Open Drawers

Let me paint a scenario…

You’re tired. Like, really tired. You have solo parented for the past two weeks while your husband is working in another state. Your mind is like a chest of drawers and every single drawer is open—did I pay the gas bill, sign homework folders, need to practice math flash cards, eye appointment for one child tomorrow, haven’t seen dentist in over six months and need to book all kids in to see one, laundry sitting in dryer needs to be folded, should really sort closets, door handle isn’t on yet call contractor, did I send money for the kids hot lunch, I want to workout Saturday but have no one to watch the kids, Volleyball practice this weekend do I have that covered, I have to do passport picture for the little one, I haven’t communicated with my team in awhile and my business is hurting because of it, I need to mail five packages of product, voicemail from aunt have to call her back, did we do thank you notes from Christmas, I’d like to try homemade dishwasher pods–and on and on and on.

With these thoughts rolling around your mind, you walk into your daughter’s bathroom and stop short. The spray that’s supposed to be for her hair was used on Barbie and now it’s mixed into some type of slop with that expensive lotion you gave her and it’s spilled all over the counter. Nail polish is out and dripped on the white cabinet. Last night’s wet towels are piled on the floor. The sink is caked with tooth paste. There are plastic horses all over the floor over by the shower and there are LOL doll pieces actually in the shower. There’s no toilet paper on the holder and there, in the middle of it all, your child. Oblivious. Even more oblivious to the fact you had told her to clean up her bathroom yesterday. She’s about to explain how this makes complete sense in her mind but you stop her. You yell. You yell and the entire time you’re yelling you can see her face crinkle up a bit as if bearing a blow and she crouches back a little scared but not really because you’ve never hit her, so it’s just the volume that’s a little shocking. Tears well in her eyes and you, exasperated, almost tear up yourself because you are so mad, annoyed, confused and frustrated. Now another two drawers open in your mind chest—first, that you have to figure out how to get that nail polish off of your newly renovated cabinets and second, you yelled. Again. That one goes into the mom fail drawer. 

I hope that some of you reading this—I mean even one of you reading this can relate. Can you? If not, I’m really sinking fast. Let’s keep the scene going…

Later that night you, crippled with guilt, cry into the phone while you tell your husband you’re a failure as a mom. You explain what happened and how you yelled, again, and how bad you now feel. You’re convinced you’re a terrible mom and that you are ruining your child. He is kind. He tells you that you aren’t and that you’re an amazing mother. You keep crying. You get off the phone still feeling rotten, wipe the snot running down your nose from your ugly crying and creep downstairs to her room. She’s asleep but you wake her up. She is over it, but you aren’t. You go into an explanation about why you yelled and that you’re sorry for yelling. That it doesn’t mean what she did isn’t wrong. That it doesn’t mean you aren’t mad. But that you shouldn’t have yelled so hard. She can’t see you’re still crying in the dark and she’s half asleep and tells you it’s ok (and she means it). You hug her and tell her you love her a million more times, tuck her in and go back upstairs to finish sobbing because that didn’t really help either. 

Anyone still with me?

Confession. I’m a yeller. I yell at my kids. I’d like to explain a few things—clarify if you will—before I continue on with this. I shouldn’t have to and I actually think the more we explain the more we give away our power but I have no power here. I never yell at my children in public. I don’t belittle them or call them names. I’ve never hit my child in any way. I don’t ignore my children. I affirm them daily—literally say affirmations with them every single day. I tell them I love them all the time. I hug them and kiss them and hold them frequently. I don’t make fun of them. But I do yell when I’m upset with them. 

Why? I wasn’t raised by yellers but I never did anything like above scenario either. Perhaps I yell because I can’t put myself in their shoes and that’s frustrating. I never would have done some of the things they do and so it’s really, really hard for me to comprehend why on earth they would do it. Maybe I yell because I don’t understand.

I yell because I’m lazy. It’s much easier to yell down the stairs at them to hustle up or stop banging the piano while Carolyn sleeps than it is to go down and talk. It’s a big house. Yelling is easier.

I yell because not only is my plate full but it’s overflowing with gravy from that extra helping of mashed potatoes I thought I needed. But whose isn’t these days? The cats’ litter box is full and they have no food or water and I’ve reminded them twenty times to stay up on this. Snap. The overfilled paper plate breaks. I yell.

I yell because I don’t know what else to do sometimes. There’s no takeaway from that—kindly chatting, warnings, threats, love even ignoring doesn’t work. I don’t even have my partner here half the time, so I yell. 

Are you sitting there judging me while you read this? I’ll let you know that you can. Judge away. No amount of your comments or judgements will come even close to how much I judge myself or how much I beat myself up and belittle myself over my yelling. This is why I hate (yea, hate) “educate yourself” posts that moms like to share. You know the ones? I usually see them pop up on my feed the same day I’ve yelled—“yelling will ruin your child’s spirit,” or “do you know what you’re doing to your child when you yell?” and “You might as well beat your child with a two by four because that’s how yelling affects your child.” They usually have awesome images too that really make you feel good. Educate yourself they say. I’ll say this. The term “educate yourself” is the most uneducated thing you can say to someone. Someone make me that shirt please…or a wine glass.

Do you really think for one second I’m not aware of the consequences of yelling? That I’m not aware of the studies or theories or alternatives to yelling? It’s like Jolene from Georgia doesn’t actually care, she just posts that to reaffirm she’s got things all figured out and doing it better than us scum that yell. Educate yourself Jolene. Do you think people who are overweight don’t understand the risks of being overweight? That they don’t know? Do you think smokers aren’t aware of the negative effects of cigarettes? Of course they know. No amount of you educating or hanging it over their head from your soapbox is going to change that. The only thing it does is encourage me to beat myself up a little more. Thanks, Jolene. I will tell you that the mental narrative I have with myself over this is something that no person should ever hear spoken out loud. We do this to ourselves don’t we mamas (and dads)? I don’t need the posts. I don’t need your judgement. I don’t need your advice. I already have a whole drawer open in my mind—remember that mom fail drawer I mentioned? That’s the one. It’s filled with replayed scenes and fails and negative thoughts about what a rotten, fail of a mother I am. I loathe this drawer and try to keep it closed as much as possible.

Are you waiting for me to go into a Rachel Hollis moment? Here’s my flaw but here’s how I came out of it, beat it, got it all figured out, coached you on it and now have a book and tour and millions to show for it? Unfortunately, not this mama. I’m willing to be raw and vulnerable with you though, which is hard enough. I admit my flaw, am aware of it and I am willing to work on it. That’s it. That’s all I got.

Here’s what I did come up with. Upon some recent prayer and reflection, I decided for Lent this year I’m giving up yelling. I have a rubber band that I’m wearing on my wrist all of Lent to try and condition myself like Pavlov’s dog. Each time I yell or go to yell, SNAP. It may not solve everything. It may solve nothing. I may still yell but I hope to be much more aware of the yelling and hopefully it curbs it or stops it before it happens.

So this lent while others are giving up things or doing new things for their forty days, you’ll find me with a rubber band on my wrist working at fixing a flaw that I’d very much like to go away. I will say this—I still think children need discipline. When they misbehave, I’m not a big fan of sitting down as two adults and talking it out (I’m the adult last time I checked). I’m going to try to replace the yell with quieter stern moments but you bet your bottom dollar there will be quiet stern moments and consequences for misbehavior. I have no desire to let them see me as an equal or to have my sole purpose be their best friend. I’m their parent and hope there’s a little bit of fear, a lot of respect and even more love. God gave these three to me and no one else for a reason—no one else on the planet is better equipped to raise them than I am (and Kurtis). No one. Even with the yelling. But I know God is tugging at my heart as well. Tugging at me to listen to him and to work on this at the very minimum during this Lenten season. Maybe you’re feeling called to do the same. Maybe it’s something different that you struggle with or want to do better or even something you want to start doing. Regardless, let this post be a reminder that none of us are perfect. We all likely have parenting flaws we would love to magically disappear. You have a mom fail drawer too, don’t you? I bet you do. We all unwillingly play the comparison game (even Jolene from Georgia with her stinking posts). We all struggle with feeling like we fail our children (on occasion or daily). All of it. However, let this honest confession from a flawed mama also be a reminder that you aren’t alone. That we really are in this together. The next time you go to compare yourself to someone else, maybe snap a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder that she’s likely struggling too. Maybe she’s even a yeller like me.  

Cracked by The Nutcracker

“One must never be late to the theatre.” I said as we were leaving the house.

Let me back up just a bit. My in-laws were making a trip to come visit us. It’s a big deal when they visit, as we don’t get to see them all that often and my daughters are incredibly close to them. Each year, they are kind enough to come visit around Christmas, so we can do a little Christmas celebration and also a pre-birthday party for Hadley. They live in Canada, so you can understand how special it is for all of us—especially the girls—when they get to see them.

They had planned to do the fifteen hour drive down to us. They would stay for a few days and then leave on a Sunday, as my mother-in-law (Shirley) had an event she needed to attend the following Tuesday. That was a pretty short turnaround to begin with—two days on the road and then a business event an hour and a half away the day after she returned home. 

About a week before they arrived, I heard on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) that The Nutcracker ballet was being preformed in town. The Nutcracker. It’s a tradition in my life since as long as I can remember. I would dress up and attend with either my parents or my aunties. I loved going and I affiliate it with Christmas and happy memories. Once I had my girls, I vowed when they were old enough I would carry that tradition on with them. We started it in Texas. It was the first year Tia and Hadley were really old enough to attend and I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me to take them. This was our first season with it back in Iowa and I knew I wanted to take the girls—Carolyn was still too little. I actually thought about taking her for a second before my mom reality check mechanism quickly kicked in. Check yourself before you wreck yourself Lauren. I looked at the dates and realized we had missed the first weekend and the only weekend left was when Shirley was in town. This was perfect. She loved theatre and arts and traditions like these and I quickly called her to see if she wanted to attend. It took a little pleading on my end and it certainly wasn’t the perfect option because that meant they had to stay an extra day. It also meant that they had to do the 1,000 mile road trip back to Canada in one day. Yes, in one day. Then she would have to turn around and drive an hour and a half the next day for her event. I told her I understood if they couldn’t—and trust me, I did understand. But she said they would talk it over. She called back the next day and said it was a lovely idea and to snag the tickets. 

So there we were the day of the ballet, ready for the Sunday matinee. I couldn’t wait to take everyone. My tickets were purchased (we were a little late to the game but I still had grabbed great seats). We were all dressed in our Sunday best and ready to go. I was a little anxious because getting my girls ready and out the door to attend an event on time takes some effort. I double checked the time and date about a million times to make sure I had it right. I was so happy. These were the types of moments I lived for—taking my girls to experience a time-honored classic while also hosting my mother-in-law. I was feeling quite grown up. 

As a child, my theatre major mother and my theatre loving aunties had always, always instilled in me that one must NEVER be late to the theatre—ballet, opera, orchestra, you name it. They emphasized it was rude, tacky and totally unacceptable. I’m telling you, they might as well have beaten it into me (they didn’t, but still). So as we were loading up into the Yukon, I said the same thing to Tia and Hadley, so that they understood why I was acting slightly psychotic about getting to the show in a timely manner and not dilly-dallying. “One must never be late to the theatre!” I said as we loaded into the vehicle.

We pulled up to the downtown theatre– the old Orpheum in Dubuque now better known as the Five Flags. Memories of attending the ballet as a child came flooding back. We arrived about a half hour early—but doors were to open promptly fifteen minutes before the show. It also clearly stated in an email I received that if you were late, you were locked out until intermission. I couldn’t believe our luck as we parked nearly right at the front of the theatre. Usually it was crowded and hard to find spots on the one-way streets downtown. We walked in and I was shocked to see only a handful of people there. We checked our coats and I asked a lady at the ticket booth, “This is where the show’s at correct?” She smiled and said, “It sure is.” I showed her my tickets and she told me to hang on to them for now and show them to the usher when the doors opened. The girls picked out a few snacks from the concession and we got in line by the doors. Shirley and I were catching up on things and chatting while people began filing in. When you’re a writer, you learn to observe things—all things. As people were walking in, I couldn’t help but notice that most of them were over the age of sixty. My heart sank. This is what was happening to our youth I thought to myself. Gone are the days of taking your children to the ballet on a Sunday. They’ve instead been replaced with sitting at home on video games with a complete disregard or care for the arts. I mentioned this to Shirley. She too, said she was surprised there weren’t more children. 

In front of us, a mom (let’s call her Kelly) with her friend had about five kids and they were as dressed up and ready for the ballet as we were. We chatted a bit and talked about how excited we were to be sharing this experience with our kids and how much we loved The Nutcracker and how important it was for them to know about theatre and composers and operas and all the things. As we were chatting, I kept glancing back at the people as they arrived and now, aside from the fact there were no children, I was surprised at the number of work jeans, fleeces, John Deer hats and tennis shoes. Back up on my soapbox I went —well not only were gone the days people took their kids to theatre, but apparently gone were the days where you dressed up for the theatre as well. These people looked like they were ready to attend a ball game. They were casual as all get out. Again, I mentioned this to Shirley who also was a little shocked by the ball caps. 

It felt like we had been waiting quite a while and when I checked my phone I saw it was ten minutes to two. Two o’clock was showtime and they were supposed to have opened the doors five minutes ago. Now I was really getting antsy. We needed to get seated and settled. Kelly in front of us with her children and friend was getting a bit nervous as well. She kept looking at her ticket and checking her watch. The kids had even started trying to peek in to see if anyone was there by the door. Ten to two turned into two o’clock, which turned into ten after two. Now I was getting cranky. If you haven’t realized it yet in my posts or by following me on any of my social media, I’m a bit (ha, that’s an understatement) of a Type A personality. I am slightly rigid and a stickler for following rules and being on time. Tardiness is one of my pet peeves. The ballet was supposed to start at two o’clock and it was now ten after. The crowd in the building was getting congested and I was over-peopled. I have a small personal bubble and Rhonda behind me kept bumping into my back and bumping into my back and bumping into my back. The girls were bored and I was losing them before we were even seated. “What is going on?” I kept asking to no one in particular. “This is ridiculous. Did something happen to a dancer?” Exasperation.

Just when I was about to blow, the door opened. A woman in uniform appeared with her scanner and Kelly in front of me handed over her tickets. The usher scanned the ticket. “This isn’t the show.” She said. Oh man did I feel for Kelly. Could you imagine waiting all that time with your kiddos in tow and accidentally showing up to the wrong showing. I felt for her. I was embarrassed for her—you could tell she was near tears. She literally almost fell into her ticket trying to read it as if to will the numbers to correct themselves. “The ballet is at the Grand.” My head jerked and the pity party for Mama Kelly in front of me came to an abrupt halt. “I’m sorry, what?” Chirped the soapbox woman from behind (that’s me). “This showing is Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande.” Who in the actual F is Jim McDonough was on the tip of my tongue, but I was too choked up to even get it out. We were at the wrong place too. We were those people. I wondered if Rhonda behind me was having a pity party for me as I had been for Kelly in front of me. Shirley and I looked at each other in shock. I didn’t even know where the Grand was to be honest. I’d just moved back. I hadn’t lived permanently in Dubuque for over fifteen years. 

All we could do was leave. I started pushing my way through the shoulder to shoulder crowd like a salmon trying to swim upstream. Halfway to the door Shirley, who hadn’t followed me and was over by the coat rack yelled about our coats—which I one hundred percent would’ve left without. I was flustered and in shock. We got our coats and made it outside—I may have thrown an elbow or two but it was a desperate situation. We hit the street to biting cold air and I stood there, traumatized. Kelly was there too. It was one of those moments. I wonder if you’ve ever had them? You go through something—anticipate something—put the work in to go to something and be ready for it and be excited about it, stress over it and then it blows up in your face. In that moment, I wanted to calmly walk to my car, buckle up and drive across the Illinois bridge and just keep going. I quit. I was actually standing there in my head with these thoughts while people were talking (to me I think) when I caught Kelly’s friend saying the Grand was just up the street a block or so. “Let’s go”. I said. “We might make it if we run.” Shirley almost fell over—she had actually started heading toward the car thinking we would drive over. Not happening Shirls. We would be late for sure by the time we did that—I was already pretty sure it was over but we were going to try dammit. I might’ve failed but I’m not a quitter. I was in four-inch stiletto boots, she was in heeled boots and I had two little girls in dresses and inappropriate coats for the weather. “LET’S MOVE.” I said, and into a dead sprint I went with my family, surely concerned about my mental well being, trailing behind me. The other family followed suit for some reason (the blind leading the blind, clearly) and we all ran the four blocks up the street in heels, with kids, in ten degree weather, cheeks rosy, lungs bleeding and praying to baby Jesus that they were still doing announcements and we weren’t too late. As we neared, I saw a family trotting in and was immediately thankful we weren’t alone.

We arrived right before they closed the doors. Fifteen minutes late. “I’m so sorry” I wheezed. “You have no idea what we did” (hacking up a bloody lung as I started to explain). The usher looked at me with glassed, annoyed, judgmental eyes. “Of course.” She said and smiled a plastic, you were late, you have no class, you are tacky and your mom would be so disappointed in you kind of smile. Ok, I made that up but that’s sure as heck what I swore she was thinking. We went barreling onto the floor, found our seats— which were thankfully on the end of a row—sat down and literally had gotten our coats off just as the overture began. 

The show was fantastic and we didn’t miss any of it. I wasn’t present for a single moment of it though. Thoughts were going a mile a minute in my mind—I almost killed Shirley, they stayed late purposefully to see this ballet and we almost missed it, why didn’t the lady at the ticket booth tell me the tickets weren’t for this show, no wonder people were casually dressed and the crowd was older, I’m such a snob, I can’t believe we were late after I talked about not being late the entire week, what were the chances the people in front of us did the same thing, I need a drink, the girls think their mama is losing her mind, how did I run that far in heels? I mean on and on. Needless to say, when we made it back to our car—remember we had to walk back to it in even colder temps after the show—we both burst into hysterical laughter. How that happened I will never know. I am seriously thankful for laughter because it was either that or succumbing to a complete and total mental breakdown. The laughter continued well into the evening over wine.

In the end, we enjoyed the performance. The girls had fun. The tradition carried on and we were able to share it with Shirley. We also have a pretty decent memory out of it. The moral? Well, don’t be late to the theatre, yes. Also, when double-checking your ticket, best to also look at the location. 

Unplugged.

I once drove over twenty-five miles on a highway with an extension cord plugged into my car and dragging out behind me about thirty feet. 

As someone who isn’t a fan of winters, it’s always a family joke that I continued to move north. First to Green Bay and then across the border to Canada. In the winter depths of the Frozen Tundra, Kurtis loaded up all my worldly possessions into a trailer and I said goodbye to my darling duplex in DePere—bound for a new chapter in Saskatchewan. We stayed overnight in North Dakota and I remember wondering why there were all kinds of little stations in the parking lot. I thought they were parking meters at first but upon closer inspection they were outlets. I probably asked Kurtis at the time but sometimes I only half listen to his answers, so there’s a chance he explained and I just forgot. It was cold. My mind was likely on a warm shower.

Anyway, we moved up to Canada in the coldest possible winter and I just about didn’t marry him on account of the thirty below temperatures that lasted from the time we moved in January until July (or so it seemed). One of the first things he wanted to do when we got there was put a block heater in my Jeep. Do you know what that is? Wait, let me rephrase that…has anyone reading in the states heard of a block heater? I sure as heck hadn’t. I actually didn’t ask when he mentioned it and let him do whatever car thing he needed to do to my vehicle. I’m not a big car person. I don’t like washing them, gassing them, oil changes any of the things. Wouldn’t it be nice if people still put gas in our cars for us? Ugh, what a luxury that was. Back to the story—I didn’t pay attention to what he was doing to my car.

When he arrived home with my block heated (or whatever he did to it) vehicle, I watched him run an extension cord from our outdoor outlet to the hood of my car and then he plugged the end somewhere under the hood of the car. I was so confused. I freaked out at first because I thought he had just converted my car into one of those electric Urkelmobiles. Exasperated and confused, I asked if he had turned my vehicle into an electric car. That was probably a dumb question. Kindly, he explained (probably for a second time since North Dakota) that up north when it gets really cold, people plug in their vehicles to keep the engine warm so it starts after sitting out overnight. Considering the thirty below temps with wind gusts strong enough to send a bungalow home to Oz, it made sense.

Fast forward a few years. Winters were just as cold and technology hadn’t gotten any better for us, so we still had to plug in our vehicles. I don’t think I actually ever did plug mine in to be honest—that was Kurtis’s job. I cooked dinner, he plugged in the cars.  We lived in a tiny town of 500 people and for me to go do anything like groceries, shopping, fast food, meet friends, or workout, I had to drive thirty miles to either Estevan or Weyburn. Any time I left, I’d call Kurtis and let him know we were heading in to whichever place I’d decided on that day—usually just flipped a coin to be honest. Heads: Weyburn Wholesale. Tails: Estevan Jason’s No Frills (those are grocery stores). He’d always tell me before I left, “Don’t forget to unplug the car.” I would get annoyed sometimes. Who would forget to unplug a car? Me.  

One March afternoon, I bundled up the girls, got myself put together and decided to go see a friend in Weyburn. She had a little girl Tia’s age, so we were going to do a play date and enjoy some coffee time together. I loaded up the girls, locked the house (just kidding we never locked our house up there) and then started the thirty mile trek to Weyburn. The highway to Weyburn is a two lane mess of jacked-up trucks, oilfield equipment, farm equipment, super-b’s, and international travelers. It’s a well-traveled highway connecting the northern United States through Saskatchewan to Alberta. People either went 20 or 120 kilometers per hour on it—rarely with much in between. Remember we are in Canada friends—kilometers per hour. Ask Kurtis sometime about my comment when we crossed the border for the first time and I saw the speed limit was 100. That’s a different story though. My point is that it was a busy, dangerous highway with lots of crazy drivers and you always said a little prayer anytime you went on it.

Well, I pulled out from Midale onto the highway and took off like a bat out of hell heading to Weyburn. Not far out of town a man in a Toyota Topaz–or something like that–pulled up on my left and was waving his hands and pointing. First I pretended not to see him. I hate awkward situations and this felt especially strange. I didn’t know the man and I wasn’t exactly sure what he was upset about—I was going the speed limit and minding my own business. He kept pulling next to me then backing off. Pointing and shaking his head. I was sure he was going to get smoked by a semi. After about the fourth time, I was getting a little scared  and certainly annoyed, so I looked at him and asked, “What’s your problem!?” Do you ever do that? Talk to someone outside of your car when there’s zero chance they can hear you? I do it a lot actually. I threw my hands up with a frown, rolled my eyes, shook my head and turned away. I mean, he was being so rude. I had a car full of precious cargo and I needed to concentrate on getting them in to town safely. After that, he shook his own head and sped past me.

About halfway to town I kept thinking I heard something other than my pounding heart from the random strange man incident. I was feeling a pull on the Yukon. It was still snowy so I figured a chunk of ice or snow had fallen off the back of the car or maybe something was still frozen onto it and dragging.

On I went the thirty miles to Weyburn ranging anywhere from 110-115 kilometers per hour. As I slowed to make my turn into town, I definitely heard another clank. Now I started thinking I had popped a tire or something was really wrong with the vehicle. As I toodled down main street, people walking the street were even looking at my vehicle and laughing. 

I pulled into my friend’s driveway, got out and grabbed Hadley. I then walked around the other side of the vehicle to grab Tia and saw it….the extension cord. The once fresh, bright orange cord (last seen plugged into the side of our home) was now dirty, beaten, knotted and the plug-in end was all kinds of bent from being ripped out from the socket on the side of our home. Oh boy. I had left without unplugging. What I would give to have been a neighbor witnessing me, stuffed into the drivers seat with all my winter layers, backing out of our driveway with the cord still plugged in. Driving off obliviously singing along to “Roar” while my cord drug along behind me. A bright orange pop of color against the bleak winter background.

The man on the highway—the one I thought was an ass—was actually a really good samaritan trying to tell me that I had an extension cord flying out behind me. He had risked his life multiple times to get my attention. Can you imagine what he thought of me!? 1.) That I was an idiot (because I was) and 2.) That I was a jerk store idiot who didn’t even know what was good for her (because I was). The people on main street staring? Not at my loud vehicle but at the person cruising around town with a thirty foot extension cord dancing behind her over all the potholes. Kurtis? He was speechless. This happens sometimes. It’s not always a good speechless. It’s more of a oh my god speechless. Not like oh my god baby baby speechless but oh my god you didn’t but you did speechless. Anyway. Speechless. Thankfully it turned out ok. I won’t get into all the ways that could’ve gone terribly wrong. We’ll just leave it as a lesson learned and a friendly public service announcement to those of you up north–remember to unplug.

Sucker Punched

I punched Kurtis in the face once. Not pee wee punch no return punch, but left hook with every ounce of strength I had behind it right into his eye socket punch. What could he have done to warrant an assault like this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I was walking down a grocery aisle, pregnant. The tile beneath my feet was an older pattern in a speckled cream tone and the florescent lighting cast a yellow glow down the cereal aisle I was perusing. I didn’t have a shopping cart because I was only there for a few things. As I made my way down the aisle, a sudden dread came over me. Do you know that feeling? It’s heavy and unexplainable. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not. I felt I was in danger. Panic set in to the pit of my stomach. I wanted to run away but I wasn’t sure what I was running away from. Also, I was quite pregnant, so running would’ve been waddling. A large man turned the corner and started lurking up the aisle towards me. He was in a gray hoodie and I couldn’t see his face. As he neared, I could see his fist and he was pulling back as if to punch me aiming for my stomach. I covered my pregnant belly with my right arm and, as he leaned in, I punched him with every bit of power in me. Turns out I didn’t punch him. I punched Kurtis. 

I sat straight up in bed–rising from the dead–turned and threw a left hook into the face of my peacefully slumbering husband. The second my fist made contact with his eye, I woke up. I was dazed, scared and then horrified. I imagine he felt the same. He woke immediately, covered his swelling eye and choked out a groggy, “WHAT THE HELL.” He looked at me like I was a lunatic. Ok, it was dark and I don’t know what his face looked like, but I assume it was that. I couldn’t get the apologies out fast enough. I’m so sorry! OH MY GOD Kurtis! It was a terrible dream. I’ll get you some frozen peas! Was it a good punch? 

This wasn’t my first episode, although it’s the first one where I physically acted out. Actually, that’s a lie…I’m literally just remembering one other time someone was assaulted by me acting out a dream. 

We used to go to a little dive resort in Wisconsin called White Lake. It wasn’t ritzy but it was perfect in my eight-year-old eyes. It was small, safe and the essence of a summer getaway just right for our small family. We looked forward to every year. One fateful summer, I fell off 8′ monkey bars and broke both of my wrists. Into matching hot pink casts went my arms for the summer. That year at White Lake, we stayed in a little resort room and I shared a bed with mom while dad has his own. We woke the next morning and mom was mad at me. Not really mad, but mad the way I’m mad at Kurtis when I have a dream he cheats on me. Ya know? I didn’t understand why she was giving me heck. Turns out it was because I was bashing her in the head all night with my casts acting out a dream I never woke from. It’s still a standing joke, but now as I remember it while writing this, it makes my episode with Kurtis all the more intriguing. 

For years I’ve suffered from some kind of sleep issue. I’ve never had it tested or been to a clinic but it’s been a constant my whole life. I’ve always talked in my sleep—which lots of people do, so that’s not all that weird. I also physically jolt awake in my dreams if something painful is about to happen—like if in my dream I’m about to fall down stairs or crash into a car I will suddenly jerk awake. I remember once when I was younger waking myself up acting out a dream. In my dream, I was trying to cross monkey bars (there are those stupid monkey bars again) and I kept hitting my head on them. In reality, I was hitting my head against my headboard over and over and over again. I finally woke up after one brutal smack against it. 

Things got creepier as I aged. I get what I now believe are sleep paralysis episodes. It’s the strangest feeling. You’re floating between knocked-out sleep and drifting sleep. It’s that muffled in-between that a professional would likely say is transitioning from Non-REM to REM. Usually something scary happens in this dream state that terrifies you. I scream for help at the top of my lungs but nothing comes out or what comes out is muffled like someone is covering my mouth. Half the time I don’t remember what makes me so terrified but a lot of times when I finally wake and can move and talk, I’m reduced to tears I’m so scared and hopped-up on emotion.

Sometimes I do remember that in-between and it’s always the same—I think my eyes are open but they aren’t. Everything is dark grayish brown and I always see a dark shadow lingering at the end of my bed. I can never make out what it is but it’s there and it’s petrifying. According to Kurtis, my screams come out in muffled wails and I shake but don’t really move. Norbert used to get so upset by it he would lick Kurtis’s hand or try to lift his arm to wake him and help me. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure this all out. You can imagine my feelings when I watched The Haunting of Hill House. Part of me was ready to commit myself to an asylum because suddenly I was convinced I had a Bent Neck Lady in my life. The other part of me was grateful because I totally, totally experienced Nell’s terror. Now, I’m not going to kill myself, it’s not an everyday thing and I never lived in a haunted house (I don’t think so at least), but that show brought to light a legitimate occurrence that people–me– go through.  I remember when we first saw the show I was on the davenport like, omg I’m not alone! Kurtis was even creeped because everything described in the show he had already heard from my own personal experiences. Ghosts and demons aside, it is likely a true sleep disorder called sleep paralysis that I have along with a slight case of REM Sleep Behavior disorder. What’s interesting…concerning…is I have symptoms of both. Paralysis you can’t move, REM disorder you act out. So I’m over here all kinds of wiggidy-wack with BOTH. Maybe I should go to a sleep study… 

Needless to say, it happens most when I’m overly stressed or tired and what’s odd is it’s worse in some homes than others. I know, totally weird. It was at it’s worst in my home in Canada and our first home here in Dubuque. Those were also during the same period of life, which is also intriguing. I can’t explain it and whether I ever get tested or not, it’s likely unexplainable. In the large scope of knowledge, people actually know very little about sleep–even the experts. Yes, there are lots of studies and theories but it’s still quite an unknown. What I do know, is that my poor darling husband was the victim of my messed-up sleep issues. However, now that I have him thoroughly convinced of it, if I’m ever particularly angry with him some night I have an alibi for “accidentally” socking him in the face again. I kid, I kid…

Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.

When the Cat’s Away…

Nothing says I love you like your darling dog bringing you a deer leg. I looked out our living room picture window and saw Norbert trotting up from the woods. He was awkwardly carrying a log that was too big for him up the hill. So cute. But then I looked a little closer at the oddly shaped log. I wondered what he could’ve gotten in to in the short time he was outside. It was brisk and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, so I threw on my new Ugg boots to check. When he met me at the bottom of our deck stairs, I screamed. It was a deer leg. A disgusting, bloody, rotting deer leg. Hoof and all. He dropped it at my boots, licked his chops, wagged his tail and looked at me with those big loving brown eyes of his like, “I thought you’d like it mama.” Normally, I would go get Kurtis. That’s what Kurtis is for. I make the dinners, he handles the deer carcasses. You know, each marriage has those unspoken agreements. Here’s the problem, Kurtis wasn’t there. He was working and wasn’t going to be home for a month.

I had a few options. First, leave it. But who wants a rotting deer leg on their patio? What better way to attract the animals from the woods—coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, tigers and bears. I actually envisioned an eagle swooping down to snag it. No, leaving it there wasn’t an option. I could call someone. My dad would’ve helped or maybe a neighbor? “Hi John, it’s Lauren. I have a deer leg over here. Haha, no not for dinner. Could you come get it for me?”

Kurtis had taken a new job and I was bound and determined to survive without him. I could do this. I was a brave little toaster. So, I went and got Kurtis’s work gloves he kept in the garage. They were a few sizes too big and awkward but I was able to manage. Throwing up in my mouth as I caught the lovely scent of the rotting leg, I picked it up by the hoof—which was hanging on by some sort of…ligament? I’m not a doctor. Maybe it was a tendon. Aren’t those the same? I hope you aren’t eating. Anyway, I picked it up and carefully walked it back down the hill and gave it a huge heave-ho side throw into the woods. Bits of rotting meat flew off the leg into the air. I’m pretty sure some landed in my hair. Norbert started to bolt after it. Sweet, mom wants to play fetch with my new stick. NO! I grabbed him as he was about to charge and back into the house we went. Traumatized.

Isn’t it lovely that happened when Kurtis was gone? What were the chances? Turns out, chances were pretty freaking good because that wasn’t the fist incident. It’s turned into a running joke in our family that while Kurtis is here, nothing happens. When he’s gone, random, weird annoying incident after incident —usually animal related—happens. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but I’m a bit of a city girl. I don’t love getting dirty. I don’t like dead things. Mice, snakes, bugs in general scare me. Sometimes I think it is God playing jokes on me. Like, this is good for you Lauren, here’s a deer leg, a mouse, snakeskin and all sorts of fun things. I’d love to say this was the only time it happened, but alas, it was just the beginning. 

Not long after that, spring thaw hit Dubuque. The ground was soft and you could tell that life was gearing up for a new spring season. I was out front one day walking some trimmings to dump into our woods. I was proud as punch to be doing yard work. I’m not a fan. I would rather clean the inside of my house ten times over than do yard work but darn it, I was going to get this yard whipped into shape. As I was walking down the hill, something caught my eye on the ground. I sidestepped over to it and almost dropped my armful of clippings. It was a pterodactoyl skeleton. At least that’s what I thought it was. This thing was scary as heck, huge and perfectly in tact. Wings, beak, talons. Right there in my front yard. Guess what? Kurtis wasn’t there. What does one do with the remains of a dinosaur? I didn’t want to keep this thing in the front yard because given our past deer leg episode, Norbert would likely bring me a wing or gnaw on the bones. So I put on my big girl panties and went to work.

I went back to the garage and grabbed Kurtis’s handy-dandy gloves again–still stained from the deer leg–and switched from sneakers to my wellies. I also found a shovel and traipsed back outside. I bravely faced the skeleton with my shovel and tried to scoop it up as if sliding my spatula under the most perfectly formed pancake for a flip. Unfortunately, the head fell off, so I had to make two trips to the woods. I often wonder what the neighbors thought. There I was in my boots and oversized gloves screaming “ew, ew, ew,” as I delicately carried a dead eagle carcass out in front of me and flung it into my back woods. 

Want more?

It was late summer. The days were getting shorter and there was that crisp whisper of fall in the air. I came home from my Wednesday night tennis drill, parked my Yukon in the garage and went inside to chat with my auntie, who had watched the girls while I played. Dusk turned into evening and auntie went to leave. I opened the door to my garage and there my worst nightmare became a reality. I saw something sliding across my garage floor in the silhouette of an “s.” I slammed my door and went running back into the house. The range of emotions I was experiencing is hard to describe. Tears welled in my eyes while I simultaneously wanted to jump out of my skin. Bear with me on this. Snakes terrify me more than anything in the world. I mean terrify. I’ve been afraid of them my whole life—from teeny tiny ones to big ones that could swallow me whole.

At the ripe age of ten, I heard that the best way to beat a fear is to face it. I was so committed to beating my debilitating fear of snakes that I began checking out every book available at the library on snakes. I’d love to say it worked but, quite frankly, that piece of advice was absolute rubbish. I think my fear tripled after reading up on all the different species and looking at picture after picture of their disgusting, devilish faces. I hate them. Straight up.

Previously, I had only encountered them in museums. Today, there was one in my garage. My knight in shining armor, who would totally understand my panic, was gone. So there I was with a snake in the garage and no one to get rid of it. I wouldn’t be able to go into the garage ever again if there was even a millimicron of a chance that the snake was still in there. The only way I would ever be able to step foot in there again was knowing that it was dead. Who could I call though? Not Ghostbusters. Auntie wouldn’t help and on top of that, she loves every stinking animal that walks the earth. My parents were gone, so my only option I could think of was my neighbor. I texted him a desperate 911 asking if he would come help me with the snake. He didn’t hesitate and even brought his son to help.

They came up with a shovel ready to tackle the problem. I had kept the garage door open but after a twenty minute sweep of the area they told me it wasn’t in there anymore. Lies. Snakes are terrible, rotten, sneaky creatures and I knew that little bugger was still in there. Auntie was still around too chanting out every two seconds, “if you catch it don’t you kill it!” So I sent her home. I didn’t need that negativity at the moment. I could tell my neighbor and his son were over the situation. They came, they helped as best they could, they likely thought I was a little crazy because I was freaking out like a sketching addict and it was getting late. I could tell they were going to leave me. They were going to leave me with the sneaky snake that I knew was still in my garage. It would probably get into my house and slither into my boot so that one day I’d put it on and it would be there to terrify my and give me a heart attack. It’s not crazy. I’ve seen stories on that.

Resigned, I thanked them and went to grab my keys out of the car. As I did, the rotten terrible beast of a snake slithered out towards me. Michael Jordan’s vertical had nothing on me that night. Screaming, jumping, running, possibly wetting my pants a little, I went flying from the garage. Luckily, they were only halfway up the driveway. They came back and my neighbors in shining armor smoked it. Yes, I know snakes kill mice. Yes, word on the street is they are good for your yard. No, it wasn’t an endangered species. No, I didn’t tell auntie we killed it.

I’ve mentioned this before and I will say it again. In my book of life, a good snake is a dead snake. I never felt so relieved. While I was sure it was about eight feet long when I initially saw it, turns out is was possibly a foot in length.

Needless to say, after cleaning the blood off the garage floor and dispensing of the guilty party, my heroes left. I’m pretty sure I followed them the whole way home with tears of joy streaming down my face as I thanked them. I called Kurtis to let him know what happened and then proceeded to yell at him for not being here for me in my most desperate time of need. He asked why I left the garage door open.

I would like to say I slept better knowing it was dead, but to add insult to injury, within the next two weeks the girls and I found three sheds in the yard. One was intertwined in the back steps leading up to our deck and I was positive I had a colony living in our stone wall. I imagined them plotting against me and watching me daily. Did I mention I have a wild imagination?

That winter we had a mice. Get off your high horses people I hear you—you shouldn’t have killed the snake. He would’ve helped with the mice. Serves you right for killing the snake. Yea, yea, I get it and you’re probably right. I’m still happy it died.

Have I mentioned yet that we practically live on a farm? We have woods all around the back of our home and a creek running in the back. It’s out a bit from town, so as you can tell from what you’ve read so far, we get critters. The mice moved into our comfy cozy garage for the winter and then the little buggers tried to take it a step further and move into the house.

After a mouse interrupted my homemade peierogie making near Christmas—Kurtis was home thank goodness—he started setting traps for them. Traps are good. Catching mice is good. Dead mice in traps are good when your husband is home. Not as good when he’s gone. My poor dad became my go-to for coming out, disposing of the mice and then re-setting the traps. Here’s how my winter went. I’d be running a business meeting and SNAP. Dead mouse. That lipstick color looks great on you Fern and SNAP. Dead mouse. Sunday dinners with the family? Yes, the buns are homemade and SNAP. Dead mouse. To help with my anxiety of it all I pretended they were Gus Gus and Jacque. Just sweet little friends that meant no harm. I mean, I killed them but the thought helped. At one point when I was yelling at Kurtis on the phone…again…he kindly told me this is farm living and to get used to it. Soon after we moved to Texas.

Let me just say there were incidents in Texas as well, but luckily, Kurtis was always around. A rattlesnake to my left as I went to let one of my consultants in at the front gate sent me flying back to our apartment (in my director suit and heels) screaming for Kurtis. A tarantula we named Tito who visited on the daily. Cockroaches the size of my lipstick that came out to join us for evening cocktails on the porch. A mockingbird that lived outside our window and sang from midnight until four in the morning. But I’ll save those stories for another post.

I was well aware that moving back to my farm meant I would likely encounter some more fun-filled events. Kurtis was again working a hitch two on and two off, but I was hoping this time my luck would change. I mean, he spent almost four months home before he started his new gig and nothing. Absolutely nothing. We power washed the exterior and no snakes came flying out of the stone wall I dreaded. No sheds. No mice. The only incident was when a snake apparently crawled across our patio on a sunny afternoon when the girls and their nanny were out back. They named him Fred. I pretended it didn’t happen. Denial is a beautiful thing. In the meantime, we also got three little kitties. These garage/outdoor cats, contrary to what my girls say, were brought into the family solely to kill mice. I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Naturally, the week before Kurtis left, karma reared its ugly head. Kurtis killed two mice with his flip flop (not even kidding, he’s a beast). First, one was running around down behind our bar. WACK. Second, Hadley came running out of her room screaming. WACK. The kitties mutilated one in the garage and left it for us and then literally the day before he left, double SNAP, SNAP. The Mary Poppins in me thought, perfect, they all were handled before he left, so now we won’t have problems. Dad was onboard to help with any caught in traps again, too.  

About a week after Kurtis left, I had put the girls to bed, shut off Hadley’s light and was walking into the hall when I heard a sound no mother alone in her house with her babies wants to hear. It was a strange, scratching, something alive kind of sound that alerts you to the fact that you are not alone like you thought. The fight or flight adrenaline hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in the back corner of our basement with two babes in rooms to my right, precious cargo upstairs sleeping and a presumed intruder between me and the staircase to her.

I stood paralyzed in the hallway. The sound was coming from the family room in front of me. I had nothing to grab at the moment but thought about using a lamp. My phone was upstairs to call for help. Suck it up Lauren and face it was my last thought before forcing myself to move. I took a few cautious steps toward the sound, fully prepared to see a hooded man standing in the living room. As I turned the corner…nothing. Then the sound again, but this time behind me. It was the creepiest sound. A scratching, tapping, fluttering sound. But it was impossible to place. It was right out of Hill House but I knew it wasn’t a ghost. A thought occurred to me…a raccoon had gotten in the house. Some crazy sized critter had gotten into the house and was stuck.

By now the girls were on to me because I was pacing the hallway. I told them to get upstairs fast. I wasn’t prepared to take on a raccoon so I was right up behind them. Memories of the time a chipmunk got into my parents’ house and the time a bat fell from a tree onto my shoulder suddenly flooded my memory (no, I’m serious).

Once I was upstairs I grabbed my phone and called Kurtis. He didn’t believe me and basically told me I was crazy. Maybe I was? I stood at the top of my staircase listening. Nope. Not crazy. It was still down there. I was fully prepared for a raccoon to come walking down the hallway. Do you know how mean they are? Likely rabid, too. I called my mom and dad. I mean, what else do you do? I will say this. At thirty five, I still call my mom and dad an awful lot for help. Anyway, they were next on my people to call after Kurtis, who was worthless in this situation and, quite frankly, ticking me off. I asked both mom and dad to come–dad for brute force and mom for brains. So, at around 9:30pm, when they were likely settled in for Chicago Fire, they came rolling out.

I waited at the top of the stairs and continued to hear the strange, very much alive, sound. When mom and dad showed up I couldn’t help by laugh. Apparently, I may have eggagerated the situation. My dad was in long pants and boots wielding an axe, butcher knife, a lob wedge, two putters and a big can of Raid bug spray. Mom came in her jammies. The sound had stopped (of course) but after a few walk-throughs we picked it up again. Mom and I and the girls stayed upstairs while my dad went room by room with his putter and bug spray. Door slowly opening. Door closed. Opening. Closed.

At one point he came up as confused as I was. He had heard it and he too thought it was moving around but then it would be gone. We started knocking on walls and low and behold, after much trial and error decided that it was, you guessed it, a mouse…in the wall. Can I just say something? My house is pretty nice. It was just recently gutted top to bottom. How a mouse was now living in my wall was beyond me and beyond annoying.

Dad started talking about cutting a hole in the wall and setting a trap to get it but I was over there like, oh hell no. We just got the place put back together after the reno and the last thing I wanted to do was start punching holes in it again. My animal loving daughters and mother came downstairs and were horrified at this poor darling mouse stuck in the wall. The girls named it, tapped the wall for it and then told it good night and went to bed happy as can be about the whole adventure and their new friend. I wanted it dead. After chatting with Kurtis, we decided to let it go for the night. As cruel as it sounds, it would eventually wear itself out and die. I was worried about the smell of rotting mouse but we figured we’d deal with that if and when it happened. The next day, nothing–no sound, no movement. Quite honestly, nothing ever since. To this day it’s a mystery. Did Squeaks get out? Is Squeaks lying there rotting? Not too sure. 

There are more. I’m sure there will be more, too. But just when you think I’m out here with it all together living life on a perfectly staged farm, remember these disasters and know that you couldn’t be more wrong. When I introduced this blog I told you about my gong show dumpster fire moments and my friends, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Lost

I sat on the toilet staring at the results. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I could, but I was shocked. I had only gotten off the pill the previous month and while I didn’t exactly trip and fall onto my husband, it wasn’t like we were really trying. I wanted to be overjoyed. I wanted to keep it a secret and do some fabulous announcement where he would cry and then I would cry and then he’d scoop me up into his arms and music would come out of nowhere. Instead, I burst into tears. I came out of the bathroom wailing, “KURTIS!” (tears and snot running everywhere), “I’m pregnant!”

He jumped out of bed, startled, “That’s it? I thought something was really wrong with you.” That’s it. That’s it was his response to our first pregnancy. In the coming weeks when I would hold this over his head every chance I got, he would explain it was a terrible answer and he was caught off-guard. It was a terrible answer but yes, he was caught off-guard. Plus I couldn’t give him too much grief considering my response was ugly crying and hyperventilation out of panic and, “what the hell have we done.” 

This wasn’t an accidental pregnancy per say. We had made the decision to start a family. It happened so quickly though, that I think we were both a bit shocked. It didn’t take long for us to slip into the excitement of expecting. Before our first doctor’s appointment was even booked, we made the 20-minute trip into town to buy all the books. What to Expect, What Not to Expect, How to Break it to Your Dog, What to Eat, What Not to Eat, How to Not Screw it Up, How to Compare Yourself to Every Pregnancy on Earth. You know, all the classics. I stopped drinking and became hyper-aware of what I ate—only the best for the baby. I even contemplated a halt to my workouts—mustn’t do anything to risk hurting peanut. After our initial appointment though, I was given the green light to live my normal life. Looking back now I have to laugh at the contrast between that pregnancy beginning and my others. I was so naive. So cautious. So new to it all. 

We told everyone immediately. Well, not Facebook announce everyone, but close family. Kurtis drove me around in his truck to every single family member like I was his prized hog. “We have some news…we’re expecting” AHH!! JOY!! Tears!!! Hugs. Then all the questions—when? Are you going to find out? How far along? How do you feel Lauren? And so on. The first week was navigating emotions of bliss and joy and newness. Sitting here typing this to you still brings a tear to my eye because that moment was the only moment in our lives that would ever be that moment. That made zero sense. Basically, the first time you find out you’re pregnant happens only once in your life. Regardless of how it ends, it’s worth treasuring and reliving often.

I kept on with our normal schedule other than checking my profile every day to see if I had a bump yet. Didn’t that happen at nine weeks? I had zero sickness. It was almost odd how completely normal I felt. It was as if I wasn’t pregnant at all. I already figured it was because we were having a boy—less morning sickness. I remember devouring each book and making lists of baby names. Yes, with our first I had Kurtis cornered almost daily to go over potential baby names. Every boy name I offered Kurtis responded with either, “No. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. He was a loser.” Or, “That’s a good one. I played hockey with a guy who had that name. I liked him.”

Around the time our first trimester was coming to an end, Kurtis had to work out of town. I remember feeling a bit panicked during the time he was gone. It had bothered me for awhile that I wasn’t feeling pregnant. I mean, nothing. My doctor’s appointments had been fine and I hadn’t had any of the tell-tale spotting. I knew from skimming my books that if you had spotting it was over. But I was still feeling off. Oddly, I always skipped over the sections in each baby book that talked about miscarriage. I didn’t see the point in reading about it considering nothing was going to happen to our baby. Still, I often felt pulled to those chapters.

On a crazy whim I went and bought another pregnancy test. The first one I had used was the fancy digital reader that told me “pregnant” and then how far along—1-2, 2-3 or 3+ week indicators. When I had taken it the first time, it read 3+ weeks. That next morning it said 2-3 weeks. Do you ever have moments in your life where the truth is staring you straight in the face but you refuse to see it. That night I went to bed after reading the miscarriage sections of my books. It’s not happening I kept telling myself. No way. I was in total denial when I went to bed that night. The next morning I woke up, spotting.

Thankfully, Kurtis was home the next day. I remember he was taking the backhoe up to the farm when my spotting turned into clotting. I called him, sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was so mad. At one point in the bathroom I remember screaming at the blood soaked toilet paper “stop it god dammit.” I’d never felt so helpless. My body was completely letting me down and I was sure I was losing our baby.

Our doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound for the next day and assured us it was likely fine. I had stopped spotting, too. Phew. False alarm. I read board after board on online sights featuring women who had spotted but had perfectly healthy babies. These women had even majorly bled—and still had normal pregnancies. I banked on it being my situation as well and made a mental note to also write into those boards with my own similar experience.  

The day of the ultrasound arrived. I was advised to drink lots of water and eat something sugary to get baby moving. So I grabbed a Smart Water and some Skittles. The drive to the ultrasound was well over an hour, but that day, it felt like three hours. I couldn’t wait to see our baby. We had a painfully long wait until our tech was ready and then the moment arrived that I had been waiting for—the sound of my baby’s heartbeat. The tech inserted the device—a small sacrifice for what we were going to get to see—and there was the tiny little peanut. I mean tiny. There wasn’t any movement but it was right there plain as day. I smiled giddily at Kurtis with tears in my eyes and he smiled back. But his smile wasn’t joyful. You know the kind of smile you give your girlfriend when she’s explaining how the guy she’s seeing is going to change but you know he’s never going to change? It’s a kind, loving and almost sad smile because you just don’t want to hurt her anymore than you know she’s about to be hurt by him? He gave me that smile and squeezed my hand. The tech was oddly quiet as she went to capture the sound of a heartbeat. I listened and listened and listened… to silence. Confused and terrified I looked to Kurtis who was eyeing the tech. Looking back, I know Kurtis knew and I know I knew. Cheerfully, she said, “Okie dokie” followed by, “I’ll be right back.” She never came back.

A random doctor, who I’d never met, walked in a few minutes later. “I’m sorry but there’s no heartbeat. You will need to make immediate plans on how you want to deal with the loss. I suggest a D&C but it’s completely up to you. I’m sorry.” Then he got up and left. I’m not kidding. In and out. Gone. Kurtis and I were left there, alone and in complete shock. Like, what the heck do we do know? Sorry doc, but I don’t have a manual on next steps after you leave me in an empty room with a frozen picture of my dead embryo on the screen. Where the heck was that in the stupid baby books!?  I broke. I mean broke down. Kurtis was breaking down too but still keeping it together because, quite frankly, that’s what he had to do in that moment. I look back often on that moment. I looked to him, helpless, and he was there. He was still strong and still calming. He was every bit the strong, masculine protector that I needed more than anything in that moment. However he, equally helpless and suffering, had no one to look to. That moment in the empty room gave me insight about as close as I’ve ever come to understanding what it may be like to bear the expectations of being a man. I know how much I appreciated he was able to be that for me when I couldn’t for him. 

The drive back home was one of the longest and saddest of my life. We called everyone. All the same people we had announced it to weeks before were now asking, “how” and, “what will you do?” “How is Lauren feeling?” was still asked as before, but this time with a dark, miserable, cautious cloud surrounding it. 

I scheduled a D&C two days later. I had no desire to do this naturally. I was dead inside…literally…there was death inside of me. I wanted it out. I wanted a clean start. I wanted to have closure. I went in for my procedure and for some twisted reason, you had to check in and prep in the maternity ward. There I was, lost, surrounded by women with their newborn babies. One very pregnant woman must’ve had an appointment because she was all smiles with her husband as she left. She was so cute with her little bump. I hated her. 

The procedure was simple and fairly painless. I truly believe this is where my healing began. A doctor came breezing in. She had a wonderful accent and was quite to the point. “How you doing sweetie?” She asked me and before I could answer she replied, “You’re terrible. I bet you wish you were anywhere but her right now—and with a glass of wine.” I actually smiled. She squeezed my hand and said, “I want you to know that sometimes God has to be cruel to be kind.” They put the mask on and I counted back ten to one with tears streaming down my face. 

I’m happy to tell you that my ending is a happy one. God blessed us with three other healthy, full-term pregnancies. Tia’s was easy other than we were told she likely had an underdeveloped brain (she didn’t). I don’t even remember Hadley’s because I was busy chasing around Tia. We almost lost Carolyn early on but that story is for another post. Here’s the thing. I think in recent years, people have gotten a lot better in talking about miscarriage, but I do think it’s still a taboo subject. Now that you know my story, I want to take some time to let you in on some of the struggles I went through. I can only speak on behalf of myself. I can’t speak for Kurtis and I certainly can’t speak for other women who have also been through this. Every situation and person is unique.

Here’s what was hardest for me—the complete and total lack of control. I’m not a helpless person. I’m a highly driven only child with a dominant personality, who had succeeded at just about everything I went after in life. So when my body gave out on me, I couldn’t handle it. I have never felt an out of control helplessness like that and I hated it. 

I was angry at everything and everyone for a long time. I lost a few friends that summer. We were in the throws of a baby boom in Midale and I wanted nothing to do with their joy. I resented them. They annoyed me. I didn’t want to see one more stinking picture of the new happy family of three or four or whatever. Sadly, they had no clue I was suffering and I’m sure just assumed I was a wench. I kind of was a wench actually, but I was hurting. Their beautiful little babies reminded me of our loss and the possibility that this may be a recurring road we were about to travel. I was angry at crappy people who got to have babies. Women who dumped their babies in dumpsters or neglected the baby or whatever. It was petty and man was I on my soapbox about how I was beyond more deserving to have had a baby, but it’s the raw truth of what went through my mind. I was angry at people who had found out. I remember shortly after the D&C, a woman at the local convenience store asked when I was due. How she found out is still a mystery and it’s likely a good thing it remains that way. I begged our family to keep it quiet. Someone hadn’t and now if this woman knew, the town knew because that’s how small towns work. I had to tell her, holding back tears, we had lost the baby but thank you for asking. I’d go for walks and every car that drove by was surly talking about me and how I couldn’t carry a baby—that’s what I told myself at least.  I was angry at myself. I shouldn’t have worked out. I shouldn’t have had that deli meat turkey sandwich, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine before we found out. We shouldn’t have told anyone. I should’ve gone in sooner. The guilt pulled me under deep. I was mad at God. That entire dialogue will stay between him and I, but I was mad. I turned away from him for awhile, childishly, selfishly, tit-for-tat. If you are going to be like that to a decent good person then fine, I will be the same way to you God. It wasn’t pretty. I know he was likely carrying me that entire time and there I was, hating on him. 

I was embarrassed. I had excelled at everything in my life and this was truly the first thing I had failed at miserably. The embarrassment threw me for a loop. I didn’t want to talk about it because I saw it as a failure. Initially, I had trouble seeing it for scientific facts and I resented people telling me the facts. Something was wrong. Your body protected you. It may have had something severely wrong. Words falling on my deaf ears. All I saw was me, failing. I couldn’t carry a child. The embarrassment was likely a mask for that particular fear—what if I really couldn’t have children? I didn’t want to talk about it to people. I didn’t want people to know. I wanted to hide behind my guilt and shame for failing Kurtis and the baby so badly. 

Guess what? I came out of it. I laughed again. I looked forward to the future. I stopped hating myself. I stopped being angry. I was able to be around babies and feel joy for the families. Kurtis was strong and amazing and brave and equally devastated but continued to be my rock. There are a few poignant moments that contributed to my healing. 

First, was our dog Norbert. He’s not with us anymore but, as Forrest would say, he was my best good friend. After the D&C he let me cry into his coat for hours and just laid there occasionally licking my face. He never let me alone during that time either. Ya’ll can say what you want about the healing power of animals. I believe it because I’ve lived it. 

Second was time with Kurtis. We had a jam-packed summer of weddings. We went through this in April and decide to make the most of our summer. Despite the doctor telling us we could start trying a month later, I had no desire to go down that path. This had rocked me mentally. I was one hundred percent not prepared to face it again for some time. We took the summer to plan drawn-out travels to some absolutely beautiful countryside in Canada and the U.S. We visited family and friends and spent quality time together—healing. How one of the worst summers of my life was also one of the best is quite ironic and I haven’t yet figured out yet how it happened that way. But that’s ok. 

Third was our priest. He knew we were mad at our faith but that didn’t stop him from trying to heal us and bring God back to us. Over the summer when we were back in Dubuque, he had dinner with us and he blessed us and talked to us in depth about what happened. I cried and cried and cried but in those tears I healed. His guarantee that someday we would be reunited with that little soul had a major lasting impact on me. I still think about that often. My girls have a guardian angel looking out for them at all times. A sibling they never even knew they had that they will someday reunite with and I will someday too. It brings me joy.

Over that same summer we visited family on the west coast. While there, my aunt pulled me aside, hugged me and told me a saying that still, literally to this moment brings me to tears. I have passed it along to many people who have lost loved ones and I think there’s such comfort in it that we can’t help but be moved by the thought. It goes something like this… when someone or something we love dearly dies we are here crying, sobbing, begging for them not to go. To come back. To fill the void. To stay. While that is happening, on the other side in all the glory and joy of heaven is God and his angels and loved ones who have long passed. They are there cheering, with tears of joy, rushing with open arms to envelope the new soul and crying out, “she’s here! She’s here!!” I can hardly type that without still getting teary-eyed. The words carried heavy value to me, especially from her. 

Last and truly my full-circle healing moment, came when Tia arrived. Looking at that beautiful baby there in my arms (with a developed brain thank goodness), this thought occurred to me. Maybe the only way I can really say I’m at peace with losing our first is the fact that had we not, Tia would’ve never graced this earth. It would’ve been scientifically impossible considering we lost our peanut in April and became pregnant with Tia in October. That moment, that genetic makeup, that egg, would’ve never turned into Tia Cosley Peterson had we carried our first to term. Does that take away my love for what could’ve been or that little soul we lost? C’mon now. Of course not. But, Tia is here in the flesh and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. 

Some days I get a little sad. Typing this has been a gongshow of emotions. I revisit buried thoughts—who would this little person have been? Was it a boy or girl? What might he have contributed to our world. What would her laugh sound like? How would it feel to have her hug me? What would’ve that pregnancy been like if we had held on? I hope that in writing this I’m honoring this little soul’s legacy. I haven’t forgotten you. I hope that in writing this I am honoring you and possibly helping someone else who has been through something similar. My little peanut, you never hit the earth, but our story may help someone. It may make someone feel peace or connection. I truly hope it does for someone.

To the person reading this, if you’ve never been through a miscarriage, please tread gently with someone you know who has been through it. It’s far more devastating than you could possibly imagine. It’s also one of those things, while we know you mean well telling us you know how we feel, you don’t. Please don’t tell us to move on. Please don’t try to tell us all the reasons it may have been a good thing. Just hug us. Tell us it’s ok to cry. Sit with us over coffee (wine is better). We will heal and your understanding and empathy could be a huge factor in that healing process. You could have such an impact. 

If you have ever been in this position please know that you are not alone. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. It’s not your fault. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Don’t get mad at God. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep fighting for it and keep trying. Don’t give up hope that someday you will have that wonderful pregnancy and hold your little miracle. I know every story doesn’t have a happy ending, but ours did and I want that to give you hope in a situation that can feel hopeless.