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A year ago today: What cancer did not do.

One year ago today, my husband and I sat in a waiting room while a surgeon sliced into the right side of Goo’s head and scraped out a small piece of tissue. He removed some from her auditory canal. He made a frozen slide. He stitched her back up. And then he approached us.

I knew. I knew the minute I saw his face that it wasn’t good. I remember his voice as he said, “It looks like something called, ‘rhabdomyosarcoma.'” I remember my heart pounding, my husband and I searching each other’s eyes. I remember thinking, “You need to hear what he has to say. This is important, and you’re the one who understands the science jargon. Listen now. Cry later.”

And I did. I heard it all. I did not cry until he left the room. And then I collapsed into my husband’s arms as we wept uncontrollably. I shook all over. I put my head between my knees when the room started spinning.

And then I went to work. I made phone calls. I got angry. I lost 6 lbs in 5 days because there isn’t much time to eat when you’re fighting for your child’s life. I heard every single word the doctors said, and I can still recall much of it, verbatim. I fought through anger and doubt that nearly destroyed me.

Cancer, you sneaky, vile thing. You came like a thief in the night. You sought to devour.

But one year later, let me be clear: YOU LOST.

You did not destroy a life. Actually, you gave me an appreciation for all that I have in a way that wasn’t possible before this.

You did not shatter hopes and dreams. You fueled a dormant passion. You rekindled fire that had begun to fizzle. You reminded me that this isn’t the end – it’s only the beginning.

You did not tear a family apart. In fact, you expanded it. You brought people into our lives that we now stand beside as we continue the fight to defeat you.

You did not steal my baby’s childhood. You see, she doesn’t really remember you. She doesn’t remember your pain. She doesn’t remember the way you tore at her cranial nerve, leaving her face paralyzed on the right side. It’s hard to remember when that paralysis isn’t there any more. She doesn’t remember the spinal tap, the bone marrow biopsies, or the way you threatened to destroy her hearing. Which, by the way, you did not do. Let that be a reminder: You were beaten by a 5-year-old.

You did not leave us paralyzed by fear. I had a very small, very feisty warrior reminding me that fear is a choice, and it’s a choice she never made. So we do not fear you. We will not wait helplessly for you to return. We will press on, and we will continue to fight for those you are still seeking to devour. But we will not live in fear.

You did do a lot, though, in a year’s time. You taught me to love more deeply than I ever thought possible. You used a child to teach me what it means to fight. You created a love between 3 sisters that can never be broken. You took a rock solid marriage and made it even better, because there is a tremendous bond formed in the thick of battle. You taught people how to give, and how to do so selflessly. You forged friendships that will never be broken. You taught me to believe in a God that is greater than I could ever hope to understand, and certainly bigger than you. You taught me that in a matter of moments, there are people worldwide who lift us up in prayer, and believe me, I will never forget that. You taught me to hope, and that is something I had forgotten how to do.

Cancer. You did so much. But remember one very real thing you did not do:

You did not win.





A letter to new parents: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Part 2

2013-08-08 09.07.32

Love, and this. Pretty much all you need to parent.

In honor of friends that just had their first baby, and friends who are becoming part of a foster-to-adopt program, I wanted to share a little insight from a Mom who has learned that out of everything we have to worry about as parents, the most common ones don’t actually matter all that much. Having a young child with cancer really showed me that maybe I didn’t need to lose sleep over whether or not my infant was getting enough visual stimulation. Life lessons at their finest. You can read part 1 of this post here. In the meantime, here are other things that you *totally* don’t need to freak out over. Save that for first dates, mean girls in middle school, and knock-the-wind-out-of-you blows that life may deal along the way. You’re (almost) a parent. Get used to it.

Stuff to not worry about, cont’d.

  • Tummy time, skin to skin, and visual stimulation. You know what stimulates babies? YOU. If every child in the history of ever was shielded from black and white swirly mobiles, I’m pretty sure we would still have lots of functional, intelligent people on the earth. I remember stressing over how much visual stimulation I was giving Punkin. By the time Smush came around, I realized something invaluable: babies could care less about zebra stripes. They like the sound of your voice. Same for tummy time and skin-to-skin. Our skin time was nursing. After bath snuggles are also fantastic. My girls all hated tummy time, so I opted for on-your-side time to avoid that whole flat head thing. I know a mom who does a 3 hour rotating schedule of skin-to-skin, tummy time, eat, sleep. Schedules are awesome, but good Lord, do you hate yourself? Parenting is hard enough without giving yourself a report card. Feed your baby. Clean your baby. Love your baby. That about sums it up.
  • WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHOICES? The Nerd and I researched every car seat readily available in America before Punkin was born. When we finally went to buy one at the store, it was discontinued. OMG. But we KNOW that the only one that could possibly keep her safe is the rear-facing to 40 lbs, front-facing to 65 lbs, cup-holder having, head support installing, burrows underground in case of nuclear attack Ultra Mega Seat Of The Gods. Or that other one we picked up that we still use 9 years later. Do some research. Pick a seat. Priority one: DO learn how to properly install it. That makes all the difference. Local police stations will help with that. Or local pits of wasted money baby mega stores.
  • Milestone schedules. Baby George rolled over at 4 months. Little Amy is already 4.5 months and still isn’t rolling over. She should probably be checked for spinal abnormalities. Please, for the love of your sanity and all that is good and holy, try really, really hard not to compare babies. They’re all so different. And for one very good reason: They were made that way. If God needed 7 billion Michael Jordans, or Billy Grahams, or George Bushes, or random kids down the street, He would have done that. But He didn’t. Because He knew that right now, the world needs that exact miracle you’re holding (or soon to hold) in your arms. Not the one your friend has. They have a different kid, with a different purpose. You don’t compare elephants and fish, because they’re two unique creatures, made with unique strengths and weaknesses. If God wanted you to have George who rolled over at 4 months, He would have given him to you. STOP COMPARING. Punkin took her first step at 10 months. She was running by 11. Smush didn’t even care about walking until 15 months. Punkin started talking at 9 months and was speaking in two-word phrases at 1 year. Smush barely even knew she could talk until she was 18 months old. They’re all different. Guidelines are important, but that’s what they are – guidelines – not absolutes. Punkin honestly never had a tantrum in her life. Goo met all the criteria for a few different psychological disorders because she was still having tantrums at 4. Then she stopped. Then she got cancer and started again. But guess what? I started having tantrums when she got cancer, too.

My final revelation for parents-to-be: If you’re worried about how good you’re going to be, it’s a really good indicator that you’ve got this in the bag. Because being a good parent starts with one thing: Love. If you already love your child – whom you haven’t even met – enough to be in the early stages of an anxiety disorder due to a desperation to be perfect, you’re already doing your job. Love them. Freak out sometimes. That’s parenting. There is absolutely no way to prepare for it. You just have to dive in head first, and pray. I recommend lots and lots of prayer. In my darkest hours as a mom, I found myself dropping the parenting books, and dropping to my knees to ask the ultimate Father what to do. Works like a charm.

That, and butt paste. Best diaper cream ever. Again, you’re welcome.

Schooled by my kids: Part two.

Yesterday I talked about how Punkin totally put me in my place without even knowing it. She’s good like that. Sometimes the kid leaves me completely floored. And apparently, she’s not the only kid doing that to me these days.

Scenario two: How’s that degree working out for ya?

Goo and I were working on a puzzle together. 100 pieces, no big deal. We had about 1/3 of it done when I grabbed a piece and tried to reorient it to fit in a certain spot. Goo quickly piped up.

Created by me. On Obviously.

Goo: Remember the science, Mommy. See how that piece has white? It doesn’t go there. This one goes there. It’s science, mommy.

Of course it is. I just have a degree in Biology and minor in Chem. I’ve tutored high school and college students in math and science on occasion. But my four-year old schooled me on a freaking princess puzzle. Maybe I can ask Sallie Mae for a refund.

Scenario three: You’re better than that.

Sometimes my kids drive me completely and utterly insane [insert shock here]. Things like taking your milk, turning the cup upside down, watching a white puddle form on my freshly mopped floors, and saying, “Oopsie,” can sometimes put me over the edge. Because oh em gee, that was so not an accident. Anyway.

I have a distinct “Mommy voice.” The one that goes from, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you picked up your Barbies because if I step on their shoes in the middle of the night again I’m going to burn them all?” to “Turn on your listening ears. If these dolls aren’t picked up by the time I count to three, you’re getting a time out. That’s your warning.” It’s my business voice. The one that lets them know that Mommy doesn’t think our tornado of destruction game is cute anymore. Sometimes it’s less business and more “Holy crap? What the heck is wrong with you people? It’s like I’m not even speaking English. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, CLEAN. UP. YOUR. CRAP.”

Lately, when I cross over to the “holy crap” voice, Smush walks up, smiles ear to ear, and says:

Mommy, are you happy?

But what she really means is: Mommy, are you going to lose the joy of the Lord in this moment? Are you going to undo all the patient instruction you’ve instilled in us for the past 3 hours? Huh? Are you?

Sigh. I’m the parent. I’m the teacher. But sometimes these little crazies are the ones teaching me.

Thank God for that.

Schooled by my kids: Part one.

As parents, we teach our kids constantly: How to ask politely for something rather than whining like an injured screech-owl. That it’s actually not okay to stick crayons/beads/sequins up your nose. That if you finger paint your body in nail polish, Mommy might lose her mind.

Every moment can be a teaching moment. And in rare instances, the tables turn, and we find ourselves the pupil under the instruction of brutally honest and unbiased teachers. I had three of those moments in the past week, where my kids stop me dead in my tracks and make me realize that I still have a lot to learn. I wrote them all out and then realized it was less like a blog post and more like reading War and Peace. So to save your sanity, I’m breaking it up into a mini series. You’re welcome.

Image created on

Scenario One: Ba Humbug.

Saturday, I was having a particularly frustrating day. The Nerd has been working insane hours. Think going to bed between 3 and 4 AM every night. Those extra hours don’t pay anything right now. And I was having a hard time watching him literally exhaust himself for, well, nothing, at the moment. We’re hoping that it will pay off in the future. So he continues to exhaust himself. And I continue to hate watching him do that for us. And I was having a moment and being quite resentful of our lack of income. Just keepin’ it real. I was in an ugly place. Enter Punkin.

Punkin: Mommy, why do people rush out to buy more things the day after we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have?

Cue crushing blow to my pride. I’m huffing and puffing around the kitchen because people have been bombarding me with conversations and pictures of their awesome new [insert expensive thing here], and I feel helpless watching the Nerd work himself into oblivion while our situation just doesn’t change. And in walks Punkin to remind me that I am so unbelievably blessed. My children are healthy. My husband is healthy. And I’m pretty much good with that. She totally put me in my place without even knowing it.

Schooled by my eight year old. Totally had it coming.


The tween years, and a promise to my daughter.

I’ve been noticing things about Punkin lately. She doesn’t always laugh at my silliness. Most of the time she does, but sometimes she looks at me like there’s something very, very wrong.

She cries. About her shoes not tying. About her hair not being the way she wants it. About running late because she spent half the morning reading again.

Side note: I’m a science geek. I like logic. The Nerd loves me for this, because it means I don’t really do that whole girlie irrational emotional thing a lot. I had a conversation with a friend once where I told her she wasn’t being rational, and she was like, “I’m not rational! I’m emotional!” And I was all, “Why can’t you be both? Feel frustrated, take a step back, fix the problem. Done and done.” But it would appear that in that department, I’m kind of weird. I’m totally trying to teach my girls that it’s okay to feel emotional, as long as you don’t use it an excuse for bad behavior. And maybe also that it’s really, really not worth crying over a ponytail.

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret.

I’m so close to passing on this wisdom to Punkin. It’s terrifying. (Photo credit: MrSchuReads)

Anyway. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was silently entering tween territory without even knowing it. So I did the most logical thing I could think of: I Googled it to see if there was an actual definition.

The interwebs defines a tween as “a child between middle childhood and adolescence, usually between 8 and 12 years old.”

And then I cried.

Not really. But you guys, I’m so not ready for this. For the irrational tears and the mood swings and the silly fads. And thinking about it made me remember the squishy little baby I brought home from the hospital, what seems like 5 minutes ago. And it made me realize that in what will seem like another 5 minutes, she’ll be all grown up.

And then I may have cried a little for real.

I know the teen years are hard. I did that. I faced the death of a parent, abandonment issues, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I’m no stranger to the emotional turmoil of adolescence. But I also know that I had an unshakable rock to lean on. My faith in a very real God got me through some very dark times.

And I had people who loved me.

I also know that my girls are beyond blessed to have two parents who love them, love each other, and aren’t shy about either. I know that they’ve been brought up knowing there’s a real God who’s bigger than all their problems and loves them more than anything. So bring it, tween years. I got this. And in the meantime, I will make these promises:

  1. I will drive you crazy. I will talk to you all the time. About everything. Because I love you, I care, and I want to know what’s going on in your life. Even if it involves One Direction at some point.
  2. I will not judge you for all the emotional stuff that drives me batty. And I will do my very best to hide that it drives me batty.
  3. I will embarrass you at home, but never in front of other people. Daddy and I will kiss in front of you, and when you’re all grown up, you’ll realize that it may be gross, but it also assured you that we loved each other and weren’t going anywhere. You’ll get over it.
  4. I will trust you, because you’ve never given me a reason not to. I won’t assume the worst.
  5. I’ll give you time and space when you need it.
  6. I’ll buy you, “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.” because that is the best tween book ever.
  7. I will make you do annoying family things like devotional time, game night, and stories around the fire. And at some point you may rather be on your phone, but secretly, you’ll never have need to doubt our love for you. So there.
  8. I will beat up boys who break your heart. At least, in my mind I will.
  9. I won’t go anywhere. I’ll be there for the Science fair, the school play, every single first day of school, and every other important event.
  10. I will love you so much it hurts. And sometimes, I’ll cry with you.

Also, in a few years, I’ll share my secret chocolate stash with you. But only in emergencies.

Change is super hard. And kind of fabulous.

There’s a reason I snagged the term “Mediocre Mom,” and it isn’t because I excel in a lot of activities. Somewhere along the line about a year ago, I decided it would be a fantastic idea to train for a 5k (3.2 mile) run. There’s a program called Couch to 5k that’s for exceptionally lazy people beginners who have never run and also think it’s a good idea to set a lofty goal when reaching for the ice cream in the back of the freezer is considered a strenuous activity.

It’s supposed to last nine weeks. I-suck-at-exercise to I-can-run-3-miles in 9 weeks.

It took me a year.

But not because the program doesn’t work. The program is fabulous. It’s because I kept procrastinating. Or getting discouraged. Or giving up. And then a couple not mediocre friends of mine were all, “We should do a 5k for charity!” And I was terrified and knew that I would have to change my ways or I would collapse in the middle of the race and that’s embarrassing.

But I did it. I signed up. I’m doing a run that raises money to help combat sex trafficking by taking rescued girls in and training them on a horse ranch. The horses provide not only therapy, but a way for them to earn life skills that can help them earn a living as trainers or caretakers or pony stylists. Love.

See how he’s bounding off the couch? That was *not* me. Image via

And two days ago, the most amazing thing happened: I did it. 

I ran 3.2 miles straight. For the first time in my life. At (almost) 30 years old. After 3 kids. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but that would require climbing and ladders and I’m pretty clumsy, so I did the next best thing: I posted it on Facebook.

I came home and, beaming from ear to ear, told the Nerd of my victory. I cannot even explain how good it felt to have set a goal – a tough one, for me – and actually accomplished it.

The thing is, there are really only two things that ever keep us from doing that – from setting goals, from getting off the couch, from trying for that new job, from changing. And those two things are fear and laziness. I was lazy. I hate exercise. I’m never going to be that girl who’s like, “Best day ever! Let’s celebrate! Burpees for 20 minutes!” (A burpee is an exercise where you begin in a standing position, squat to ground level, shoot your legs out in a straight line backward, jump back to a squat, and jump straight up again. I die.) I don’t do burpees at all because I think they were made by the devil.

But I was also afraid: afraid of failing. Afraid of being the girl who tried and just couldn’t get her flabby – ahem, rear – into shape.

But I totally did. Sort of. I still have a long way to go to be able to give Jillian Michaels a run for her money, but whatevs. I feel good and I’m pretty dang proud of myself.

I realized over the past year something very profound: the only person keeping me from changing is me.

And I prayed about it. And I had a heart to heart with God about not going through life being the girl who complained about everything without doing anything about it. Who found excuses. Who blamed other people, other circumstances, other challenges.

And I ran 3.2 miles. And I’ve been soaring for the last 3 days because of it.

And then my kids created yet another epic FAIL that will be posted tomorrow. God keeps me humble.


Parenting FAIL Friday: Be careful what you wish for.

You may remember that Punkin is one of the greatest kids ever, and she had a Christmas list consisting of a few items, the most important of which, to her, was her very own Bible.

She got said Bible for Christmas, and immediately began reading it whenever she could. The Nerd and I introduced to her Psalms for helping her feel safe when she’s afraid, and Proverbs for teaching her us little nuggets of wisdom. Needless to say, my heart melted every time I saw her exploring God’s Word and working out her faith for herself. It’s important for her to make that decision herself, because the Nerd and I know that we can’t make it for her.

The other day, she was sitting on the couch, reading her Bible, and the following conversation ensued:

Punkin: Hey, Mommy? I have a question.

Me: What’s up?

Punkin: What’s cir…cum…cision?

Me: (crap crap crap) It’s umm, a uh, special ceremony that, in Biblical times, was used for Jewish boys to distinguish themselves from Gentiles, the people who weren’t Jewish.

King James Version of the Bible

We found Punkin the perfect version of the Bible for Christmas. Except it seems to be missing the parental advisory label. Image via Wikipedia.

Punkin: Oh, ok. Thanks. Hey Mommy?

Me: Yeah?

Punkin: I have another question. What’s sex?

Me: (where can I hide? Where can I hide? WHERE HAVE ALL THE FREAKING HIDING PLACES GONE?!?) Umm, it’s like gender. If someone asks the sex of a baby, they’re asking if it’s a boy or a girl. Does that make sense?

Punkin: Yeah. Does it have any other meanings? That doesn’t really make sense in the sentence.

Me: (It’s official, I’m having heart failure. My heart has officially stopped beating. Goodbye, cruel world.) *Big deep breath* Yes it does. But it’s something that Mommy and Daddy will talk to you about when you’re a little older. It’s also something that you should only talk to Mommy and Daddy about. If your friends, or another grown-up, tries to talk to you about it, tell them you don’t want to discuss and get me, or Daddy, or another adult. Okay? You can talk to us, and we will teach you everything when you’re ready, but right now, you’re still a little young.

Punkin: Okay. Thanks, Mommy.

Me: So you understand that sex is something that only mommies and daddies should talk about? That no one should try to talk to you about it, and you shouldn’t talk to your friends about it, because it’s up to their mommies and daddies to decide when they have that talk. Right?

Punkin: Right.

Me: Okay. Oh, what are you reading?

Punkin: Genesis.

Me: Let’s stick to Psalms and Proverbs for now, okay? And maybe the Gospel of John?

Punkin: Okay. Is the other stuff for when I’m older?

Me: Definitely.

I love that Punkin is learning to go to the Bible for peace, encouragement, and to learn more about who God is and what it means to have faith in Him.

I also think maybe it should be rated PG-13.