My name is Erica. I am a 38-year-old public school art teacher. I have been teaching for over 10 years and love my job. Unlike many mothers with children with disabilities, I have managed to maintain my career. I feel very blessed to work with over 500 students in our town in Minnesota.
I have been married since 2006. My husband, Scott, is an outside sales person for a title company. He is the most amazing father. He has stepped up, when he could have run away. I admire his strength for completely doing this with me day-to-day.
Our only son, Grant, was about 6 when his first serious round of self injury began. He has some level of intellectual disability, autism, and Avoidant Restrictive Feeding Intake Disorder (ArFID) which resulted in a g-tube getting surgically placed in August. Below is just a small piece of my life story. I am writing regularly at erica873.wixsite.com/grant and share updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/deargrant if you would like to read more.
I was cleaning up my art room, like I always do. Pandora was playing “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. I know this song really well. I might be able to sing along without the lyrics without them in front of me. Can you hear it now?
” Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…”
This song triggers a variety of emotions. I sing along. Just in my head. I don’t need someone to walk in my classroom and hear me.
Taylor sings …
“You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
I won’t make it any other way”
I push the tears back. I want to let them flow at this moment, but I don’t and I won’t. I have let them flow before. I have had deep, ugly cries in the last six months. I have done this in front of my son. I have done it alone. But, I have never let myself cry like this in front of anyone else. This song is triggering this feeling, but I push it down.
I feel regret and anger when I have cried like this in front of Grant. It makes me cry more. My anger builds with every piece of this of this journey. The tears flow easily if he hurts me and I am not talking about emotional pain. I have never had a verbal argument with him. He is not considered “non-verbal,” but he is not functionally conversational either.
He has attacked my hair so many times I can’t count all of the incidences. Even in one day, he has come at me over 20 times. It’s like he is trying to remove chunks of my hair. I am trained in something called “CPI” so I know how to release his hands from head. I have to press on his knuckles. My scalp hurts after he comes after me. After a summer of hair pulls, I eventually sacrifice my long strands for a chin length “do.” I resent him in that moment at the hair salon. I tell myself it’s just hair. It is not me or who I am as a woman. It’s just hair. I eventually purchase hair turbans off of Amazon to protect my poor scalp. Cutting my hair doesn’t prove to be enough to keep him from hurting me.
He has tried to hurt my eyes. This is how it all started. He would push his fingers into my tear ducts. It happened so quickly. It’s hard to explain how anyone can get to your eyes so quickly.
Today he mostly kicks me. He hits me. He has bruised my eye area. He has scratched my skin and, more recently, he has learned how to head butt. This might be the worst new behavior. It comes out of nowhere. I can be putting on his diaper or he can be sitting on my lap. I might lean over to fix something and his head, with a helmet on, comes at my face so quickly. I can’t get out of the way. I bawl.
There was a day where he hit me so hard, I question if there is blood running down my face. I luck out, it’s only mucus. My nose feels broken regardless. It’s hard to hide my emotions. Tears flow easily. I want to hide. I can’t show him how upset I am in these moments.
This head butting issue really irritates me. On Halloween, his head hits my mouth. I thought he had loosened a tooth. I am not sure if he just caused me serious dental issues. I am hysterical. I grasp my face in horror. WHAT DID HE JUST DO!? How can a 9 year old be this violent? He stares at me as tears make my mascara drip black lines down my face. I am flushed. My lip is busted open this time. I have not overreacted. I might have my teeth still, but that was truly painful. I fall to the floor sobbing. He just stares at me. He might have said something like “mommy sad.” Yes, Grant. Sad is only the beginning of the emotions I feel in this moment.
Deep anger fills me. I don’t lash back. But, every cell in my body wants to fight. But, I can’t. There is no point. He doesn’t understand what he is doing. He just sees his mother crying. To him, this is interesting. So he will do it again. I have sealed that destiny with my outward emotions. But, I can’t stop in these times. I am getting hurt. I am hurt. I cry. I am so unbelievably tired of this.
Attacking me…this only a piece of what is happening in my home on a daily basis. Some days are worse. Some are better. I ask myself constantly “What is worse than this?” I mean, I quite literally in my head run through a game called “What is worse than this situation?” We have to find answers. We have to move forward. I remind myself that we are lucky he is alive. We wait patiently for his turn at the hospital. I’ll do the best I can with each day as it comes. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe. I will hold on to the hope I must keep in my heart for the three of us for a better and easier life.
This is a guest post written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular guest posts on my blog since February 2015. The purpose of her posts is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness. I’m also hoping the posts will help readers recognize that we all have hopes, dreams, challenges and mountains to climb regardless of our mental health status. If you’d like to read the posts I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the guest posts she’s shared on this blog, check out the mental health page. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.
Being grateful can improve one’s health. As I reflect on the past year, I have so much to be thankful for! I have two kids who I would do anything for, a great support system of professionals, family and friends, the ability to help myself and seeing gains for my efforts. I have found more peace in myself now than I ever have before. To me, Thanksgiving has a new meaning this year. The good, the bad and the rest that doesn’t always make sense. These are all the pieces of my life that I’m thankful for.
My parents were out of town for over three months due to my dad’s lung transplant, but have been back now for a little over two weeks. My dad is home this Thanksgiving. I am grateful that my parents get to spend the holiday with us. My dad had some lung rejection issues, and he ended up in the hospital for ten days right before they came back home. His team of doctors will be checking his antibodies soon to see if the lung rejection is still happening. If his antibodies are bad, he will have to go back to the hospital for further procedures. The transition to them being back home has not necessarily been easy, but we are working on adjusting to accommodations that work for everyone. We are moving forward with my dad’s health with optimism. We are planning for a great future with him around.
I’m thankful that Raegan, my six-year-old daughter, is starting to understand my mental health issues. She likes to show her friends and people who stop by clips from when I was in movies, television shows and commercials in my 20s. I was in the movie Four Christmases. Raegan laughs pretty hard when she sees my hands up in the air in the background. She often asks me what happens when I don’t take my pills. I forgot them one morning, and she asked if I could drive alright without them. I told her that I would be fine, as long as I took them soon. Raegan is reading very well and with great expression. She loves math, her class and her teacher. She is very wise and kind as well. She has her temper tantrum moments. Xander, my two-year-old son, is loving life. He is pretty rambunctious and is an explorer. He is full of questions, loves school (Early Childhood Family Education) and is an extremely kind and loving son. He loves exploring so much that it’s difficult for him to sit still during ECFE reading time. During gym time, he’s been running around pretending he’s a dinosaur. The other kids don’t seem to know what to think. He is proud to call the other kids in the class his friends. My experience with Xander at school has been different because I feel more chill and comfortable about everything. I am thankful for my two children. They keep me going, even when I’d rather isolate myself from the world.
I need a support system to help me discipline and work with my kids. My parents, friends and a team of professionals help me with these issues. I take advice from each and every one of these people to help improve my situation. I am trying to help myself so I can be more independent of some of this help, as I have been over the past few months. I’m working with what I’ve been told, and am starting to figure out a parenting plan that I can do more independently. Now that my parents are home, it’s east to revert to dependence again. But I have gained confidence over the last three months as a parent. I am a parent who can prepare meals, stay organized and help with homework. I am thankful for all that I have been taught about parenting, and I plan on utilizing those skills throughout life.
Overall, I am very satisfied with how far I have come as a single parent. I am grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, and am happy my mom and dad are now home, at least for now. My kids, support system, my ability to help myself and peoples’ responses to my gains have guided me towards more independence in life and with my children. I hope that over the years I become more confident in my myself and my skills. Every day is a new journey!
13 1/2 years ago when my first born was just five months old, I cracked open a new book titled Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It by Andrea J. Buchanan. It rocked my world. Andrea’s words spoke to my needs as a new mom, but they also spoke to my needs as a woman. She got it! She understood me! I wasn’t alone in this thing called mothering. Finally, somebody was speaking truth. At that point, I’d been writing in diaries, notebooks and journals for 15 years, but for the first time ever, I understood the healing, transformative power of words on readers. Nobody had written so honestly and tenderly to my heart. Nobody had bared their soul so brutally and beautifully on the page.
I wanted to move people like that. I wanted to touch peoples’ hearts like that. I wanted my words to make a difference in peoples’ lives the way Andrea’s words made a difference in my life. I wanted to write raw and real, tough and tender. I wanted people to know they weren’t alone.
I wanted to write books.
Four years later in the spring of 2007, I set a goal to write ONE book on mothering in my lifetime. In the summer of 2014, that goal morphed a bit. Perhaps I’d write a book on mothering when I was older, wiser, and through the hardest and longest days of motherhood. But now I had a fresh vision for reaching mamas. What if I could impact mamas’ lives and touch mamas’ hearts through children’s books?
Between January and April of 2016, I spent every Tuesday and Thursday morning writing and editing three children’s books. This summer, I received clear vision for book four! While the first book could certainly stand alone, the books are intended to be part of a series.
BOOK ONE is about being bold and brave. The manuscript is complete! It’s been edited by me numerous times and by my husband two times. Even after all the edits, I still sense something special about this story. Of all four books, I have the most peace about this one. If I had to put it in the hands of an agent, editor or test reader today, I have confidence it would read and resonate well, especially with anyone who’s a parent.
BOOK TWO is about growing up. This story has been to the chopping block with a major rewrite, and is richer because of it. The manuscript is complete and REFUSES all thoughts of being discarded! As all moms know, there’s an undeniable push and pull when it comes to our babies growing up. This book speaks to the hearts of moms and their girls transitioning from one stage of development to the next.
BOOK THREE is about becoming comfortable with who we are and fixing broken things. The manuscript is fully written, but is still in rough form. It’s been cut by 900-some words and edited several times through. There’s definitely a book there, but it needs a lot of development before it’s ready. The challenge of this story is piecing together our identity and our brokenness as moms and girls. I’m bound and determined to write this one, even though it’s the most challenging of all four books.
BOOK FOUR is about dreaming big and was just conceived (unexpectedly) this summer! I’ve jotted a FULL page of notes down, and have a clear vision for what the book is about and the unique way it would be illustrated. At this point, I need time to write the first official draft of the manuscript. With all the notes I’ve taken, it should get off to a solid start! I’m very excited about this book. It’s fun and fresh, and will take the series in a new direction.
So here’s where I stand, friends! I took a break from writing the children’s books this summer because I needed to focus on my three kids and my dad’s lung transplant. This fall, I intend to open those children’s books back up. My goal is to spend a good chunk of time editing books one, two and possibly three with fresh eyes. I also need to write a first draft of book four as long as it’s clear in my mind! After that, I’m going to begin writing the book proposal for the series. A book proposal is a formal document that outlines all the details about the book you’re proposing to write and the audience for whom it’s intended. For children’s book proposals, you must also include the full manuscript of your book, which is why I’ve been working on those so hard! The hope is that someday I will pitch the children’s series to a literary agent, acquisitions editor and/or publisher for consideration.
There is never, ever a guarantee when it comes to getting published. But at this point, I just need to keep moving towards the dream that’s been in my heart for 13 1/2 years! I’m committed to doing my part and determined to make a meaningful difference through the lasting legacy of a book.
Here’s where you come in, mama! I need your help. I dreamed up this children’s book series and wrote books one, two and three with YOU in mind. But before I open those books back up and dive into the next round of heavy work, I want to hear from you!
After all, this series is for you AND your daughters. I want to know who you are. What are your struggles as a woman and a mom? What dreams do you have for your daughter? What dreams do you have for your own life? How else can I KNOW you so I can write FOR you?
The more I know about you, the better I’ll be able to tailor my writing to meet your deepest needs. The more I know about you, the better I’ll be able to touch your heart in a way that’s sweet and tender, bold and beautiful. The more I know about you, the better I’ll be able to write books that meet the developmental needs of your daughter while ALSO meeting your needs as a mama. The more I know about you, the more likely these books will actually land in your home and hands someday.
With all of that in mind, I’d be so honored if you could take a few minutes out of your busy day to complete a survey for me. If you’re a mom of a girl ages 2-9, you’re QUALIFIED to take the survey! Biological mom, adoptive mom, stepmom, foster mom, you ALL qualify as long as you’re mom to a daughter! The survey is 14 questions and completely confidential. I’m hoping for a lot of responses to ensure I get the most accurate picture possible of WHO my readers are as WOMEN, and WHO my readers are as MOMS.
Click the link below to take the survey! Make sure to answer all the way to the end, as each question has been included for a reason. Submit your survey when you’re done! Then please share this blog post with friends who have daughters so they can take the survey and share their perspectives, too!
It’s been a bit breezier here this week. A slight chill is in the air. Fall’s just around the corner. The annuals are looking worn and torn from the dry, summer heat. Our garden is still vibrant for late August, but plenty of plants are overgrown, beyond bloom, and in need of a hearty prune. The kids have their school supplies. My youngest received a letter from her preschool teacher. Nine days from now, we’ll be operating on a September budget, which will include hot lunches, cold lunches, field trips, and more school clothes and shoes. Yes, we’re in the final days of summer now. I can feel it. I can sense it. I know it in my bones.
When I looked through my photographs from the summer this past weekend, it alerted me that I hadn’t taken nearly enough summer photos of my children. Having taken photographs obsessively since I was 10 years old, there’s a certain threshold in my mind as far as when an occasion has been properly marked or NOT marked with photographs. This summer has NOT been standard by any means, nor has it been properly marked with photographs. This summer’s photographs show a lack of routine, instability, inconsistency paired with utter craziness. Where are the beach photos? Where are the sidewalk chalk photos? Where are the “I love gardening” photos? Where are the fun summer stuff photos? Where are the easy, breezy, airy photographs of kids without a care in the world?
If there’s one thing I’m reliably good for under any circumstance, it’s a photograph. I have my camera with me most all the time, only this summer was a little (lot) crazier than normal, a little (lot) more out-of-routine than normal. My photos reflected what was happening, but they didn’t necessarily reflect what I wanted my children to remember as they paged through the photo albums I need to catch up on someday soon. (Yes, I’m 4 1/2 years behind on those photo albums!)
This morning, two of my children played with a Fisher Price doll house while the third spent an hour or more organizing her school supplies and getting them packed in her backpack. It was a poignant moment, for sure, one that brought tears to my eyes when I stopped long enough to look.
Summer and school.
I love summer. It’s my favorite season by a landslide. I’m quick to admit to my husband (and hesitant to admit publicly) that I don’t love summer quite as much when it comes to being a mom. I’m torn. I don’t know. I love summer with kids. And I don’t love summer with kids. Part of me longs to treasure this time, these days with my kids while they’re little and somewhat-still little because I know there won’t be many more. But part of me sees the kids bored, longing for friends and routine, stimulation and more interesting things than me and my not-so-fun mom ideas. I’m the kind of mom who’d fully embrace a year-round school schedule with more frequent 2-3 week breaks throughout the year. I’m the kind of mom who’d thrive in a hot, dusty village with kids chasing balls, and moms gathering greens and cooking all day.
Yeah, I diverted a bit. Back on track now. Sorry about that!
So when I teared up over one kid organizing school supplies and two kids playing doll house, I knew I needed to do MORE to wrap up summer good and tidy in my tender heart.
This is the ONLY summer my children will be 4, 11 and 13 years old. There’s no getting this summer back. And it’s not lost on me that five years from now, my oldest will be IN college.
Sometimes this season of littles everywhere feels like forever. But it isn’t long.
I told the kids we were going to do some special things these last two weeks of summer. Some simple summer things. A day at the park. A day at the beach. A picnic. More time outside. Maybe ice cream one random afternoon. I don’t know.
So yes! The plan for today was picnic at the park, a special park we hadn’t gone to this summer. Because sometimes the simplest things in life are the best things.
I loaded the three kids in the car + 1 friend for my daughter. Heck, a good summer day’s never complete unless my oldest daughter brings a friend.
We drove 25 minutes to grab a bag full of sub sandwiches. Then we drove another 5 minutes to the biggest, grandest, most modern park in the area. We ate our subs and chomped on chips at a picnic table, and the kids played their hearts out for an hour, maybe more.
I followed the kids around the playground like only a good mom would, and carried my camera around like only a photographer would. Kids climbed ladders, spun in circles, glided across zip lines, spun in virtual spider webs, and hopped on giant ladybugs. Moms, nannies, child care providers and day camp leaders watched and followed children casually. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like summer. The kids were being kids. And I was being a mom. Just a mom. In summer.
There wasn’t anything glorious, super special or incredibly poignant about that picnic and trip to the park, but it was exactly what we needed.
A little more summer before school starts.
A few more photos to properly mark the occasion, “The Summer of 2016.”
A few more moments together before those routines start back up again.
The 13 3/4 year old was the first to say he was ready to go.
The 11-year-old girls followed suit 10 minutes later. “We’re bored. We wanna go home now.”
The 4 year old was much more hesitant to leave the park. “NO! I wanna play more!” But after a while, she was ready to go home, too.
Everybody ready in their own due time.
As we left the park, my son even said “Thanks for bringing us to the park and getting us lunch, mom.”
This afternoon, he played XBox live with friends and is now outside playing with a neighbor boy. My 11-year-old daughter is playing with her friend. And our neighbor girl just rang the doorbell, asking if my 4-year-old daughter could come out and play. The doll house is out on the porch. There’s an empty water bottle blowing across the driveway. A bunch of boys played football in the neighbor’s yard. A little one rode by on his bike, another on a Hot Wheels. And that little neighbor girl who rang the doorbell? She called me “Maisie’s mother” and asked if I could raise my daughter’s bike seat.
It’s summer here for now.
The days are long.
The days are getting shorter.
Can she use my bathroom “really quick?” Can they play water guns on my driveway? Can he balance on the retaining wall running through our garden? Can he ride her bike? Can she hang on your porch? Can they scream, shout and fight? Can they eat an applesauce from our pantry or a popsicle from the neighbor boy?
Yes. It’s summer.
School’s soon enough.
Do whatever you need to do to wrap up summer good and tidy in your tender heart.
I brought my girls and a friend to the beach yesterday, and happened to plop myself in front of a group of three moms and their kids. Clearly, they knew each other and had the afternoon planned well in advance. Based on the conversation I overheard and behavior I observed (one of the moms took 20 minutes to test her daughter on time tables), I deduced that these three were homeschooling moms.
“Sorry, you get a front row seat to all of this,” said one of the moms after lots of kiddo action transpired three feet from my beach towel.
“No worries,” I said. “I have another one at home who’d typically be adding to our chaos if he was here, so I totally understand. No problem at all.”
“How old is your son?,” she asked.
“13,” I replied.
“So you know way more than we do,” she said.
“Well, looks like two of yours are boys, so you’re quite experienced as well,” I added.
And that was it.
That was my interaction with ONE of those THREE moms.
After that brief interchange, we went about our own business. She continued conversing with the two moms. I continued chilling on my beach towel, watching my two girls and a friend play in the water.
I’ve been a mom for nearly 14 years now.
In the first 12 years of motherhood, I experienced the whole realm of working motherhood. I worked FULL-TIME, FOUR days a week, THREE days a week, TWO days a week, and ONE day a week at some point or another during those 12 years. All things considered, two and three days a week seemed to be the best fit for me.
Let me tell you, I’ve learned a great deal about stay-at-home moms during these past 18 months. More than I ever thought I’d learn. More than I ever cared to learn. Enough to give me a TRUE perspective on what it’s really like to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.
First of all, staying at home full-time in America is NOT a cake walk. For the most part, it is NOT valued by our capitalistic, work-centered culture. I don’t know the statistics and no need to go into the details, but everyone knows that the majority of modern-day moms work outside the home in some capacity. And most of the moms who stay home full-time have children on the younger side. So if you’re a mom of children of mixed ages like me (13, 11 & 4), the whole stay-at-home mom situation gets even more awkward and makes you even more of a rare bird.
In America, if you’re not actively making money, you’re not as valued. We like to believe we value full-time stay at home moms, but to be honest, now that I’ve experienced full-time stay-at-home motherhood, I’m not sure we do.
In America, if you can’t answer the question “What do you do?” with a real, active job title, you’re up a creek. “You stay at home full-time? Oh.” (Awkward pause. Person doesn’t know what to say. Person wonders what you DO with your day. Person wonders WHY you have an education but you’re not using it. Person wonders WHY you have solid experience in the workforce and aren’t “working” anymore. Think I’m making this up? No way. It’s humiliating and humbling.)
In our neighborhood, streets are pretty much EMPTY during the daytime. I’d go so far to say that our neighborhood streets are pretty much EMPTY during the daytime, even in the summer. When I’m home alone with my daughter during the day and she wants to play with kids, I can’t guarantee even ONE child will be available in the neighborhood. Maybe yes? Probably no. Let’s just say this…I’ve resorted to texting the neighborhood daycare lady so we can meet at the neighborhood park once in a while.
In America, if you’re a highly educated woman who’s staying home full-time with her children, you have days where you feel incredibly vulnerable. Is this really the right choice for me and my children? Am I wasting my college degree? Are my children really better off with me at home, or would they be better off at daycare or day camp where all the other children are having fun socializing and doing fun kid stuff together all day? Honestly, most of the time, I’m not really sure.
I’m new to this staying at home space, and won’t be here much longer. Only 14 months of staying home full-time before all three of my children are in school full-time. Once they’re all in school full-time, I’ll be focusing solely on writing and photography and other related PAID and UNPAID endeavors during the daytime hours. So honestly, I’m not really seeking long-term answers for myself. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have experienced stay-at-home motherhood, and when I look back at this time of my life, I know I’ll never regret it.
But here’s the thing.
Many days, I wish I could step outside to a village full of moms and children doing this motherhood and childhood thing together. The moms would chat about all the things that matter and don’t matter. Perhaps they’d begin dinner preparations together, or enjoy lunch together. The children would run, play and entertain themselves. There’d never be a shortage of kids, because staying at home to raise the children would be the norm. You’d always know that if you stepped outside, the village would be waiting. Kids here. Moms there. Support everywhere. People who understood your stay-at-home mom lifestyle everywhere. (I’m unrealistically optimistic, okay? I fully realize I’m not in Africa anymore.)
Since we don’t live in villages in America, it’s imperative that we not only embrace, but adopt and whole-heartedly support secret societies of stay-at-home moms that are already in existence.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms at the gym.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms at Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) groups.
Secret societies of stay-at-home homeschooling moms.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms doing playdates together.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms at the maze on Monday, toddler Tuesday at the mall, the park reserve on Wednesday, swimming at the pool on Thursday, and the zoo on Friday.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms who bring meals to one another when life gets crazy.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms who can lend a hand for an hour or two when you just can’t do this anymore.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms who get it, who understand it, who can say “yep, been there, done that, I totally get it!”
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms who can love and support and care for one another in the best and worst of times.
Secret societies of stay-at-home moms who do life together, who honor one another’s hard, hard work, who understand that this lifestyle has value and worth beyond measure.
I think I was sitting behind a secret society of stay-at-home homeschooling moms yesterday at the beach. Good for them! I’m grateful they have a space to joke “We need to go to counseling together,” and “I get so agitated with her dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD.” I’m grateful that one of those moms felt comfortable enough around the other moms to scold her child “Stop kicking that sand, move away, it’s getting in our faces!” and NOT feel like a “terrible mom.” I’m grateful they were able to eat lunch together and chat while their children played in the sand. I’m grateful they had an opportunity to feel supported and loved and cared for. I’m grateful they created this secret society for themselves.
Stay-at-home moms. Rise above the mainstream. Keep up those secret societies! Build them. Support them. Nurture them. Invite other moms to them. Never, ever forget that America’s in desperate need of secret stay-at-home societies. Never, ever forget that moms are in desperate need of secret stay-at-home societies.
If staying at home full-time has value and we want it to be more highly valued in the United States of America, we MUST find a way to support our stay-at-home moms and children.
Secret Societies of Stay-at-Home Moms.
They’re a solution to an epidemic of a problem.
Moms and children need support. Moms and children need community. Moms and children need love. Moms and children need to know they’re not going crazy. Moms and children need to know they’re making good choices for their family.