No perfect people allowed! (The Bridge Fellowship MDO)

13240491_10156832052615411_2207768648830933834_nI’m ugly crying.

Y’all know ugly crying, right?

Red face, puffy eyes, complete with buckets of snot and enough Kleenex that makes you wish you’d bought shares in the company? Yeah, that’s me right now.

I’m inexplicably emotional right now – no, it’s not just cause I now have to have my multi-faceted toddler home with me full time again, but, I guess, it’s because it’s the end of an era.

12002877_10155970090180411_6231317509495296900_nThis time last year, Lewis was on a waiting list for a Mother’s day out program at The Bridge Fellowship, here in Sugar Land.  I had inner-battled back and forth on this one for a while, I suffered from, what I believe in the ‘biz’ they refer to as ‘mama guilt’.  As a stay at home mama (SAHM) I found it very hard to justify to myself, a ‘need’ to send my child away for nine hours a week.  It wasn’t overly expensive, don’t get me wrong – as MDO’s go in the area, The Bridge is certainly the most reasonable that I’ve found ($150 a month plus a quarterly supplies fee were the fees for 2015/16), but it was still an ‘unnecessary’ outgoing, considering I’m a SAHM, right?

Then a friend of mine sent me this email for Mother’s day – this isn’t it in it’s entirety, but you get the idea, and it got me *really* thinking.

A lot of articles online bash parenting today – especially mothers. We judge each other too much, who has time for all that Pinterest crap, here’s why you should feed your baby this way, cloth diapers FTW, never spank a child, don’t yell, stay away from GMO’s, organic food is best,  is your 4 year old really standing next to the hot stove OMG call cps…. Etc.  This has to be the hardest era to parent in yet.  And for the most part it’s focused on the moms.  You don’t really see “daddy” bashing articles or see dads whispering across the park and confronting each other in stores.  I don’t know if it’s because men just inherently aren’t used to being the focus of this stuff or if women are just more emotionally wired to be protective of the village, or they’re more judge mental and bitchy or what.  One things for certain though – being a mom today is f*cking hard.  Harder than I think any of our previous generations of mothers before us.  Not because of all the physical labor, but because as a society we make it hard on each other. 

As much as I dislike this holiday for the feelings of sadness that it brings up from my past, I also think it’s one of the most important holidays that we have for people like you and my other friends with kids.  Every one of you all parent very differently. Your kids all have different rules and lifestyles.  But you all very clearly love your kids and work to be the best parent you can be, regardless of what all those damn parenting articles say, garnering from your parents lessons (and either striving to be more like them or nothing like the, depending on what the case may be). And for that you should all be celebrated hugely. 
11921796_10155917686515411_17310299548217551_nI thought about why *I* wanted to put him in to ‘day care’, I mean, really thought about it.  It’s not like I was going to go drink margaritas, have mani-pedis and shop til I dropped every day (though, Lord knows, most days I’d totally love that!) it was more for every day things, doctors, dentists, chiropractors, OBGYN’s – unencumbered by a curious little boy who wants to touch everything, doesn’t want to hold hands crossing the road or car park, wants to hit every button in the elevator and who will stubbornly go off in whatever direction his little mind decides it wants to.
It was more grocery shopping without having to rationalise to a two year old, why mama doesn’t need 14 types of Goldfish crackers in the trolley.
It was more taking care of laundry without having ‘helping mama’ hands pull out clean, dry and folded laundry and run around the house while I was chasing him – cursing under my breath.
It was more about having grown-up conversation at least once a week, that didn’t involve telling a toddler to stop trying to climb out of his high chair, or to eat his vegetables – or no, he couldn’t have the sharp steak knife that the server left all too close to his mac and cheese covered little paws.
I thought about other friends children and quickly came to the realisation that socialisation – with other kids, other adults and some parent-free time, has overwhelmingly benefited many of my friends children and that it would be good for him to learn things like sharing toys, routine and being disciplined by someone who wasn’t Colin or I.
11951751_10155917686560411_2189568573678727582_nSo, I signed him up to The Bridge.  Two mornings a week.  Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am – 2pm in a class of twelve children.  One Tuesday a month they have Chick Fil A days, one Thursday a month they have pizza days (where you pay $4 and they feed your little lunch), they have all kinds of parties (Rodeo, Easter, Christmas, End of year – for example), they do all kinds of crafting, they come home with Mothers day AND Father’s day gifts (even though Father’s day is after the term finishes), they had both the police and fire departments visit the school (he got his picture taken with the fire truck and police car) and they do various things from music class, playing with toys to learning.
Bear in mind, I hadn’t got very high expectations for the amount of learning he’d actually do, he was just shy of 18 months old, he went to his first day of school with a bald head (don’t ask – we had a pre-photoshoot haircut boo boo) a cast on his leg (again, don’t ask) and for the first couple of months he cried at drop off.  Some days, he even cried a lot, but the girls insisted that he calmed down shortly thereafter and settled in to his day.  The crying meant I couldn’t linger or chat to his teachers much, I handed him over and walked very quickly – the first few days, even fighting tears myself, and wondering what kind of awful parent I must be to leave my sobbing leg-cast toddler with strangers.
10448730_10155917686660411_197839715295224187_nBut, each drop-off got easier, and at each pick-up, our shy and quiet little Lewis was always a happy chappy.  Which made me happy – not only because I was actually accomplishing something (some days that may only have been grocery shopping in Target with a skinny hot chocolate), but also because he was enjoying himself.
12246753_10156149454300411_282857918153111900_nFeedback was always good, he’s a great eater, he’s a very calm, placid and happy baby and he’ll let any of the kids have what he’s playing with, with no retribution.  A little time passed.  I’m not sure quite at what point things started to reveal themselves, but I distinctly remember him asking, very nicely, one afternoon, for Elmo to be on TV.  I obliged, Sesame Street bought me some time to do SSA work for the afternoon and out of nowhere I hear, ‘Why mama’, I say ‘Why what bubba?’ and he says ‘Why’.
I look up at the screen and sure enough there’s the letter Y dancing across the screen.  I think I had some kind of episode, I started clapping and cheering that my smart little boy had identified the letter Y.  Over the coming months he came home showing off all kinds of wicked skills, he learned his numbers 1-10 (and even attempts beyond), he knows his colours (though he often gets yellow and green muddled up on the first pass, but gets pink, purple and orange just fine), he learned how to sing the alphabet (which is more phonetic noises with the occasional letter being thrown in at this point, cause he sings it way too fast, but we are working on our diction) and the other day he even told me about a triangle – I about fainted.
I can’t imagine two women handling eight ‘terrible two’ toddlers on the best of days, but actually educating them, teaching them things that he has clearly retained? It’s nothing short of a miracle, cause I can’t even get him to listen to me when I tell him to stop balancing on the back of the sofa, standing on one foot and holding a freshly sharpened pencil in his hand.
13239395_10156832064720411_2027101294490036828_nHe’s come on leaps and bounds in The Bridge MDO program, he’s become more confident and outgoing when it comes to other kids, his vocabulary and speech have exploded, turns out he’s quite the chatterbox (no idea where he gets THAT from, eh?) and going by his goodbye hugs to his teachers today, he’s pretty fond of them too.
13220810_10156825914310411_8152288480293823026_n

Bloom where you are planted.

250269_10150733801935411_2742472_nI’m struggling with words this morning, forgive me, please.  I’ve had a bit of a “creative spark” drought as of late, and I’ve not blogged in a little while.  But I got a phone call a couple weeks ago, that has changed my life forever, and it’s prompted my catharsis….

My dearest Cindy,

(I was very tempted to start this with ‘hey girlfriend’ but I resisted – kind of.)

Do you know how hard it is to explain to a two year old why you’re crying?

“Mama crying?”
“Yes Lewis, mama is crying.”
“Mama sad?”
“Yes bubba, mama is sad.”
He hasn’t learned the concept of “why?” quite yet, but the confusion on his face as to why his usually chipper mother has tears free-flowing down her face is clear.
I can’t quite break down into small enough words, or comprehensive terms for a two year old, so I just repeat, “mama’s sad, my love.  Mama’s gonna make it, but mama is sad” to try and reassure my concerned little man.
He reaches his wee arms up above his head, says “cuddle mama?” and rubs my tear stained cheeks when I pick him up.  “Wet, mama” he announces as he snuggles in to give me a hug.
318464_10150846251215411_703757683_nIt’s been over a week (more now that I’m actually finishing up this post) since you’ve gone and I don’t think I’m in any way more used to the idea that you’re no longer on the end of a text.  I tried to put some words together on the day that Tim called to tell me you had passed away, but words failed me – and we both know how unusual that is.  I think I needed those twenty four hours in Nawlins for your funeral, to be able to absorb, process, and string something coherent together, I’m just hoping that auto-correct is picking up typos through my tears.
A friend suggested that I write you a letter, I guess, this is my hybrid, both writing to you and sharing with everyone else just how wonderful a friend, but more so an amazing human being you were, because I couldn’t get myself together in time to put something in your casket with you.
45870_10152542173410411_310981353_nLet me rewind a little and tell everyone about my cherished friend…
Seven years ago, give or take, I was fresh out of college, I was dating Colin and his company offered him a transfer to Houston, ‘Let’s go!’ I enthusiastically exclaimed.  I’d always wanted to live in the US and this was a great opportunity for him, career wise, so off we went.

When I got here, I quickly realised though, that I hadn’t quite thought through the entire process of this expat malarkey, it wasn’t easy.  Culture shock (trust me, it happens even for people moving between states or provinces within the same country), not driving, not having kids or dogs to meet people at schools and dog parks, missing my family, my friends, birthdays, especially, being difficult.

Not long after I arrived, I joined the Spouses organisation – you know, the one that I tell you all about ALL. THE. TIME.  and I met, who I can only describe as this ginormous ball of positive energy, crammed inside a teenie tiny petite little frame.

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

I think this was the 1st (or maybe 2nd) time I ever met Cindy!

Her name was Cindy, she was a bit older than me (think around my mums age), so not someone that you’d typically think of as falling under my ‘friend’ umbrella, but she quickly became a very dear friend to me.  I called her ‘mama Cindy’, her husband ‘daddy Tim’ and she took me under her wing.  She was sort of new to the Houston area (she’d been here before for a time) she was one of the first people I met in Houston and she was, without a doubt, one of the best.  Neither of us wanted to be here, she’d spent thirteen years in Denver, CO and that was home.  She loved having four real seasons, being close to her son Alex (I’ve heard so much about him that some days I wonder if he’s actually related to me somehow) and she hated Houston.  In spite of that?  She jumped in with both feet and wasn’t afraid of the splash.

Over the past seven years, our friendship has grown and I am nothing short of honoured to be able to say, that she’s been a large part of my inner circle, one of the original, old guard, ‘renegades’, who was truly up for anything.  Many’s a day have we cleared out cafes and restaurants by giggling obnoxiously loudly, we’ve eaten together (and for a little un she could surely put it away), we’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, we’ve gossiped together and we’ve explored together.

She helped me picked my wedding dress, she was at my wedding, she helped both Col and I out after not one, but two surgeries, she co-hosted my baby shower, she never missed a sing-star party (or any kind of party) that I threw, she was always game for a good feed (and boy, could she put it away for someone so little) and she loved on Lewis and helped me out once he was born.  She was a true friend.

1010281_10152955364060411_1665002835_nWhen she got sick, almost ten months ago now, she was so full of hope, fire and determination that she couldn’t possibly succumb to this disease.  When she rang the exit bell at MD Anderson after her first round of radiation, she was so proud of herself, happy and excited about what was yet to come.  When the cancer came back? She took it in her stride, gloved up and said ‘Let’s do this’.  There has never been a single moment in the last nine months, where I didn’t think she would and could fight this – in spite of her prognosis, in spite of being stage 4, I figured that miracles happen, right? And if anyone was deserving of a miracle? It would be our Cindy, and she’d beat this thing.

You can imagine, then, how ill prepared I was for Tim’s phone call telling me that she was gone.

1484201_10153512435330411_1969890155_nSome days? I’m not wholly convinced that there’s a God, others? I’m not really sure he knows what he’s doing.  But if anyone needed convincing that God really does exist and indeed know what he’s doing, just look at Cindy’s story.  Tim mentioned it in his eulogy and brought us all to tears, he was right, things in Cindy’s life were definitely falling in to place, rather than falling to pieces, even though, in some ways it may have seemed like things were falling to pieces.

Her son Alex marrying Brittney when he did, her granddaughter Avery being born when she was – all big milestones that, had they happened at later stages of her life, she may not have been around to witness.  This extends to us too even, my friend Shelley wasn’t supposed to be transferred back to Houston when she was, instead, she got to see Cindy before she died, another friend and I are at the end of our seven year visas, had she died even six months down the line? We may not have been here to say goodbye.

The day before her funeral, I flew in to New Orleans with my sista-friend and Godmother to my son, Sheri.  We decided to go the day before, stay in a hotel in the ‘Quarter and pay homage to our girl Cindy in an amazing city.  We started with dinner and a hurricane at Pat O’Briens, a hand grenade at Tropical Isle, dancing and singing at a couple bars on bourbon street and finished up with a trashy hot dog in the street between pictures with minions and doing some guys advertising job for him.

IMG_6241The morning of her funeral, we met up with a couple of our friends who flew in early, we had breakfast, shed some tears as we walked through the French quarter, shopping a little for momentos and listening to a jazz band play ‘Amazing Grace’ (a song that the priest actually sang at the end of her funeral).

It was hard, but none of us fought our tears and I think a tradition was institutionalised.  In the future, when we lose one of our group (and I’m hoping it’ll be a long, long, time before that happens again), that’s where I’ll go, to honour, to drink and to say goodbye.

Miss Cindy’s visitation and funeral service was one of the hardest I’ve ever been to.  While it was beautiful and fitting, there were pictures of our fun-loving Cindy and beautiful smelling flowers at every turn, it was just hard.  I knew that with Tim doing the Eulogy, I didn’t stand a chance.  I was doomed to be a sobbing, ugly crying mess, before long, and I was right.  I was – and rightly so.

1511490_10153913529365411_953168089_nThe world is missing a very special person right now and I think many lives have been changed forever with her passing.  That said? Many lives have also been changed forever with her having been part of their lives – and I’m honoured to say, that I’m one of those people.  For a little’un, she’s left ginormous footprints on my heart and I’ll hold her memory dear forever – maybe some day we’ll all get together and tell little Miss Avery how ace (translation: cray cray) and full of love her grandma Cindy was.

397960_10151198854695411_185557443_nRest sweet, dear Cindy and I hope you’re dancing in heaven with the angels among the stars and we’ll all keep dancin’ down here, blooming where we are planted.

IMG_5605

To the lady in the line…

Have you ever regretted *not* saying something?

Walking away from a situation and inwardly kicking yourself that you hesitated? Missed the moment? Wanted to have a time machine, rewind the last few minutes and get a do-over? Knowing *exactly* what you’d have said in that moment?

It happened to me, yesterday.

I think part of my hesitation was simply just shock and disbelief.  I just couldn’t quite wrap my brain around what was being said behind me in the Just Between Friends South Houston check out line.

Maybe some of you will relate? Maybe some of you will tell me that it’s a perfectly normal thought  process – and maybe some of you will tell me to wind my neck in and give over.  However, this set my blood boiling yesterday and I woke up this morning feeling no better.

I’m not typically a violent person.

OK, so I beat the ever living shit out of a fella when he hit my sister a decade and a half ago, but I’m not a naturally aggressive person.

But let me tell you about that time I fought every urge to punch a pregnant lady.

I missed an opportunity.

Not to punch her, so much as an opportunity to advocate, an opportunity to defend and an opportunity to educate – and for that, I feel a little guilty and a LOT disappointed in myself.

Let me explain.  I went to JBF yesterday, Col afforded me a couple hours toddler-free to do some shopping.  We’ve had three babies born in our circle in the last couple months, and there’s a couple still to come before the year is out.  While I was flicking through the rails of clothing, I bumped in to a lady a couple times.  We made small talk, she was telling me about just how much money she’d made in her JBF consigning, just how much she was spending on her soon-to-be-born little girl, who was being welcomed into the world by her two older brothers.

Me, being the enabler that I am, nodded and made the appropriate ‘think of all the money you’re saving in the long run’ noises of approval, as she held up some items for a second opinion.  Being more of an over-sharer than myself aside (and that’s really saying something) she seemed a pretty nice lady.

Fast forward to, what felt like, three days later.  JBF is great, don’t get me wrong.  It is.  But spending an eternity in a long, slow-moving line (because everyone is buying trolleys full of cheap kids clothes) is really what does me in.

I hear someone, who I later turn to glare at, and discover that it’s the one and the same lady that I’d chit-chatted to in the aisles of the clothing insanity.

She’s telling anyone who’ll listen (and a rather red-faced, heavily pregnant mother next to her – who clearly wants the ground to swallow her up for being a part of this conversation) that she’s pregnant with her first girl.  She fell pregnant ten years ago with her son and was disappointed that he wasn’t a girl.  When she fell pregnant with her second son, three years ago, she was even MORE disappointed that HE wasn’t a girl and how horribly difficult it is to live for SO LONG without having the baby girl she’s always dreamed of.  How overwhelming her disappointment has been and how at long last she’s finally thrilled to be pregnant.

Finally thrilled to be pregnant? After two healthy pregnancies and two, what I’m sure are gorgeous children.  She’s FINALLY thrilled to be pregnant, because she’s having a girl?

“Lady, are you fucking kidding me?”

I wanted to exclaim.

But, I, stupidly, bit my tongue.

“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything”, I was told three times yesterday.

Don’t rock the boat, I told myself.  Don’t get kicked out of a baby sale, I told myself.  You’ll burst in to tears and be unable to keep your shit together, I told myself.  Maybe you’re hearing her wrong, I told myself – and I listed any number of reasons NOT to confront this trumpet blasting in my ear.

On one hand? Society has conditioned us to stay quiet.

On the other? I’ve allowed myself to be conditioned.

And I stayed quiet.

I should have spoken up.

I should have advocated.

I wanted to grab this heavily pregnant, insensitive, rude and shallow woman and shake her….Ok, fine.  In the moment I wanted to punch her in her stupid face.  But I’d have settled for shaking and tell her what an amazing, precious gift she’s been given – TWICE so far and, God willing, a third time too.  Don’t be ungrateful.  Every child is a gift, a miracle.

I wanted to tell her that 1 in 8 people suffer from infertility and would sell their own mothers to be able to conceive even ONE healthy baby, and here her ungrateful self is bitching to a line full of mothers, many of whom, like me, have been in the position of wanting a child more than anything in the world and being unable to conceive.

I wanted to educate her, tell her, that some people have spent those ten years she was whining over not having a girl, those ten long, painful years, praying to have a child – regardless of gender.  Some people have spent those ten years having miscarriage after miscarriage, procedure after procedure and month after month of getting their period, when the only thing in the world they want is for there to be two lines on the Goddamned stick and she just wants a pink stick?

I wanted to pull up the fertility page, right here on my blog and let her read REAL stories, from REAL people about their struggles to get what she’s been gifted and has absolutely no concept of the value of.

But I didn’t.

I stayed quiet.

Instead? I sat in the car and fumed.

Cried tears of frustration, anger, disappointment in myself for a missed opportunity.

Tears for the me of only three short years ago, a month or so to the day, when I walked in to my fertility doctors office and underwent a procedure which, mercifully, resulted in the conception of my little ‘bubble’.  The bubble who grew into my loving, funny, stubborn, rambunctious, curious, little toddler, who is currently trying to help me type this blog post, while hitting keys and announcing what letter it is each time, repeated louder and louder each time, until I acknowledge that that is, in fact, ‘S’.

I wanted to tell her, that even when you do get pregnant after struggling with infertility, that it’s not the end – and I don’t just mean secondary infertility.  I mean, that for me, personally, and many others, if you do, eventually, GET pregnant, almost every day is a constant battle with fear and stress.  I spent my entire pregnancy worried, terrified that I was going to lose that which I’d tried and fought so hard to get in the first place.

Every morning I woke up, expecting it to be a dream, or some cruel joke.  I took pregnancy tests every day for weeks – even after my first scan – just to be sure they weren’t wrong.

Every time I went to the bathroom, I expected blood.

Later in my pregnancy, if bubble didn’t move for a little while, I was freaking out and hitting the ice cold drinks and something filled with sugar to make him move so I was reassured that he was ok.

I did everything I could to ensure that I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby – including missing out on seeing Maroon 5 at the Houston Rodeo! (Heaven forbade!!)

I’ve cried, uncontrollable tears of relief, gratefulness and joy at each of the RESOLVE Walk’s of Hope I’ve been to since conceiving Lewis.  I’ve also cried tears of sorrow, pain and hope for those who haven’t yet been as lucky as I have, to reach their dreams.  I cried for my struggle and the struggles of any number of women

I think it’s safe to say that this was a steep learning curve for me, and I’d like to think that if there IS a next time, I won’t hold my tongue.  I won’t allow myself to convince myself that it’s OK to let things like that slide.  I won’t let the fact that I may burst out crying at someone, prevent me for bringing to attention how inappropriate and hurtful her comments were.

A friend told me last night that you can’t change the world and you can’t cure stupid.

I’m not sure I buy that.


The world will never change, if everyone and everything stays the same.

Maybe my speaking up would have had no effect whatsoever, maybe she’d have laughed me off and told me I was ridiculous, maybe she’s beyond help.  But maybe? Just maybe I could have been the change.  Or maybe? Even just one of ladies standing around her, (enduring her tales of woe about how she couldn’t have afforded a girl ten years ago, but how she’s in a MUCH better financial position now so she could afford every cute dress she’ll ever want or need) would have taken comfort in my words, and knew that they weren’t alone in thinking that this insensitive mare was OK in saying what she said.


She wasn’t.

Don’t bite your tongue.

Don’t stay quiet.

Be the change.

An emotional RESOLVE Walk of Hope 2016 with my darling son.

An emotional RESOLVE Walk of Hope 2016 with my darling son.

For more information on infertility, please check out this amazing charity, RESOLVE.

Learning to love my plus-sized self.

12642992_10156387774010411_2556516841211561801_nGrab a cuppa, this is a long’un.

Before I start? Let me get a couple of things out of the way, cause I’ve been saying some variation of these points, a lot, since I shared the photos:

1.  You see more at the beach, in a nightclub, or after 11am at your local Walmart.  If you’re offended by these pictures, or think I should be ashamed of myself? Bite me.
2. Before you comment and call me brave, or bold, or daring.  Please take a moment to consider where that comes from inside you, am I brave cause I’m a fat chick showing some skin? Am I brave cause I’m showing a vulnerable and exposed side of myself with the entire internet? Am I brave cause we aren’t used to seeing women empowering themselves? WHY is it that you think I’m brave?
3. No, I didn’t have these pictures taken as a gift to my husband, that was an added perk.  I had them taken as a gift to myself.  I’ve spent way too long feeling like crap about myself and wanted to do something to feel beautiful for a change.

Let me explain;
I typically spend most of my days chasing around an energetic, almost two year old boy.  A boy, who, for the record? Doesn’t like having his hands dirty, so will wipe his Nutella, cheese puff, or paint covered fingers on my clothes if I’m not careful.
And? While I am trying to get into running, I don’t run.  So anything other than flats on my fallen-arched flat feet? You can forget about it.  Chasing a toddler in anything other than my comfy gel-soled Asics, sounds like the seventh circle of hell to my chubby-legged and unfit self.

I live in denim capris, some kind of graphic T-shirt and flip flops.

A friend of mine recently described me as dressing like a college kid.

He wasn’t wrong.

He didn’t stop there, he went on to say that almost my entire wardrobe needs thrown out.  “Maybe keep some stuff for when you go hiking” (no, really, he does know me, I swear!) “but the rest needs to go”.

Again, he wasn’t wrong.

I’d love to say that being a stay at home mum (SAHM) is the reason to blame for my college “style” wardrobe.  Alas, I cannot.  My poor relationship with clothing and fashion began much, much, earlier than I’d care to admit.  I’ve always been overweight, fat, obese, having always had a waist much smaller than my hips and bum, I have what you’d politely refer to as a classic “hourglass” shape, but I never learned to dress for my shape, love my curves, or, without sounding too pathetic, like myself, in spite of my size.

Instead, I learned to dislike, often hate, the reflection I saw in the windows of shops and the mirror.  It wasn’t the same as the images I saw in magazines, on TV, in shop windows.  It was different.  The only time I saw people who looked in anyway like me, was for Weight Watchers adverts in January when people had over indulged over Christmas.

Hot damn girl!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!

I learned to abhor shopping.  No kidding – I mean panic attacks, palpitations and hysterical breakdowns at the mere idea of needing new clothes.    At my smallest I was a 12-14 on top (UK) but on the bottom I never got below a 20.  I was grossly out of proportion.  My narrow waist meant you could always see my knickers when I sat down in jeans or trousers cause I always needed bigger sizes to accommodate my rotund arse.  I lost patience at myself when I could find anything to wear, I’d cry angry tears in dressing rooms wondering why things didn’t look, on me, like they looked on the stick thin models standing in the windows as I walked in the door.

I learned to wear the same half-dozen outfits in rotation (I’m pretty much still wearing the same outfits, decades on), never be “brave” or “daring”, only have “nice” clothes, look “pretty” for special occasions.  If I found something that fit, and looked passable, I’d buy one in every colour and call it good.  Shoes (ok, flip flops) too.

I learned to be ashamed of my body.  To never dare look at bikinis, anything knee length or higher, anything low cut, bright or bold patterned either, for that matter.  Not only that? But you can’t shop at “normal” shops, you have to go to “plus” shops, for “bigger girls”, where the selection is crap, the prices are higher and you almost wonder aloud as to why companies can’t just make the same damn clothes they make for skinny people, just, y’know, bigger?

Dark colours flatter, don’t wear anything that shows your flab or calls attention to your “not normal” shape.

Right? That’s what “they” say.

As a result? I learned to hate and hide my body.  Black dress trousers, then jeans, paired with “cute” graphic tshirts conveying my love for the TMNTs, or the Care Bears, paired with oversized hoodies (at least in Ireland) that covered as much of my shameful plus sized figure as I could manage.

Then you think all your prayers will be answered if you could just lose a bit of weight.  You go on a diet.  You work out.  You drop thirty or fifty pounds, only to realize that your shape? Is still a Goddamned hourglass.  That the weight you so fervently tried to lose, is coming off your pinky finger, your ear lobes, your ankles…everywhere that ISN’T your fat arse, or thighs, or double chin, or bingo wings, or wherever else you’d spent nights praying to God to take it from.  That unless you take a hacksaw to your hips (believe me, I even contemplated that a time or two) those bastarding hips aren’t gonna budge.  “Childbearing hips” they call them, and while they served me incredibly well during a blessed, easy and quick labour, they make clothes shopping painfully frustrating.

Then you find routine.  You get lazy.  Or, you have a baby, your body shape changes, but not in the ways you’ve dreamed about your whole life and you suddenly have the added dismay of a “mummy tummy”, cause life wasn’t unfair enough with your big hips, big arse and big thighs, I guess at least now a big tummy completes the set, and so you hide behind your baby for a couple years.  You justify it to yourself, saying “I’m a mum”, like that excuses you from taking a moment to think about what you put on to wear outside, in front of other people in the mornings.  Like that means you can’t justify carving out some extra cash to treat yourself to an outfit here and there, like it means you don’t deserve to feel girlie or pretty any more.  Like you’re resigned to sweats and hoodies forever, because you don’t have the time, the money, the energy or the wherewithal to go shopping and treat yourself to something that makes you feel human.

And here we are.

wm1I turned thirty-one this year and I still dress like a college kid.  I still wear jeans and flip flops, I still self-hate, am ashamed of and hide my body, I still lust over pictures in magazines wondering if there will ever come a time when I can walk in to a “normal” clothes shop and not end up with hot tears of frustration down my cheeks in the fitting room cause I just want to find something decent to wear out the door in the mornings.

Enter plus sized fashion bloggers.

Ok, one fashion blogger really.  Georgina Horne over at Fuller Figure, Fuller Bust.  I’ve had her on the periphery of my radar for a few years, but lately, she’s been ALL up in my ‘bidness’.  She’s a sassy, loud, occasionally rowdy lady, with large cleavage, a rockin’ waist and an ginormous heart.

She takes a genuine interest in real, every day people (seriously though, the first time she tweeted me back I was all fan-girlie) and she gives great advice (on any manner of things!)

Without realizing it, her “f*ck it” attitude kinda rubs off on you, and you suddenly find yourself believing that maybe you could look half as hot as she does in front of the camera, and suddenly you’re off out down the town, squishing your boobs in to a corset named after an Addams Family character and booking yourself a boudoir photoshoot.

What possessed me?

I’ve toyed and flirted with the idea for years now.

Around my wedding, I even momentarily SERIOUSLY considered the idea, and at 35lbs lighter than where I am right now, and feeling a little more self confident, it probably would have been a more “sensible” time to act.  But I shelved the idea and buried it under ALL of my jeans and hoodies.

My “everyday” photographer, liked a picture on Maribella Portraits Facebook page that appeared on my Facebook feed and I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

So much so, that I went back the next day and stared at it.  And the day after that, too.
It was a picture Maria had taken at dusk in downtown Houston of some beautiful curvy women.  The more I dug into her page, the more I discovered she was keen to empower women, make them feel strong and show to them their beauty – both inside and out.  Her work, her page, her mantra spoke to me.

houston photographerI booked a consultation, had a chat with Maria about what we both expected from the shoot, pencilled it in and hit up Pinterest for inspiration before hitting the shops to frantically search for pieces of clothing to wear to my shoot.

After WEEKS, yes, weeks of searching, I finally had my outfits.  My corsets, sports shirts and underwear for boudoir, a couple of dresses and an outfit or two for Downtown glamour, jewellery, hot rollers, props and heels.  I was good to go.

On the morning of the shoot I was overcome with nervous excitement.  More nerves to be honest, but those quickly dissipated as Maria and my friend Sandra kept telling me I was doing great and looked hot.  They stole my glasses so I couldn’t see my reflection (that’s not why, but it worked) and although at certain points I felt somewhat unnatural and a little ridiculous, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of getting dolled up and, I guess, almost being someone else for the morning.

Maria was excited by the results, her original two-week turn around, became only days, as she was inspired by the shots she had on-film.  I, on the other hand, felt sick to my stomach.  What if the pictures didn’t come out good? What if they weren’t what I had expected? What if, what if, what if.

There was even a moment of “Dear Lord, what have I done?” Was I absolutely crazy to think that my chubby self could look as good as the other plus size women I’d seen in similar photo shoots?

And then Maria showed me my film.

1151_10156373441335411_5141502942695401336_nThe same friend I mentioned above (who told me to dump my wardrobe) asked me if I learned anything from this experience, and I guess my answer to him, is yes.  I learned a lot.  I learned a lot about myself.  I learned a lot about other people and I learned that you don’t need grand changes to make yourself feel pretty or confident.  Even the smallest of changes, mentally, more so than physically, can make a huge difference to your every day life.  My friend Amber has asked me three times this month if I’ve lost weight, I haven’t.  Maybe it’s because I feel even just a little more comfortable in my own skin.  Maybe it’s because, as she says, “you’re carrying yourself differently”, or maybe it’s because I’ve realized that being fat, isn’t the end of the world.  There are people out there with real, honest to goodness problems and maybe I just need to get over myself a little.
untitled-213Houston friends, I know some of you have said in passing that you would love to do something like this, quit thinking, here’s her website, call or Facebook Maria, now. 
Non-Houston friends? Research photographers in your area.  Interview with them, study their work.  Find someone who ‘gets’ you, whose vision you love.

Don’t delay – everyone should feel beautiful, even just for one day!

Since my photo-shoot with Maria, I’ve worn all the clothes I bought for it.  I’ve even worn two out of three pairs of heels I got too – wonders never cease.

I’ve tried to take a little more care in my appearance.  I’ve continued to shop for clothes – not like a woman possessed – but I’ll saunter in to a clothes shop and casually  browse, which is something I never did before.  I don’t seem to have the same core-melting fear about shopping that I had before.

Most of all? I’ve tried to give myself a bit of a break.

 houston curvy girl glamourI’ve already stated, that I’m fully aware I’m plus-sized, over weight, obese, chubby, fat, whatever label you’d like to stick on me.  I’m an unhealthy weight, I’m unhappy with my size, it’s something I’ve been working on, and will work on, for a long time.

There’s no quick fix.

That said?

Maybe who I am right now? Isn’t quite so bad after all.

IMG_1110Maybe? Instead of frantically trying to change who I am every day and being soul destroyed that I haven’t found a magic cure for being fat yet, maybe I should more frantically try to find a way to like myself a little more?

As is.

Maybe? Being fat isn’t the worst thing in the world.  I’m not a criminal, or a murderer, I don’t kick babies, or burn animals (nor do I share those God-awful burned animal photos on Facebook).  Being fat doesn’t make me a terrible person.  It doesn’t make me “less than” because I’m bigger, because I’m different.

A friend described me as being “not societies definition of beautiful”, who said society was right?
Can’t we all just be beautiful?
untitled-1bw84-2“I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine”

[Breastfeeding Buddies] Kari and Delaney

Meet Kari (her new blog, ‘Margarita in Pill form’ can be found here), I’ve known her from a distance for the last couple of years, through Live Journal and our mutual friend, Amber, but for the last 18 months or so, we’ve gotten to know each other a little better, and she’s not half bad at all 😉

You’ll often hear the term, ‘Breast is best’, some lactivists will go so far as to say that a woman really shouldn’t do anything other than breast feed – I am not one such woman – I firmly fall in to the ‘if it works, great, if it doesn’t, there’s formula’ camp.  Having gone through a rather traumatizing breast feeding journey, I’m well aware that it’s not something that works for everyone, as Kari discovered as she found that breastfeeding isn’t as easy as we are often led to believe.  Here’s her story:

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Disclaimer:  Breastfeeding is an awesome way to feed your child.  If you can and have the desire, that is awesome.  This is just my personal experience.

Though growing up I have always wanted to be a mom, I have not always had the desire to breastfeed my children.  I was not breastfed.  Neither was my mother.  Neither my sister nor my sister-in-law breastfed my nieces and nephews.  It was not really something that was a big thing in our family.  Though intellectually I realize the ultimate purpose of female breasts, I have always had a sexualized view of them, so the thought of my child sucking on them for food was not appealing to me.
When I became seriously involved with my husband and knew that he was the man with which I would have children, he had a very different viewpoint of nursing.  He was convinced that since he was breastfed combined with the economic and health benefits of nursing, I should breastfeed our child.  What ultimately convinced me to nurse was learning that it would most likely make it easier to lose weight.  Seriously.  That’s why I tried it.  That is really the only reason I tried it.  I know; I’m selfish.
During my pregnancy I convinced myself that breastfeeding would be easy.  My friend Melanie had nursed all three of her boys and seemed to have it down pat.  She was a pro.  She was my inspiration.  When she came to work 12 weeks after having her third, she was almost at pre-baby weight.  Yes, awesome.  I was totally convinced this would be awesome.
Looking back, there are so many “shoulds” that go through my mind regarding my pregnancy and birth experience, but as always hindsight is 20/20, and as my postpartum group leader says, “Stop shoulding on yourself.”  I took a childbirth class but not a breastfeeding class.  I never stopped to prepare for the possibility that nursing wouldn’t work for me.  But that’s the hard part of accepting my ultimate decision.  Nursing DID work.  My daughter had no problem latching.  I had an abundant supply (I think).
The problem was that I never thought that I wouldn’t absolutely love everything about being a mother and nursing my child.  I never expected to hate the first two weeks of her life.  I never expected to feel so numb and detached and awful all the time.  I never expected that I would be so physically anxious worrying about when her next feeding was that I would not be able to sleep ever, at all.  Because what if I fell asleep, and she got hungry and no one could wake me up.  I never expected to feel dirty and smelly all the time.  I hated the smell of breast milk, especially on me, and no amount of showering would get rid of the smell.  While Similac is not a pleasing smell, at least it’s not coming out of me.  Just looking at my pump produced a panic response in me.  I hated pumping.  I was alone in the nursery in a rocking chair for at least 20-30 minutes every time I did it.  I couldn’t distract myself because my hands were occupied, and it hurt because I had set it on a higher setting hoping to get it over with sooner.  I wanted to take my Xanax so I could relax enough to sleep a little, but benzos and breastfeeding do not mix.  I went to a psychiatrist based on the suggestion of my postpartum support group who wrote me a script for Klonopin, but he stated I could only take it if I totally stopped breastfeeding.
On my daughter’s 4th day, I was attempting for what felt like the millionth time to take a nap while my mother watched her.  Per usual, I couldn’t fall asleep, but as I lay there a thought came to me.  I don’t have to do this.  I don’t have to breastfeed her.  And just like that, a huge weight lifted off of me. (Not that it made it any easier for me to sleep that day.  BTW, if one more person told me to sleep when the baby sleeps, I was going to hit someone.)  I went to tell my husband that I had decided to wean my daughter.  My that point and over the next few days I had pumped enough to give her two weeks of breast milk.  My husband’s response: “But you know breast milk is best for her, and formula is expensive.”  In my head I said, “So you breastfeed her,” but of course I didn’t say that out loud.  I honestly don’t remember what I said or what the steps were that transpired after that.  I know that my mom went to get some Similac for Supplementation, and I called my pediatrician to ask what formula they suggest should I totally wean her.  My mom then bought some of that as well.  I started giving her every other feeding as formula.  By doing that, she got breast milk for two weeks and had no problem switching to formula.
I felt guilty.  There was no physical reason I couldn’t breastfeed.  I had selfishly chosen not to.  I wouldn’t lose the baby weight as quickly, and I would spend more money than I had ever intended on feeding her because I was selfish and wanted to sleep.  I saw all the breastfeeding moms with their camaraderie and baby-friendly mission.  Their National Breastfeeding Month.  Their Occupy Breastfeeding pictures.
But I also saw the Fearless Formula Feeder, and the I Support You movement. Their “The best way to feed a baby is to make sure the baby is fed.”
I got sleep.  I knew at almost 12 months old, Melanie’s son was still waking up at least once a night to nurse.  By the time I went back to work when my daughter was 10 weeks old, she was no longer eating overnight.  The only reason she woke up is because her pacifier had fall out of her mouth.  Plug her back in; she goes back to sleep.
I still have my days when I feel like a horrible mother.  I am an intelligent person, and I know that the thinking, “Well I wasn’t breastfed, and I turned out fine,” is kind of specious.  I also know, though, that formula has come a long way in it’s ingredients and how it’s made.  And I know that nursing my daughter was not what was best for me which in turn means it was not what was best for her.  What’s best for her is having a mother that is getting enough rest to be present for her life. for her firsts, for her smiles.  My anxiety would not allow me to enjoy her, and as long as I was nursing, I wouldn’t sleep, and as long as I didn’t sleep, I would be one big ball of anxiety ALL THE TIME.
My daughter is 6 months old now.  She is the happiest, prettiest little girl.  While I still and always will struggle with anxiety and depression, and I know she will be an only child, I love her so so much.  Motherhood is absolutely nothing at all what I anticipated.  Nothing.  But I am adjusting with help and love.  And being able to make my own choice about how to feed my daughter was the best thing I could have done in that moment.
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[Breastfeeding Buddies] Sarah (Exclusively pumping)

I met Sarah years ago, on a website where I met a lot of my friends, Live Journal.  Don’t snark – it used to be the place to BE! Honestly, it was the bomb diggity! As it turned out, she lived locally to my BFF Amber, in Iowa, we’ve met in real life a couple times, hung out, and she and her kiddies are some of my very favorite peeps on Snap Chat every day!

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My one year journey is coming to an end, my love/hate relationship with my pump.

Let me begin by saying my daughter was born 5 weeks premature and I tried valiantly to breastfeed her, she had no latch.  So I tried to pump and failed miserably.  As a first time mom who was just learning all the new baby things, pumping on top of everything else?  I just couldn’t do it.  Two months was as long as I made it with my first child.

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I’m not saying formula feeding is bad in the least,  heck my daughter was formula practically from birth.  So if you use formula, GREAT!  If you Breastfeed,  GREAT!  If you pump, AWESOME.  Doing what works for you is perfect, just do what feels RIGHT.  You are the parent, you do know best.  I just wanted to TRY with my son, my second child to give him breast milk.

I was prepared at the hospital, I asked for a pump to be brought to me as soon as I was admitted, told them my preference of brand.  They bring you the hospital grade pump while I was in the hospital, that thing is a BEAST. Think STRONG, Think SUPER SUCK!   As soon as he was born, Maxon was a ‘no-latch’ as well. (Turns out he has tongue tie, at least we know now).  The lactation woman at the hospital was older and not very gentle with me and helped me nada.  No different positions, or trying different things.  I am a Big girl and I worried about suffocating him, she told me to “figure it out”.  We never did, “figure it out”, that is at, the breast.

I would like to insert here that there are resources out there for breastfeeding moms.  GO on Facebook! Go into local baby stores! If you want to breastfeed GET HELP!

There are so many people out there that I didn’t know about willing to support you! Just look! They are there!!!  In fact now in hindsight I wish I would have put a plea out there for help, as I even have acquaintances who are lactation specialists and would have dropped everything to help.

What I’m trying to say is, you are not alone. ♡

However, I did get the pump to work for me.  The first pump I used was an Ameda. The Ameda was an Ok pump, I went through two motors and had to be sent a third when the second failed again, in the span of 1 1/2 months.  This caused me to change pumps, finally.  Don’t get frustrated pumping Moms, just go down a different path!

I got a Medela.  I Love my Medela.  This has suction like a champ and has NEVER let me down. (Little breastfeeding pun there, the moms will get it)  It is easy to clean and easy to transport.  Mine has been across the country in airplanes, in cars and across many states.  I’ve pumped in airports, cars, vans, hotels, houses, apartments almost everywhere.  I pumped in the car trip, in the car hooked up to the car lighter.  Not glamorous but really not that bad.  It’s also not embarrassing, yes it makes a noise.  My daughter says it’s cheering me on “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!”   but yes, it has a distinct noise.  My sister in law once commented while I was on the phone, “are you pumping? Good Lord, I remember THAT noise”    It’s not hard, it’s time consuming.

The hardest part, other than the time commitment, for me, was the worry.  I worried about every drop, every oz, every low night and full morning.  I took Fenugreek, ate lactation cookies, guzzled water, gatorade, and worried if I didn’t make enough.  Here’s the thing, it’s normal.  Every mom is NORMAL.  You just have to realize that your body will make what it will.

The rest is time.

Time to drink water, time to pump, time to feed, time to pump and it goes on and on.

It gets to be a ‘normal’ part of your life.  So normal, when in passing my husband, I eventually took to saying, “time to pump my tits again”.

It’s normal.

It’s as normal as breastfeeding, and yes I consider pumping still breastfeeding!

The best thing that I was blessed to have is an extremely supportive family and friends.   They helped on car rides, family trips, and every day to support my breastfeeding journey.  Las was a constant sounding board, snapchat partner and ear to pull.  She listened when my supply TANKED, and I FREAKED.  She held my hand through my up and downs and i thank her for that, she was my light at times when everything was dark.   My husband also helped me by washing parts and making bottles and on and on.  I cant sing enough praises to my loving husband.  He brought me water and kept the kids entertained while I pumped.  He spoke words of encouragement to keep going, and pumped me up when I was so extremely close to stopping multiple times.  Tonight we have a date night to celebrate.  I will most likely have alcohol for the first time in 5 years, tonight we celebrate this hard and wonderfully rewarding experience that we have gone through together.

You, yes you reading this, if you are a breastfeeding mother.  Pumping COUNTS!  This Saturday I will pump for the very last time, and while I’m excited and happy it’s also bittersweet.   I love knowing exactly what is going into my son’s body.  I have frozen stored so I will make his birthday and it will be one year. Since i have done this, I feel anyone can.

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I’m open to anyone who needs a helping hand or has a question about pumping. I remember having a million questions and feeling dumb, too dumb to ask and i wish i would have asked.  So ask! Please ask! It’s a journey just you and your pump, but you don’t have to travel it alone.

Moment.

Today, I needed a moment.

Just one.

Surprisingly, it was the first “moment” I’ve needed since AJ was born on Labour day.

Today, I needed to lock myself in the bathroom, just for an extra beat, take a breath and compose myself.

Last night was a little rough.

Around 11pm Amber texted me to tell me there was an issue with AJ’s catheter. It was past “visiting” hours, so I was stuck providing what little support I could from the hotel, via text.

Thankfully the issue wasn’t really an issue after all, but by the time we learned that, it was after 2am.  It was an emotional few hours.

We expected surgical complications, but we didn’t expect a complication from something so routine as his catheter.

Today, we all slept in a bit, we took showers, we ate lunch and we went to the hospital a little later than usual, but it was needed. We are all running on empty. I have no idea how Amber and Aaron are functioning as well as they are, sometimes I feel pretty dead on my feet.

I needed a moment today, because when I saw my nephew lying on his little bed, pale, covered in wires, with his chest still open, I was overcome.

Overcome with love, he’s easy to love. He’s cute as a button to boot.

Overcome with awe. This kid is a friggin’ gladiator and he’s taking it all in his stride. Like. A. BOSS.

Overcome with relief and joy that he beat the odds and made it through surgery.

Overcome with sadness and grief that such an amazing and precious piece of our lives has to endure such trials when he’s so shiny and new.

Overcome with fear that he’s not yet out of the woods, and the constant need to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  That every challenge, obstacle and milestone he faces, and conquers should be celebrated.

Sitting in that place, in the cardiac ward of the Children’s hospital of Philadelphia, can be a difficult place to sit.

You’re surrounded by worried parents and family members. You’re surrounded by waiting. Families waiting for news of how surgery went, families waiting to go back and see their kids post-op, families waiting for their kids to get well enough to feed them, or hold them, or to take them home.

You’re surrounded by fear. Fear of loss.

You’re surrounded by quiet, many of the babies can’t cry, there isn’t much by way of laughter and even every day conversations seem hushed.

You’re surrounded by teenie tiny little people, who all have broken little hearts. Who are all on meds and machines and monitors, fighting for life with everything they got.

And then it hits you….they are fighting for life, with everything they got.

And then?

Then you’re overcome with hope.

Keep fightin’ lil guy. We’re all in your corner.

We love you <3

I salute you!

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Yesterday, I spent some time in the family room at various points of the day.  In the cardiac unit, when a patient comes back to your pod from surgery, they ask everyone to clear out for a while, AJ had his arterial line put back in, so we had to leave then too, it’s just all a little different to how things were done in the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City last week.

Anyways, back to the family room.

So, I’m sitting there, with my phone plugged in to the wall, sipping on a diet coke that some kind soul has donated to the family rooms of the cardiac unit, watching kids come in and out to raid the snack basket, or watching staff come in to re-fill the baskets, or place out new baskets, this time with toothbrushes and toothpaste donated for those families who need them, while waiting for their kids in surgery and just, waiting for the ‘ok’ to go back to the ward and sit with my beloved nephew, when it occurred to me that we were sat waiting, with another family who was waiting.

Though, they were waiting a different kind of wait.

There was a mum and dad, their two young sons, one set of grandparents, and who I assumed were two aunts or other close family members.  It was abundantly clear that their precious little one was in surgery, that they were all balanced on a knife-edge, waiting for a whisper of news about their baby.

The parents were called out first and they came back in to take their boys outside the room to tell them how the surgery went, before telling the rest of the family.  Which the aunts assumed meant that the news wasn’t good and started to cry.  My heart broke for them, the uncertainty, the fear, the pain – and this was before they even knew the outcome of the surgery.

The parents came back in and told the extended family that their little girl had made it through the surgery and by that point, everyone was crying and they were all on their phones giving out the good news to whoever else was waiting with baited breath.

Later that afternoon, I was sat in the same room, with a different family, in a similar situation.  The mother and father of a child in surgery, a set of grandparents and another family member or two that were there for moral support.  The nurse came in to update them mid-way through the procedure, ‘everything is going according to plan’, she said to the family, ‘I don’t see any drinks, are you all staying hydrated?’ she prodded with concern.

I left the family room before their surgery was finished.

Tomorrow?

That family will be us.

While we wait the four (+) hours for our little Anderson to have his first operation.

What I’m praying for most, second only to a successful surgery, is for strength for all of us, especially Amber and Aaron, who will be waiting – and I request that you do the same.

To any mum who has ever sat in the family room of a hospital, waiting, wondering, worrying about your child, who is in the hands of strangers (exceptionally well qualified strangers, but strangers all the same) y’all are freakin’ gladiators.

I salute you!

Don’t forget to give where you can:

https://www.gofundme.com/m43qcu5k

That one friend…

This blog has been incredibly difficult to write.  I started it when I arrived in Iowa, and have been deleting it and re-writing it ever since.  Some things are just hard to put into words, and my friendship with ‘The Girl’ is one of them.
I’m feeling a bit of a fraud this week.
I’ve had people far and wide tell me they’re so grateful for me being here for Amber, what they don’t know, is that she’s been there for me, every step of my life, for a very, very long time.  She owes me nothing, I owe her everything, and being here, helping out her family in whatever small ways I can, is as much for me as it is for her.  I’m enjoying my time with my niece, Averie, don’t get me wrong, she’s a drama queen, diva, 6 year old, but she’s so full of love and cuddles that I could burst.  Let me tell you a little back story…
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5k colour run, Cedar Rapids IA, 2015

 Everyone’s got “that one friend”.
The ‘Do you remember…’ friend.
The ‘This one time…’ friend.
The ‘Hold my hand and pretend to be my girlfriend cause I *really* don’t want anything to do with that guy’, friend
They may not be your longest serving friend, or maybe they are, but they are most certainly your very bestest.
The kind you have a suitcase full of stories about (that typically all come out in quick succession when you’re talking to other people).  You’ve got a basket of dirty laundry together, a basket of secrets together and the biggest basket of all is reserved for the giggles, and hysterical laughter. The kind of laughter that comes with tears pouring down your face, the kind of laughter that gives you hiccups cause you can’t breathe, the kind of laughter that hurts your ribs and has people looking at the two of you wondering why the hell you found what you’re laughing at, so hilariously funny.
Which just makes you both laugh harder.
They’re the kind of friend you can sit up talking to all night, plan world domination with, karaoke with, shop with (and always find way more to buy when you’re together!) drink with, dance with, cry with, get questionable haircuts with, take a bazillion selfies with (you’re the same people, in the same clothes, with the same facial expressions, but bet your ass you’re taking alllllllll the selfies) and drive across country or fly across continents to be with.
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First trip to IA 2006 – ice cream, pjs and movies!

They’re the kind of friend you can often tell what they’re thinking, just by the look on their face, or the subtle inclinations in their voice (or texts, or emails) or the un-subtle inclinations of them smacking you or throwing an inanimate object at your head.
There’s no better comfort than hugs from a friend like that, no better joy than from the shared love and laughs and no greater sorrow than when one of you are hurting.
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Amber’s 1st trip to Ireland 2005

I’m asked at least half a dozen times every year, how I met my ‘that friend’ Amber.  I’m asked a dozen more than, that if we’re sisters.

She’s American, I’m not (though having lived here for approaching six and a half years many people think I am, or at least Canadian) and we’ve known each other for ten and a half years.
On December 31st, we’ll hit our eleven year mark, and, we’re so close, that even her daughter Averie thinks we’re sisters.
Houston 2014

Houston 2014

I met her online (I’ll give you a moment to get past the shock and audible gasps), on a website called ‘LiveJournal’, an online journaling community.  You can post daily (hourly for some people) journal posts about anything/everything, join communities full of people with shared interests and add friends, who can comment on your posts.  Amber commented on my ‘Friends only’ post asking if I wanted to be her friend.  Little did I know that when I added her back, my life would change forever.
And then some.
A mutual friend said to me a very long time ago, ‘You guys are cute, you’re like sisters, mushy sisters, “I miss her” and “She’s having a hard time” and “I love her” and etc that’s all I ever hear.’. They also said ‘Good friendships prevail even in the shittiest of conditions.  I bet even your arguments are lame, I don’t think I can picture you two in a full out brawl, you know each other too well that you’d walk around and word things in a way that would keep each other from getting angrier’.
Our ‘arguments’ are about the only thing about us that is in any way boring, and oh the stories I could (and probably will) tell.
Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

In the beginning, we were pen pals, with real, honest to goodness, pen to paper letters.  Pages upon pages, that we snail-mailed across the Atlantic.  Usually embedded in some kind of care package, a shoe box filled with the most delicious treats and snacks our countries had to offer.
We emailed about 239874529384729384572398 times a day.
Yes, that is a real number.
No, that is not an exaggeration.
That number doubled when she was on 3rd shift overnight at Yellow Book – we were on the same schedule for a while there.
My first visit to see her, came a year later, we’d even had a couple phone calls by that point, but I flew Dublin to Chicago, leaving a pair of anxious parents at home, praying to God they’d see me again.  We started in Chi-town (where I met Heather), drove through Madison (where I met Ange) and into Cedar Rapids (where I met a list as long as your arm of her friends, most notably the Stacks and Liz).  It was an amazing trip, I cried the whole way home, and I knew that I’d be busting my butt to save up enough so I could come back again soon.
Dublin 2005

Dublin 2005

A standard visit to Iowa consists of many basic elements, or, at least used to when we were younger, before children.  We’d bake cookies – something that’s ‘typically’ American to an Irish girl, we’d watch High School Musical (singing into hairbrushes or bottles – or just at the top of our lungs – poor Aaron!) while in our pjs and sharing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (she’s allergic to chocolate, so she gets the vanilla, I get the chocolate and we fight for the caramel core! 😉
There’d be a least one trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, more than likely two.  If we were visiting a city with a Chipotle, we’d go there too (Cedar Rapids just got one recently! Whoop!)
Before I moved to Texas, we’d visit WalMart and the Dollar Tree – taking at least an hour, sometimes three (right Col?) to do a thorough inspection of things I couldn’t get here, but absolutely ‘needed’ to take home.  We’d visit Michaels, Joann’s and, in Texas, Hobby Lobby – and buy any number of craft materials that neither of us ‘needed’, but more so ‘we could totally do this, with this’ – and, Lord knows, that Ireland isn’t overflowing with scrapbooking materials, and, as a knitter/crocheter, cheap yarn was never to be passed up.
The other thing we’d do? We’d drink.  Pretty much one night of my trip was spent drinking, occasionally with karaoke, though that bit isn’t a prerequisite (though I maintain it should be).  And when I say drink, we DRINK.  LOL!
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Six years ago, my niece Averie Rose was born and we got a little more responsible, marginally more sensible (translation: our drinking was upgraded to cheap wine) and exceptionally good at our new found addiction of Pinterest parties.  I was her wing-woman for most of Averie’s birthday parties and have been to Iowa for four of her six to date, normally with some form of craft or food-creation in my suitcase that I’ve worked on in Texas to help out from afar.
We’ve road tripped together, we’ve baked together, we’ve sung together, we’ve gotten drunk together, we’ve gambled together, we’ve ice skated together (it’s possible I clung on for dear life to the arm of a poor unsuspecting Rough Riders goalie), we’ve camped together, we’ve been through drive-thru’s together, which may sound pretty benign to you guys, but to us they often end up with us crying with laughter for one reason or another.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixes gig

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers gig

She’s responsible for about 75% of my music tastes and approves of the other 25% cause that came from Col (and she and him share an affinity for the 80s/classic rock), she’s responsible for my curly hair being as awesome as everyone tells me it is (seriously, I laughed at her when she told me about the Curly Girl routine, yet it’s kept me sane while battling the Texas humidity for years!) she’s responsible for my Midwestern accent (‘Las, you need to slow the f*ck down or people won’t be able to understand you’ and I’m responsible for her horribly poor Irish accent that’s passable enough to get her free drinks on St Paddy’s day) she’s responsible for my scrapbooking hobby, my obsession with Target, my baking and most of my wardrobe really, since there’s not really a fitting room I’ve been in, where she’s not been in with me (via snap-chat, pictures or even in real life when I come to visit).
We truly have had the best of times together and not to mention she’s a Godmother to my little boy Lewis.
Lewis' Christening 2014

Lewis’ Christening 2014

She’s been there for me through the toughest times in my life too.
Boyfriend break-ups, college, health troubles, bereavement, fertility treatments, becoming an expat and moving away from home and even though there has always been a geographical distance between us (originally Iowa – Northern Ireland ~ 6,000 miles and now Iowa to Texas ~ 1,000 miles), we’ve never let that interfere with the strong bond that we have.  We’ve never let distance get in the way of being best friends, of confiding in each other, supporting each other, loving each other and generally being pretty inseparable – which, let’s face it, is a pretty great achievement, right?
Averie's 2nd Birthday party 2010

Averie’s 2nd Birthday party 2010

 So, I’ve told y’all how amazing she is, I’ve told y’all how much she’s been there for me, how she’s bugged me to eat, sleep, take meds and see doctors when I need to for the last decade.  I’ve told y’all I almost peed on her once – oh, wait, what? I didn’t?
Ok, back up the truck.
There was this one night in our more recent history, where we went out drinking, on the way home, we made Aaron stop the car on a gravel road so we could pee.  It’s slightly possible that we may have been a little liquored up.  Amber went off on safari into the ditch and I stopped right next to the car to pee.  Before I could do my thing, she’s yelling at me that she’s standing ‘down stream’ and to get my ass down to her level so I didn’t pee on her.  As I was headed her direction, I fell on my arse and slid down the bank to land almost at her feet – thankfully, she hadn’t peed either, cause that’d have been unfortunate too.  More so really, cause I’d have been the one covered in pee.
We really do do everything together! LOL! 😉
I’ve told y’all I consider her to be family, because, when you get down to brass tacks? That’s what she is.
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Amber came to Houston 2008

Basically we’re thick as thieves and I’m sure some days even our mothers wonder if we’re twins.
So, having laid a little of the foundation and given you some of the backstory of my friendship with this girl (really though? How impossible is it to tell an audience like y’all how much this girl means to me? As I’ve discovered in the last week, pretty bloody impossible!) I think you all have at least a vague idea of the kind of friendship we have.
Averie often despairs at the two of us ;)

Averie often despairs at the two of us ;)

Well, eleven days ago, she went in to labour at 37 weeks gestation, with her second baby.  We said goodnight around midnight I think? And I slept pretty soundly – which is unusual at the moment – but I was woken up around 6am by Col saying ‘it’s go time’, to which I replied ‘What’s go time? Where am I going?’ and he said ‘AJ is coming’.  The plan of action had been that when Amber went in to labour I’d leave my phone volume on, but considering the amount of international phone ‘traffic’ I get on my phone, we figured that her best bet would be to text or call Col and he’d wake my butt.
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She labored at home most of Sunday night, because with Averie, she was sent home from the hospital like three times before it was really ‘go time’, so she waited for a while before heading in with AJ.  As it happened, she was 5cm dilated, admitted, epiduraled (only just, she almost missed that window) and had AJ by 10.45am on Monday morning.
It wasn’t long before they suspected something was a little off and they were running tests.  Test confirmed Trisomy 21/Downs Syndrome, as well as three congenital heart defects, he has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, an unbalanced AV canal and coartication of the aorta.
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The last ten days have been an emotional rollercoaster.  He was ambulanced to the University of Iowa hospital (go Hawks!) where he has been ever since, hooked up to machines and on a fine balance of medication to keep his ticker working.  After a back and forward with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) they gave us markedly improved odds (compared to U of I) of survival from the first of his (at least) three surgeries that he will require to repair his specific series of heart defects.
He showed signs of infection, had trouble with his IV sites, a swollen tummy and an issue with keeping his blood pressure stable – not all at the same time mind you, but he’s given us a couple of heart-in-mouth moments over the last few days which led us to wonder if he’d still be a viable candidate for the surgery at CHOP.
11204414_10155947491130411_634803832216868452_n (2)Today we heard the great news, that CHOP would take him, but they don’t have a bed available for him just yet, and we’ll likely have to wait through the weekend before Amber heads up with AJ and before Aaron road trips the 18 hours up to PA to be with AJ for his first surgery.
As you can imagine, I’ve felt pretty helpless over the last week and a half.  I came up to Iowa last Friday and have spent the majority of my time with my niece.  I’ve had a cough (and didn’t want to risk giving germs to AJ if it wasn’t ‘just allergies’) so the hospital has been out of bounds and we figured that she needed a little stability and ‘normalcy’ in her life while everything is going on around her.  We’ve had a pretty good time.  I mean, she’s had her sassy moments, her moments of sliding on to the floor in a puddle of ‘I don’t want it to be bath night tonight’, but, considering what’s going on in her life right now, she’s doing better than most of the adults I know would in her situation.
IMG_2657What else can I do?
Not much really, it’s a waiting game, and, while I wait, I’m doing a spot of fundraising for AJ’s medical expenses and for his family’s travel expenses to and from PA, recovery time up there, gas to and from the hospital in IA City etc etc etc.  We’re doing pretty good, too.  My first major goal is behind us, $10k!! That’s incredible – let’s keep the momentum going!
If you shake your sofa cushions and happen upon some cash you didn’t realize you had and have been happily living without, you should consider donating it to my nephew, if you could take a time-out from your daily Starbucks for the week and donate that money? That would be great too.  If you have any cash at all spare, we’ll take it – no donation is too small.  Every dollar counts!
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Donate here:
https://www.gofundme.com/m43qcu5k

Fireman Lewis to the rescue! (Free fire station tour, Sugar Land, Texas)

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A friend of mine mentioned a while ago, that a few years back, SSA Houston organized a visit to a fire station.  After a brief search I found the information, sent out the invite, and, before long, I was making the reservation for a group of forty strong (any more and we’d have had to split it in to two groups, so keep that in mind if you’re going to be looking at this event).

Ok, ok so it’s still pretty hot and sticky out there, and there’s more mosquitoes than you can count but although it wasn’t an indoor in the AC kind of activity, it was shaded, educational, fun and it was enjoyed by both adults and kids alike.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how the whole thing was set up. Lack of on-site parking aside, when we got to Station 3 in Sugar Land, we were met by an ambulance, a fire engine and a crew of five fire people.  After introductions, warnings and reminders that we are, after all, standing in a live fire house and a little history, they began to talk to us a little about fire safety. Who to call, what to do, where to go etc.  it was equally as educating for the adults as it was for the kids.

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Next at up we learned a little fire procedure.  The suit, the air tank, the number of firemen who go out on a call, how they search for and find any fallen firemen during a fire, what to do if you’re trapped in a room during a fire.

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After the talk (which was interactive, so feel free to ask questions) the kids each got to take turns at sitting in the fire truck.  We all got to pose for photos with the truck and one kind fireman even took a group shot of our crazy gang.

11060005_10155472524550411_4838108004485431527_nThe kids got sent home with fire hats and safety information goodie-bags. It was a great experience for everyone.  I’d highly recommend you visiting your local fire station and meeting some of the bravest men and women in Sugar Land.  For more information on this free tour, go here.