STORIES

  • My true story about donations

    My childhood was equal parts hardship and humor. As a writer, I usually focus on funny stories like the time my brother didn’t have school shoes so he wore our sister’s softball cleats. Everywhere he went, he looked like he was walking on ice.

    Truth be told, I write about the humor because the hardship was too real: watching other kids complain about their bologna sandwiches while I was starving…living out of the trunk of a car…working at age six to earn money for dinner while my friends got to play. So, you can imagine my hesitation when close friend and co-founder of the Footpath Foundation, Mary Macias, asked me to share my story and to introduce their gifting program for the holidays. It’s the least I can do for this life-changing organization, so here’s my backstory…

    When I was four years old, my dad had a debilitating heart attack and subsequent mental health problems that prevented him from working. Although my mom worked around the clock, there were too many mouths to feed and too few resources. The downward spiral was both swift and enduring. We lived through years of hunger, shutoff notices, freezing winters, evictions, broken down cars and long walks home.

    You might not have pegged my family as poor, actually. My parents taught all thirteen of us siblings to believe we were better than our circumstances and we acted the part. Some might have mistaken it for arrogance, but that unwavering mindset is what saved us.

    Although my family didn't have things, at least we had each other. We pressured one another to be smart, athletic and we developed a sharp sense of humor and emotional toughness living this way. My older siblings helped in countless ways to make sure we had food every day. They also gave me experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise, like going to an amusement park or picking out a brand-new outfit for the first day of school (seen in the photo above).

    There were many other nameless, faceless helpers along the way too. Those people should know their help was worth it. The meals, anonymous Christmas gifts, hand-me-downs, gas money, rides home…it all worked. It was a long fought war but we eventually bounced back.

    Maybe I’m an optimist or maybe I’m naïve, but I think we were the lucky ones. Most kids living in poverty or crisis are missing the two critical ingredients we were being fed on a daily basis: self worth and hope. With these tools, I found that I could pretty much do anything.

    It’s difficult for many kids in crisis to imagine a life outside of their current circumstances. So, the Footpath Foundation was formed to give kids a break from poverty to discover, often for the first time in their lives, that there is potential living inside each of them. As it turns out, the best place for this kind of discovery is nature. Research shows that nature calms brain activity, decreases depression and anxiety and allows kids to relax.

    Donations to Footpath provide experiences such as overnight camp, farm outings and outdoor adventures to broaden the kids’ horizons and understanding of the world around them. It’s hard to believe that a simple walk in nature can change a child’s perspective, but it absolutely can. And I am living proof that one small gesture can change a child’s trajectory.

    Amazingly, in their first year of operation, Footpath was able to take 40 kids to overnight camp. And they are looking to double that number in 2017. So, this is where your part of the story begins: You can buy a Footpath experience and give it as a meaningful gift to friends, family or co-workers this holiday season. Best of all, you will be giving a positive life experience to a child who desperately needs it.  Click here to get started:  https://footpathfoundation.org/how-you-can-help/

  • Our epic cross-country move

    For years, we considered moving to a warmer climate but I always hesitated because I knew it would be really difficult. That all changed In December when my husband got a job offer in Texas and we decided to go for it.

    The new job required him to move an entire month ahead of us (our six year-old son, one year-old daughter and me).  He left right after Christmas.

    I would’ve had an easier time living in a cage trying to domesticate a pack of wolves for an entire month. There were viruses, sleepless nights, iced-over driveways and cancelled school days.  But no toys - - those were packed in boxes. 

    Before my husband left for Texas, I had been on a strict gluten-free, preservative-free, dairy-free diet.  I looked like the Crypt-keeper, but I was feeling great. I had never eaten chocolate or drank coffee in the first place because they made me feel downright insane. And greasy foods never agreed with me either.

    I was in good shape and everything was under control. Until it wasn’t.

    It started with bad breakfast decisions. One morning, I ate a pound of bacon and drank a full cup of black coffee.  The entire pound.  Nothing else. No sides, no toast. I should’ve just eaten a catcher’s mitt.

    Moving day finally came and I arrived at Detroit Metro airport with just a backpack and my children.  Our backpack contained birth certificates and passports along with tiny trinkets, suckers and snacks.  I was a little worried TSA was going to question a woman with 2 small kids and a backpack containing our entire identities. But that would make too much sense.

    Safely across the TSA threshold, the 3 of us settled into our two airplane seats. As the plane was taking off, I glanced across the aisle and saw a nun in full habit.  On cue, she closed her eyes, made the sign of the cross and kissed her religious medal.  Wait for it… then she began mouthing a prayer. 

    At that point, I thought Samuel L. Jackson was going to yell out “there’s m-f’in snakes on this m-f’in plane!”

    Did I mention that my one year-old daughter doesn’t sit still?  EVER?  I sweated my way through that flight, pulling tricks out of the backpack like an amateur magician.  I could make a quarter disappear...I could make an oragami bird out of a candy wrapper...I could get a sucker out of my own hair.  

    The nun’s prayers must’ve been answered because the longest flight of my life was about to land.  I had kept my daughter under control and I was feeling victorious. Her little feet dangled off the side of my lap while the plane descended.

    Then I heard it. “KHHHT!  Ma’am, keep the baby on your lap.” I looked straight up the aisle to see a sour-faced stewardess looking right back at me. Really?  Realllly?!  Clearly, she never was a bored one year-old.  She was probably born wearing tiny black pumps, an infant skirt-suit and a tidy French twist.

    Anyway… Hurray, we made it to Texas! The sun was shining and we were all happy to see my husband.  But, it wasn’t all wine and roses.  The next few weeks were spent in a hotel because a pipe burst in our new house. 

    Up to this point, the only fast food my kids had ever eaten were pancakes from McDonald’s a couple of times. That changed quickly. I knew it was getting bad when my son opened his car door and a Wendy’s wrapper flew out.    

    I used to think fast food was the devil. Now, I realize Ronald McDonald is out there on the front lines saving the lives of desperate parents every day. That freaky clown is a damn American hero.

    It’s funny how a little pressure can bring out parts of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. I have always been pretty good in an emergency situation but this time I found myself saying things like, “I don’t have time for feelings!”  And, “My eyeballs are going to shoot out of my head.” (These are actual quotes.)

    In fact, for the majority of the move, I looked like Doc from Back to the Future.  Poppy eyes and frizzy hair, all hopped up on my new coffee habit.   But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  In my mind, the only thing worse than dying is dying with regrets.  And the only thing worse than moving is moving with kids. 

    (The above photo was taken on a more recent flight but it really captures the essence of traveling with a toddler.)

  • My weird and wild sleepless night

    This article appeared on the Today Show blog October 2015....

    The night before my birthday, the baby started a hacking cough that forced me to pull an all-nighter. Morning came and it was time to “celebrate” my birthday with a trip to the Urgent Care clinic followed by back-to-back meetings all day. 

    I wore (what I thought was) a cute oversized blue and white striped blouse paired with skinny black pants, black boots and a messy bun. But, after the baby sneezed, crinkled and clung to it, the blouse looked more like a nineteenth century men’s nightgown. 

    The messy bun fell out, so now my hair was matted on top and shaggy in the back. If you handed me a candle, I could’ve passed for Benjamin Franklin at bedtime. 

    Late in the day, I had a brilliant idea. If things weren’t going my way, maybe I should do something for myself on my birthday. What could I do that wouldn’t require a lot of planning or time? I decided on a psychic reading. 

    Based on the size of the scratching post in the middle of the room, it’s safe to say the psychic had at least 8 cats. I’m not afraid to visit a psychic I found online, but I AM afraid of large groups of cats. (A group of cats, I learned, is called a “clowder” or a “glaring.” Knowing this only made things worse.)

    I mentally lint rolled my pants as we began my reading. I worried that if I stayed there long enough, I might start batting small toys around with my fists. 

    As if the scratching tower wasn’t enough, the psychic also had an affinity for religious dolls and vintage figurines. I wanted to make a sudden movement to see if the dolls’ eyes would follow. So, maybe they didn’t move while I was there, but I could still feel them judging me. 

    I wondered why he had so MANY of them. Does he talk to them after his clients leave? 

    “Hey, Porcelain Doll, what did you think of that lady? 1920's Wedding Cake Topper, do you want to weigh in on this one? Nun Dolls, quit chattering!” 

    In the end, the psychic told me some things that were completely generic and others that were spot-on. Really, I was just glad to have thirty minutes of time devoted to me. Even if I had to pay someone to take guesses about my future while I said a silent prayer that I would make it out alive. 

    Life is a messy place filled with cat towers, scary dolls and occasional sleepless nights. You're going to be tired and weird things are bound to happen. Try to enjoy it anyway.

  • To my sister on her 40th birthday

    If a movie was made about our childhood, the title might be “The Ya Ya Sisterhood of Sharing One Pair of Pants.”   My sister and I had so little and shared so much that at one point we were down to a single pair of jeans between us. I can’t really explain the logistics. Just know there were some fights.

    She was 14 months older than me and we shared every possession, every experience, every memory and every friend. 

    Laura was naturally good at everything and she made friends easily.  We all wanted to be like her back then, with her imposing early-90’s bangs and Zero SPF tan. 

    She had style even in the early years.  And that style became my style each following school year as she handed down her mauve corduroys that should've come with a flood warning, her Holly Hobby t-shirt and her winter coat with too-short sleeves.

    We had some fun together in high school and college. I was a bit of a clown and she became more serious. Could she be a buzz kill?  Yes.  Did she save me from some near-death situations?  Also yes. But on the rare occasion that she let loose, everyone had more fun.

    We split off and lived very different lives for a while there.  But when I became a mom, she saved me yet again.  She told me what to expect at every turn.  I am a much better mom because of her.   

    Don’t be fooled, though.  She still has some cool girl in there and I’ll try to bring that out this weekend.  Maybe we’ll get a Nacho Bell Grande and some Boons Farm.  Pull out the scrunchies and Hammer pants.  I don’t know, we’ll have to play it by ear.   

    As moms, we let go of these parts of ourselves… the people we were before life told us otherwise.  As I stare down the barrel of age 39 and my near-twin turns 40, I’m introspective.  What have we learned?   Where does time go? How many pairs of jeans do I currently own?  These are all important questions. 

    As life unfolds, the answers really do come to us. We finally are the people we were becoming all along.  Completely different, yet the same.

    As I considered what to give my sister on this milestone, I realized that perspective is the best gift of all. On her 40th birthday, I want to remind her that she’s still naturally pretty, effortlessly cool, annoyingly talented and unusually smart.  In fact, in many ways, she is more of all these things than she ever was.

  • Coco and her dada

    TODAY.com Parenting Team ContributorThis article was posted on the Today Show website in June 2015.  

    ...................................................................................................................................

    In the past week, our one year-old daughter has eaten a ladybug, a business card and a dust ball.  She’s lucky she’s cute because she’s also a little gross.

    My husband whispers to me, “Have you seen how cute she is?  Is that normal?” He constantly asks me whether the things she does are normal.  Which would be understandable if she was our only child but this isn’t his first rodeo.

    We also have a six year-old son who we over-parented for five years before our daughter arrived.  We truly believed we had it all figured out…until we had a second child. 

    Although he is a very involved dad, when I leave the house my husband will act as if he’s never parented in his life. The children will be half-clothed when I return and someone will not have eaten.  It’s not because he’s dodging his responsibilities.  He’s working really hard, actually. Dads just do things differently.

    So, they might all be half-clothed and hungry when I get home but my husband and kids will have built a fort in the living room, dug up worms, fixed my computer, watched the baseball game and gone for a bike ride.

    This is what he does.  He is present and utterly devoted to us.  He takes care of things.  He’s a classic gentleman: strong and smart and witty, yet humble and kind. And he’s right there doing the hard work of parenting with me. 

    The other day, my son opened my car door for me when I got home.  Then, he walked the babysitter to her car in the rain with his Star Wars umbrella teetering above the two of them. In that moment I realized he’s just like his dad.  How lucky for us all.

     As for our daughter, we’ll have to see. At least she’s cute and hopefully that’s normal. 

    Footnote:  

    She's so sweet and bright and hilarious.  She's just a little "spirited," as they say.  I can't stand how much I love her and how lucky I feel every day for my baby girl.

  • 13 kids and laughing

    This article appeared on the Today Show website in May 2015.

    She has experienced just about every form of human hardship and still manages to laugh at life.  Of all the lessons my mom has taught me, one of the most valuable is to find humor in all things.

    Today, the constant pain and swelling in her wrists doesn’t prevent her from sewing a torn seam for me.  This is a person who gave up 10 years of her life to pregnancy carrying 13 children to term. Then another 40+ years to teaching, feeding, cleaning, worrying about and listening to them.  Of all the voices that vied for her attention, somehow she managed to hear every one.

    When I call her with my own parenting problems, she will always listen intently.  And then, sometimes she’ll slip in a little perspective like, “That one year we had 11 cases of chickenpox in the house at the same time.” How is a person supposed to feel sorry for herself after a gem like that?

    My mom has changed approximately 50,000 diapers in her lifetime. Many were washed and wrung out by hand before disposables were invented.   Let’s not even talk about the hours of sleep she missed while waking up to crying babies and simultaneously waiting for teenagers to arrive home at all hours. 

    Someone once said that my mom had 13 ‘only children.’  That’s how she made us feel: singular, important, smart and infinitely capable.  And we acted accordingly (for better and for worse). 

    For a child who grew up bobbing above and below the poverty line, I felt I could still do absolutely anything in the world.  I carry that philosophy with me now, in every area of my life including my parenting.  

    My mom was and is the ultimate co-conspirator. Back then, she would sneak us out at night to buy junk food when my dad, who had suffered an incapacitating heart attack, instituted a household-wide raw food diet. 

    These days, we turn into a bunch of stooges when we have to push her in a wheelchair because she can’t walk long distances. These are not traditionally funny situations.  But they are when she’s involved. 

    At 82, she remains the funniest and most interesting person I know.  She gave me about 5 minutes to take these pictures and it wasn't easy because she was talking, blinking and laughing most of the time.