Monday, April 29, 2013

It’s not always glamorous and romantic

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This picture was taken after I completed my half marathon this past Saturday. You’re probably thinking, aww, look at the little one admiring her medal. Uhm, actually, she was looking for the quickest route to her milk supply.

I left at 6:15 that morning to make the 7 AM start time, before the girls were even awake, which means Thumper didn’t get her usual morning nourishment. When she saw me approaching after I crossed the finish line that day, she was thrilled to see me, not so much for my accomplishment, but for the milk she saw walking towards her.

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Nonetheless, I was incredibly happy to see them at the end of my 13.1-mile run. They were, after all, the reason I ran. And on that sunny April morning, they were also the reason I finished the race.

You see, I’d like to say that, because of my training, it was an easy course for me, but I would be lying. Months of running in frigid weather left me ill-prepared for the 50-degree sunshine that the cheering spectators welcomed. I was sweltering in my two-layer outfit, and, on more than one occasion, I was tempted to just stop and walk away from it.

But I didn’t. I was determined to share a proud moment with my family at the end, even if it meant crawling to the finish line, and that was pretty much the only thing that kept me going.

Here’s the progression of my thoughts as my feet pounded the road for two hours:

- Ooh, I need to check out this restaurant later. Looks pretty good.

- Aww, what a lovely tree-lined street.

- Sunny day...glad I wore my hat.

- Wait, is that a hill? That looks like a hill.

- Okay what happened to the breeze?

- Prairie land! Nice.

- Oops, I’m hunching. Shoulders back, midfoot strike, breathe breathe in, breathe breathe out

- What does her shirt say?

- Look at those two older ladies in their chair giving high five’s. I should give them one too.

- A bridge over a creek! How romantic. But where are the trees? Some shade from the sun would be nice.

- Uh-oh, another hill.

- Sheesh, is this sun ever going to let up?

- Water. Water. Water.

- Trees!!!

- Where are the %#*&@#* leaves?!

- Why the hell did I sign up for this again?

- Photographer. Should I smile? Don’t be ridiculous. Concentrate.

- Shoulders back, midfoot strike, breathe breathe in, breathe breathe out

- What the heck is he wearing?

- Yay! Half way!

- This hat needs to come off. I’d rather be blinded than melted by the sun.

- Is that guy grilling? Right by a marathon? Now that’s just cruel.

- 10 miles should be coming soon. Come on 10 miles. Come on!

- Oh my god, it’s only been eight miles???

- Water. Water. Water.

- Where the @*$# are you 10 miles?

- Hill? Again?! (It was a small incline, but it felt like Kilimanjaro at that point)

- This heat is killing me. Look at that smart woman in her tank top. I feel like an idiot in my outfit.

- Note to self: Dress better next time. Next time? What next time? $@&# that.

- Oh look, another one in her tank top. Bitch.

- Hey isn’t that the same guy holding the same sign from Mile 1?

- Am I starting to hallucinate?

- Focus! Shoulders back, midfoot strike, breathe breathe in, breathe breathe out

- Yes! 10 miles! I made it. Last leg!

- Wait, didn’t I already hear this song in the beginning?

- Are we there yet? Where the #@^& is the next mile marker?

- This sucks. Why am I doing this again?

- Oh right, the girls. Couldn’t I just take up knitting? What’s wrong with me?? #$^@*&$!

- I see Mile 12. That’s 12 miles right? Please tell me that’s 12. Please please please…

- TWELVE!!! Oh my god, the end is near.

- Come on feet, let’s go. Hello? Feet? You there?

- Forget my time goal. I just want to finish. And see my babies. And never run another race again!

- Are #%&^@ we %@* there #%*#% yet??

- Hey people, stop saying “you’re almost there” - you’ve been saying that for the last 15 minutes!!! Where the #$)@*&@ is “there”?!

- Where the $*@# is this path leading us? Where is the #%$^%@ finish line?

- Another turn??? Come ON!

- Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! FINISH LINE!!!

2 hours, 9 minutes and 2 seconds after I started, I finally reached the end. I made it just under my goal time of 2:10. Since it was my first half marathon (and perhaps my only), I wasn’t very ambitious; I was just aiming to finish. And that (insert big sigh of relief) I did.

I spied my friend, who ran the race with me (“with” as in she was way ahead, and I didn’t even bother trying to catch up) cheering for me at the end, but I didn’t see my family. Blocked by a million others and prohibited from the stadium field, where the finish line was, they couldn’t see me from the bleachers either.

So much for the grand finale.

I received my medal but skipped the water and refueling stations and went to look for them. When I spotted my favorite faces in the crowd, I was breathless with gratitude - they’re here!!! And the smiles I received in return were priceless. Almost made the grueling two hours worth it to me. Almost.

I handed Little Miss the medal so she would do the honors of placing it around my neck. She probably had little clue as to the significance of this moment, and both girls will most likely not remember this race, but it didn’t matter. I will remember it.

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13.1 miles. I did it. I accomplished what I had set out to do. And the best part was that my girls were there. Along with the man who made all of this possible for me.

As someone who only started running seven months ago, completing a half marathon was a big accomplishment for me. It’s my way of saying to my girls, look what you can achieve with hard work and determination. 

But knowing how little that moment meant to them at that time, it’s also my way of saying, in the grand scheme of things, you may not always be remembered for all the things you’ve done, but it doesn’t mean they’re not worth doing.

Just like parenting.

As parents, we are familiar with the unglamorous life of planning meals, scrubbing vomit, making doctor’s appointments, and researching summer camps, but we all do it because we hope that someday, all this will add up in helping our kids achieve the life we think they deserve.

After my friend and I took our official marathon pictures, she, who’s also the mom of two girls, got in her car to take her 10-year-old to her violin lesson, and I carried my fussy toddler, who was demanding milk, all the way up the bleachers on Jell-O legs.

While other runners and supporters crowded the Illini stadium to cheer and celebrate, we rushed to the car so I could nurse Thumper. The medal I just earned - something that took months of training to acquire - only got in the way of what she needed, so she pushed it aside. Oh, the irony.

On our drive back, “Wonderwall” by Oasis, a song that My Guy and I sang together during karaoke once (and if you knew him, you’d know how rare that was), came on the radio, and I turned to my girls and belted it out to them, much to their utter delight and amusement.

Watching them giggle, I realized that there may not be pomp and ceremony for this mama, but my spirits were high and my heart was so full of love for this family that I couldn’t possibly want for anything more.

Well, other than the celebratory monstrous burger with bacon, fried egg, cheese, grilled pineapple, and caramelized onions. With fries. I’ve certainly earned it, that’s for sure.

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My Oscar-speech moment:

Thank you to my dearest friend, R, who ran with me, who got me to sign up in the first place, who was the first person, nearly 20 years ago, to get me to work out so I could lose my freshmen 20 (and I did!). I thought it was only appropriate to run with someone who has not only inspired me in fitness, but also in motherhood. She is a wonderful woman, and an even more amazing friend.

Thank you to my girls for being exactly who they are, inspiring me to become who I’d like to be.

And, saving the best for last, thank you, My Guy, for believing in me even when I doubt myself, for bringing me everything out of my arm’s reach as I was nursing and elevating my sore legs, and for letting me go as far as I can - sometimes even pushing me to get there - but always being right here when I get back.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How solo parenting is like running a half marathon

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A full moon over Lake Michigan

I took this picture on my way home from yoga this evening. I couldn’t help taking the little detour as I was in awe of the reflection on the water. This is the sixth and last night of My Guy’s work trip, and what a night on which to end this surprisingly wonderful week.

I know. I said the “w” word. I also said surprising, because I really wasn’t expecting that. Sure, we had a meltdown or two (or maaaaybe three), but for the most part, solo parenting for the past six days has been relatively easy. And yes, even that “w” word.

But of course I use the term solo loosely, as my best friend, their favorite Auntie, was here the first day,  when she helped wrangle my girls at soccer while I was finding my peace at my yoga class on Saturday. And My Guy’s best friend, their favorite Uncle, came by this evening so I could go to my Wednesday-night class while he read them stories and put them to bed. 

The babysitter watched Thumper while I worked and ran a few hours this week, and my neighbors were able to help by taking Little Miss to school and watching both girls while I ran my last few miles in preparation for my first half-marathon race this weekend.

Speaking of the race, I realize from my training that solo parenting is very much like running a half marathon. No, seriously, hear me out. 


PACE

Per training recommendations, we start at a slow, comfortable pace, then we pick it up a third of a way through and steadily build our speed, finally surging the last few miles from the energy we’ve been conserving throughout the run. This sounds a lot like my days at home.

I begin our morning by offering the girls cereal, toast, or bagel for breakfast because that’s pretty much all my bleary-eyed self is capable of after being reluctantly dragged out of bed. (That’s also why homemade pancakes and waffles only happen when daddy is around.)

Little Miss then dresses herself, which explains the clash of colors, stripes, and patterns in her outfit du jour, before she runs downstairs to walk with our neighbor and her son to preschool, while her sister gets busy being creative as I sit next to her with my coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in.

 photo 4 (8)When I compliment her work, this girl says, “thank you,” with pride


Throughout the day, when I’m home with Thumper, I attempt to juggle playtime and housework, naptime and freelance writing, maintaining a steady pace, until I pick my four-year-old up from preschool. That’s when we play a little before I start the sprint towards bedtime with dinner, bath (which tends to become optional when My Guy isn’t around), and stories.

This is also when I need my energy the most as the the girls are more likely to retaliate, negotiate, and throw a tantrum when things don’t go their way. But when I cross the finish line, which, in our case, means closing their bedroom door behind me at around 7:30 PM, the entire evening is mine. Thus begins the recovery process.

RECOVERY

In running, I stretch, ice my legs, and drink chocolate milk to restore my energy and repair my muscles. In parenting, when I’m not trying to meet project deadlines, I’m cleaning the girls’ mess or I’m parked in front of the TV, entranced by hours and hours of “Veronica Mars” - my latest retro TV series of choice - with some ice cream in hand.

I feel a little guilty that I’m not writing or reading more (and about the copious amounts of ice cream), but honestly, I have no mental capacity for much else after constantly negotiating with two little tyrants at the end of the day. The bedtime sprint is actually My Guy’s specialty since he’s the one who plays with them, then does bath, stories, and bedtime.

With him away, I find that I’m completely drained by the time the sun and the kids go down, and what little brain power I have left, I use for work, and if I’m completely out, mindless TV is my only option. 

MIX IT UP

In training for the race, we’re also advised to mix things up and include speed work, hills, and long runs to build speed, strength, and stamina. Again, I find this advice useful in solo parenting.

 

photo 1 (15)Brunch

In the nearly full week that My Guy is away, the girls and I have brunched at our favorite spot with their Auntie, attended a birthday party, hosted two play dates, visited the playground, and shopped for running gear (for me) and groceries.  I’ve also invited my mama friends over for an evening together. Tomorrow, we’ll have a breakfast date with a neighbor and her daughter, followed by a trip to the library for story hour.

Truthfully, just writing that exhausts me. As an introvert, I’m a fan of alone time, and I could go for days without immersing myself in social situations. In fact, I prefer it. But I realize that, in order for the six days to work, I’m going to have to get out of my comfort zone and do that which is necessary, not just easy.

PUSH HARDER

That’s an aspect of the training I dread and love at the same time – pushing ourselves past our own limits. Because that’s when improvement happens. With that in mind, I keep our social calendar busy, and it keeps us all equally distracted from the countdown clock. Introversion be damned; I have my sanity to protect.

So there you have it. A half marathon training that prepares me for the finish line on race day and every day. Who knew? Until my race this Saturday (*gulp*), I can’t tell you just how well I will do, but I have to say, judging from the girls’ easy-going manner, willingness to cooperate, and ready smiles this week, it has certainly taught me to be a better solo parent.

As far as the girls are concerned, it’s a win, regardless of what happens at the race.


Funny faces Collage

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My name is Justine, and I am a...






When I gave birth to Little Miss over four years ago, I started to belong to a new community of parents. More specifically, mothers. Friendships formed because of our need to find others like us - we can’t be the only ones with circles under our eyes and baby socks in our work bag.

About 11 months later, I started this blog to write about this experience - I did it for me, so I could write, and especially for my daughter, now daughters, so they could have these memories. I became their memory keeper. 
It didn’t take me long to find a robust group of bloggers in this virtual space, specifically mothers who blog, doing more or less the same thing I was, and again, I found myself immersed in a new community. This is where we commiserate about our adventures in parenthood, laugh with one another about our follies and our children’s escapades, and figure it all out, one day - and sometimes, one word - at a time.
Seven months ago, on a crisp September morning, I started running for the first time in my life. The plan was to run three times a week, for health. And apart from being sidelined by an injury back in January, I have done just that. Rain or shine, snow, sleet, bitter cold, or hail. I ran through it all. While the moment my daughter took her first breath I became a mother and when I hit publish on my first post I became a blogger (although calling myself a writer came years later), I didn’t become a runner with my first steps. Or my first mile. Or my first 5K race on Thanksgiving Day.
I wasn’t a runner even on that sunny January day when I completed my first 10-mile run in 30-degree weather. Or at least I wouldn’t allow myself that label. It felt like I hadn’t earned it. At least not yet. So in the weeks that followed, I would continue to run three days a week consistently and heal my injuries or discomfort with foam rollers, compression socks, and ice packs for the days that I didn’t.

Thumper, my 22-month-old, would run ahead of us sometimes and yell, ‘Yuck me! ‘m wunning. Exercise!” I don’t think her four-year-old sister learned the term exercise until she had to do it herself at preschool, well past the age of two. She might have been pushing three, and she certainly didn’t learn it by watching me.
When I’m not running, I would see runners on the street or by the lakefront and I’d feel jealous - I wanted to be the one running. As the weather showed signs of winter’s end, the first spring outfit I bought was a running skirt. With my first big paycheck from my freelance work this year, I bought myself a spring running jacket and Little Miss a pair of running shoes.
And I registered for a half-marathon. Gulp.
Even with all of that, I wasn’t ready to call myself a runner. I’d toy with the term using hashtags on my workouts that also publish to Twitter - #runner, #runnersview - but I had never directly referred to myself as one. I couldn’t. The term seemed to imply so much more than just lacing up and hitting the pavement, which was what I’d been doing. More or less.
Then tragedy struck at the Boston Marathon this past Monday. Two explosions. Three dead, one of them an eight-year-old boy who was there to cheer for his dad. Over a hundred others wounded. My heart went out to everyone affected by this tragedy. The dead, the grieving, the injured, the stranded, the lost, the runners.
The runners. For some reason, that hit me the hardest. They’ve worked so hard to get there. Months, even years, of hard work and sacrifice culminating on a day like that. Triumphant in their accomplishment, but robbed of their moment of glory because of a heinous act.
I ran 12 miles on Sunday against a relentless wind. It felt really tough, and many times, I wanted to give up, wondering why I was putting myself through all that when I could be in the comfort of my home with my family. When I think of that training run, I realized that, as difficult as it felt for me, it was a mere fraction of what the marathoners had to go through to get to Boston.
They’ve had to work through pain, gruelling hills, extreme temperatures, and whatever it took to qualify and then run in Boston. And just like that, a day that should have been theirs, that should have been rife with smiles and celebrations, was taken away from them.
As a mother, I can’t get past the image of the eight-year-old who lost his life in the explosion. As a blogger, I’m writing to process my feelings, as most writers do, hoping that these words would reach someone who would, in turn, reach back out to me so we can talk and feel together, and try to make sense of that which is senseless.
And on a day where runners wore their previous race shirts or ran to show their solidarity for Boston, I did too.
My Facebook stream, where I receive much of my running inspiration from groups like Run Hard - Always Finish and Distant Runners, exploded with show of support by and for the running community. Many of whom participated in the Boston Marathon, but many more who were just in awe of those who did.
This community of runners is comprised of all types of people, and as such, it embraces us all. Two miles or five. 26.2 or 50. Eight-minute or 16-minute mile. They say that we are all runners. And I'm starting to believe them.
I no longer feel like I need to run a marathon or log several more miles or races to belong. Or more importantly, after witnessing the incredible spirit of this group in light of this tragedy, I want to belong.


And to do so, I will first have to own this: I am a runner. 

Today, I ran five miles in honor of Boston.  In 10 days, I will run 13.1 for me.


I am a runner.
I am a runner. I am a runner.
Justine - mother, writer, runner...
I love the sound of that.





image source: Run by Fey IIyas.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rainy days

T.S. Elliot was right - April is the cruelest month. It’s been raining all week, and I’m not a fan of the rain. At least not in early spring, when it’s still cold, so when you’re wet from the rain, you’re soaked to the bone with a chill you can’t shake.

Not surprisingly, the rain doesn’t faze my four-year-old. Little Miss is happy to run out in her raincoat and wellingtons to jump from puddle to puddle. On our way to school this week, she did just that. In my rain boots, I decided to join her.

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Huh. Whaddya know? I liked it.

Maybe it’s her infectious glee, because for a moment there, I was able to forget my prissy little self and just go with the flow. Jump. Jump. Splash. Giggle. Giggle. Spy another. Run to it. And repeat.

Going with the flow.

That made me think of all these other times this week - or this month? - that we’ve had to pivot unexpectedly to deal with unpredictability. Rain? Puddle jump. Daddy missed his flight home? Find a way to keep the girls up (hello, The Sound of Music!) to surprise him.

I feel like this month is all about working around work. My Guy has been putting in mad hours for a client who seems to have an insatiable appetite for change, but it’s the kind of work he enjoys so it’s great for him, great for our bank account, but it’s also disruptive to family life.

Some days, the girls and I hardly see him. And while that’s less than ideal, I also understand that this is part of the life we chose. Even though we left our corporate jobs to spend more time with the family, we aren’t guaranteed a steady flow of clients that would keep our bills paid.

When work comes, we put in our best effort because when the well of clients run a little dry, which can certainly happen, we can spend that time with family and not have to worry about an empty bank account.

Right now, we’re paying our dues - he, slogging away at work; me, trying to juggle my own freelance work, which is flourishing now, and keeping it all together for us at home. Sometimes succeeding, sometimes, not so much.

But most days, we just make do with what we have.

Like, after a week of long hours at work, My Guy took off a little earlier on a fine spring day so we could all go to the playground and enjoy the sunny day together.

PlaygroundCollage


Or when he did get to work from home and not travel from meeting to meeting, he took advantage of the ability to shut down for a little bit to take his girls out for a meal and to the beach. After tucking them in bed for the night, he went right back to slaving on his computer. Until 3a.m. On a Friday night.

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But sometimes, he’s at the complete mercy of others’ schedule, and can’t make it home to see his girls. That’s when I brought one of them to surprise him at work instead.

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Spring break devoured by deadlines? Let’s create one of our own at home. These new swimsuits look far better on the girls than off them, hidden in the closet.



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We find a way. We make do.

Rainy days may be hard, but I’m learning that as long as there’re rain boots, there’s always a puddle or two waiting to be discovered. And since it’s often followed by joyful laughter, how bad could that be?

April also marks the awakening of life after a winter’s hibernation. Gone is the biting cold air, and the sunshine we see is also the one we can really feel. The kind that allows us to shed our layers and walk barefoot in the sand.

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When I’m home, I can leave the windows open while a gentle breeze and soothing sounds from a nearby wind chime pour into my living room.


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Sure, it rains a lot in spring and it may be uncomfortable, but it’s the good kind of discomfort, because in the end, that’s how the flowers and verdant fields come to life.

And in between those life-giving rainy days are ones where kids are happily swinging at the park, giggling and growing, as they face the light of the sun.

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*  *  *

This is a Wordful Wednesday post. Click on over to Parenting by Dummies to join the carnival!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Second Child Syndrome, a.k.a. Shafted

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You know how you can tell Thumper has a big sister?

Pink and purple were the first colors she learned. And words like “princess”, “crown”, “fairy” and “wand” (said in perfect toddlerese, of course, like pin-ceth, complete with the adorable lisp) entered into her vocabulary way sooner than it did for Little Miss, who didn’t show interest in the kingdom of pink and princesses until she was almost three. Damn you preschool!

Thanks to these same footsteps set by her older sister, Thumper has also mastered tattling. “Missy’s hurting me!”

Blaming: “Missy did it!”

Complaining: “It’s too wowd! (loud)”

Being dramatic: “Daddy’s downstairs, the whoooole time!” (upon realizing that he never left the house to begin with.)

Talking back to the TV: “Where’s C?”, a character in Super Why asks, to which she responds, “Wight there!” or when he asks, “Which of these will help Rapunzel get down from the tower? Bed, book, or ladder? Is it bed?” and she yells back, “No! Yadder!”

Wanting to be included: “Wait! I want go with you too!”

Staking her claim: “Hey! That’s my puhple ah-pa-pus (octopus)!”

All this before turning two. I can only imagine what four will be like.

Oh, but there’s more.

Unlike her sister, who learned preschool humor, like using “butt” and “toot” inappropriately, a few months into preschool, Thumper is already getting creative with them. Her favorite, which makes us all giggle, even when we try not to, is to replace song lyrics with “butt”.

“Twinkle, twinkle little Butt!
How I wonder what you Butt
Up above the world so Butt
Like a diamond in the Butt”

That is all her, and she’s very proud of her version, barely holding herself together with each line and cracking up at the end. She’s such a character. Our little imp.

While much of it is personality driven, you can also tell that she’s learning some things sooner than most firstborns because it’s harder to contain what she observes and obtains from her worldlier-than-her big sister.

It’s not uncommon to hear a volley of “butt” and “toot” between them, and somehow, the following has made its way to our bath ritual: “Yuck (look) Mommy, I’m nakey!” utters Thumper as she parades around the house sans clothes, and then she turns to moon me, “Mommy, ‘mack (smack) by butt!”

Apart from developing language at a quicker pace, which I think is wonderful for all of us as she’s able to express herself better, “I don’t yike thith!”, hence fewer tantrums, Thumper pretty much gets shafted everywhere else.

As a second child, Thumper never got her grapes cut past 12 months. I think I was still carefully preparing Little Miss’ food at age 2, double-checking for choking hazards. When I was making baby food for Little Miss, I followed the solid food charts religiously, steaming, pureeing, and feeding her zucchini at 6 months, spices at 8, eggs at 12. I rarely strayed.

With Thumper, she had her first taste of table food - Italian wedding soup, to be precise - at 8 months, when at that age, Little Miss was mashing her gums and four front teeth on sweet potatoes.

With Number Two, I’m careful, just not vigilant.

Needless to say, 95% of Thumper’s wardrobe used to be her sister’s. Case in point: See the outfit above on Thumper? This is Little Miss with the same dress. Someday, I probably won’t remember who’s who.

When we went shopping two weeks ago, we came home with an entire bag of spring clothes for my four-year-old and one measly dress for her little sister, and it’s only because we wanted them to match on Easter. Investing in clothes for Little Miss now means less expenses with Thumper later. Good news for us, not so much for the little one.

IMG_2599Egg hunt in action. So much for matching - we didn’t even make them pose together for pictures.


I also ordered Easter gifts from Amazon for Little Miss and realized that I should probably have included something for Thumper’s basket the night before the bunny was scheduled to arrive. Yes, a little late. And that’s how she ended up with plates and bunny lollipops from a grocery-store shelf that has been picked clean, whereas her sister got a dress and two CD’s she loved.

On the plus side, Thumper got an earlier start on Easter candy binges. I think it worked out in the end. At least for her.


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Now that I’m writing this, I do feel bad for shafting my little one. It’s certainly not indicative of how I feel, because I don’t – can’t – love her any less than her sister. In fact, on most days, I’m walking on clouds when it’s just the two of us at home. I do absolutely, unequivocally adore my little imp.

My little Baby Pickle, as I like to call her, although she doesn’t even like pickles. And at 22 months, she’s no longer a baby either. *sigh*

However there is one thing that Thumper has that Little Miss never did at this age: Me, at every hour and every minute of the day. With my first child, I was a working parent, and Little Miss spent most of her infancy and toddlerhood at a daycare, something I feel guilty about to this day.

And now that I’m a stay-at-home mom with part-time freelance work from home, I feel I get a do-over of sorts with Thumper. I spend my hours with her cuddling and playing while her sister’s in preschool, and I get to witness new milestones and not just hear about it from a caregiver. Whether or not I record it, well, that’s another story. (See Second Child Syndrome.)

When it’s just us, it’s sometimes my favorite part of the day, and as Thumper nuzzles her head on my shoulder and randomly plants a kiss on the nape of my neck, my guilt over her second-child syndrome dissipates a little.

I may not cut her grapes or buy her new clothes, but I’m here to wipe her snot and kiss her boo-boos. Every time she needs it. I think it’s a pretty good tradeoff.

And I’m quite sure she thinks so too.

 

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