Thursday, March 28, 2013

Raw fish and roses

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I’m typing here with flowers beside my computer, sent by My Guy who’s in D.C. for work this week. With it came a card that read, “I’ll be home soon.”

Comforting words. Gorgeous flowers.

All because of an ailing toddler. Who woke at 4 a.m. and wouldn’t let me leave her side. Who woke her sister up so I had no choice but to move Little Miss to my bed instead. Who then proceeded to inconsolably cry. And cry. And cry.

She had a hoarse voice, a snotty nose, and a heavy cough. But she didn’t have a temperature. She was out of sorts, and she couldn’t fathom not being attached to me. “Cah-yee me” she implored, over and over.

After half an hour of just walking aimlessly with her in my arms, the extra thirty pounds started to tax my back and shoulders. I had to put her down. But when I did, there was that screaming again.

She was so angry. So, so angry.

And this was not like my sweet girl at all.

She wouldn’t let me prepare her sister breakfast, or help her get ready for school. She didn’t want anything to do with food either. She just wanted to be “cah-yeed”.

After Little Miss left for school with our neighbor, Thumper continued to demand, scream, and cry. I was exhausted. She was exhausted. And yet she didn’t want to lay with me, but if I wasn’t next to her, she would have a fit. She wanted the blanket; she didn’t want the blanket. She wanted tissues; she didn’t want tissues. She wanted to be on my chest; she didn’t want to be on me. Nothing felt right to her.

My Guy was away on business, and I hated texting him about this situation at home, but I was running out of steam and just needed to vent. He then called me, and during our call, Thumper was finally quiet, knowing it was daddy.

Without prompt, our 21-month-old took the phone, and with such sadness in her voice said, “I miss you daddy, I miss you.”

And just like that, my floodgates opened, and I cried. Maybe she just misses her daddy.

She’s not sick-sick. She’s just out of sorts. What if what’s troubling her is that her daddy, who’s almost always home to tuck her in and comfort her when she cries in the middle of the as night, isn’t there as expected. Too young to understand business travel, maybe she is just especially clingy with me because she is missing one parent and is afraid of letting go of the other?

I don’t know. I only have conjectures. As my tears fell, she wiped them away with the tissue in her hand. There’s that sweet girl of mine.

She’s at hour four of her much-needed nap. I’m battling a headache, but glad to finally able to work on my tasks for my freelance project. While awaiting feedback, I’m vomiting my days’ exhaustion onto this post, hoping that perhaps talking about it would help me out of being utterly confounded by this day.

Or this week, really.

Thumper has been unwell with a heavy-duty cold since the weekend, and while both parents were home, she was happy to just lay on us. Little Miss was invited by one of our lovely neighbors and her boys to visit a nearby Maple Festival on Saturday. While she sawed tree trunks and made a necklace from it, and learned about tapping maple trees and how the syrup is made, Thumper just leaned her head on her daddy’s shoulder, when I was at yoga, and mine, when I was home.

She showed signs of recovery the next day, but when we introduced a new sitter on Tuesday - the same time My Guy left for D.C. - she didn’t want any of it. This, from a girl who’s not often shy with a caregiver, was indeed strange behavior. So upset was she that I couldn’t even stay home to work; I had to leave and sit at a local coffee shop while I hoped she would quiet down for the sitter.

She eventually did, but the tearful parting pained me. She’s normally so eager to say, “Bye Mommy!” in the company of friends or sitters who promised her hours of playtime.

On the other hand, in the midst of a cranky, angry toddler was a four-year-old who saw and understood my struggle. She, who’s normally so contentious herself, has been such a joy this week, doing as she was asked, and cheerfully helping where she could. I was surprised, yet grateful, that she came through for me like that.

And because of that, I wanted to make sure she wasn’t short-changed from the attention she deserved. I set aside time so we could make Easter cards that she wanted to give to her teachers. Then I spent some time in the evening, when the girls were in bed, to put Easter treats together for Little Miss’ preschool party the next day.

 

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I also got her running shoes because it’s supposed to be 50 degrees and sunny this weekend. And because she’s shown a lot of interest in running with me. As someone who just recently discovered this new passion, I would be crazy not to jump at the chance to share this with my little girl. For someone who didn’t think I could run, or ever inspire my girls to be active, this is a good thing. A great thing.

She loved her new shoes, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I was afraid they weren’t pink enough for her, but apparently, they were. Surprises make her happy.


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They make me happy too. On an extremely trying day like today, it was My Guy who, in spite of a busy day with clients, reached into his bag of tricks. At first, he sent me a lunch delivery after I told him over the phone that neither Thumper nor I had eaten all morning because she wouldn’t allow me a second away from her.

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Sushi - my favorite - and Thai, which I assumed was for the ailing tot, except she refused it. When she doesn’t eat is when you know for sure that something is wrong. So I almost had all of it. That’s what happens when I’m stressed – I eat. And maybe he knew that and ordered all of that for me.

Then came the second surprise: the flowers. Gorgeous, colorful, and full of life.

How could I not cheer up? And how did I deserve this man?

I don’t know.

This week was desperately forcing me to fail. And I think I almost did. Without My Guy by my side, I sometimes feel like I could easily be lost. But then I hear his voice or get a text, and I’m fortified.

Throw in some raw fish and a spring bouquet, and my day is starting to look up. It didn’t begin well, but now, thanks to this one amazing guy, it’s looking like lilies and roses. By the end of the day, it’s going to be perfect.

Because he will be home.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Broken rhythm

 photo 1 (10) 

Some weeks, everything falls into place. Like last week.

Even though My Guy was gone for four days on a business trip, with the act of precarious balancing and, more importantly, asking for help, I managed. Despite missing his flight home, which contributed to a lot of sadness all around, there was still a happy ending.

He came home at nearly 9:30pm last Friday to two wired little girls excited about being the surprise for their daddy. At two hours past their bedtime, he hadn’t expected to see them, even though he was crushed that he couldn’t.

 

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sweet homecoming


The stars amazingly aligned for us that day when I surreptitiously moved their naptime after a deliberately long morning at the Children’s Museum, where face(and-body)-painting themselves (and me) was the highlight, so they were able to stay up to welcome their daddy home.

Not only that, they slept in till 8:30 the next morning - another present for the travel-weary parent and the plain exhausted one (that would be me). It was the cherry on top to an already good week despite the solo-parenting and the absence of our favorite guy.

As my friend Julie says, saying yes to help is a good thing. If there’s one thing I learned about parenting, it’s that it truly does take a village, and boy do I love mine. I also get that, since many of us don’t actually live in real villages, this help is a luxury sometimes, and I am certainly grateful for all the extra hands during the week where my two seemed so woefully inadequate.

It also made me even more appreciative of My Guy who I already knew does so much around the house, but only truly felt it when he was away. Every morning, when I’m most bleary-eyed and utterly useless, he gets the girls up and fed, and he usually drops Little Miss off at preschool (or picks her up that day). He also makes me coffee before my feet even touch the ground (bless his heart).

In the evening, when every ounce of my energy has been zapped by the toddler who stays home with me, the chores around the house, and sometimes a freelance project or two, he does bath time and puts the girls down to bed by himself. And that is after his own full day at work.

We’re a good team. Partners in every way.

When he left the first time, three weeks ago, it was interesting for me to challenge myself - and I do thrive on challenge, in case you didn’t know - by filling the void he left behind. I barely handled the early mornings and the late evenings, and, for extra credit, because I’m such a nerd, I even changed the sheets on all the beds and took the trash out - tasks I never touched when he was around.

I felt pretty good about myself. This solo-parenting thing wasn’t a bad gig after all.

When he came back from his first trip, we both had exciting news to share.

The girls are alive! We all survived, was mine.

The meeting with the CEO went well! And because it went so well, we’ll be traveling to different cities every other week for the next two months, was his.

I didn’t like his news.

But it paid our bills, and it meant he’s kicking ass. His fledgling business is taking off. It’s all good.

On the other hand, the freelance project I took on to give myself a little more financial autonomy, something I miss desperately from my days as a working parent, is also adding more to my plate on top of everything else. That’s the price I pay for not wanting to ask My Guy for money to buy myself new running gear or to get a haircut.

However, with kind neighbors, understanding friends, and paid sitters, I am able to manage most of it. I don’t look forward to challenging myself at this solo-parenting gig anymore though. I just get on survival mode and look forward to the moment My Guy gets home.

Our routine is not quite the usual; our rhythm is disrupted. Out of whack. Broken. While I’m a proponent of finding balance and making sure I meet my own needs as well as that of others at home, this week, maintaining that balance is proving to be a Herculean task.

A new project in the beginning of the week threw me off my writing schedule (for work and for this blog), and I’ve been trying to keep up since. And just when I think I finally have the time to catch up, I am unexpectedly derailed by my toddler’s fever, a sick babysitter or my own lack of focus.

I learned that just because you sit down to write, doesn’t mean the right words will come. But when you’re dying to say so much and are afforded so little time, you do what you can.

You type in a stream of consciousness, you ramble, and you even make mistakes. But you still do it because you can’t not write anymore.

I can’t not write anymore.

I can no longer push these words, bubbling and boiling to the surface, aside to make room for deadlines and babies and babysitters who cancel. That’s the thing about writing or not writing, rather - when the words need a place to go but have no outlet, it begins to crowd my insides and the silence I crave to unwind and recharge will no longer do.

Yet, sometimes when you have to balance that which feeds the body and that which nourishes the soul, something has to give. Often times, it’s that which is unseen. The insides must wait. Boiling. Bubbling.

And when you finally get the chance, in between putting a sick child down to nap and sending a progress update to your client, you seize the moment, sharply inhaling as your body breaks the surface of the waves that consumed you.

So here I am. Purging. Unleashing. Unburdening.

Writing.

And profusely apologizing for this raw post. I can barely manage the time to put my thoughts down, let alone try for eloquence.

Now that this is finally done, I can return to keeping up with the living. But barely.

Yes, there are weeks like this too.

photo 3 (4)A perk of working from home

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A meditation on silence

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My favorite sounds are ones born from silence. The crunching of snow under my feet, heard only in the absence of a bustling city. The distant sound of the train going by in the wee hours of the night, when it seems like the only person awake is me.

I am an only child. Silence speaks to me. It centers me.

Yesterday started in a frenzy, juggling between showing the new sitter the ropes, getting my big girl ready for preschool, and a conference call that started at about the same time. But it didn’t let up. It continued in that same pace after my toddler fell asleep on my sitter, which I suppose is a good thing as it’s a testament to their budding relationship, but it wasn’t exactly naptime either.

Half an hour on the sitter completely ruined Thumper’s usual, longer, two-hour afternoon naps, which made things more challenging. The thing is, her naptime is when I am afforded the silence I so crave. It’s when I recalibrate my energy so I may keep up with my girls. Without it, by the day’s end, I’m mush.

And I couldn’t afford to be mush that day. I had plans to attend a book reading with a friend in the evening. But you know how it is with kids. The best laid plans are just that - plans. The reality often resides in the opposite spectrum.

However, it did all magically end well. I was still able to take my toddler to her first dance class, where she didn’t behave like the monster I expected her nap-deprived self to be, and I left the girls at home with a dear friend who was their sitter for the night.

Because I knew they were in good hands, I didn’t even look back as I walked outside into the twilight at 7 o’clock, happy to see the remains of the sun at that time of the evening. Spring is near.

Jarred from the day’s excitement that included meeting project deadlines while wrangling kids, I sat among the small audience at a local independent bookstore to listen to Terry Tempest Williams, an author I had recently grown to love and admire. As she started to speak, I slowly found my center again. She read excerpts from her latest book, “When Women Were Birds”, about women and our voices. About being heard. And not heard. About the power of silence. And not being silent.

It made me think about this blog, where I speak my heart and my mind about subjects that are both frivolous and considered taboo by some. Even though these words are meant for my girls, I know I also speak to countless, nameless others out there who choose to remain silent. Maybe because they want to be. Maybe because they’re expected to be. Or perhaps they have to be. 

I also hope that I’m not just speaking to, but speaking for them as well. Because of my own upbringing in a culture that reveres and thus perpetuates silence, secrecy, and taboo, I know what it’s like to have a voice and not be able or allowed to use it.

I was bound to that silence long after I left Malaysia. Then one day, I gave birth, and along with that beautiful baby girl, came my voice.

I am silent no more.

For her sake. For mine.

As a mother of daughters, I want their voices heard. I want these someday women to live the life of their choosing. And the ability to voice against that which threatens to derail them. I saw what it did to my own mother, who suffered a bad marriage because to leave it was taboo, and I vowed to neither follow that path nor lead my own girls there.

At the end of the reading, during the book signing, I mentioned to Ms. Tempest Williams about my blog, about writing for and about my girls, and this is what she wrote inside my book.

 

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“Your voice, your courage, your stories.”

It took my breath away.

Here, in this space, I give myself permission to live openly. To celebrate love and life, but also to be imperfect. To be human. Divorce, eating disorders, parenting fails, relationship woes –they are not taboo. They are my stories. They are the course I took to get here.

Which is pretty much exactly where I want to be.

As a mother of daughters, I want the same for them. But better, of course.

I am a mother after all.

 

* * *

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Today is a different day. Today begins from the center.

I take a long, slow stroll in the park by the beach with my little one after we drop her sister off at preschool. She gets on all fours on the sand, saying to me, “I’m cleaning” while she clumsily moves the stick in her hand from side to side, attempting to remove sand from her path. Futile, but amusing.

With a toddler busy at play, I sit on the bench and soak in the glorious sunshine and the delicious silence. Free from the noise of traffic and people, I clearly hear the wistful waves of the lake, and the chorus of birds twittering about the coming of spring. It’s almost here, it’s almost here.

They’re harbingers. They’re also reminders.

They take me back to my evening with Terry Tempest Williams, she herself a lover of birds and nature, and I hear the soft lilt of her voice echoing in my head. Beckoning, calling, waiting.

Then I gather my thoughts as well as my toddler to come home.

And in the silence of my baby’s mid-day slumber, I write these words.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A tale of two anniversaries

A nervous excitement swept over me when I spied My Guy at the airport, who was there to pick me up after my three-week trip to Malaysia, five years ago. At that point, he wasn’t exactly My Guy. Well, he was, up until eight months before when he broke up with me.

The end, the beginning
I knew when he walked away that the only way to heal my wounded, aching heart was to cut him out of my life. Cold turkey. I removed everything that would remind me of him - pictures, cards, and gifts (well, all except for the Le Creuset pot, which I loved and used often; pragmatism certainly trumps idealism).

I also started dating again and challenged myself to meet new and interesting people, which I did. It was a completely different life, and I loved it. Perhaps the breakup wasn’t the end of the world after all. In fact, it was the beginning of an exciting one.

Then one day, a little over five months after the breakup, when I thought I had finally moved on, I responded to his invitation to meet at our favorite place for drinks. Everything in my life was going well; I was single but dating, and I was enjoying every bit of it. I thought I could handle a friendship with him.

I was wrong. (Like you didn’t see that coming.) When I met him that night, it was the first time we saw each other since the night he left. As we sat across from one another, I realized that it wasn’t over. And I think he felt the same way too, because after that evening, we started to see each other again. Casually at first, because this time, we vowed to take it slow.

Even though I continued to date while we saw each other, my interest in others quickly waned. When I left for Malaysia, he was the only one I talked to on the phone. The only one I missed.

When we arrived back at my place that evening, I was energized just by being with him again, despite 30 hours of travel. We celebrated my homecoming with a special steak dinner that we made together. After our meal, I sensed a nervous energy in My Guy when he asked me to sit down across from him on the couch.

When I did, he surprised me with a gift - a photo album of us. It chronicled our relationship, from the time we started dating until shortly before it ended for us. I flipped through each page slowly, overwhelmed by nostalgia as I saw the once-upon-a-time pictures of us. The trips we took, our cats when they were wee kittens, and even embarrassing candid shots of me, for which he had an incredible knack. (Which is also why I won’t be sharing that album with anyone anytime soon.)
 
He watched me, smiling. When I turned the last page, I found a white ribbon peeking out of a pocket on the inside of the album’s back cover, intriguing and inviting me. I lifted the ribbon and with it came a ring tied to its end.

It was his ring. A plain silver band that he wore when I first met him. One he asked me to wear just before he left for Greece, when we would be apart for four months, at the beginning of our relationship. I wore it until he came home, and continued to wear it until the night he left.

When I saw that ring again, I knew what it meant. And, of course, I said yes.

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Decisions, decisions
That was the day we both chose to be together. Again. This time with our eyes wide open. Which was a good thing, considering that four days later, we found out we were pregnant with Little Miss. But that’s a story for another day. We’re just glad that the events turned out in that particular order.

However, even after our first baby, we were tested once more. You know what Shakespeare said about true love - it never does run smooth. But again, we made the choice to stay together.

For years, we couldn’t decide on which anniversary to celebrate - the one that started it all on the day of our first and most amazing kiss of our lives? Or the one where we chose to be together again? Sometimes we’d celebrate one but not the other. And sometimes we’d celebrate both because of our own indecision, unable to justify one over another. It felt odd to be so uncertain over such certainties.

But this year, we figured it out. We will celebrate both because they each represent a significant and different milestone. The kiss sparked the beginning of our relationship, and we used that to mark the passing of time. On August 18 this year, it will be eight years.

The other, the one that brought this ring back to me, worn on my left middle finger every day since that lovely evening with him, will always remind us of how we triumphed in adversity, and how we, when given the choice to stay or to walk away, always chose to be together. On March 10 every year, we celebrate the power, the beauty, and the strength of this choice.

And that, in the biggest, most gigantic nutshell ever, is why we have two anniversaries. Which isn’t unlike married couples who celebrate the day they first started dating and their wedding anniversary. If we do get married someday, I suppose there’ll be a third date to commemorate.

Except, there’s enough complications as it is, who needs another?


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* * *

Happy Anniversary Part 1 my love. May we always, always be our best choice.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sisters

SnowyBeachWalk
I am an only child. Which means raising two daughters - siblings - is somewhat of an alien concept to me. I didn’t have to share, my parents didn’t need to be fair or break up fights, and all my toys and clothes were brand new. Since Thumper came along, and especially now that she’s able to communicate better, I’ve been on a steep learning curve.

Most days I feel like Jane Goodall, observing chimpanzees as they carve out their place with each other, pulling hair to get their way, stealing bananas from one another, and shrieking to ward off unwanted behavior. And I don’t mean the monkeys; that’s just a regular day at our house.

When the girls get territorial, I force myself to let them work out their differences rather than go between them. Of course, when there’s violence and unkindness, I step in. Otherwise, these sisters will do what sisters do.

I watch them from the corner of my eyes, sometimes taking notes in my head, sometimes so enthralled, I’m incapable of doing anything but to admire the blossoming of their sisterhood, which I hope will someday become impenetrable by anyone, even me.


BabyAndMommy

Between them, there have been countless moments of utter exasperation for someone like me, who is figuring this sibling thing out as I go, which is not unlike parenting in general, really, except there’s twice the surprise and unpredictability. There’s certainly more of this:

“Watch this!”
“Look at me!” (or “Yuck me!”, says the younger.)

And this:

“I will do this!”
“Ay! It’s my tuhn.”
“No, it’s my turn.”
“I wan’ do this!” And the quick, devious little one does it.
“THUMPY!!!!”

And definitely this, the incessant complaining:

“Mommy, Sissy close the gate! I wan’ go downsteahs!”
“No! I don’t want her downstairs with me. She’ll ruin my castle/train/fort/blocks/ [insert toy du jour]!”

However, there are tender moments in between the rough ones that make me wish I had a sister myself, like when Thumper walks up to Little Miss with food that she herself enjoys and asks in a melodious voice, “Wan’ chai (try) it?”

Or this particular moment, when Little Miss  freaked out about a toy that Thumper snatched from her. When asked why she was so upset about something she hardly played with, she responded, “Because every time she snatches from me, I get a belly ache!” (Don’t ask; she certainly has her own brand of drama.)

Upon hearing that, Thumper ran over to Little Miss and handed the toy, “Heah doe! (here you go.) Sowwy Sissy. Dis? (Kiss?)” Then she planted a sweet one on her sister’s “aching” belly, and all was forgiven.

There’s also something breathtaking about a one-year-old who walks up to her crying four-year-old sister and asks, “You otay, sissy? You want toochoo? (tissue) Yeah? Otay!”.  She then gets her one and sometimes even helps Little Miss wipe the falling tears on her reddened cheeks.

My heart melts every. single. time. But to both girls, it’s a given. They take care of each other like it’s the most natural thing in the world. As it should be.


Coloring

Another given is that Little Miss is the boss and teacher, sharing her knowledge and expertise with Thumper whenever she can especially when they’re crafting, coloring, and conversing - “Thumpy, say yes, please.” But what’s surprising is that the younger, who is absolutely in awe of the older, is very protective of her big sister.

When My Guy reprimands Little Miss, Thumper will either smack him or scream at him. If it results in tears, the toddler will sometimes shed her own sympathetic ones for her older sister. It’s quite a sight to see the pint-sized defending the older, taller, and more capable of the two.

Since the girls share a bedroom, they get plenty of time before and after sleeping to talk. While Thumper still struggles in pronunciation, she forms rudimentary sentences rather well, like “I’m tired; I want seep (sleep)” or when I make her laugh, she says, “yaw punny (you’re funny), mommy.” Not perfect, but she’s also a  21-month-old. It’s not going to be perfect for awhile.

In fact, sometimes, we have difficulty understanding her mispronunciations, like this instance:

Thumper: “Teetums!”
My Guy: “What’s that?”
Thumper: “Teetums! Teetums!”

She pointed at something on the counter, but amid the mess, we still had no idea what she was referring to, and he turned to me for help. I shrugged and shook my head, and she became even more frantic. “Teetums! Teetums! Teetums!”

Desperate, I turned to Little Miss, who was quietly coloring beside me: “What’s she saying?”
Without a pause and with complete nonchalance, she responded, “She wants the lip balm.”

My reaction: “Lip balm?! Really??”
Thumper: “Yes!”

Both My Guy and I exchanged incredulous glances. Huh. Who’d have thought that “teetums” meant lip balm? Well, apparently, her sister did. All those late-evening and early-morning exchanges in their room certainly helped.

Now, when I don’t understand my little one, I just ask my big girl. Before the secret language between them kicks in, that is. And you know what? I hope it does. I will happily play the outsider if it helps cement their bond together.

Every morning, on the monitor, I hear them waking each other up, both good-natured and giggly, and ready to play whatever game they devise for themselves on the fly. I’ve heard Little Miss teach her little sister a few things, like this instance which brought me out of sleep and immediately into a smile:

Thumper: “Mommy! Mommy!”
Little Miss: “Don’t wake mommy, Thumper, she’s sick. She needs to rest.”
She was referring to my state from the evening before, when I was immobilized by weird stomach cramps.
Thumper: “Otay...Daddy! Daddy!”

Or this other time:

Little Miss: “Daddy’s a....?”
Thumper: “Boy!”
Little Miss: “Yes! Good. And mommy’s a...?”
Thumper: “Guhl!”
Little Miss: That’s right. Good job!

I love waking to their conversations, despite the occasional squabble that comes through. By the time My Guy gets to their bedroom in the mornings, Little Miss is often found inside the crib with Thumper, with blankets and plush animals around them, already busy at play when it’s barely 7 a.m. They play hard; they fight hard. These kids, they don’t mess around.

So many of my friends with siblings warned me about the volatile nature of this relationship. There’s a lot of fighting. We hated each other. We’re always competing for everything. This only child can only imagine, but I have no bag of tricks to reach into, no firsthand knowledge of what it’s like. I can only hope that it’s not as bad as they say.

But I’ve also caught glimpses of the moments in between. The gentle, heart-achingly beautiful ones that tell me that either way, I’m in for quite a ride.


AffectionCollage


* * *


Whether you’re a parent or a sibling yourself, what’s your experience like with siblings? If you have tips and tricks on how to raise them so they would adore* each other (I’ll also settle for “not kill one another”), please share them with me. I’ll take all the help I can get!

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