How to Potty Train Your Child

Before beginning the potty training process, buy twenty-four pairs – three packages because two won’t be enough – of undies with ponies or superheroes on them. While you’re out, also stock up on bleach wipes. After shopping, clear your schedule for a minimum of three days. Roll up any nice rugs and put them in the garage or basement. Make chart and draw a smiling, rainbow-colored potty. Write your child’s name at the top. Have her help, even if that means a scribble here and there over your amazing artwork.

When the board is complete, tell her, “Each time you put something in the potty, you get a sticker!” Clap your hands together excitedly. Don’t get surprised when she stares back, unamused. Plaster a smile on your face.

On the first day, keep your shit together when she pees on your favorite chair and poos behind your curtains. Gently remind her where she is supposed to do her business.

Even with all your positive persistence, twenty-four pairs of underwear might not be enough on that first day. If that happens, hand-wash those cute tooshy-covers and hang them to dry in the shower. Leave the rest of the laundry for another day.

Set a timer on day two. Every twenty-five minutes have her try to go. She will scream. She will protest. It’s okay. Day two is the day of most resistance. Just keep following her around the house like a shadow. Consistency is key.

When she gets even the most minuscule dribble in the potty, praise her. Throw her a miniature potty party. Most of all, give that child a sticker. See the joy fill her face when she places it on her board with intention. She will see her accomplishment.

On the third or fourth or maybe the fifth day, she will go on her own. She will keep her pony undies dry and make it to the potty in time. She might not even tell you. Instead, she’ll drop her Play-Doh and make a run for it.

When that happens, you’ve succeeded.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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Letting Go and Holding On

It’s the summer of 2002. I’m twenty and full of bones that won’t commit to anything except having a good time. Through a series of bad relationships and a father who doesn’t call from three states away, I decided that relationships suck and I’m better off letting go and being alone.

Earlier today, a friend invited me to his party to celebrate Justin’s breakup.

Justin, my friend’s roommate, plays bass and spikes his hair. I’ve noticed him before. His band, Stunnd, played at a pub once. I was there by chance with friends. I remember watching in awe as he played bass. He was rhythmical and intense.

I’m always going to shows and interviewing bands because I write for The Glass Eye, a music zine in Toledo. I’ve seen plenty of musicians, but none played bass quite like Justin.

Earlier I agreed to go to the party, but now I’m stewing about what to wear. The friends I called to go with me are all busy, so I consider staying home.

But I don’t. I settle on a mustard yellow shirt from the thrift store with the words Jack’s Attack Team on the front. The shirt is comfortable; it’s my favorite worn-in tee. My Paul Frank belt secures my bell-bottoms in place and shell toes complete the casual look I’m going for. I don’t want people to think I care too much.

When I arrive, I don’t mind that a red party light in the corner emits the only glow throughout the living room. Smoke swirls toward the ceiling, and house music rattles the framed Pulp Fiction poster on the wall. Twenty people crowd the couches and floor. I walk in and hug a few acquaintances.

Someone says, “There’s beer in the fridge, Danielle. Help yourself.”

I drink more beer than usual to fill the space where I should be talking. After I’ve emptied two cans, I move closer to Justin. I notice his ripped jeans and Billabong shirt. His pokey hair reminds me of Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. I want to touch it and to ask him how he gets to stand so high, but I don’t. Instead, I lose myself in conversation with less-intimidating strangers.

Justin walks by and brushes my shoulder with his. “Sorry,” he says.

“No problem.” I raise my hand to dismiss it.

“You’re Danielle, right?” he asks.

I feel fire radiating from my cheeks because I realize he doesn’t know me. I hope the red light hides my nerves. “I am.”

He nods and smiles. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Me, too.”

“Who’s Jack?” He points to my shirt.

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Salvation Army find.” I wonder if he’ll look down at me for shopping at thrift stores.

Justin nods and motions to my empty hand. “Need a beer?”

“Sure,” I say.

On the way to the kitchen, Justin asks me what I do.

“I work at a used music store.”

“Cool.” He hands me a Coors and tells me about the band. I pretend I don’t already know.

I say, “I also write for The Glass Eye. I should do a review on your band.”

“You should.” He seems intrigued. He seems nice.

Justin cracks a joke and I laugh so hard my gut hurts. I joke back. He says, “You’re funny. I like that.”  

I want to kiss him, but instead I look in his eyes and we both stop talking for a while. It’s not an uncomfortable silence – more of a moment of realization. There aren’t fireworks like in the movies. This is better. Everyone else in room fades into the distance and the music muffles. The smoky space brightens around us, illuminating his angular features.

Somehow I know he’s what I’ve been missing.

He looks away, smiles and says, “You know what? We match because we both have freckles.” He is the friend I needed and partner I wanted but didn’t know existed, and I know I’ll never let go again.

 

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

The Cost of an Upgrade

Our house was recently upgraded. Friends and family love it. They say it’s beautiful. They tell us how nice all the new fixtures and counters and floors are. They say how lucky we are to have this free remodel.

Sure, birch floors are nice, but the remodel wasn’t free.

***

The whole unfortunate ordeal began when a line the size of my pinkie behind the toilet got disconnected while we were away on vacation. Two gallons of water gushed every minute for almost three days straight. Millions of water droplets assembled themselves in my house: a tiny army ready to obliterate anything in it’s path.

My just-got-back-from-the-mountains smile was quickly replaced with WTF when I climbed out of the car, eager for the comfort of my couch, and found water sneaking beneath the garage door. Liquid coming from places it shouldn’t is never a good thing. Water needs to be contained, or it migrates quickly. It seeps into cracks. It soaks, and it destroys.

The stream of water we found outside trailed through the garage and came from the door connecting the garage to the house. Confused about what I was witnessing, I watched my husband unlock the door. Water gushed out like Niagra Falls when he opened it. I thought this is not my house. What kind of cruel trick is someone playing on us?

On the first level, there was a puddle collecting beneath my kitchen table, the table my husband put together only weeks before. My cork floor, my cork floor that was installed only one year ago, was bowing at the seams and expanding like a sponge. Every rug was soaked. The living room carpet was soggy, squishing up water with every step.

Downstairs, the basement walls bubbled up with fluid trapped beneath the layers of paint. A downpour fell from the ceiling onto the concrete floors, collecting inches of water beneath our feet. The smell of mold stuck to the inside of my nose like putty.

My head was so discombobulated that I actually called a neighbor and asked her for a squeegee.

After the insurance company was notified by my husband, who was thinking much clearer than I, professional disaster specialists were summoned to help. They arrived at midnight and went to work immediately.

First, anything wet had to be removed. Floors were torn apart, sending splinters and screws spewing about. They wheeled in nineteen commercial fans. One by one, they turned them on, forcing bits of dirt to rotate around in the air.

Five dehumidifiers, each bigger than my washing machine, were scattered throughout my house to suck in water against it’s will. Hoses snaked back and forth, a trip and fall hazard to my kids and dogs.

During this time my house was nearly uninhabitable, so the insurance company placed my family of four plus two dogs in a hotel. There, we found a silver lining. A pool. A good insurance company. Someone else to cook us breakfast. I thought things could definitely be worse.

The disaster specialists and their commercial equipment finally convinced the water to leave after it dribbled along for five days. Then a second team of professionals replaced old things with new. New subfloors. New floors. New trim. New paint. New counters.

Every night we cooked dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, slept in unfamiliar beds, and heard strangers through the too-thin walls. Every day I went  back home and met with contractors and salesmen and whoever else needed to be there to fix my house. 

The cost of my remodel wasn’t free. It was more like:

Roughly 8,500 gallons of water. 

Almost 30 days of normalcy.

25,000 dollars, paid by the insurance company.

And 1 lesson learned the hard way.


Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Momming at the Beach: a Mermaid Tail

“Mama! Can I make you a mermaid? Please! Please! Please!” my daughter shouts.

I try to protest, but before a single word can fight it’s way out of my lips, she’s dumping damp sand on my thighs. It’s not even nine in the morning. Sweat is dribbling down my forehead and into my eyes, catching sunscreen along the way. Behind my oversized sunglasses, my eyeballs are on fire. I have no way to relieve them, because everything is covered in sand.

I lean over to grab my magazine, but who am I kidding? I’m a mom at the beach. No time for reading. My husband is half watching the kids, half playing Corn hole. I toss the latest HGTV mag back in my beach bag, overflowing with swim diapers and neon-colored plastic sand toys.

Instead, I take a sip of my mimosa. I swallow, praying for the chill of the champagne to mellow me out, but at the end there’s a mouthful of grit. Sand in my drink!

“All done, Mommy!” my daughter exclaims. “You’re such a pretty mermaid!”

I’m buried up to my waist. Wet sand is in places it has no business being. I’m sweaty and thirsty. And I definitely don’t feel pretty.

“Smile, Hun!” my husband shouts. He suddenly has his phone out. I don’t have time to stop him, only time to suck in my gut before the click. “That’s going on Facebook,” he laughs.

“Please don’t,” I say.

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io

The Moment I Learned to Really Love My Child

My mom was on a plane 39,000 feet above me; my husband was at work on the other side of The East River; my nearest friend was one state away; my baby was screaming in the crib, and I was on the living room floor completely losing my shit.

***

She was only a few weeks old, and I lacked experience. I read books, but no parenting book can prepare you to actually be a parent. It had been a nearly sleepless week, and we were both trudging through exhaustion. That day, I tried everything. Everything. Still, she cried. Frustration bubbled up, consuming me, and before the thought of doing something I’d later regret had the chance to wiggle it’s way into my head, I remembered what the nurses said: it’s okay to let her cry sometimes. It’s okay to take a moment to breathe. And never shake the baby.

I couldn’t attempt to soothe her for another bloodcurdling second, so I put her in her crib, shut the door, and walked away.

I pressed my forehead against the cool wood floor, curled my legs into my chest, and left my arms limp at my sides as I wrenched tears from my eyes. I heaved words assembled into desperate pleas at the universe. I prayed to a god I didn’t even know I really believed in for determination and strength to be the mother my crying child needed and deserved.

“Please help me. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to make her stop crying. I’ll do anything,” I begged. “What do I do?”

I rolled over, spread-eagle, and stared at the ceiling. Her cries were reaching decibels so high that the glass chandelier was swaying ever so slightly, reflecting bits of light off the brass. I imagined melting into the floor to disappear from my new role as mother, to hide from that hideous light fixture, to hide from life.

“What do I do?” I repeated in a whisper. I pinched my eyes shut and searched my brain for advice I’d been given and chapters I’d read on this sort of thing. I couldn’t come up with anything that I hadn’t already tried. “Why do I suck at parenting so bad? What am I doing wrong?”

Someone – not me, not anyone in the hallway – someone outside and inside my head simultaneously in the most loving, calming voice said, “Just love her.”

I sat up, eyes wide. I knew that advice. It was something my mother had said to me once.

***

We were taking my dog on a walk through my neighborhood, urging contractions to kick in. I remember flashes of four-family brownstones as the words left her lips. I thought it was awful advice. How could I not love my child?

***

My eyes darted around the living room to see where the voice came from. “Hello?” I asked. No one answered, but I didn’t imagine the voice. It was as real as the cries resonating from behind my child’s bedroom door.  Was it God? Was it my own conscience?  “Just love her?” I asked back. As I repeated the words out loud, something clicked. In the moment when my baby needed me most I wasn’t loving her.

I carefully stood and pushed wet tangles of hair from my face with a fraction of new determination and strength. Yes, this is difficult. Yes, I’m alone, but I have to do it. She and I only have each other.

I opened her door. Her squishy arms, tiny fists, and face the color of confusion, were the first things I saw. Remorse twisted its way through my gut. Am I a horrible mother for letting her cry? I went to her crib with breath stuck in my chest, new tears falling from my eyes. I knew I had to comfort her.

I knew I had to love her.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Grandpa’s Garden

Before his stroke, Grandpa was my favorite. I would sit on his belly, round like Santa’s, and ask him if the battery above his heart hurt. I’d lightly press my fingers against the square shape protruding from his chest, and Grandpa would smile wide, toothlessly.

“Naw, Baby Girl. That’s my ticker,” he’d say. I imagined a tiny clock inside his chest, sort of like the Tin Man.

Grandpa was a self-proclaimed botanist, without using so many words. He planted tomatoes and other vegetables, mostly for canning to keep Grandma and him fed through the harsh winter months when the junkyard didn’t need his help sorting metals. I used to walk behind him. I watched Grandpa whisper to his green babies and touch the leaves carefully. He taught me about them, but I can’t remember his lessons.

After my grandpa’s stroke, between first and second grade, we moved in with my grandparents. They owned a duplex, and we lived on the second floor so my mom could care for him.

There were times I wanted to climb back on his belly, but Grandpa’s new oxygen tank made my belly do flips. I thought I could catch whatever was making him so sick. If I get too close, I’ll need one of those tubes in my nose too.

I don’t have a single picture of the stairs in my grandparents’ house, but I remember them perfectly in my mind: hand carved wood painted the same shade of red as fallen leaves just before they turn brown and crumble. I wasn’t allowed to play outside, so when I wanted to get away from everyone I would sit on the landing. I could hear my mom on the phone above and my grandparents’ television below. I sat there playing with dolls or staring at the cracks and chips in the yellow walls pretending they were a part of a roadmap to someplace magical where Grandpa wasn’t ill.

His ticker stopped that autumn. I was in school when it happened. He was there when I left and gone when I got home, crumbled and blown away with the leaves.

All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get a chance to hug him once more, or to really listen to his lessons.

This year, I planted an herb and vegetable garden. It’s nothing like Grandpa’s, small in comparison. I thought about him while I was out there with my hands in the dirt. I touched the plants with care like he used to. Small bits of food have managed to grow, regardless of my natural knack for killing anything green. Although, some of them are limp, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, or right for that matter. If only I could remember what he taught me.

If only we had more time.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Flight of the Monarch

I was asleep on a bench outside my mom’s hospice room when someone startled me awake by lightly tapping me on the shoulder. It was Easter morning five years ago. I opened my eyes and saw my dad’s best friend hovering over me. He said nothing, but the sadness in his eyes told me everything I needed to know.

My mom died.

My knees knocked together and stomach acid raced up the back of my parched throat. As I put my feet on the floor, the ground swayed, so I half-stumbled, half-ran down the hall to my mom’s room. I pushed my way past twenty somber faces, stopping between my sister and my aunt.

I stood over my mom’s body and waited impatiently for her next breath to come. Waited for her chest to rise and fall. Waited for movement of any kind, but nothing happened. Her body was still, too still. Minutes passed and I knew that there wouldn’t be another exhale from her cancer-stricken body.

The vice around my throat and the fist against my gut forbade me from breathing. And I couldn’t hear anything except for my heart thudding against my ribcage. Then there was the sudden ringing in my ears. Or was that my imagination? I couldn’t tell. My mind was scattered. Nothing was real and everything was wrong. 

The walls of the hospice room spun around me and the ringing in my ears intensified. It was too much too handle, so I screamed. I grabbed my sister and together we tumbled onto the icy tile. I gripped the back of her head, holding a handful of her silky hair. “It’s just not fair!” I shouted. I buried my head in the crook of her neck, rocking us back and forth. “Not fair,” I repeated in a whisper.

My entire world was crumbling around me like rubble after an earthquake. I would never again hear my mom’s voice, see her dance, or smell her perfume. She was gone. Gone forever and I couldn’t make any sense of why. Why her? Why would God take such a beautiful soul? Why would He cut her life short? My mind was grasping for the answers to questions that I’ll never understand. 

After four long years of chemotherapy and weeks of knowing the end was near, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared me enough for her death.

Later, when the tears finally stopped falling I mopped myself off of the floor and went outside to collect what was left of my sanity. I looked up to dry my cheeks under the April sun.
It was the kind of spring day that was warm enough for a light jacket and open windows. My mom loved days like those: where the breeze would gently blow her hair around, where we could work in her garden without breaking a sweat, or swing on her porch drinking lukewarm coffee and talking about whatever crossed our minds.

It was the kind of day my mom would have hand-picked as her last.

I looked at my sister, the only person in the entire world who understood exactly how I felt in that moment, standing beside me. Her face was tightly drawn and her vacant eyes stared at some point in the distance, but she said nothing. I wanted to be strong for her because that’s what big sisters are supposed to do and that’s what my mom would have wanted, but I couldn’t be strong. I was much more unraveled than she looked.

I took a deep breath in through my nose and closed my eyes. It smelled of fresh-cut grass and pond water. I exhaled and opened my eyes to see three Monarch butterflies fluttering in the distance. My mouth tugged at half a smile, because they reminded me of a lesson my mom had once taught me.

In second grade, my teacher brought in small caterpillars for the class to have as pets. We raised them, fed them, and cared for them. The caterpillars eventually wrapped themselves in a chrysalis, went through metamorphosis, and turned into colorful winged creatures.

On the last day of school, we released them back to nature and I was heartbroken that I would never again see them. After school, I ran off the bus, down the street, and into my mom’s arms. She held me tight. Then she wiped my tears and said, “oh, sweetie, setting them free was a good thing. Butterflies have to spread their wings and fly. They will never be truly happy while trapped in a cage.”

My mom wasn’t much different than those butterflies. Sickness caged her, preventing her from a career she loved. It kept her on a regimented twice-monthly chemotherapy schedule that she despised. The constant debilitating pain drained her energy and made it hard for her to remain hopeful for recovery.

It may sound crazy, but I believe those Monarchs were a message from her. Cancer and pain and chemotherapy couldn’t hold onto my mom anymore. Yes, I would grieve. I would scream and punch and curse because she wasn’t there on solid earth with me anymore. But somewhere she was smiling.

My mom was free.

Photo courtesy of Mathias Reed/Unsplash