baked potato can be.

As parents, we work so hard to nourish our babies bodies, minds, and spirits.  It is frightening to feel your child is hungry, or not getting what they need.  Ever have trouble breastfeeding, or talk to a mom who has?  I rest my case.

I jotted down some of these pointers on the evaluation forms they gave us at the end of the conference.  Then, I pretty much got on with my life and ordered a couple pizzas to bring home to the fam.

Does your family have food issues?  Have your feeding choices ever been challenged as a parent?  How did you handle it?  

About the Time I Tried To Sell My Newborn On the Internet, Or, Postpartum Depression

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Jack's few-day-old feet

Jack’s few-day-old feet

I’ve ruined my life.

The thought thundered, endless as the tide, in my ears.

I’ve ruined my life.  I don’t know how to do this.  I just want this creature to go away.  

I was a week into my new existence as a new mom.  What was supposed to be the most precious time, full of adoration and cuddling a darling new baby, was turning out to be the darkest time of my life.

Upon birthing a tiny human, everything was suddenly different.  Routines in which I’d been comfortable for decades were altered by the nonstop needs of my son.  I couldn’t find time to brush my teeth or drink a cup of tea.  Being out of work and home alone with a baby felt isolating and scary.  I missed being alone with my husband.  I hadn’t slept in days, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to balance my checkbook.

I sat, at our dining room table, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me– a chore I’d done hundreds of times in my adult life.  I knew the shapes in front of me were numbers, but there were black holes in my brain where I was supposed to know what to do with them.

In desperation, I looked up as my husband appeared in front of me with Jack in his arms.

“We have to sell the baby!”  I cried.  “I can’t make these numbers make sense.  We’ll never be able to afford life.  Do you think we can sell the baby?”

It is a fortunate thing I married a level-headed individual.  “We don’t have to sell the baby,” he said calmly.

My eyes were bleary from not sleeping as I looked at him.  He swayed with our son in his arms.  Why was Jack so peaceful with him?  I felt clueless when it came to comforting him.

Nursing was excruciating, not at all the tender and nurturing experience I fantasized about while pregnant.

In fact, nothing about motherhood was what I expected.

My pregnancy with Jack had been idyllic.  I had never been happier or more emotionally balanced.  I slept great and was barely uncomfortable, even at full-term.  In all honesty, I could have stayed pregnant with Jack forever, it was so awesome.

But now he was on the outside, and I felt devastated.

His cry sent me into tailspins of panic the likes of which I’d never known.  Somehow, my husband had the patience to rock and coo at our son in ways that calmed him, but instead of reassuring me that it was possible for us to have a content baby, it infuriated me.

It was like the two of them were conspiring to make me see what a failure I was as a mom.

“It must be nice being the fucking father of the year!” I sobbed, enraged that my husband was already a better parent than me.

It is another very fortunate thing I married someone who didn’t take this sleep-deprived insanity personally.

And we were so very sleep-deprived.  We hadn’t slept more than 45 consecutive minutes since my water broke at one a.m. and a 22 hour labor and birth ensued.  I was totally prepared to follow the advice of “sleep while the baby sleeps,” but Jack did not sleep for more than an hour at a time, and it was shocking how much he wanted to nurse.  My nipples were inflamed and raw.  This pain plus sleep-deprivation equaled the revulsion I felt towards this tiny being who never ceased caterwauling.

I felt a despair at being a new mom and it was shameful.  Fury grew as I internalized it.

I never wanted to hurt my baby.  Never.  I did adore him.  I thought he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.  But sometimes when I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I just kind of wanted to open up the window and quietly slip him out.

I felt like the shittiest person in the world for feeling these awful feelings, hence my desire of looking into selling Jack on the internet, which at the time seemed like a totally plausible epiphany.

Postpartum depression is a complex combination of factors.  As a social worker, I could give you a bunch of clinical jargon and criteria.  But I’d rather talk to you as a mom who has been the fuck through it.

For me, a hormonal roller coaster met my history of anxiety and depression, acute sleep-deprivation, and the result was a sense of epic failure.  Though I have no evidence to back it up, I also believe having pain meds during my labor complicated my recovery and was an impediment to successful initiation of breastfeeding.  The poor breastfeeding relationship fed insecurity, and deepened my sense of failure.

Motherhood seemed a trap in which I had ensnared myself and my husband.

Nothing prepared me for motherhood.  I had worked with children for over 15 years, but nothing prepared me for the exhausting onslaught of new responsibilities.  Jack was what you would call a “high-needs” baby.  He wanted constant holding, needed lots of soothing, and was incredibly alert.  Meeting the needs of this kid while still recovering from birthing him was intense.

I really can’t over-state how fucking miserable sleep-deprivation is.  I’m not talking about pulling an all nighter, staying out partying until 3 a.m., or having an occasional bout of insomnia.  I’m talking about not sleeping for days and nights on end, to the point where your nerves are so frazzled if you actually got a couple hours in which to sleep you would be too anxious to even put your head down.

Sleep-deprivation has been used as a form of torture, and I learned first hand why it is so effective.

It was like I could hear Jack crying, even when he wasn’t, and it would startle me out of my skin, flood me with anxiety.  I’m sure this hyper-nervous state also did nothing to help my milk supply, which in turn frustrated my ever-hungry baby.

Two weeks after Jack was born, my husband had to return to work.  He had really been holding me up through this disaster we were calling- air quote- parenthood, and I dreaded him leaving us, even for a few hours.

I paced around the house and refused to hold Jack.  It pains the deepest core in me to admit this, but I wouldn’t even look at my beautiful, new boy that morning.  I wouldn’t nurse him.  As luck would have it (not) I had burned off half my areola in an unfortunate attempt at using my breast pump, so I had no pumped milk for the critter.  My husband had to mix and give him a bottle of formula.  Jack guzzled it down in breathtaking cooperation, but I sank deeper into the abyss of self-hatred.

I want to note this intense refusal to parent my son lasted a few hours at most, but it was awful.  I still feel guilty when I remember turning away from Jack to lie on the couch, my breasts engorged and soaking the front of my tee shirt.

Jack was never alone, my husband or other family held him, and I know that connection to other humans was really important.  I can’t help but think of other women who don’t have this kind of support network, who suffer without help, and who’s babies claim the unfortunate side effects of maternal depression.

Jack and I were lucky.

Of course my husband could not leave us like that.  Something had to be done, so he basically shoved me into an intensive therapy program where I went, with Jack, every day for two weeks.  It was almost immediately helpful.

There was a poster on the wall that said something like, “It isn’t always about stopping your baby’s crying, but learning to tolerate it.”  Seeing that poster was an “ah-ha!” moment for me.  I slowly learned to stop taking it so personally when Jack was crying, as long as I was attending to his needs and he was safe, warm, fed, and in dry clothes.

I saw a psychiatrist and was started on a very low dose of an SSRI, considered safe and compatible with breastfeeding.  Jack and I were evaluated by a competent lactation consultant who diagnosed a tongue tie in him and mastitis in me.  Once we got these issues treated, we were on track with our nursing, and my self esteem soared each time I put him to my breast without pain.

I participated in group therapy with other women and their newborns and learned I was far from the only woman experiencing this crazy confusion.

I also learned it didn’t make any of us bad mothers.

Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy went a long way, but another thing that really helped was learning to sleep in shifts with my husband.  We altered our schedules so I would go to bed each night from seven to midnight.  If Jack needed to be fed during this time, my husband would give him a bottle, which allowed me to get at least a five hour chunk of sleep.  Then he would bring Jack to me and I would nurse him whenever he woke for the rest of the night.  This allowed my husband to get a chunk of sleep before he had to get up and go to work the next day.

It was amazing what a few hours of sleep did for all of us.  Within a month of Jack’s birth, we had gotten into a routine that was not altogether convenient, but did work.  I continued to attend weekly therapy, which helped me keep my thoughts in check, and also helped me feel supported and connected.

A couple other things were really helpful for my growth as a new mom.  At the suggestion of my best friend, who’s daughter was three months old at the time, we signed up together for a baby yoga class.  It was a fun way to interact with our babies, and was great for getting us out of the house and among other new moms.

I also took Jack to an infant massage class, and learned some new ways of bonding with him.  Since it turned out Jack had reflux and was a bit colicky, massage was a great way of comforting him when he was uncomfortable, and proved to me that I could meet the needs of my child.

In this process of childbirth, postpartum depression, treatment and recovery, I learned many women share a similar experience.  My depressed brain drowned me in the belief that I was the only shitty person who had ever thought she’d ruined her life and would never learn how to be a good mom.  The truth is, none of us are shitty, and many of us struggle.  It isn’t an easy world in which to be a mom, what with all the constant judgement, scrutiny, and pressure to balance everything and look sleek and sultry doing it.

And experiencing postpartum depression does not mean we stop loving our babies or love them less for even one second.

The good news is we are getting better at recognizing and treating postpartum depression and anxiety.  The bad news is there are still tons of women who struggle and feel too stigmatized by cultural notions of mental illness or ideas of what makes a “good” mom.

In retrospect, I could be pissed with the nurses who breezed in and out of my hospital room while I sobbed with newborn Jack in my arms as depression stole my soul mere hours after his birth.  Or I could hold a grudge with the crappy lactation consult who gave me about four seconds of her time and didn’t recognize Jack’s tongue tie.

I could berate our shitty system of managed care that has women pop out babies and then tosses them out of the hospital in a remarkably short time span.

And I could rant about how in this country, it is a crime against the human family that women are pushed back into the work force to support their families merely weeks after giving birth, when nursing relationships are barely established.

I could grieve those first few days I “lost” with Jack.

But I’m not going to go there.  Not today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the small victory of all those who championed me through that dark chapter of my life.  I’d like to celebrate all I learned about myself, motherhood, and the strength of my family at this time, and the fact I birthed another baby and did not have even the slightest twinge of PPD with her.

I’d like to share this story in hopes that it might light someone else’s way.

Finally, I’d like to pat myself on the back for not selling my baby on the internet, tempting as the idea seemed at the time.

There’s hope.  Don’t be ashamed.  Get help.  Know you can and will do it because there is nothing in the universe quite as strong as a mother.  And please don’t sell your baby.

It does get better.  We have not ruined our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. . .  Have you experienced PPD?  How did it affect you and your family?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?  What advice would you give a new mom who is depressed?

If you or someone you love are struggling with emotional issues beyond the “baby blues,” please talk to your doctor today and learn what is available in your area for help and support.  

Panic and Lady Bits

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Trigger warning for TMI, PTSD symptoms, and talk about lady parts. 

It’s been a long winter.  A fucking, long, hard winter. 

Aside from the crappy weather, I’ve had super drama at work, and a near death experience. 

Last week, the weather started brightening, snow started melting, and the temperatures started rising, ever so slightly.  It was enchanting, and I started to feel a hope that with spring, my life would feel like it was getting back on track. 

As a symbolic gesture, I decided to shave.  My hair is rather fair, and I don’t have excessive amounts of it on my body, so it wasn’t a big deal.  But I decided to shave everything.  Every.  Thing.  I felt sleek and clean and lovely. 

Then–  and here comes the TMI part–  while using the toilet at work, I happened to notice a black dot on my privacy.  It was large enough to catch my eye, slightly raised.  It was something I’d never noticed before.  I’m pretty comfortable with my body.  I’ve had two kids.  If I had black dots on my lady bits, I think I would have noticed it before.  (Um, yeah, you’re real comfortable with your body, using words like lady bits and privacy to describe your labia…  whatever.) 

I freaked the fuck out.  I mean freaked. 

Convinced I was dying of cancer, I did the next best thing and googled, black spot on labia.  This freaked me out even more.  I shut my office door and called my PCP’s office in tears, left a message, and started to shake and pace.  I caught a co-worker walking down the hallway, someone I am really close to.  I dragged her into my office and in hysterics, told her about my discovery. 

She calmly advised me to call my doctor.  She talked me down.  We attempted to go back to work. 

I called my husband who offered to give me an inspection later.  I called him a creep, but it made me laugh a bit.  He had had a mole on his back that they removed, and he had a rational perspective on how my health care professionals would address my situation.  It didn’t help. 

My doctor finally called back and offered to see me the next day.  “Then we can decide if it is nothing, or if we need to send you to gynecology or dermatology, okay?”  She seemed nonplussed. 

“But do you think it’s cancer?” I shreiked. 

“Um, I haven’t seen it, so I can’t make any guesses about what it is or isn’t.  But you don’t need to freak out.” 

“It looks like a mole!”

“Then it is probably a mole.  But let’s take a look at it and we’ll go from there.” 

Her calm reassured me somewhat, but I can’t quite explain what happened next.  All of a sudden, I was back in my car, and there was snow crashing down on it.  I could hear the thundering.  I could see the glass of my windsheild shattering.  I was breathless, lightheaded, my heart raced, and I was quite certain I was going to die. 

I didn’t die.  I had a flashback and a panic attack.  It ended, and I was like, oh, well, guess maybe I wasn’t as “over” that stupid trauma as I thought I was.     

That little black mole, or whatever it is, was what we in the biz call a trigger.

It called into question my sense of mortality, my fear of death, my terror of losing my life and all that is in it.  This has been the residual fear and anxiety since being in that avalanche a couple weeks ago–  the fragility of life. 

Rationally, I know I am safe and okay.  But in the aftermath of trauma, the brain is not always rational.  Rationally, I know this because I am educated in trauma and treating trauma.  But going through it myself is another story.

the Vulnerable Little March of the Ladybug

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IMG_7304There are about six near-complete posts in my “Drafts” folder right now.  While I am somewhat happy with them, none of them seem particularly relevant to my life or blog at the moment.

I keep thinking about the ladybugs we’ve been finding in our house.  Outside the world is still a frozen mess.  Inside, we have these pretty, little beetles of summer roaming up and down our walls.

We’ve found about a half dozen.  Emily is delighted with them.  “Yookit!  Yookit!” she squeals, jumping up and down.

They make me kind of sad.

They are slow.  When we pick them up, they feel really crunchy.

We don’t have any plants in our house, because our dick-weasel of a cat eats them, so there is no place nice to relocate them.  No happy retirement village for ladybugs to munch vegetation and feel their feet in soil once again.

It crossed my mind to buy a plant for the sole purpose of giving these little critters someplace green and warm to spend their last moments.  But then, the thought of plant pots being knocked over, soil on the floor, chewed up leaves, and cat vomit just seems too much right now.

So we watch them slowly, steadily drift across our walls, one tiny step at a time.

I’m sitting with this vulnerability, this sense of fragility.

The more I accept it, breathe it in, the less terrifying it seems.

As long as no one makes any sudden noises or movements, and doesn’t ask too much of me, I’m cool.

My head is slowly coming back together, after the abrupt fragmentation it experienced last week in the face of trauma.  It is actually kind of cool.  Because I am in the biz, it is like I can watch it all in slow motion, understanding and processing every little twinge and shudder.  It is helping me to stay mindful, to feel a sense of control even as I sit with the fact that 99% of my existence hurtles out of control at the speed of light.

Sometimes I catch myself talking about it on auto-pilot.  Yeah, I almost could have died and stuff.  

And other times I’m really touching it, losing my breath and needing to go be someplace quiet for a few.

Oddly, being aware of it all is somehow less painful than not thinking of it, or trying to ignore it.  When I’m on auto-pilot stupid shit happens.  I slip and fall on ice walking around the rental car to put gas in it.  I slice open the tip of my finger cutting a bagel for Jack.  I get hyper-focused on the pain in my lower back and lose my temper when I drop something and have to bend over to pick it up.

It’s bright and sunny out today.  Stuff is melting.  This thought is both scary and hopeful.

There is a hot cup of tea and an ample slice of coffee cake with cinnamon crumb topping that the kids and I made yesterday.

I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.

But I will.

Because life goes on.