lessons on motherhood

When the rain is blowing in your face
& the whole world is on your case
I would offer you a warm embrace
to make you feel my love.

✧✧✧

People ask me when I started working with kids, and I find myself hard pressed to answer that question. I grew up with a mom that ran the childcare department of our church, and began volunteering in the church nursery when I was 14. My first job was at (what is now) Justice in the mall, and I became a toddler teacher at 16, which I stayed with for almost ten years. In my time as an infant teacher, I became an expert in allergies, diaper methods, and the swaddle. Much like a stay at home mom, my entire life was child rearing, even though they weren't my own.

The interesting part about being with little people from their infancy into their elementary school days is the inevitability of seeing them through hardships. From teething to the separating of their family unity, There were nights where it was us against the world. There were days we were all crying from exhaustion and frustration.  

I learned what it was like to be an anchor for little people. At first it was simple: to be there to mend their owies and sit in a steamy bathroom while their cough works its way out. To bring a change of clothes anywhere we went and to have snacks on hand at all times. To give them rest when they needed it and play when it was due.





As they've gotten older, it's been interesting to adapt to what they need now. It's less about snack accessibility and more about being there in the middle of the night when the nightmares hit and they need a reassuring presence, and in the middle of the day when they need some calm in the midst of chaos. It's about being the one they tell secrets to so they don't hurt someone's feelings when they feel like they're forced to take sides. 




For the moments when they're sitting on a bicycle without training wheels for the first time in their tiny lives and they want to be independent and prove they can do it themselves, but they plead with you to stay close "just in case". When they're frustrated because something isn't going the right way and they bury their face in your legs because they know you'll be able to be their voice. It's about training the voice in the back of their heads to tell them bravery can only be achieved if fear exists, and that their worth is not tied to a number, a job title, or romantic partner. 


I'm not a mother, but if that day comes, I think these little people have given me a pretty good trial run.


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around the river bend

Lately I've been motivated to get out and try new things. The weather has been topsy turvy, with one day experiencing torrential downpours and the next a cloudless summer dream. This weekend was two full days of the latter, and I couldn't wait to get outside and explore it. 

Right near my house is the great Tyler State Park. I regularly visit the hiking trails and biking paths. And on the occasions I have little people in tow, we hit up the playground and soccer field. Winding through Tyler is a river, with several dams, waterfalls, and rope swings. Well, the perfect summer day called for a canoe trip.

The last time I was seen in a canoe was the summer of 99. Sleepaway church camp, to be exact. I wasn't great at it then, either, what with the overwhelming fear that I didn't know how to swim and a simple rock one way or the other could send us all overboard. But this time, I steeled myself, zippered up that life jacket, and pretended I had it all under control. The boat and my life vest matched my outfit, so at least I had that going for me. Plus, I've learned to bring along my handy-dandy Eagle Scout for occasions such as this. 



The first twenty minutes into the hour long journey consisted of me trying to figure out which way the paddle was supposed to go, and trying to avoid imaginary rocks. I'm not great if I don't have visual instruction, so sitting in the front was a trip. You can tell I wasn't straining myself at all what with that iron grip and the flexed muscles.


Once I decided to chill out, it was a nice ride. Pennsylvania - and Bucks County, specifically - is known for it's abundance of wildlife. While floating through the river, we caught sight of deer peeking out through the bushes, and a blue heron coasting just above the water. Every so often we'd pass kayakers sunbathing, or kids jumping off a rope swing. As much as I sweating, I was enjoying every minute of it. 


*for the record: yes, the only pictures I have from this excursion are of me. this is simply because I didn't want to bring my phone in the boat due to the inevitability of being capsized. iphones aren't waterproof.

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the best coast

I was under the impression that the longer I lived on the East Coast, the fewer differences I would notice between the West Coast and this one. There were some obvious culture shocks when I first moved here, like how much people consume alcohol, and how close everything is. As time goes on I'm finding there are some parts of the West Coast that are so ingrained in me, they may never fully disappear.

When I first moved across the country, that was one of my largest identifiers. A lot of the cultural and social differences could be explained away with, "Well she's from Seattle". It was understood that over time, I would assimilate and that excuse wouldn't be necessary. For the most part this has become true. If I'm asked where I'm from, I say Bucks County. The naivety and ignorance that plagues most transplants has, for the most part, worn off. I've gotten used to bringing my own alcohol to certain restaurants (more on that in a minute) and leaving the house later on Fridays in the summer due to the volume of traffic.

At work last week, I stumbled upon someone from my neck of the woods. This is so rare. The number of people I know out here that have lived on the West Coast can fit in an elevator. This stranger and I had a moment - I asked how long she's lasted out here, she asked me if she should regret it. It got my brain buzzing. Which really is the best coast?

BEACHES
The East Coast - the Jersey shore, specifically - has the better beaches, hands down. California can fight me on this one. Most beaches in Jersey are accompanied by boardwalks, filled with arcades, soft serve ice cream, carnival rides, and shops. Depending on which town you are in (Ocean City, NJ is notorious for being a dry town) the boardwalk comes alive at night with club music and the bar scene. I used to think Fitzgerald was making it up in all of his novels, but Summer Fridays are a real thing in the corporate world: work a few hours extra during the week, and take off early on Fridays to get down the shore.



ALCOHOL
Sorry, Mom. This is an interesting topic because it's plagued me ever since I moved here. Back in 2016 when I first landed, alcohol wasn't even sold in grocery stores. It was in the last two years that Acmes and Giants have expanded to sell wine & beer. Also a recent change: liquor stores are open later than 5PM. Finally. Food is romanticized out here - and for good reason. It just tastes better. Which makes this next bit more infuriating: there's this ridiculous notion that only so many restaurants and businesses per town can hold a liquor license. This means if you're eating at a place that doesn't have one, you can bring your own. I've heard every argument in favor of this rule, but I still hate it. This policy is written on store windows and Google reviews like it's some kind of frat party. I won't have it. Deduct a point from the East.





ATTITUDE
Believe it or not, some have said that I'm laid back. I laugh whenever I hear it, but it's been said on more than one occasion. The West Coast is low-key and chill compared to the East Coast. One of the biggest pulls for this place was that it's more my speed. I remember one Sunday as a preteen I asked my parents if we could go downtown after having just gotten home from church. My mom responded with something along the lines of, "why can't we do one thing at a time? Take it easy." Take it easy - the West Coasters mantra. Out here, just about everyone speeds because just about everyone is late to something.




LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
I live forty five minutes north of Philadelphia, a hour and a half from New York City, an hour from the Jersey shore, and an hour from (what they call) mountains. I'm three hours from the nation's capital and six from Boston. There is always something to do and somewhere to go. I suffered from my favorite musicians never touring in Seattle, indie movies that were shown only in LA and NY passed me by. Now there are endless possibilities!




For the time being, I'll ride it out here. But by god, I miss those mountains.
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Pretty

If you've been alive for two weeks and have an internet connection, you know we live in a world that emphasizes beauty over all. Females are expected, from a young age, to spend time making themselves look pretty. They sell makeup kits marketed toward six year olds in stores scattered all over malls all over the country. They have junior sized vanities where little girls can sit for hours and pretend to do their hair and makeup like their female role models. As far back as I can remember, I was passionate about this stuff. It was my pride and joy in high school when people would tell me in passing that I had amazing hair, and that they liked my outfits. Numerous friends brought me along on shopping trips to help perfect their ensembles. Being passionate about makeup and fashion has been one of the cornerstones of my personality for over fifteen years.



I spent the majority of my formative years reading magazines and perfecting hairstyles I'd see on celebrities. Not unlike most teenagers, I'm sure, but this was the era before YouTube beauty tutorials and Instagram models, so I had to scrounge for my knowledge. Having a sister who needed a model for her photography class / business fueled the fire. 




I read an article that talks about how women are so conscious of how they look at any given moment - even intimate ones. This stems from the drive to be pretty at all times. If people look at us in a moment in which we don't look attractive, what are we? Well, human.

I've realized I've begun to suffer from the Spotlight Effect, in which I assume people are looking at me or judging me beyond a reasonable amount. When I'm sitting on a train or in line at the grocery store, or at a red light, I adjust myself to make sure I look pretty from all vantage points. I've been doing this for a very long time. 


 This picture is one of my favorites, taken about five years ago. I still look at it and see ways in which I could have adjusted to make myself look prettier. But then there's my niece sitting next to me not caring at all about how I look or how she looks. She's living for the popsicle. 

I've been trying to do that, too. I'm working on my posture for health reasons, but I'm trying not to do it for vanity anymore. I'm trying to learn that it's okay to look unattractive if you're -- nope. It's okay to look unattractive, period. In the last couple weeks that I've been trying to realign my mental state, I've noticed that I am more relaxed and entertaining when I'm not constantly worried about a double chin. Beauty is not about the paint on my nails or the spots on my chin. Even if it is, I don't care about beauty anymore. After all, this is all going to take us in the end. I'm really just here for a laugh.

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My Favorite Things: Spring Edition

This winter was very long. In March alone the Northeast saw four Nor'easters. Peter and I took an extended weekend in Orlando in February and immediately upon our return we were greeted by eight inches of snow. It seemed endless.

Now May is well underway and talks of weekends at the beach and opening pools are finally here. Driving down the backroads with the windows rolled down invites the smell of blooming flowers with the sun warming our faces. Below are my essentials for keeping my skin and body healthy during this transitional period.

1. Aveeno SPF 50 Sunblock
- This is miracle cream. One year on vacation in San Diego, my family and I used a shall-remain-nameless brand of sunscreen. We applied and reapplied as instructed, but all ended up with second degree sunburns after just four hours of sun exposure. It was the worst experience! That same outing, I lathered my niece in this Aveeno sunblock. Her skin was smooth and maybe a shade darker than when we arrived at the beach. This is the ultimate protection.

2. Nivea SPF 15 Moisturizing Lip Balm
- Clearly, there's a trend here! Admittedly I am terrible at keeping up with sun protection in the winter. Having lived under the gray cloud cover in Seattle, I am still adjusting to sun protection year round. Thus, I begin in Spring! I have sensitive lips (is that a thing?!) and most lip balms irritate more than soothe. This is very soothing and doesn't leave my lips feeling flaky or oily. I use this as a base for any matte lipstick as well.

3. Tea Tree Oil Infused Heel Cream
- Let's be real, there's a select few that keep up their pedicure game during boot season. I am not one of those people. When the sun starts peeking out, I grab this. After a shower, I apply this to my entire foot and then immediately put on some socks so the cream can soak in. Depending on the day, I'll keep the socks on for an hour or all night. When I take them off, my feel look and smell fantastic. As someone that gets the heebie-jeebies from feet, this is an essential step for me before I start rocking sandals.

4. St. Moriz Self Tanner Mousse
- This product was recommended to me years ago and I still favor it. It has an olive base, so you never run the risk of getting that orange hue. I used to frequent the spray-tan booths, but this color is much more natural on my skin tone, which is already peachy to begin with! Word of advice: use a glove and wash your hands immediately after!

5. Water
- This one is a bit obvious, but water is the number one ingredient in making sure my day is successful and productive. When my skin starts to look tired or thick, drinking water cures it right up. When I know I'm going to go for a run after work, I have to get sixty ounces in me or my legs are useless. Come springtime, I get a little tired of plain ol' water in my Nalgene, so I mix it up by adding lemon or sprigs of mint. Lemon is a great anti-inflammatory, and mint helps relieve bloating and leads to a flatter stomach; both things I could use as we gear up for swimsuit season!

6. Books
- When the sun comes out, I'm more tempted to take walks around the neighborhood during my lunch break. I've found this is the perfect time to get in a few chapters of whatever I'm reading, and helps ensure that I'm reading consistently. Right now I'm between semesters at school, so I finally have the time to read for pleasure. Currently I'm on The Princess Diarist by the late great Carrie Fischer. Almost done, too! What are some of your favorite books this Spring? 
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Happy Thoughts: Moving Edition

I was reading Naomi's blog where she recently posted the latest in her Little Letters series in which she writes - get this - little letters to random things that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet. Being in the drudge of March, I thought I needed a little pick me up myself, so here we go: Happy Thoughts: Moving Edition.

In three days I get to have my own dishwasher for the first time in over a year. (You don't know what you have til it's gone).

New apartment means new furnishings! I've been shopping online and currently obsessed with finding the perfect indoor plants and bouquets.




I found an Etsy store that makes minimalist movie posters just the way I like. 

The other day I asked a four year old if he would catch a fish for me and he responded, "DiDi, if I 
was a fish, you could catch me." with a smirk and my heart just exploded.

Netflix just added a four part special of one of my favorite comedians, James Acaster. I was cracking up on my run yesterday!

Getting to spring clean all of my possessions means getting to donate all the things I no longer need! 

My new condo is so much closer to my favorite place in the world, Tyler State Park. I mean just look at it...



This news that my home state has reformatted how they handle overdrawn school lunch accounts. No more malnourished meals for youngsters!

We did it! We made it through the snow and slush and Spring is finally here to greet us! This weekend is going to be perfect for bike rides and picnics in the park.


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Five Things Down Syndrome Taught Me

*This idea was taken from Kelle Hampton, a mother of a child with Down syndrome*

My oldest sister was six when I was born. She and our middle sister, Sharaya, could've been twins in the way that they acted. It wasn't until I was four and Beth was ten that I realized something was different about her. I was being watched by my grandma when my mom brought my sisters over after school. I remember my grandma asking my sister why she had a mark on her forehead, and they said it was because of the rocks that the kids had thrown at them. It turns out one of them made contact. Beth was all smiles and nonchalant about it. She and my sister went into the playroom while my mom sat at the table with my grandma. I stood in the hallway and listened to them talk about the challenges Beth was facing for being different. That was the first time I heard the words "Down syndrome". 



PATIENCE 

When I was in school I was commended for my patience (hour long commutes have taken it out of me since) and it was all chalked up to growing up with someone with Down syndrome. Beth would take longer than anyone to do everything. Some things, like getting her lunch out of the fridge, would drive me absolutely crazy. I cannot say patience is something I acquired easily because that is far from the truth. Unfortunately I had a lot of bad moments before I really got a handle on it. During my early twenties I would spend every Tuesday with her. From swimming to baking, we would have quality one-on-one time. I would definitely say this is when I perfected it. After I did, life became more enjoyable. Just factoring in those extra minutes for her to get herself together was the biggest key I learned to ensure a successful day.

JOY

One of the reasons the community can be so rewarding is due to the people that brought us into it. People with Downs are known for their happy dispositions. When we were little and something good would happen to Sharaya or myself, Beth would get as excited as if it was happening to her. Her nickname was Sweety Bird because she would flap her arms like she was about to take off. This trait has extended through her entire life thus far, and makes cheering for her during tournaments so enjoyable.

 PRIORITIES 
Beth being the oldest meant that the normal format in families didn't apply to us. We don't have personalities that match our birth order, and Sharaya and I couldn't look up to her as our model. This led to Sharaya and I carving out our own paths in life; hers was a family, mine was travel. We routinely talk about how different our lives would have been if Beth went to college or got married to her high school sweetheart. Essentially, if she had set the precedent who knows where we would be! Some people go through life thinking they have to live a certain way and reach particular goals along the way to consider their life a success. Thanks to Beth, I've never had to look at life like that.



 RESPONSIBILITIES

Birth order is a joke and age means nothing. One day when we were elementary aged kids, our parents let us walk down to the corner store and get some treats. We paid and walked out and as we were heading down the street, Beth said, "Look at this!" and pulled a Reese's pack out from behind her back. Sharaya immediately scolded her and made her go back inside to return it. When Beth was older and started menstruating, there were many times that I, a second grader with literally no experience in this field, would be called her help her. I learned very early on that age couldn't stop anyone from doing anything. This transcended into many different parts of my life and is the reason behind my drive.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Growing up, bullying was a real problem in my life due to my sister. Kids would hurl insults and sometimes rocks, strangers would stare. I developed what became known as "The Look": I would squint my eyes and purse my lips. This was my reflex whenever someone would look at us. They'd look at her, then they'd look at me only to find me glaring back at them and it would make them avert their eyes. Unfortunately, I started doing this as a reflex whenever I left my house. It caused a man to tell me to lighten up while I was grocery shopping last week. That didn't help. One of the hardest things I had to deal with growing up were friends. I had several friends from church that knew Beth because they would see me with her. I would go to their houses and we would have sleepovers, but when I would ask them to come over to my house, they refused. One flat out told me she was afraid of Beth. Learning to reject friends that couldn't or wouldn't accept Beth was one of the hardest things I had to do. If they couldn't look past her appearance to see the good she had inside, I didn't need that kind of person in my life anyway.


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