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.”

Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan

House Rules

Y’all, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable here, but I put on real pants today, pants with buttons and a zipper, and they fit. In the spirit of that level of success and productivity, I thought I’d take the time to write down my updated list of house rules.

Previously, I’d say that our house rules were pretty normal. My demands are usually fairly minimal, stuff like “don’t jump on the couch,” “muddy shoes belong on the mat,” “don’t bring slugs indoors,” that sort of thing. But, as with most things these days, I’ve come to realize that our house rules need a little bit of a revamp.

Below you’ll see the letter I’ve written to the darling cherubim I like to call my children. Please feel free let me know if you’ve got any ideas for additions or revisions.


Dear Offspring: As I’m sure you know, times they are a-changing. Therefore, I have updated our house rules. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is long overdue, as I have heard your repeated protests and observed your continual opposition. Today, you’ll be pleased to know that I have heard you and your demands are reflected in policy changes below. Please review the proposed legislation, which follows. Thank you for your continued support in keeping our home a haven of rest, serenity, and joy for many years to come.

  • Do what you want with the couch. Go ahead and jump, climb, slide, destroy, and ruin that thing…I’ve accepted the fact that its demise is near.
  • Just put the shoes anywhere. I’m tired of hearing myself speak pointless reminders into the empty, echoing void.
  • All future arguments will be settled by trampoline cage match. Just sort it out amongst yourselves. You know where the bandaids are.
  • If you could just kind of attempt to clean your teeth, we can call it good. Just try. Do it for me and the people living in the tri-state area who can smell your stench.
  • If you are tempted to tattle on someone, please refer to #3.
  • Just use the screens. I don’t have it in me to police screen time anymore. Give my regards to Mario and the Koopas. Good luck with your turnips and I hope you catch a red snapper who’s looking pretty dapper. I’m out.
  • If you can keep living insects out of the bathroom, that’d be cool, but I understand the deep desire to bring the outside in. Let’s just avoid the ones with stingers, shall we?
  • Go on ahead and just scatter those LEGOs like party confetti. I’ve become accustomed to navigating the house as though I’m traversing minefield and I rather enjoy the challenge of charting a new potentially pain-free path through the living room every morning. If I ever find one, I’ll let you know!
  • Feel free to partake in wrestlin’, wrasslin’, wranglin’, tanglin’, tumblin’, bumblin’, or any other form of fisticuffs while you’re upstairs. I accept the fact that your fighting will eventually bring the ceiling fan in the kitchen down upon me. ‘Tis inevitable.
  • You’ve got open access to the nail polish, the stove, and the lawn mower. Again, you know where the bandaids are.
  • Essentially, kids, the house is yours. I formally surrender to the fact that I am a mere observer of the real-life Lord of the Flies reenactment that my life has become and I shall sharpen my pike as a sign of unity with your new form of government…
  • HOWEVER, No child shall eat, breathe, or make any manner of mouth noises anywhere near my person. If there is a youngster in the tri-state area who is partaking of foodstuffs and I can audibly hear the consumption of said food, I will flip my actual lid. I can handle all of the other annoyances for they are minor in comparison. But if I hear another child noisily masticate a graham cracker right in my ear, I am out. Totally not kidding, Imma check myself into a hotel and y’all are on your own. Good luck, you know where the bandaids are.
  • And while we’re at it, if the rare occurrence happens in which I am granted the opportunity to sit and eat my own meal, y’all better not touch my body. Me sitting down to eat is not the signal for you to climb into my lap, hang on my arm, or violently lay your entire body across my back. It is not the time, younglings. Not. The. Time.
  • In conclusion, my food is the same as your food. Actually, it’s probably just a collection of cast off scraps that I’ve pillaged and gathered from your plates. Contrary to popular belief, my meals are comprised mainly of the food you refuse to eat. Do you remember that food you loved yesterday that I foolishly assumed you’d eat again today? Anyone recall that old favorite from days of yore that you can’t bear to eat ever again? It doesn’t magically become different food when I scrape it from your pitiful plate of refusal onto a different plate which is then placed in front of me. When my plate is full of these outcast foods, it’s still the same food, so please don’t try to steal it from me. It is still the cheese I sliced incorrectly or the third helping of meat you demanded and then realized you couldn’t eat. It’s not miraculously more delicious than when you had a chance to eat it, so just let me eat it in peace. It’s all I’ve got and I just want to eat undisturbed.

Sincerely yours,

Your devoted mother


At the time of publication, I literally used the phrase, “Don’t put that sheep in your pants,” so I suppose that’s getting added to the list.

The One Where I Try Things From the Internet

Buckle up, y’all. This one’s a doozy.

So, a few weeks back my mother in law sent me the following video (I think halfway joking, but one can never be sure with that one…) saying that I ought to try it on our dog.

A word about our dog.

His name is Oliver, he’s a miniature labradoodle, and a complete and total brat. Y’all, I don’t even have words for this dog except to say that he is the definition of “extra.” If you accidentally step on his tail or foot, he howls and dramatically limps around as though he’s just been hobbled by Kathy Bates. He is SO dramatic and gets his feelings hurt easily. I am not making this up. Once, when we were on vacation and he was spending the week with our friend Diane and her dogs, he wanted to play with another pup. The other dog wasn’t having it and kind of bark/growled at Ollie. Diane said that Oliver literally ran to her lap and cried about it for 15 minutes. He sat on that woman and whimper/cried because someone didn’t want to play. Lawd.

Oliver is absolutely absurd about any sort of grooming, particularly about getting his nails trimmed. Once, I took him to the vet for a checkup and asked if they’d clip his nails because he won’t cooperate for me. At all. Ever. He put on an Oscar-worthy demonstration of theatrics until finally they took him in the back to do it because he was causing such a scene. He was back out in two minutes because the vet tech said, “He was totally fine once he was out of your eyesight.” Cue side eye from me.

Aaaand cut to yesterday!

I tried it. Y’all, I wrapped my head in plastic, smeared on some peanut butter, and went to work…because I’m not one to question the wisdom of the internet and also I’m desperate. And bored.

I’ll let the pictorial evidence speak for itself. (I apologize in advance for the cleavage, it can’t be helped.)

So, yeah. That happened. I can report that I successfully clipped four of his nails. This is four more than I usually clip so I’m counting it as a win. Gracious.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to upload the video footage of this delightful scenario directly to the blog because WordPress wants me to upgrade and I’m not sure this is fifty dollars worth of solid filmmaking, no offense to my ten year old cinematographer. I will, however attempt to post it to my Instastories and Facebook story because I have no shame and feel that it should be recorded for posterity, if only for 24 hours.

So, that’s a thing we did and I highly suggest that you try it and publicly share your results preferably in picture and/or video format. You know…for the inspiration of others.