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Last month, I was given the opportunity to bring a much loved blog-post-turned-movement-of-inclusion to the stage as part of the Listen To Your Mother Show, created and directed by Ann Imig and sponsored by BlogHer. I was so excited to share it with the audience at The Barrymore Theater. For those of you who may have seen the video, but are not familiar with how #MustacheLove came to be, read Mustache Love, Redux: Continued Growth. If you’d like to read the original post, click here.

Enjoy the video of Mustache Love, then come back to the LYTM YouTube Channel often to see all of these amazing writers read, writers from Madison, Austin, Spokane, Los Angeles, and Valparaiso…take a few moments and bear witness to their stories.  You’ll thank me for it.

Listen To Your Mother 2011 Madison Cast

Photo by Funky Monkey Photography

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My kids aren’t perfect. My kids brew beer. *drops mic*

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This is what I did today:

  • Spent an hour of one-on-one time with Grace while Nora was at her swim lesson
  • Spent an hour of one-on-one time with Nora while Grace was at her swim lesson
  • Helped Nora make lunch for the family
  • Helped my girls get showered and dressed for a birthday party
  • I showered without needing assistance
  • French braided Grace’s hair
  • Walked 2.5 miles, my first substantial walk since the second surgery
  • Spent some time laughing with the Team Challenge team at their rummage/fundraiser
  • Took my children grocery shopping, without needing help from my husband
  • Fixed dinner for my family
  • Snuggled with my kids to watch television
  • Helped my kids get ready for bed, tickles and snuggles and tucked them in tight
  • Enjoyed a really fantastic craft beer (HOLLA!)

If you read this and thought, what the hell? What’s so great about that? I take care of my kids like that every day…so what?

Here’s what.

I have waited months to have a day like this. My children have waited months for a day like this. A normal day. An ordinary day. A day that made me feel like the mom my kids deserve, again. There are many things that I look forward to being able to do as I become stronger and healthier, but above all, I am grateful for “ordinary” days. I realize now how lucky I am to have many more ordinary days ahead of me. What once was ordinary has become anything but.

Maybe this is part of what I’m supposed to learn through my experience with Chiari Malformation, Syringomyelia and Tethered Cord (Spina Bifida Occulta). Maybe it’s a lesson in gratitude. A reminder that every day and everyday activities are a gift. Imagine if you couldn’t walk around the block or comb your daughter’s hair. You’d give anything to have “ordinary” back. And it will never seem ordinary again.

Later Gators.

NOTE: I promised you all a pretty intense post about dealing with chronic illness. It’s coming. It’s taking a bit longer to spit it out. It’s…complicated. Anyway, I had to post this one today, because I am beyond thrilled to have had such a wonderful day. I just had to share this with you.

In short, I promise to get back to being a complete jackass as soon as possible. 😉

Moms don’t get sick. They don’t take days off. It’s just the way it is. Once you have kids, you just grit your teeth and deal with it, whatever it is, cold, flu, migraine, cramps, broken leg, whatever. Moms don’t get sick.

But what happens when they do?

For any parent facing a serious or long term illness, the worst part about it, hands down, is how it affects your kids. Since we’re moms, we can deal with everything else (pain, treatment, surgery, setbacks, anything) with a brave face and (hopefully) a positive attitude. What we have a harder time dealing with is how to protect our kids from our illness. It’s a special kind of mom guilt. It’s guilt for being sick in the first place. It’s useless and nonsensical, but there it is. We feel terribly guilty about all of it, because moms don’t get sick.

My kids have been dealing with my illness on some level since they were born. In the last two years, as my condition progressed, they have had to deal with it more often. They have spent the better part of this year dealing with it on a daily basis. They are worried. They are angry. They throw tantrums more often, and they are extremely sensitive lately. Sometimes I look at them and think they’ve finally just gone bat-shit crazy. Sooooooo, my husband and I are working with them and our pediatrician to make sure that we are doing the right things to help them cope and reassure them that we will all get through this. And we will.

In the meantime, we have made some modifications to our lifestyle and our home. We moved a card table and chairs into my bedroom so the kids can hang out with me as they color, play, read, eat, whatever. Sometimes we move Friday movie night into my bed. We have found we can do lots of stuff in mom’s bed, read, play games, cards, play video games…lots. I spend all of the time, that I’m not working, with them. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I look at this time as an opportunity to teach them life-long coping skills, empathy, compassion, and that even though life isn’t perfect, it can still be great.

As it turns out, moms get sick. But if we are very lucky, we can also get better. In the meantime, life doesn’t stop. It might change a lot. It might be harder than it once was. It might not be what anyone would have chosen. But it’s still life. As long as we’re here, we have to treasure it. As moms, we have to take every opportunity we get to help our children grow physically and emotionally.

We have a choice: We can let the mom-guilt consume us, and feel sorry for our children, or we can use our circumstances to make our children stronger.

Some of the strongest people I know happen to be the ones that have faced adversity and used their experiences to build an amazing life. Many of them have faced challenges more difficult than my own. These people are my heroes. They inspire me every day to be the best mom I can be, and to guide my children through this time with love, humor, and gratitude. We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have bad days. We have to remember to be grateful for both.

Listen up folks, because I think we’re heading down a dangerous path. Usually you hear me evangelizing new mobile media tactics, amazing designs that make our lives easier and allow us to consume information, entertainment and social media anytime, anywhere. I mean, I *am* the #mobilediva, right?

It’s time to put the phone down.

Lately I have become keenly aware of parents ignoring their children because they cannot disconnect from the mobile web. I recently saw a woman continually ignore her son in a grocery store because she was reading/responding to something on her mobile device. It was heartbreaking. I stood there in line, silently judging this idiot of a woman. I mean how could you ignore that sweet little boy? How many years do you think you have left until he doesn’t want or need your attention in this way? What the fuck are you doing?!!

Then it occurred to me. I’ve done this. I’ve done the “just a minute”, and the “hang on I just have to send this…” to my kids. I’m an idiot too. I’d be willing to bet a lot of you are guilty of this, at least to some degree. If you deny it, I call bullshit.

After thinking about it more, I came to the following conclusion:

If my child EVER thinks FOR A SINGLE MOMENT that whatever the heck is on my mobile device is more important than her, then I am a giant douche of a parent.

I don’t want to be a douche. I don’t want my kids to think that I care more about ANYTHING than them. I’m turning over a new leaf. I will not only be more mindful of my mobile device usage around them, but I will purposefully outlaw mobile usage during most daily family activities. In addition to potentially giving my kids a complex, I could miss out on the moments that I can’t ever get back. They aren’t going to want to build forts and snuggle up on movie night forever. They are absolutely ecstatic when I walk through the door each evening, how long will that last? For everything good that our interactive lives bring into the mix, if not balanced with actually living your life, it can be destructive.

Got teenagers? Take heed. It may not seem like they care or notice. They do. They just quietly resent you for not trying harder to connect with them. Believe that.

When you boil it all down, it’s like anything else. Moderation. Being connected through mobile technology can be awesome, let’s face it, it’s pretty cool. Let’s just use a little common sense. Let’s be GREAT parents first. (Then you have my permission to check The Twitter.)

So let’s *not* be douche-y together. Let’s put the phone down and be a family. Who’s with me?

I wanted to share this dailymile post from last week with folks outside the DM community. It was a bad, day, a great run, and getting a little reminder of what’s important in my life. Running does that for me. It gives me the outlet to process information and work things out in my head. It’s also where some of my best thinking (in general) and creative ideas come from. The following was one of those nights that reminded me why I run in the first place.

From dailymile.com (4.7.10):

I needed this run. By the time I got out there, it was late, cold, rainy and WINDY. I set out run off a pretty awful day. It was one of those days when you have to deal with really difficult people, make difficult and maybe frustrating choices, do what you think is right, and stand your ground. I just had a lot going on in my head. I just couldn’t let go of the frustration. And then something happened.

The following track came up on my iPod:
“Building All Is Love” by Karen O and The Kids (From the Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack)

On the last mile of this run, tears started streaming down my face. I’m talking a real UGLY cry. Because this song instantly makes me think of my daughters. I could hear them singing and dancing around the house sing-yelling this song, as we are prone to do. It all became really, really clear.

They love me and are proud of me today, but that’s easy. They are four and six. But everyday I have to live my life to earn that same love, pride, and respect when they are 24 and 26. I think I do that. I think that if sticking to my personal and professional ethics makes for a hard day, or a disappointment in the short term, that I’m okay with that for the long haul.

Because I can come home and look at my daughters and know that I am someone they can be proud of.

So that’s what I needed. I needed to get out and RUN, and think, and put it all back into perspective.

A simple formula for living a good life. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

Try not to be a douchebag.

It’s simple. But apparently, it’s hard for some people to put into practice. I would like to offer some help.

So I got to thinking. I’m not a giant douche. My siblings aren’t douchey. Maybe my parents did something right. I’ve got kids. I’d like them to grow up to be decent human beings, and it’s a total bonus if they don’t spend their childhood as tiny little jerks. I started thinking about some of the things my parents did to help prepare my brothers, sisters, and me for this big bad world, and to help us navigate our way through life without being complete d-bags. The following is a partial list of some of Paul and Shirley’s best exercises in anti-douchbaggery conditioning. Enjoy.

The Yellow Notebook.

At the age of 12, each of my father’s children was given a page in The Yellow Notebook. Need a loan? Car needs fixing? Your prom dress costs what?! No problem kid. We will loan you the money and create a new entry in The Yellow Notebook. My Dad kept a 4X6, yellow, side spiral bound, Mead notebook as a ledger of all six accounts at The Bank of My Father. He kept meticulous records, and payment terms were carefully negotiated. I am happy to say that all six children have paid off their Yellow Book loans. A number of lessons learned: live within your means–life is easier that way, some types of debt are worth it, others aren’t (it hurts more to pay back a loan for something later deemed “stupid” or “lame” or “should of thought about that before I willingly surrendered my next 5 paychecks”), and maybe the best lesson of all… appreciate the interest free loan program while you can.

The Consequences, Double Spaced.

If you screwed up in my house, your punishment came in three steps. Step One: My mother offered a verbal lashing worthy of an Olympic category. Step Two: You will wait. You will be stripped of all rights and privileges for several days while your consequences are determined. There is nothing in our family tree about right to a speedy trial. Step Three: Your consequences are presented to you, in Dad’s office. You will be handed a typed, double-spaced copy of your consequences to read along and keep for your reference, so there will be no confusion moving forward. If your behavior moving forward is contrary to the expectations outlined in the consequences, you will apply the said consequences to a period of time no less than one academic quarter. SOOOOO, what did we learn here, boys and girls?

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS. CONSEQUENCES ARE REAL, USUALLY IMMEDIATE, AND IF YOU CONTINUE TO BE A DOUCHEY KID, YOUR LIFE’S JUST GONNA STAY SHITTY LONGER.

Saturday Morning Chores – First Come, First Served.

Simple. Every Saturday morning the weekly chores (different from the daily chores) were posted on the kitchen board. First one up-and-at-em picks first, and so on down the line. Laziest kid gets crappiest chore. No one leaves the house on Saturday until your assigned chore is completed and approved by mom. Lesson learned: Responsibilities come before play time AND if you get your ass out of bed at a reasonable hour, you can vacuum the carpets instead of cleaning the toilets.

So, You’re Too Sick For School, Huh?

An absence during any school week means you clearly need to rest in the house for the weekend. If you are really sick, then obviously, it’s the best and healthiest decision for you. If you are a big fat faker and want to cut class, your weekend is hosed. What’s it worth to you?

This Is Not A Democracy.

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Let Me Take You Down a Notch. (a little humility is good for you)

We teased a lot in my house, all in fun, never nasty or bullyish, always from a place of love. If any one of the eight of us started acting a little too big for our britches, the rest of our clan was there to make sure no one took it so far as to forget that humility, and open mind and heart are an important part of your character, and that being hot shit and thinking you’re hot shit are two different things. That being said, we were also incredibly supportive of each other’s true accomplishments. Bragging rights, when deserved, were respected.

Family Dinner

Crucial. Nothing in life is more important than our family. No matter how busy we get, we always have time to sit and eat a meal together. It is a regular thread that re-connects us every day. We will eat together, we will pray together, and that’s a tie that binds. Family dinner is a tradition in each of my siblings’ households today.

Does all that sound totally wacky and scary? It wasn’t. Here’s the secret. (Come closer.) In addition to the anti-douchebaggery conditioning, or collecting our paper route paychecks, my parents provided a loving, hilarious, generous, supportive and amazing family environment. All friends and neighbors were welcome in my parent’s home, and they loved coming back again and again. My parents sacrificed a lot to make sure that we had a remarkable childhood, and would grow into adults fully equipped with the tools we needed to achieve our goals — with a wicked sense of humor firmly in place.

My siblings are my best friends, I have my parents to thank for that, I think. My parents were strict, but I never, ever wondered if they loved me. My parents always believed in me. My parents sacrificed for me. My parents are a huge part of who I am today. I’m far from perfect. I’ve been known to dish out my share of jackassery. I’m trying not to screw up my own kids. I’m always afraid that I will. I’m lucky that I still have them around to help me raise their grandkids.

I love my mom and dad. I owe them everything. It is a debt I cannot pay. It’s not something that can fit in a yellow notebook.

Paul & Shirley Engagement Photo

Paul & Shirley Engagement Photo

Paul & Shirley Today

Paul & Shirley Today

I enjoy a good mustache. I know I’m not alone in this. You all know it. A really bad ‘stache is really, really funny. If a particular mustachioed gentleman is a giant douche, I blame it on the mustache. If a circus ringmaster has no mustache, he loses all cred. A hard-ass, Harley riding, roadhouse regular m’erf’er without a mustache? Harder to spot than a purple unicorn. Femme-stache, nuff said. The mustache is more than facial hair preference. It’s a way of life. And it’s funny.

Okay, so recently, I have found myself in a mustache dilemma that isn’t so funny. For many ladies, especially us dark haired girls, taking care of our unwanted facial hair is a right of passage. At some point, usually in our teens, we realize that our eyebrows are a little unruly, or that dainty peach fuzz above our lip is looking more like a 15 year old boy’s than a 17 year old girl’s. We begin the life long ritual of waxing, plucking, or (good gawd) laser removal. It’s life, no biggie. I have two girls, I thought I’d be ready for the day that one of them came to me with concerns about their little Latina ‘staches and Brooke Shields brows. I just always figured this was a Jr. High kind of conversation.

Grace is six years old. Last week she complained that she has, “A little mustache.” She looked oh-so-forlorn and continued, “ …and I really don’t like it.” So. Yeah. Wasn’t ready for the Kindergartener to lay that one on me. (And believe me, what this kid’s got is nothing! Sheeesh!) So, where did this come from? How is she so self-aware at age 6? I was a complete idiot at 6. My mother had to remind me to comb my hair before running out the door to catch the morning bus. I couldn’t have cared less about matching clothes or wearing glasses. I was a happy 6 year old idiot, and life was good.

Now, the concerns I began having at 15 are troubling my kid at 6. What do I do? Do I let her foray into this grown up world of vanity and excessive grooming? Hell no. For a few reasons:

  1. Dealing with your own physical uniqueness is part of growing up. This is how we are made. All little 6 year old Latina beauties should have tiny baby ‘staches and wicked-awesome eyebrows. It’s beautiful.
  2. If we teach our kids at an early age that if they don’t like something about themselves they should hurry up and change it, what kind of message are we sending? (Hint: A crappy one.)
  3. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if my mother hadn’t taught me to settle for the Shopko clearance plastic glasses, (it’s what we could afford and it served it’s purpose – I could see the chalkboard), home perms at the kitchen table, and last year’s hand-me-downs. I wasn’t a cool kid. I wasn’t a pretty, best dressed, most popular kid. BUT. I was a decent kid, a good friend, and an honor student. I learned early that there is more to a person than the way they look. My best friends from age 12 are my best friends today. Score one for the mustache.
  4. Today, more than ever, I want my girls to love themselves, love the bodies God gave them, and be proud of their uniqueness. I want them to have a strong sense of self worth, a strong sense of heritage, and the confidence to become whatever the heck they want.

I’m here today say that the mustache might help my save my kids’ childhood. I’m learning new respect for the mustache. And this is my plan:

In a show of solidarity to my mamitas lindas, I am going to put my facial hair grooming regimen on an indefinite hiatus. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to take this opportunity to show my girls that you can be beautiful and different, and, well, hairy — all at the same time.

Frida KahloSo, if you run into me in the coming months and I am rockin’ a wicked peach fuzz, or you happen to notice that my unibrow seems to be creeping into my hairline…give me some props, make sure my kids hear you. Show us some hairy-ass love.

And if you think I’m nuts, and judge me for my new, au naturel look, don’t worry, I’ll chalk it up to mustache envy.

Later Gators.

There are a million and one reasons that I am thankful for my children every day. One of those reasons keeps itself firmly situated in the forefront of my thoughts.

I was one of those kids that desperately wanted to grow up too fast. I always wanted to be older, wiser, hang out with the “big kids”. I started babysitting at 10 to make “my own money”, then started “really” working at age 14 (Larsen’s Bakery) and didn’t stop working until I quit my job to stay home with Gracie. I graduated from high school early, I packed 18 credits into my college semesters to graduate and get a good job. I got married at 22. I had my first child at 26. I have a mortgage, a Last Will, life insurance, an IRA and a decent and well-balanced investment portfolio. My children have savings accounts and college funds. I have appointed an executor for my will, and I have planned a trust fund and appointed guardianship of my children in case something happens to Augie and me. Sometimes (gulp) I worry about retirement.

This is how my brain works. I worry, then I plan, then I worry, then I plan. My worrying keeps me planning and my planning keeps us “safe”. (Ever heard of the term “magical thinking”? That’s me.) All of this is a big part of who I am. For awhile, this part of me dominated my life, dominated my thoughts, and dominated the thought that went into choices I made. Now, there is an upside to this, I am very organized when it comes to budgeting and running my household, and it does comfort me to know that my children will be taken care of in the manner that I wish for them in the event of a terrible accident or something…BUT every once in awhile I wonder how the “other half” lives, you know, people who don’t worry the way I do, the people that really live for the day and don’t let worrying about tomorrow creep into their thoughts. They seem really happy a lot of the time don’t they? Do they have it all figured out? Is that the way to live and to hell with tomorrow? Am I in need of anxiety medication here? OR Are they irresponsible? Don’t they owe it to their children to plan for the unknown? Will they wind up drowning in “life for the day” credit card debt? I don’t know. I suspect there is just a happy balance to find. A balance that allows for responsible planning AND living in the moment every day.

This brings me back to my original thought. One of the many reasons I am so thankful for my girls.

Because of them I have been given an opportunity to go back to the beginning and experience growing up all over again, by watching them do it. Not just watching, but laughing, jumping, exploring, asking, singing, tickling, crying, drawing, painting, you name it, right along with them. I have re-learned to love so many childhood joys; animals, springtime, sprinklers, snow, airplanes flying overhead, clock towers that you can see from the freeway, huge piles of apples at the grocery store, the lady who gives out free cookies at the bakery, dogs. Gracie makes me see things differently and I love her for it. My kids may never know that one of the greatest gifts they have to give me is sharing their childhood with me. One of the many gifts I am committed to giving them is making sure they don’t try to grow up too fast. To make sure they spend as much time as they want just being kids.

© Sara 2006

I like to buy things from IKEA because their selection is typically affordable and generally fits in my smallish type of home. I hate to buy things from IKEA because I typically hate being around a thousand people that generally get on my f#%king nerves. Jennie and I did the IKEA run today and I was reminded of how much I really hate people. I just do. Don’t get me wrong, I love many people (individually), but I also hate many people (all together in a big f#%king idiot mob). Okay, sorry, I’m not myself right now. I just spent way too much time inching my way through three floors of Scandinavian particle board. Oh, and about 73 thousand other people. Alright, it’s really not “people” I hate, it’s the crowds I hate. So in all fairness, I am sorry “Mrs. Man Hands” for not helping you at the self-checkout. (okay, but with those mitts, you should have been golden.) I apologize, “Skinny Girl who bumped into my sister and didn’t say she was sorry”, for shooting you that rude glance/eye roll. (Hey, I get cranky when I haven’t eaten too – and I figure you’re probably still going on the Diet Coke and half of a crouton you decided not to purge on Thursday.) Forgive me, “Ladies with matching black velour track suits” for not answering your question about which line to stand in for the manager’s lunch special. (I realize you may have just overshot Great America and didn’t expect to be making such complex lunching decisions.) And finally, “Woman with lots of money and no brains who brought your 2 week old (if that) newborn to IKEA” – I’m actually not sorry for quietly ridiculing your poor judgment in bringing a tiny newborn to a place like IKEA, but I am sorry that your kid’s brand-spankin-new immune system had to be exposed to 73 thousand germs. I am also sorry that every time I saw you, that poor, tiny baby was crying. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I do actually hate you… I’m not usually this surly, which brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk about. After the birth of each of my girls I was (am currently being) overtaken by a severe case of “post-partum can’t f#%king stop swearing syndrome”. I can’t stop it. I manage to censor myself around Gracie, but dammit, I’m out of control. I’ve tried to substitute, but sometimes you just have to say it. Out loud. With feeling. You might even need to yell it. It just, well, fuck, you know what I mean.

© Sara 2006