Pride Comes Before the Fractions

We’re deep into the weeds of homeschool around here. I mean, we’ve been at this for a week and a half, and it feels like a lifetime. Now obviously I’m a newbie and I’ll be the first to say that I’m no expert, but…like, at what point in this homeschooling gig will suggestions and gentle corrections not be met with eye rolling and/or aggression from the pupils??

Asking for a friend.

J/k, it’s me.

I’m the friend.

I’m trying real hard lately to pay attention to my strong emotions and trace them back to their roots. It’s this new thing I’m doing called self-awareness. I highly suggest it, but also it sucks.

The situations that get my blood boiling most these days (aside from medical atrocities being investigated at the border and general worldwide awfulness) stem from semi-regular moments in instruction with the kids. (I’m not naming names here because the team is getting older and I think they deserve their privacy.)

It feels like there are moments when literally everything I say is dumb and every gentle correction is a personal attack. It also doesn’t help that their father can do no wrong. Dad is brilliant! Dad is funny! Dad is cool! Dad explains so much better! Dad buys us fruit roll ups!

Dad teaches them the exact same math lesson that Mom attempted (but cut short due to tears and theatrics) using the exact same examples that Mom used and they listen to him as though his words drip honey and claim they’re hearing them for the very first time.

If I sound like I’m jealous, it’s because I am.

I admit it, I am horribly jealous of the camaraderie the kids have with their father, especially when it comes to school. If I’m not careful I start believing the lies my jealousy is telling me so the jealousy grows into anger, then resentment.

It hurts that they don’t listen to me the way I think they ought to. It hurts to feel misunderstood and second rate. It hurts when the message I’m receiving from the kids is that what I’m offering is garbage.

I recognize that this sort of thing is a completely normal facet of the mother/child relationship. I grated against my own mother when I was their age. Shoot, I still do it if she offers me a suggestion! It’s growing pains and tough transitions and I get that. The kids are stuck in a house with me all dang day. Of course a different voice is easier to listen to; it’s literally the only diversity in teaching they’re getting so it makes perfect sense. Of course they resent my criticisms. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, especially by their mother.

But I’m still resentful. I’m still jealous.

When I dig even deeper, I see that there’s a part of me that struggles with what I can only identify as the “moms are dumb” vibe. Culturally, it seems like moms are always the butt of the joke. Moms are the overlooked, overworked ones and it feels like dads get to sweep in and have the fun and be exciting. Dad is novel and Mom is humdrum and I resent that a lot. I want to be fun. I want to be exciting. I want to be the one that everyone is thrilled to see. I want to be special, and listened to, and loved.


Just writing that out and stepping back is so helpful. Again I’m tracing these feelings back to their root and remembering what’s true. Upon further reflection, it’s easy to see how hollow that “moms are dumb” argument is. It’s just as culturally acceptable to present dads as the useless, bumbling ones. I mean, watch any sitcom dad ever, right?

I also have to recognize the other side of the coin, to give weight to the fact that my husband sacrifices time at home to provide for us, purely so that I can stay home and have the opportunity to teach our children. He is a novelty to them precisely because he’s not able to be here all the time like he’d rather be.

And honestly there are plenty of times that the kids do prefer me. My sweet husband has endured literal years of babies refusing to be comforted except by me, fed by me, cuddled by me. They come to me with their emotional wounds and worries while they connect with him in different ways. It’s completely fair and right that there are times when I’m not the best person for the job.

He can have math and video games, I guess, and I’ll take my heart to heart bedtime chats and book reading snuggles.

The truth is, these children need both of us. I am not enough on my own because I was not designed to do this alone. I have been gifted a partner who loves us all and who shows up daily to do this soul wearying work alongside me without complaint. What an absolute gift he is.

So the problem is not the children or the husband, but my own disordered desires for control and approval. This thing that’s causing me grief, these little moments in my day that cause me to boil over in frustration are mirrors into my soul, opportunities for me to examine my motives.

Am I teaching my children so that I will be liked or so that they grow in intellect and holiness? Am I allowing myself to believe a lie that pits me against my children and my husband? Or am I noticing the places in my heart that lack holiness and taking these as opportunities to do better? Am I quick to anger when my children push back, or am I leaning in to learn a new way to connect with them? Do I receive their contrary attitudes with my own eye rolls and impatience or do I view their pushback as a barometer of where they themselves are feeing inadequate and vulnerable? Am I praying for my family as I ought to be?

I’m not going to nail it every time. I think the desire to be approved of and appreciated will always be a struggle for me. Yet, motherhood is sanctifying. My ultimate goal and deepest desire is to get my kids, my spouse, and myself to heaven. If that requires less of me, more of my spouse, sharing the spotlight, deeply appreciating the souls in my care, and heaping lesson upon lesson of humility, then so be it.

Yes, this vocation is sanctifying me, but only if I let it.


When I’m particularly struggling with the sin of pride, I like to go over the Litany of Humility. It is hard to pray and even harder to pray with true sincerity. I often find it necessary to add, “Lord, help my unbelief,” to the end. You can find the prayer here. You are so loved my friends, even in your pride and your jealousy, even in your less than pretty moments, you are indescribably loved.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Labor Day

So, tomorrow’s Labor Day. Holla for a day off of work and a nice chance to celebrate the end of summer! But also, can you give me the history of Labor Day? I mean, if you can tell me something beyond, “It’s about labor unions and workers rights, right?” then you get gold stars. But I’d venture to guess that most people don’t know much beyond that. I honestly don’t.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

U.S. Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

So, there’s that. Doesn’t honestly tell us much, but there you go.

Obviously, my chef/butcher husband is working on Labor Day. That’s our normal and I’m used to it after him being in the food service industry for so long. It’s never unheard of for him to work weekends and holidays, whatever it takes to make sure everyone else’s celebrations go off without a hitch. We’re cool with having a flexible schedule around any holiday.

What I will never be used to is the number of unkind, entitled, disrespectful fools who he encounters that treat my husband and his staff as though they’re lesser life forms. I have a real hard time knowing that my husband is working 12 hour days so that people can tell him the work he does isn’t good enough, speak to him in a demeaning tone, and complain that the offerings aren’t up to snuff for their party, and then waltz out wishing him a happy Labor Day.

I’m sure many of you reading are as incensed as I am over this sort of thing. But that’s just all in a day’s work for people in the food service industry.

Customers think that they’re allowed to speak down to staff, send food back, complain about imaginary issues, and weaponize Yelp reviews so that they get what they want. Businesses are held hostage by the expectations of customers and employees suffer.

So, what does that mean for your Labor Day? I certainly don’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy your day off or that you should feel guilty (unless you act like an asshat to people serving you, then you sure as shit should feel guilty).

What I mean is that we have an opportunity. We can observe Labor Day as a fun day off and end it there, or we can make it a day of remembrance. Our family is going to take time today to remember and pray for all of the people we’ve know and loved in the food industry that have been lost to suicide and substance abuse. We’re going to pray for change and donate some money to a charity that promotes mental health resources and offers monetary support to food service workers. And we’re going to enjoy ribs and chicken together once my husband gets off of work.

Labor Day is a chance for you to check in with yourself. Do you see people in the service industry? Do you really, really see them? Do you treat them with respect, humanity, and dignity or do you take out your frustrations on them because they can’t talk back? Do you honor them by fighting for fair wages, health benefits, and mental health support, or do you just take for granted that your meat is cut the way you want it or you dinner can easily be dropped off on your step via Door Dash?

Obviously, this goes for other industries, too. Do you slow down in construction zones or do you have a bad attitude when you have to wait on a road that’s being repaired? Do you take time to actually engage with your cashier at the grocery store or do you micromanage how they bag your groceries? Are you as quick to give grace to the customer service rep on the phone as you are to lose patience? Do you take time to pray for the workers who harvested your food or do you waste the fruit of their labor?

There are a lot of invisible middlemen in our country, people who sacrifice their very lives so that the rest of us can live comfortably and enjoy our time. I can’t speak for every single person working in the service industry, but I can speak for the man in my house. He gets up and goes to work because he believes in the job that he’s doing. He is motivated by creating quality products that enrich lives. He wants to be a small part of your Labor Day celebration and your weeknight dinner. He shows up early and stays late because he believes in the importance of wholesome meals and family dinners. Ultimately, he’s doing his best to provide for his family just like you are yours.

That’s the goal of every industry employee we’ve ever met: to provide for their families as best they can. The job is grueling, physically and mentally draining, and thankless. So, this Labor Day, do me a favor and be a decent human? Take a minute to see and value the work that’s done to benefit you. Challenge yourself to see more and do better, to hold other shoppers accountable, to be a light in a world that so quickly undervalues folks who aren’t working the “good” jobs in the sexy roles. They’re people, too, wildly deserving of our admiration and appreciation. Even if they get our order wrong, even if they’re tired or slow, even if the service isn’t perfect. Even then, especially then, they’re valuable and deserving of grace.

Happy Labor Day, friends…you are so incredibly loved!

Reentry

We recently got home from a week of camping. We were completely off the grid, no cell reception, limited chargers. We spent our days taking long hikes and our nights eating too many s’mores and trying to scare the kids by pretending to be the Wood Booger (my husband’s new favorite term for Sasquatch).

We watched meteors and consulted our nature guide to identify plants and critters, lost two footballs and almost one frisbee to the poison ivy infested border of the campground, and ventured out once to get soft serve from a place that had 25 flavors that all sort of tasted like banana. Bummer for the kid who ordered peppermint. It was heaven.

Coming home from camping is always so hard for me. There’s the depressing tasks of cleaning and putting away all the gear, tackling the laundry, bathing the filthy children, and getting back in touch with the “real world.” It’s really kind of awful any time we do it, but this year I’ve been particularly tender. 2020 on brand, for sure.

As we exited the winding, hilly roads and headed back toward the highway, one of the kids got carsick. He just felt so gross and got sick a couple of times, poor buddy. I felt that way emotionally. The farther we got from camp and closer to civilization, the more icky I felt. Plugging back in after spending a week away from social media and news headlines hurt my heart, but not in a way I’d have expected.

Two years ago we spent a week in Shenandoah National Park and I cried when we left because my heart was just broken for love of the place and I hated leaving such beauty. This time, I could literally feel my heart tighten up as the text messages and Instagram notifications started rolling in. My heart hardened into bitterness, comparison, judgement, anxiety, fear, and despair as I registered each new bit of communication that came at me: a friend’s mother-in-law passed away, pals in a group text tried to make sense of the requirements for returning to our Catholic school, a close friend updated me about an awesome estate sale that I missed. I was tagged in a ton of homeschool giveaways, targeted for ads selling books all the good homeschool mamas have to read. There was more rioting in Portland and Seattle, my sister is moving, my mom has feelings about that. I was inundated with examples of how everyone is setting up their homeschool rooms. My kids’ scout leaders need to know asap if we’re going to be part of the troops this year, some are in-person while some are virtual, so I need to sort through that, and also plasma might help fight the pandemic, and politics still suck.

It just all rolled in at once and I immediately curled inward like an angry, spiteful hermit crab who just found a bigger, stronger shell to haul all the negativity around in. Y’all, I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be hardened by the world, spending my time feeling defensive, worried that I’m not measuring up, that I’m not doing enough, and withdrawing into harshness and judgement as a defense mechanism when I feel threatened and overwhelmed by the world. That’s no way to operate and that’s certainly not what God has planned for me, for us.

Because the truth is, when I allow myself to become hardened like that, I’m choosing sin over grace. Every time I let myself settle into the comforting embrace of quick anger, harsh language, judgement of the other, dehumanization, and despair, I’m choosing my humanity over the mercy of a Savior who died for it all. I’m choosing to put my eggs into the basket of fear, to spend my time compulsively checking to see if I’m measuring up to the standards set forth by a broken system, and offering my life on the altar of social norms rather than allowing Christ to sustain me.

Behold, you desire true sincerity; and secretly you teach me wisdom.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

You will let me hear gladness and joy; the bones you have crushed will rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your Holy Spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:8-14

A friend asked me how our trip went and I confided in her how overwhelmed and tender I felt upon coming home. She immediately reminded me to ease in, not to do too much too fast. I think that’s so wise.

We need to give ourselves and each other the benefit of gentle time. There is so much to care about, so much hurt in our world, so many atrocities and injustices demanding our attention. All of those things are indescribably important. We’re called to care, to speak up, to pray, and to work for justice, but we’re not going to do anyone any good if the change we’re working for comes from a place of bitter, hard-heartedness.

My prayers today were for the Lord to soften my heart, that He would give me a heart of flesh in place of my heart of stone.

Lord, work great transformation in us, Break us, crush our bones, and build us ups again to glorify you. Break our hearts for what breaks yours. Open our eyes to your truth, to the beauty we squander when we forsake you. Reveal yourself to us and make us new creations through the living sacrifice of your Son.

When I went out to replenish groceries after our trip, I randomly visited the Adoration chapel. It was the first time I’ve been there since March. I was completely alone. The Tabernacle was closed so that the Precious Body wasn’t exposed before an empty room and I stood at the back of the chapel for a split second before I practically ran to open the doors to see Jesus. I knelt before Him and just sobbed for everything and nothing, offering my broken heart to Him and reveling in the experience of being with Jesus after such a long time. I honestly struggle to find the words to describe it. It was a real “water in the desert” experience, a feeling that I’ve never encountered before, a profound sensation of coming home and having permission to just be held by the One who knows me and loves me anyway.

So, I’m back home. I’m home and broken by the beauty we left behind, broken for the world we’re living in, and broken by gratitude for the God who breaks my humanity in order to build a stronger foundation in Him. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours.

Homeschoolers

Welp, no sooner did the announcement about becoming homeschoolers leave my lips than my children began adopting all the stereotypes.

I kid you not, we told the kids they wouldn’t be returning to school in the fall and the next morning my eldest started researching mimes.

Since then, we’ve done various and sundry nature walks, which we call creek rambles because we’re both homeschoolers and hipsters. (Mayhaps I shall have my young pupils create a Venn diagram of those two terms as a little exercise this week.) On our rambles we’ve discovered minnows and tadpoles, accosted a blue heron, discovered and identified local fungi and then got real excited because we learned it was bioluminescent. We gathered old scraps of ceramics in the creek, which we are collecting to use in a mosaic project later this year.

And, while I’m new to this homeschool gig, I have lurked on the outskirts for quite some time now, so I know that we’re not allowed to just focus on the forest fairy school part of this new way of life, but we’ve also got to nail down some very niche weirdness, too.

Luckily, we’ve got that covered as (again) the eldest read Roller Girl and has declared her desire to join a roller derby team just as soon as those sorts of things become available again, and the other children have been spending all their time encouraging her new passion by practicing hip checks on one another. So, library and gym class done.

A love of obscure sports inspired by a graphic novel isn’t really weird enough, though, so my children took it a step further and decided that today should be Halloween. So they got all dressed up as a ghost astronaut, Peter Pan (but he’s a firefighter who’s dead), a Dementor, and a hag. The hag did quite a big of research on her Kindle re: hag attire/facial attributes and then she added stage makeup. To everyone. Using only purple eyeshadow and whatever markers she found under the couch, she decorated everyone’s faces with under-eye circles, blood, moldy bits, and holes through which one could “see” their teeth. So, anatomy and theater done.

And then they all decided to ride bikes out front, you know, so the neighborhood could enjoy the spectacle of weirdly dressed, makeup-ed kids, terrorizing the block like a Halloween parade gone very very right. Our elderly neighbor didn’t bat an eye when she came to say hello, so that obviously means that she’s used to this shiz and we haven’t been fooling anyone.

Then we watched bees pollinating our flowers and got into an argument about whether or not they collect pollen on their legs and their faces, or just their legs. And after that exploded into violence and people served their time, everyone got to go in and trick-or-treat through the upstairs bedrooms/bathroom and eat candy in their beds, which is normally an illicit activity but was ignored by their mother who just wanted a damn minute to herself. So, science and civics done and done.

Also, we took a break in there somewhere to make a South Korean omelette called “gyeran mari” for lunch because somebody saw it in their Kiwi Crate book and wanted to try it and I’m all for egg lunch. So, home economics, world studies, and math done.

So, basically the only conclusion I can come to is that this is who we’ve been all along and I just really can’t wait for our official denim jumpers to arrive in the mail at which point we’ll really be official, card carrying homeschoolers and I can feel confident that we’re doing this all correctly. Rest assured, I’m here for it.

Food Blogger: Our Meal Schedule

Umm…has anyone else forgotten to feed their kids lunch lately? Just me? Kewl.

So, we’re on all sorts of a weird Covid schedule. Like, I don’t know when bedtime really is and breakfast is definitely on a sliding scale. As I type this it is 2:15 pm and I have not fed my children lunch. Honestly, they haven’t even snacked. I’m chalking this up to the big breakfast they had at 9:45.

Gracious, what has become of us? I mean, obv Covid has become of us and I, for one, am growing as an individual and as a human. (They’re not necessarily the same thing.) So, I’m happy to announce that since I’ve got the fashion and pet blogging niche markets down, I will now begin my foray into food blogging. You. are. welcome. I shall start with a little run down on our eating schedule since so many stay at home parents need help in that area and because I am an influencer.

Lately, our meal schedule looks like the following:

Around 6:30 AM the kids wake up and putter around while I sleep in a bit because somebody had a bloody nose in the night. I have no idea if they eat during this time, but I assume they don’t since they eventually wake me up by asking for food.

Between 8:30-9:30 we have some sort of a combination of cereal, yogurt, fruit, and/or leftover brownies and pizza (because Covid, and summer, and I don’t care).

Some days I am Mary Poppins and we eat homemade muffins, scones, or pancakes outdoors while we are serenaded by songbirds and I read a book aloud.

Most days are not those days.

So, the breakfast cereal holds us over for approximately 20 minutes and then we have some sort of brunch, or second breakfast, or what have you. Like, today I made scrambled eggs and sausage and cheese all mixed together which was great because it totally filled them up. I mean, we can just go ahead and call that a “breakfast scramble” and pretend that we could potentially put vegetables in it and we’ve got ourselves a Pinterest situation, am I right? I’m too lazy to stage a photo of that slop, but if you do please pin it and send it my way.

Aaaanyway, that protein packed meal did the trick so well that nobody wanted to eat lunch. Like, I offered and they declined. More appropriately, I forgot about lunch until I looked at my watch, saw it was past 2 pm, and frantically asked the kids if they needed to eat. They assured me that they did not and went right back to playing Animal Crossing.

Now, I’m no fool, so there’s no way I asked twice. Speak up or forever snack on stale couch pretzels is what I say.

Around 4:45 pm starts the grumbling and snack sneaking. Today I discovered that the youngest had been secretly helping himself to chocolate granola bars even though I cut him off after two. I have no idea how many he actually consumed, but it’s safe to say he doesn’t need to worry about being regular anytime soon.

Snack sneaking also coincides with the exact moment I start preparing dinner. This is so they can fill up on garbage while I’m distracted and then not eat what I cook. It’s cool. It’s fine. I actually love it. Totally great, not bitter at all.

Let’s also sneak in a moment here to talk about how I’m a pretty not bad cook, but my specialty is winter food. I specifically excel at one pot meals. What this basically looks like in practice is that even though it’s summer and it’s humid and gross and the world feels like a sweaty sports bra, I usually lose track of time and then end up rushing to cook dinner…so we end up eating some sort of one pot thing that can be served over rice or noodles. I realize that heating up the kitchen isn’t wise, but I’m good at making slop is what I’m saying. And also, can’t stop won’t stop.

‘Slop’ may be a harsh term. My husband likes to call it ‘gravy.’ So, what I’m saying is, I’m good at making various delicious gravies and feeding them to my family on a bed of starch or carb. Guys, I know chicken curry, picadillo, and whatever homemade version of Hamburger Helper I manage to throw together all sound exotic, but let’s face it. I’m making piping hot gravy every night and the fam is done. The other day, my husband very gently asked if I’ve ever considered maybe making BLTs or like a salad or something and I had to remind him that I am a chef with a blog following so he can just pipe down, thankyouverymuch.

So anyway, back to the schedule. The kids’ strategic refusal of dinner allows them to be hungry riiiight as they’re being tucked into bed, but joke’s on those suckers because I don’t play that game. Unfortunately, this means they’ll be hungrier earlier in the day the following morn, which really cuts into my sleep time, but c’est la vie.

So there you have it, a foolproof method for keeping your family happy and healthy…or at least fed and out of your hair so you can scroll Instagram in peace. I’m available if any of y’all need me to show you how to keep your kiddos on a solid meal schedule for the summer months and beyond because what is time anymore?

It’s such a simple schedule, really. All you have to do is remember the core goals: procrastinate your meal prep and ignore all sense of a time. I really recommend ignoring the entire space/time continuum, but that’s just because I’m a Michelin star level procrastinator type chef.

Also, neglecting to stock the pantry with any real food is a great technique that fosters inventiveness and helps kids tap into that old hunter/gatherer spirit. We’ve really lost that in our comfortable life of modern ease and I think it’s incredibly important to teach kids self reliance. I particularly love to keep the kids alive by creating meals out of broken spaghetti, hot dogs, a can of mushrooms, and some Jello that’s not quite set. Shoot, you can just go ahead and call that college prep and now we’re really cooking!

So, keep it tuned right here for more helpful tips for your Covid living. If you’d like to request any specific advice on how to just absolutely ace your life right now, feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll do my best. After all, it’s the very least I can do!

Decisions, Decisions

Well, everyone on the internet is talking about it. Everone’s plan for educating their children this school year is taking up quite a bit of bandwidth these days.

And as with everything 2020, this shiz is super polarizing.

Like, if you are considering homeschooling, you must obviously be anti-public school, and anti-teacher, and you probably don’t even appreciate what schools do for everyone, and guess what, now you have to fight Ms. Frizzle in a cage match because you’re such a horrible human.

Also, if you’re sending your kids back to school, I don’t even know how you sleep at night knowing that you’re offering your children up as actual sacrificial guinea pigs in the science experiment of life and you clearly don’t love them, you monster.

I am happy to say that, as for me and my house, we have come to a decision.

And because everything is so polarizing and high stress, I almost feel like we’re required to make an official announcement like LeBron did when he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Like, this is so high stakes clearly a serious announcement on tv is the way to go.

Do y’all remember when this happened?? It was maybe the single most awkward television interview I’ve ever seen. There was so much build up and it was so anticlimactic and disappointing for everyone in Cleveland and just indescribably cringy all the way around. Shudder.

So, obv I want to duplicate that in my own life.

Unfortunately for all of you lovely people, I could neither secure a television deal nor a Boys and Girls Club of America from which to film said tv special, so the ‘ol blawg will have to do.

Ahem.

I am pleased to announce that the Delagrange family will be taking our talents to……..the basement. And maybe the kitchen table. The backyard is also a possibility, weather permitting.

Yep. We’re going to homeschool for this school year and guess, what? Our reasons for making this decision really don’t matter. I mean, I’m happy to share our reasoning with anyone who genuinely cares, but y’all, it really does not matter.

You are not required to agree with me and I’m not required to agree with you. Our families are different, our needs are different, our hearts are different, and I guarantee we’re both doing our best. And that is enough. We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.

Lemme say that a little louder for the people in the back: We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.

I got this text from a friend the other day, and I 100% stand by my response. Mainly because she told me I’m smart, but also because I think I’m right and I’m not afraid to toot my own horn.

I hope y’all have a friend to text vent to…this is one of our less spicy text threads, I can assure you, and it is so delightful to spew my vitriol to a pal who won’t judge. So clearly my friend and I get a little heated when we’re texting. She does not hate everyone (all the time) and I don’t think everyone is dumb (all the time). But I think our strong feelings pretty accurately depict where we’re both at right now.

It is beyond frustrating to feel like every single decision is the wrong one. It is irritating and annoying to feel like every move we make regarding our family decisions are fodder for the judgement of others. It is exhausting to be constantly worrying, worrying, worrying about making the right choice only to open up to someone and have them poo-poo it like it’s the dumbest thing they ever heard.

I deeply believe that most people share opinions and advice because they’re seeking validation of their own choices. I see this with my doula clients all the time. People tell expectant mamas they absolutely must get an epidural or should absolutely never get one because they want someone to affirm that their own decision was the right one.

Guess what, that’s bull slaw.

Guys, there is space for all of the decisions.

I mean, if your plan is to lock your kid in the attic with a tablet and some Lunchables, I’m probably going to say maybe rethink that one. But otherwise, you need to do what’s best for your family. Your family. Not your neighbor’s family, not your cousin’s family, not your old maid aunt’s imaginary kids and family. Yours. That’s it.

And here’s another strong opinion to shake things up: If someone makes a decision that’s the opposite of yours, it does not mean your decision is wrong. It just means it was wrong for that other person. And newsflash, you can still be kind to someone who is making a choice that isn’t right for you. You can. I’ve tried and it works.

Guys, every single parent in the United States is feeling some sort of way right now. We are collectively stressed, worried, tired, and terrified we’re going to ruin our kids. It’s like a regular day of parenting only with the added perk of a global pandemic. We are all doing our best. My best is probably not the same as your best, and that’s okay. It matters much less how many people agree with my decision to homeschool than how many people feel seen, loved, valued, and supported.

I have friends who are planning to educate their kids in all sorts of different ways this year. I actually know one other person who is homeschooling for the same reasons I am and every single one of my best friends is doing something else. I’m pretty sure my very best friends all disagree with me on some Covid fundamentals, and we’re still friends.

It is pure foolishness to expect other families to make the same choices as mine. We’re all working with a supremely shitty situation and shaming, judging, and vomiting opinions at everyone will not help one single bit…

…which is why I’m done spouting my opinions all over the internet. Y’all, go be a good human. Do what’s best for your kids and give others the space to do what’s best for theirs. We’re all going to be just fine as long as we remember to treat each other with dignity and love. No matter what shape our kids’ education takes this school year, let’s let it be rooted in love, okay?

I Get a Little Texan When I’m Angry

I have a childhood friend named Kathryn who I regularly chat with online. (Facebook Messenger chat, though I wish we were rocking it old school and using AIM like the cool kids we are.) We were a few years apart in school and didn’t become real friends until we were adults, but we are bonded for life over the fact that we both grew up in the same tiny Texas town and now currently live in the north. I’m in Ohio, she’s in Michigan, so our experiences of being Texpats (that’s the Texan equivalent of being an expat, obv) are the tie that binds.

Some might say our bond is forged over both similarly warped in our youth. We say that we’re right and the rest of the world just doesn’t get our particular brand of weird which consists of frequently referencing Texas history, sharing clippings from our hometown newspaper, and recalling all of the childhood phone numbers we can remember. As I type this I realize how old lady-ish we sound. I assure you we’re real cool. Or at least Kathryn is.

Anyway, our coolness isn’t the point. The point is that we’re the only two people in the tri-state area who know what it was like to grow up in Canadian, Texas. (Yes that’s the name of our hometown; no, it has nothing to do with Canada and we will roll our eyes at anyone who suggests such nonsense.)

For example, Kathryn messaged me the other day to ask me if I could recite and/or sing all fifty states in alphabetical order…which obviously I can because Marilyn Wilson drilled that business right into our heads in 5th grade music class. We had to sing it alone in front of the whole class for a test grade. So, yeah…I can do that. Apparently all of Kathryn’s MI friends think this is bizarre. They also can’t sing their state song, bless their hearts. Not knowing your state song is just blasphemous if you’re a Texan. We just canNOT with these northerners sometimes, I swear.

So anyway, today Kathryn sent me a message asking me if I ever, “get more Texan” when I’m disciplining my children.

Y’all. Is that even a question? Does Chuck Norris kick bad guy ass when he’s angry? Is the name Ladybird acceptable for both your child and your dog?? Do we vehemently protest the addition of beans to chili?? Yes, yes, and yes. So, yes. Can confirm. I do get a little Texan when I’m angry.

I mean, most people who talk to me on a normal day genuinely wouldn’t guess I’m Texan. I think this is due to the fact that I took a kajillion speech and film classes back in the day and the Standard American Dialect was drilled into my skull just like, “Aaaaaaaalabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas…” was in music class. Honestly, I’ve found myself developing a Parma accent lately and if you’re from the greater Cleveland area, you know how dire a situation that is. Gracious. I need to have an intervention from Stephen F. Austin is what.

But, if I am absolutely losing my mind on the kids, the Texas for sure comes out. My voice drops into a drawl and I start in with the southernisms. My children know they’re in for it when the twang starts.

I get Texan when I’m angry, which means I also get louder. That’s probably hard for some to believe given how loud I am on a regular basis, but it’s true. I like to think it’s due to the fact that my ancestors’ own hollering had to be heard all the way across the Great Plains when their kids were acting like fools because y’all know the wind’s so bad down there. My loudness is purely an evolutionary development that allows my voice to be heard over a tornado, which obviously gives me a survival edge over non-Texans.

Either way, I go from Parma to Pampa in zero seconds flat and before I know it I am using words like, “dadgummit” and full on hollering at my kids. ‘Tis a delight to behold, just ask my neighbors.

Speaking of “dadgummit,” I used that one the other day and our youngest took a liking to it and decided to try it out himself. He was building with blocks and every time his tower fell down he’d try to yell, “dadgummit!” Only his version was, “DAMN-gummit!” and I have to say I think it’s an improvement on the original.

Fun story, one time after he had first moved to Texas to marry me, my husband was trying out some local colloquialisms and got them all mixed up. So instead of saying, “hot damn” and “boy howdy” he definitely said, “hot boy!” and it was my favorite thing that ever happened.

Another favorite Texplative from my childhood is, “son-of-a-buckin’.” As in, “Y’all need to git in here and clean up this son-of-a-buckin’ floor; we’re fixin’ to have company!” It really rolls of the tongue nicely. I’ve never used that one with my own progeny, though, as I’m afraid of the subsequent changes they’d make to it.

So anyway, here’s to old friends who knew you when and all the times our pasts make themselves known in the present. Here’s to being a little Texan when we’re angry and inspiring another generation to carry the torch of weird expletives into the future. And also, y’all go learn your state songs right this minute or William B. Travis will haunt your dreams.

Got Toddlers? Read on for Your Official Free Pass!

Mamas of little children, listen unto me: You are doing enough. Let me say that again. You. Are dewing. E-nuff.

Here is how I know this. My youngest is about to turn five (sob, sob, but also happy dance, but sob) and whenever I hang out with friends who have mostly tiny babes I am exhausted. I don’t even live with those fools on a regular basis and they exhaust me. I got worn out just from FaceTiming with my nephew today and all he was doing was climbing in and out of a box.

I had four babies in five years (because efficiency) and I distinctly remember feeling like a failure all the time. My house wasn’t clean enough, we watched too much Daniel Tiger, I was never on top of laundry, and I could just never figure out why I couldn’t get ahead. It boggled my mind that my life wasn’t somehow manageable.

Let’s take a gander at this photo that popped up in my Facebook memories from five years ago, shall we? I was four hundred thousand years pregnant with my fourth baby. In July. My original caption was, “Should be cleaning, but here we are.” What kind of a ding-dong thinks she can clean anything with a toddler who can’t nap unless he’s touching her and her gigantic belly?? Also, I need y’all to recognize that I am wearing jeans in this photo. Lawd, what a fool I was. I haven’t worn jeans since March and I have “no regrats” as the kids say.

You wanna know why I couldn’t get ahead? Wanna know why things weren’t manageable? Because my children were like zero years old and spent all their time bouncing from suicide mission to suicide mission all damn day. Children under the age of five are helpless and also hell-bent on destroying the world. It’s what they do.

Guys, I have seen some shit. I have had the usual marker/flour/playdoh/glitter accidents, sure. But I’ve also had raw sewage flood my basement because a kid flushed a pair of his underwear like a psycho and clogged the pipe. T’was a delightful day.

There was a period of time when literally every surface of my house was covered in dirty diapers what somehow didn’t get thrown away. I’d find them under the couch and in the couch cushions and maybe if you come over, I wouldn’t recommend sitting on the couch is what I’m saying.

Also, that same undie flushing kid once wandered out of the house…in only a saggy diaper and a t-shirt…in February…and got picked up by a Good Samaritan and an off-duty detective all while my husband was helping a kid throwing up in the bathroom and I was taking the eldest to kindergarten.

Speaking of vomit, I’ve been awakened many a time by a child puking on my hair/pillow.

I have gone literal years without adequate sleep, struggling with the constant pressure of keeping the kids alive to see another day…or at least to see another opportunity to maim themselves and/or otherwise wreak havoc on the tri-state area.

And that wasn’t even during a pandemic. Back in the olden days when my kids were super little, I could at least take them to McDonald’s and lose the little gerbils in the play place for a minute while I collapsed in a corner and hoovered some fries with my bestie. Nowadays, there’s no escape for you guys and I genuinely feel bad. My heart is especially wounded for those who are legitimately trying to do actual work from home while the little dementors run around and tear shit up. Gracious, y’all are going to zip through purgatory, I’ll tell you what.

Anyway, I am on the other side of toddlerhood now and I need you to know that if you are a parent of tiny humans and you’re literally just surviving, that is enough. For real. Look at the big picture and take it all in. They are literally depending upon you to keep them alive, so if that’s the extent of what you accomplish in a day, then you my friend are the winner winner chicken dinner.

If anyone else’s coworkers acted the way yours do, they’d quit their dang job. Like, can you imagine someone working in an office having to deal with their coworkers constantly following them into the bathroom and demanding to know why they don’t have a penis? Or having a colleague who just randomly shoves their crumby hands down their boss’s shirt and asks for a snack? Or how about an employee who won’t stop rubbing boogers all over the cubicles and refuses to wear pants? That shiz would get shut down real quick, because it is a serious hindrance to productivity. But that’s just the office culture for parents of little kids and I think we need to ponder that a moment. Like, if that’s what your coworkers are doing on the reg, you get to cut yourself some slack for not wiping the crumbs off the table or scrubbing the toilet today.

So, anyway if you’re a parent at home with tiny humans and you’re feeling worn out, ineffective, and always behind, I hereby declare you excused from anything that’s not survival oriented. I have spoken. I said good day. So let it be written, so let it be done.

If you’d like this in writing, I am happy to create a printable certificate for you to frame. I’m not above that one little bit.

Now y’all go scatter some goldfish on the floor in front of the tv, give my regards to Daniel Tiger and Bluey, and take yourself a well-deserved nap. You’ve earned it. I swear.

A Light Read: Sobriety, Codependence, and Coming Back From the Edge

The fifth of July is a really special day for our family, but not one that usually get’s a lot of pub. This is mainly because July 5th conjures up some pretty painful memories and not all of it is my story to tell.

However, it’s a story that’s worth telling because it is an example of perseverance, answered prayer, and an incredibly faithful God. July 5th is my husband Vinnie’s sobriety anniversary. This year marks two years sober for him and I could not be more proud or grateful.

I checked with Vin before I wrote this post because I really wanted to make sure that he was okay with me sharing and that he read it all before I pressed the publish button. It’s really important for me to make this distinction because being vulnerable about alcohol dependence – or dependence upon any substance, for that matter – is hard. Really, really, hard. I’m incredibly grateful that my husband is okay with me sharing publicly. Because, here’s the thing: I know we’re not the only ones and it would be such a gift if we could be an encouragement to someone in a similar spot.

I’ve learned so much in our two years of sobriety. I could probably write and type and talk all day about the things I’ve learned and am continuing to learn on this side of alcoholism. But I’m going to try to reflect a little here and see where we get.

Vinnie is probably the smartest person I know. He is so clever and quick. He’s one of those guys who can figure out how to fix just about anything and we always joke that he knows just enough about enough things to bullshit his way through the rest and come out on top. I’ve never seen someone who’s able to turn nothing into something like Vinnie can.

When we moved to Cleveland from Florida, we were pregnant with our second baby, jobless, with few prospects. It was a low point to be sure, but Vinnie managed to find a job as a deli clerk at a grocery store and worked his way up from there. He became a journeyman meat cutter, then snagged a spot on the opening team of a new upscale grocery chain, then became the head butcher at a high-end steak house in town. Eventually, he worked his way up to sous chef at the restaurant and has since moved on to become one of the most highly trained butchers in the area. He’s really great at what he does and I’m so proud of him.

But what most people don’t know is how deeply dangerous the food industry can be, especially for people who are predisposed to depression and/or substance abuse. Vinnie checks both of those boxes off, so while he was succeeding and growing and advancing at work, it was in a toxic environment.

Restaurant life is brutal. The hours are abysmal. Employees arrive early and leave late. The pace is hectic and stressful. Good restaurant crews are able to create amazing food for countless tables, simultaneously balancing special requests, cook times, miscommunications, and endless complaints from obnoxious customers. The pay is low, the thanks are nonexistent, the hours are shit, requiring employees to work holidays and weekends, and success or failure is just one bad Yelp review away.

If you’re scheduled for late service “late” means 2 am some nights. And after you’re finally done with service, the party culture restaurants are famous for leads the crew out to drink either celebrate a good night or drown their sorrows. It’s common for staffs to leave work, party hard, then stagger back the next day hungover just in time to do it all again.

I only understand a shred of it because I’ve never personally lived it, but I have seen what it does to people and I know I’d never make it. No chance.

The restaurant industry chews people up and spits them out only after making sure they’re mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stripped bare and broken. It’s no surprise that the people who making the industry tick struggle mightily with mental health and turn to numbing behaviors to get by. It’s no way to live. We’ve seen friends deep in the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and have lost some, too. People are dying, literally dying, and yet the industry gets no breaks. (If you want more information on this, check out this article that references some interesting studies and work being done to support people working in the food industry.)

Our story unfolded somewhere in the middle of all of that. When I look back at what we got through, what Vinnie survived, I am just floored by how lucky we are. We dodged the bullet in a lot of ways and all by the grace of God.

Man can fly from everything in nature, but he cannot fly from himself.

Venerable Matt Talbot

We’ve been married 11 years now and a lot of that time was spent in denial. We both knew there was a problem, but neither of us wanted to address the elephant in the room. Add to that the fact that we had four babies in five years, lots of stress and job changes, and the grinding culture of restaurant and retail work, and you can see how we became more and more dependent upon our addictions. His was alcohol, mine was food.

During the worst of it, I was deeply struggling with codependency, something I’m only now fully realizing and continuing to work through. It was really easy for me, the non-alcoholic, to feel smug and self-righteous because I wasn’t doing anything “wrong.” But the more things spun out of control for Vinnie, the tighter I tried to control it. I micromanaged and nagged and obsessed and stalked. I compulsively checked his text messages and looked for any excuse to catch him doing something wrong. I obsessively talked about it with my best friend in Texas, rehashing arguments and airing a laundry list of worries, complaints, and fears. Weirdly, this behavior made my husband pull away from me.

The one thing I got right in all this was that I prayed. My prayers may have stemmed from a place of fear and control, but the deep desire of him being stripped of dependence on alcohol and falling into dependence on God was real and pure. I became good friends with St. Joseph and St. Monica. I prayed novenas and rosaries, offered masses, and begged the Lord to deliver us, to heal our relationship, and to save Vinnie’s life. While I frequently feared for his physical safety, I was desperately afraid for his soul and my deepest desire was for Vinnie to see his own worth, to be known and held by the Father.

I need to let you know, though, that my prayer life wasn’t perfect. There were plenty of times when I let my resentment, pride, and anger stop me from praying for him as I should have been. My heart has been hardened and broken too many times to count. While this is a story of Vinnie overcoming an alcohol addiction, it is also a story of me being humbled over and over and over again, learning to listen and to surrender it all to the Lord.

Eventually, I started going to therapy. Y’all, every damn person needs to go to therapy. Yes, that means you, too. If you haven’t tried it, you are seriously missing out. Self awareness can be harsh and hard, but it is so healing. We can’t expect to effect change in our relationships until we identify and take responsibility for our own negative behaviors.

In the darkest part of this journey, I was so worried about controlling my children and husband so that we could check off the boxes to show we were doing things “right” that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I became a person who was only as happy as others were with me. I blamed myself for everything. It was my fault that the children didn’t behave. It was my fault that he had to work such long hours. It was my fault that he was drinking so much. If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t do that. If I were a better mother, they would act the way they were supposed to. I was caught in a cycle of self loathing and self pity, and it wasn’t pretty. I was desperate to control everything and furious that it wasn’t working. I was murdering myself to make everyone else happy and then completely filled with resentment when they weren’t miraculously joyful.

My therapist taught me the mind-blowing truth that I’m not in control. Then she took it to the next level and told me that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s emotions. And then she told me that I can only control the way I choose to react to situations and that maybe, just maybe, not everyone else processes things as quickly as I do. It was revolutionary.

I did a lot of hard work to stay in my lane and to take responsibility for myself. Allowing others to make their own choices and letting them experience the repercussions of those choices has been the number one game changer in how I approach parenting and my marriage. I will struggle with this for the rest of my life, just like I struggle with my own numbing behaviors and unhealthy relationship with food (a post for another day), but just being able to name the thing has been life altering. It’s hard to fight a battle when you can’t articulate the thing you’re fighting.

And that was when we had the breakthrough. It was the ugliest, most depressing July 4th of all time and I won’t go into a lot of detail on the particulars, but at the end of that day I put it all down and told him he got to choose. And he chose us. On July 5, 2018 my husband signed up to receive emails from Alcoholics Anonymous and started the process of getting help.

And then we lived happily ever after…in an alcohol saturated culture where it’s almost impossible to go against that stream. Vinnie decided to get sober while he worked in a place that kept whiskey on hand for the sole purpose of staff drinking. He decided to get sober in a country where it’s culturally expected that you drink under all circumstances. Celebrating something? Have a drink! Having a tough time? Have a drink! Want to have fun? Have a drink! It’s more fun! Want to relax? Have a drink! You’ll be more chill! Want to be hip and masculine? Have a drink! This one has a beard on the can! Are you the mom of small children? Rosé all day, mamas!

During his first few months of sobriety, we had to navigate a lot. Birthday parties held in bars, holidays, explaining over and over again that he quit drinking and then dealing with the absolute weirdness that comes from saying that to another human. Fam, if someone tells you they don’t drink, please don’t feel awkward. Just say, “Cool!” and move on. They probably don’t care if you drink. They’re well aware that other people don’t have the same problem that they do and they don’t expect the entire world to stop drinking just because they did. Alcoholics live with this unfairness every day. You’re nothing new. If you do want to abstain around them, that’s incredibly kind and we thank you, but don’t make a big thing of it. Maybe just congratulate them and then talk about something else. It doesn’t have to be weird unless we make it weird.

In all of that, Vinnie just went cold turkey. We got better at communicating and giving each other permission to feel how we feel. I started fighting my own addiction demons, which kind of made us feel like we were more on the same team. We started making our faith more of a priority together and we have scraped and crawled and grown so much in the last two years.

Obviously the struggle is not over. There will always be days when Vinnie wishes he could drink. There is often a feeling of being left out of the club and sometimes the awkwardness takes us by surprise. But he will be the first one to tell you how awesome it feels to not be hungover on July 5th (or any other day, for that matter). We’re going to be working on this for the rest of our lives and that’s okay. We know what it looks like now to look our ugliness in the face and give it to the Lord. We’ve confronted a lot of demons and are living witness to the fact that God is faithful. He loves us, He hears us, He pursues us, and redeems anything.

Our story is not over. God is still healing and working on our hearts. I can only say it is such a privilege to have been chosen to be Vinnie’s wife. I have seen him look his demons in the face and fight for life. I have seen him grow into the husband and father I knew he could be when I first fell in love with him. I have seen him come back from the absolute brink and I have been generously given back the husband that I lost to alcohol. I pray that I may be made worthy of my vocation as his wife and the mother of our babies. I pray that we would both be given the grace to carry our crosses well for the greater glory of God and I am so thankful that God can use even this to reveal His love to us.

If you’re in the middle of a dark place, take heart. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert and I obviously realize that your story won’t necessarily play out like ours has, but regardless of how things are resolved, you’ll never regret pursuing God first or taking responsibility for yourself. If you’re struggling, keep going. Things won’t get better overnight, but healing does come. Fight for your spouse. Hold them accountable and hold yourself accountable, too. On this side of alcoholism and codependence, I can assure you that the benefits are worth every single minute of struggle.

Yes, in all my striving, He is both the rest and the restoration I seek.

Megan Hjelmstad for Blessed is She

Resources: If you’re a book person and want to dive into addiction and codependence I suggest starting with The Book of Waking Up by Seth Haines and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Even if you think you don’t personally struggle with either, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll identify with some of what you find in these books.

You can also hear Seth Haines featured on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, which I highly recommend.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. You are deserving of the goodness that comes from a life free from addiction.

Welcome to My TED Talk

Y’all. My husband came home last night and after spending a few minutes casually filling him in about my day, that man accused me of being chatty.

Chatty.

Me.

I just cannot.

I mean, in all actuality I’m pretty sure some variation of “chatty” was written on, like, all of my report cards. And also, I do love to chat. My mother-in-law insists that there’s some sort of phenomenon in which I will run into someone I know and become engaged in small talk regardless of the location we happen to be in. She’s not wrong. The last time we were at Disney World I ran into a former co-worker from Ohio. True story. I admit am a notorious conversationalist…and by ‘conversationalist’ I mean that I like to talk a lot because I’m an extrovert the end.

But, y’all, after months and months of quarantine and social distancing, I have to admit I’ve turned into a bit of a monster. I just can’t help it. For an outgoing and social person, times are tough. I am literally never around another adult for the majority of the week, so I have had to take matters into my own hands.

Which is why I am making a friendship bracelet for the nice receptionist who helped me schedule a well-visit for one of the kids. We’re best friends now.

I added a post to my Insta-stories the other day about how excited I was to talk to my new receptionist BFF on the phone AND get an actual appointment on the calendar. I’ve finally got something to live for and I am literally counting the days till August when I get to see my pal in person at the check in desk. I got a chorus of feedback from that post, so I know I’m not the only one in this state of social desperation. Ok, there was, like, one person who responded to my pathetic excitement over scheduling a well-visit, but we are totally in this together.

And I do totally know what my Walmart cashier did for Father’s Day. Toni has five kids (four boys and a girl) and sixteen grandkids and that woman hosted them all at her house for Father’s Day. It was wild, but so wonderful and gosh do those kids eat a lot. (We laugh together knowingly as she scans my watermelon.) She even watched a few of those grandkids for three days last week and she’s kind of glad to be back at work just so she can have a break! Also, Toni is a dedicated double-bagger, wears her mask properly, and has lovely eyes. I can’t wait to see her when she’s here for Christmas. Do y’all think it’s too early for me to be picking out our matching holiday pajamas or am I good?

I can’t pretend that I haven’t always been the type of person who talks to their cashier, but gracious desperate times call for desperate measures. A few weeks ago my friend, Diane, was driving down my street and pulled over real quick to chat since she saw me hanging out in my front yard, (ie desperately scanning the horizon for any human with which to connect). When she pulled away forty-five minutes later, I felt like Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time when Christopher Reeve gets sucked back into the future just because he found that dumb penny in his pocket. Obviously this is a worthless comparison if you’ve never seen the movie, but for the four of you who have, I know you get me.

Come back to me…

Anyway, this is all to say that if you happen to see me out and about…you should probably just go ahead and buy a lottery ticket because I only go out like once a week and if you see me during that hour then you, my friend, have certainly hit the jackpot. And if you do see me while you’re buying said lottery ticket, I am happy to help you pick your numbers. Odds are I’ve already quizzed everyone within a twelve foot radius of me about their lucky lotto numbers and we’ve just finalized plans for New Years.

It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all good. I’m just over here making friends one week at a time and talking my husband to death the second he gets home…which would explain the long hours he’s been working. This is my life now, though, and my yapping can’t be stopped. I’m not even a little bit sorry because extroverts gotta extrovert Covid be damned.

Alright, thank you all for coming to my TED talk on how much I talk. There will be another one in approximately four minutes titled, “Interpreting Spousal Sighs: How to Ignore Them and Get Your Point Across,” followed by, “My Kids Won’t Shut Up: How to Get a Word in Edgewise.”