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Don't Forget to Say Thank You by Karen Williams

Before I begin, I offer this warning to everyone who may read this blog. To say the topic is sensitive and emotional is a gross understatement. If you have any sensitivity towards children, babies, or illnesses, this may not be the blog for you to read.

 If you are still with me, I have one request: remember to say thank you. I will explain.

I found myself facing an unbelievable amount of stress this week. I had work to write, work to grade, classes to teach, and a family that needed me. I was overwhelmed, and I couldn’t find a way to make every large activity fit into one small schedule. On Monday morning, however, I received a video in my email. Despite the large to-do list awaiting me, I chose to open the video. Six minutes and many tears later, I remembered to say thank you.

The video was on YouTube entitled “Ninety-nine Balloons.” It told the story of Elliot, a baby whose family was on The Oprah Winfrey Show last week. Elliot’s unlikely birth came after the doctors discovered a series of genetic disabilities while he was still a fetus. Each moment in the video is a letter from Elliot’s father to his son, celebrating his life, sharing his love, telling him the story of how wonderful he is. Each day that passes in the video is a cause for joy, and each month that passes is another miracle. On the ninety-ninth day of his life, Elliot’s dad discusses how he “went to be with Jesus.” At his funeral, Elliot’s family released one balloon for every day of his life. Ninety-nine ballons in all.

This video was an incredible tribute to a wonderful baby whose life ended all too soon for many viewers. His family, however, was the true miracle. They celebrated his life despite the immense difficulties they faced, and they recognized his death not as a tragedy by itself, but as an opportunity for their baby to be in Heaven. Elliot was a miracle baby, but his parents are also miracles in every sense of the word.

After I finished crying over this amazing story, I realized how long it had been since I stopped to just say thank you for everything wonderful in my life starting with my daughter. It had only been three days, but that was three days too many. Elliot’s family taught me a lesson in six minutes that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. When it comes to our children, we can’t forget to celebrate every single day of their lives as the wonderful gift each day represents.

I left campus early that day, and I thanked the powers that be for my daughter. I didn’t finish all of my work, and I thanked the powers that be for the chance to see my daughter laugh, learn to blow kisses, and cry. After she went to sleep, I thanked the powers that be for my husband and dogs as they are my family too. When I was done with all of this, I thanked the powers that be for Elliot, his family, and the lesson they have offered to the world.

*As a side note, I should add that this family also has a website and blog of their own. They have been through a lot since Elliot died, but they continue to have an amazingly bright outlook on life. Approximately two weeks ago, they were given another gift. Elliot’s mother gave birth to his beautiful, healthy sister.

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Everything in Moderation by Karen Williams

Who hasn’t heard this phrase before? It’s the key to our diets, our livelihood, our spending habits, and our indulgences. This week, however, it also the key to caring for multiple children. Allow me to explain.

My daughter attends daycare a few days per week. While I work for Motherhood Inc., I also choose to teach two days per week as well. While I am teaching, my daughter attends a lovely little daycare/school that is responsible for helping her socialize faster, learn to feed herself sooner, and even help her begin using the sign language we started teaching so long ago. For the first month that I dropped my daughter off at daycare, I cried the entire way to school. After that period, however, I began to adjust to my new routine. Daycare is good for her, and it’s good for me too. Until, of course, last week.

Last week I picked my daughter up like any other time. I gathered her bag and sweater, looked over her record of eating, drinking, and diapers, and scooped up my baby. As I prepared to leave, however, my eye caught a sheet of paper on the counter, “Incident Report.” As I surreptitiously tried to discover what purpose this unfamiliar document served, my daughter’s room teacher handed it to me along with a pen. Upon closer reading, I realized my daughter had been bitten by a little boy-identity unrevealed-at school that day, and I was required to proffer my signature as a sign that I was aware of this brutal and vicious attack against my innocent child.

Cue the torrential downpour of emotions. My baby? Bitten? Attacked? Assaulted while under the watchful eye of drastically underpaid people in an overpriced institute? This is unheard of! This is unacceptable! Call the police. Wire the National Guard. Who is the devil who dared to puncture the flesh of my precious little angel?

Then, of course, I got over it. Kids play, and this happens. Her skin was not actually broken, so I can cease watching her for signs of rabies, gangrene, and the host of other illnesses which may have otherwise prevailed. The teachers can’t tell me who bit her for a variety of reasons, and I understand. I can be a completely calm and rational person when it comes to incidents with my child (the first time, anyway).

However, this was still a learning experience for me. It is very important to me that a teacher be hands-on constantly with these children. They are fighting over a toy? Teach them to share and offer an alternative. They are fighting because they are tired? Separate and soothe. Hungry and uncomfortable? High chairs make excellent feeding decvices/separation apparatus. For any problem among babies, the key is moderation. Make sure someone is always available to separate them if the babies are having a disagreement, and make sure you do it before my child gets injured. The result will be a room full of happy children, relatively relaxed teachers, and one less Mama Bear on a rampage because of a repeat assault.

Trust me. If we all used moderation as key, the world would be a better place.

When Motherhood Gets Hard by Karen Williams

I know that we all talk about how motherhood is a difficult job, but I hope we can all agree that the rewards make it not so difficult after all. Most of us are fortunate enough to receive the hugs, the kisses, the “I love you, Mommy” reminders often enough that we remember to consider ourselves lucky. This week, however, has been extremely hard for my family and I’m reminded all over again how hard being a mother can be and how blessed I am to have the chance.

 My brother and his wife spent almost a year trying to conceive before they got pregnant. Nine months later, they gave birth to a beautiful, incredible baby boy. Less than ten minutes later they were in an ambulance en route to the hospital, and their beautiful, incredibly baby boy’s beautiful, incredible face was covered with an oxygen mask.

I could go on forever about the pain they’re experiencing and the trials they’re facing, but what is important is that, for right now, their baby, my nephew, is alive and has a chance. Hearing about him and now watching him has been an incredible learning experience about families bonding together, not sweating the small stuff, and remembering with every passing second how lucky we are to be mothers.

Motherhood is hard this week. My own baby is at home with her father, and I miss her more than I can describe. I’m constantly reminded of seeing her in the NICU and wondering what I must have done wrong to have her there instead of in my arms. At the same time, I see my sister-in-law spending her first week as a mother with only a little hand to hold and a lot of machines with which to contend.

This is when motherhood gets hard. It isn’t when the kids won’t stop screaming and the in-laws are coming. It isn’t when the house is a mess and the deadlines are looming. For me, it’s when I realize that so many minutes have passed where I forgot to remember how lucky I am. It’s when I look at another mother who can’t hold her baby and imagine how she must be feeling. It’s when I think of my own baby at home and know I can’t hold her either because, at least for now, it’s more important that I sit beside someone else’s baby. This is when experiences are learned. This is when we might just need our children more than they need us. This, more than anything else, is when motherhood gets hard.

Meals in Minutes by Karen Williams

Cooking a full three-course meal a la “The Brady Bunch” or “Leave it to Beaver” is a nice idea, but it just isn’t realistic for today’s working mother. By the same token, nobody wants to raise their kids on pizza, fast food, and frozen chicken nuggets day in and day out. For that reason, here are a couple of quick tips on meals that can be prepared with little time and less fuss.

First, pasta is always an easy shortcut. It’s not the healthiest solution by itself, but tomato sauce is a nutritious addition that heats up in minutes. It also helps that pasta can boil relatively unsupervised (provided the kids are suitably distracted in another room).

Chef salads and bread are another easy make, and the supplies are easy to find. Lettuce, cheese, tomato, cucumber, and lunch meat all work as healthy, solid ingredients. An added bonus is letting the kids put together their own salads. All the ingredients are good for them, so it’s only a little compromising (no meat-and-cheese-only salads here!) away from a fun activity with a nutritious end.

Multi-use recipes are also helpful. Take meatballs, for example. If you use a similar recipe for meatballs that you do for meatloaf, you can make one big batch on a weekend night. Roll and spread accordingly, and you’ve got two pre-planned meals for later in the week. Add the meatballs to the aforementioned pasta and tomato sauce, and heat up a can of vegetables and an easy potato mix for the meatloaf.

Chicken breasts are another good universal food. You can drop them in Italian dressing once you buy them and throw them in the oven when you need a fast meal. You can also just drop them in a pan with some Cream of Mushroom soup, or coat them in barbecue sauce. Each preparation takes about two minutes including unwrapping and pouring time, and the final result is an easy-bake meal with a wide variety of suitable side dishes.

When Daddy Has to Be Mommy by Karen Williams

I am currently recovering from cosmetic surgery. When I was pregnant, I knew I was only going to be pregnant once. I enjoyed nine months of Foodie-Free-For-All! It was the most amazing supersized, sour cream covered, extra cheese, double pepperoni, whole milk, sugar coated nine months of my life. At the end, however, I was one beautiful daughter and seventy-five pounds richer. My doctor was not impressed.

 A couple of diets and several months of hardcore exercising later, I lost seventy-four pounds (I really hate that last pound). I found myself fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans, but I was still a mess! I had too much skin, too many stretch marks, and not enough patience for all-natural methods of regaining my twenty-five year old body. After considerable research and numerous consultations, I had a tummy-tuck on Thursday. My doctor warned me about the many, many drawbacks of a tummy tuck. My back hurts because I can’t sit straight. My stomach hurts because most of it is missing. My muscles hurt because I can barely move. More than all of this, however, is the pain that comes from taking a “Mommy break.”

I can’t lift my daughter for a while, so I have made sure to have extra help around the house. I have ensured that the sitter we trust the most will come over everyday to help care for my daughter under my watchful eye. This fabulous babysitter knows my methods for feeding, cleaning, changing, and scheduling my daughter’s day. Today, however, on my second day of recovery, I realize I forgot to prepare one person: my husband.

Let me begin by assuring everyone, myself included, that my husband is a fabulous father. He loves our daughter more than I could have possibly hoped for, and they are great friends. I, however, come from a long line of people who have a specific way of doing things at a specific time with no justifiable reason for doing things any differently (read: Control Freaks).

I don’t understand why my dear husband fed our daughter breakfast a half an hour later than usual. I cannot fathom why she had lunch an hour later than normal, and I’m completely lost as to why it would be acceptable for her to wear her pajamas four hours after the time she normally gets dressed. As I sit in my carefully-poised-position-of-pain, I ruminate about which part of this situation is worse: the fact that I can’t care for my daughter the way I see fit or the fact that I can’t seem to handle letting my husband take control.

Fortunately, we all have a good sense of humor about this. At eight months old, my daughter seems to be recovering nicely from her late start to her day. My husband is laughing good-naturedly at my cruise director tendencies where our daughter is concerned. And me? Well, I’m working on it. I would like to say that I have whole-heartedly accepted my lack of control, but I would be lying. Although I know in my heart of hearts that my husband knows what he is doing and my baby will be fine, I can’t help but think that nobody can play mommy to my baby as well as I can.

Back to School Sales by Karen Williams

I have always believed that Back to School sales are a special treat designed just for people like me.  People like me go shopping all the time.  We store things in closets; we prepare for the future, and we only buy things on sale.  Oh, and a sale price means it is something we obviously need.  Now.

The coolest person in the world, aka my daughter, is eight months old.  Many would say she is too young for Back to School sales.  I, on the other hand, am in my mid-twenties.  Many would say I am too old for Back to School sales.  All of these people would be mistaken.

 The trick to taking advantage of sales is to look at the right time, look for the right stuff, never get discouraged, and don’t overpay.  For example, Back to School Sales often means stores are also trying to get rid of their summer stock.  This is a particular advantage for those of us living in climate-controlled states (Texas, Arizona, California, etc.) where August wear is all too often December wear.  By shopping the $2.79 rack at JC Penney, I was able to purchase my daughter’s entire twelve-month wardrobe for approximately $30!  By purchasing layers, we are now equipped for thirty to sixty degree weather.  We also waited unti after the first week of the sale had ended.  While this meant the selections were picked over, it also meant we were able to enjoy our shopping trip battle-free.

 Of course, we can’t have my fabulously-dressed daughter off cavorting with a shabby-looking mother.  Although we are unlikely to find New York & Company having a Back to School sale, a sale is a sale is a sale.  In other words, it’s the end of the season for them too.  Sales galore!  What’s more, anything I didn’t find now I can pay more for later and still save money because of the tax-free weekend. 

With our clothing bags in hand, my daughter and I had a successful, budgeted trip.  However, Back to School sales don’t end at clothing.  Off to the closest department store, and we were soon lugging several additional bags of pens, pencils, notebooks, markers, highlighters, tape, ziploc bags, tupperware, planners, folders, binders, filler paper, printing paper, magnets, kleenex, hand sanitizer, and so much more.  Although we are both far from the ages where traditional school supplies are required, these are all supplies we use in my house on a fairly regular basis, and they all have incredibly low prices thanks to Back to School sales.  My daughter even got her first schooly supply ever: a box of jumbo crayons!

Now the point of all this is not to tell everyone about the fantastic time I had with my daughter.  Instead, the point is to share my good fortune with everyone else so they can take advantage of Back to School sales as well.  Of course, in a few weeks the Back to School sales will dwindle to nothing.  Prices will go back to normal, and sales racks will be cleared.  For many of the people like me, a depression will begin to settle.  Not me, however!  The end of Back to School sales means only 75 days until Black Friday!

Explaining Motherhood by Karen Williams

I am a reasonably young mother.  I am twenty-five years old on a calendar, but I feel much older than that in life.  I have a husband, three dogs, and a mortgage.  Oh yes, and I have a baby.  I love my life, but I don’t feel twenty-five anymore.

What interests me most about age is how it comes into play with my friends.  Most of my friends are around my age, give or take five years, and yet almost none of them have children.  They are in different stages in their lives, and so children have not yet become a part of their everyday vocabulary.  This is where I come in.

Whenever I talk to my friends, we always begin with the inevitable, “What’s new?”  My answers start with “Ellie started pulling herself up” or “Ellie said ‘Mama’ three times yesterday!” and I progress accordingly.  All of this seems lost on my friends.  To them, walking and talking is a part of the natural progression of aging.  To me. my husband, and Ellie, each little step is a miracle in its own right, surely deserving of a parade, a celebration, and a day in its honor. 

Don’t get me wrong, we felt pretty confident that Ellie would one day walk and talk.  We were blessed with an able-bodied, neurotypical child, and so we had reasonable expectations.  Our confidence in her progression, however, doesn’t change the days, weeks, and months we have spent helping her, teaching her, and anticipating her every move.  My friends look at a baby crawling and they see a baby crawling.  I see my daughter crawling, and I saw the most BRILLIANT child in the world who will clearly be capable of solving the world’s energy crisis one day in the near future. 

It’s equally hard to explain the sheer fabulosity (that must be a word) of being a mother.  My friends understand what they’ve heard: late nights, middle of the night feedings, dirty diapers, a bazillion bottles to wash, crying, screaming, and then starting all over again.  I cannot deny any of this.  However, I can’t find a way to explain how all of this is worth it for one beautiful smile.  Just as I forgot labor pains once I met my gorgeous baby, I also forget the middle of the night feeding when I feel her hug me in the morning.  I don’t mind the diapers when I see her clapping while I work.  I can listen to the screaming (in the confines of my home) if it means I can also hear her say “Mama” everyday.  For each miserable day of no sleep, no shower, and no personal time, I also receive more rewards than I could possibly list in one blog.

Many people have said that motherhood is the hardest and most rewarding job all at the same time.  Eighteen months ago, I would have concurred.  Today, I would say this is an understatement of epic proportions.  I wish I could find a way to explain to my friends the incredible world of being a mother.  I hope someday they are equally blessed in their lives, should they choose to become parents.  In the meantime, I struggle with analogies to illustrate how rewarding it is to be an everyday part of the life of the coolest person in the entire world.  Someday, I hope, my friends will understand.