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If you could do anything.

A story about resilience.

The idea of if you could do anything came to me straight of out of left field when I became a stay at home mom with newborn twins. As crazy as that might sound, it was the first time in my life where I felt my future was a blank slate. You might be thinking “staying home with twins, yeah that would close a lot of doors”, but you know what, you would be amazed what comes to mind when you have to start over.

Job loss, relationship changes, moving, sickness – all of those can put you in a fight-or-flight mindset. The resistance can be huge. It was for me: I was happy. I had direction. I had opportunity. What happened? I learned that life can be planned, but that doesn’t always mean we will stay on the same path, even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. Life moves forward, every day. Life changes, every day. Even if you think everything has stopped, it really hasn’t.

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When you slowly move away from a life you once knew towards the unknown, you discover you have two choices: regret or reflect. When you regret, you block the chance for anything new to come into your life. When you reflect, you find there are other parts of yourself you didn’t even know were there. You start to discover that maybe life is not always work until you retire, or babies come when you are ready. More and more research is showing that Generation X, Millennials, even the new generation of college students will have to build resistance training into their self development because the idea that you can stay in one place of work until you can retire is shifting. Or the idea people live tell their 90.

I’m learning more and more that change is what keeps you going, challenges are what keep you living, experiences is what keep you happy. And this is good.

Because, what if you could do anything? What if a job change or a relationship change or even a new location was what was supposed to happen? That it was always in the plans? What if I told you that life will change. How do you think you would react? How do you think you would live your life? 

For me, having unplanned twins, then relocating to a new town, choosing to quit my job to stay home with my girls and son was my big resistance test. How did I do? Let’s just say low scores out the gate but it was what I needed. It tested my marriage, my confidence, my trust. I experienced depression. I experienced regret. I even exerienced the feeling of loss because I wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t used to not making money or not going to an office. It was all so new to me. And as crazy as this sounds, what helped me build up my resilience was coming back to “if I could do anythig”.

You might be asking, how? How do you get past or even believe you could do anything. Yes, at that time, I wasn’t traveling the world by myself for NBC Nightly News, but I was dreaming of it. I wasn’t in the classroom or a board room but I was dreaming of it. I started evaluating what I could do. What I loved. What I wanted to try. What I already knew I was good at.

canva-pink-dreamy-sky-motivational-nature-desktop-wallpaper-MAB-kvDXsAM What if you are in a relationship?  What do you do if your partner is not interested in moving to Hawaii. You ask anyway. Maybe they are. Or hasn’t asked you about your dreams since the first date. What do you do? You share. You don’t give up.  You pop open some beers, hand them one and say, “I’m thinking of trying this…” That’s what got me through it. If it’s not beer, try two spoons and a case of ice cream. Or in some cases you just go for something you want to do. By the way, I need you to watch the kids Wednesday night. You stand your ground. You keep believing in yourself. You wish it was different and then you do it anyway. Remember that life changes every day. My own relationship is not a “go Vicky go” but I do know that he will make the time to take care of the kids when I need him too. Sometimes, actions do speak louder than words.

What if you don’t have the money?
 
 Try experience, may it be paid or not. Experience is worth more than you will ever know. It will get your spirit moving. Your spirit is what matters. Money fills the gas tank but not always your heart. Experiences do. Time. That’s where if I could do anything becomes your biggest motivator. Your “go Vicky go”. My twin girls were so ready for preschool and I always wanted to try academic advising. At the time, all I needed was enough money to pay for preschool. I reached out to the the chair in Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Dominican University of CA and together he gave me a chance and my twins got the chance to make new friends. Whatever you do, keep dreaming. Keep believing. Keep looking for opportunities. You will surprise yourself.

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What if you are not as healthy as before? Health challenges are huge and life-changing. But they are challenges that can be faced. They can be won. This last year, my family have been with my mom as she heals from cancer. This experience has taught us so much. It can make you stronger than you ever were before. It can make you see what you were missing. It can teach your family and friends to not take life for granted (or anyone for that matter). Let the time you are healing be your reflective time. Your chance to dream.

 What if you could do anything? Trying a new career. Running a marathon. Finding a way to take that trip. Not giving up. Staying home with your kids. Walking to the mail box today, even it it takes all the energy you got. It might be telling your partner something has to change. Whatever it might be, go for it. Life is always moving forward even when it might feel differently. And as crazy as it sounds, when you realize what YOU want to try, you will find away. The free time will come. The peace will fill your home. The trust will happen. The smile will return. If I could do anything..

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Making a Connection in a Digital World

In a time where we quickly text or voice record a message to send, and spend just enough time on Facebook to “like” someone’s status or new photo, are we really too busy to pick up the phone?

I sat there. Counting how many friends I have on my Facebook page and thought, there has to be at least one person I can call. Someone with whom I can have a real conversation. Yes, it is easy to scroll through the newsfeed, to share a bit of my own life, and then turn off the phone. Yet after a few days of this, a few days of minimal conversation with my husband, I’m left wondering, are we really too busy to talk on the phone?

What am I afraid of? Sharing that I’m having fun and that I’m also missing the experience of having co-workers? That it’s not what it’s cracked up to be? What is it that I really need? Laughter, tears, a “totally” or “So, any new gossip?” to help me get through?

We can’t rely on the likes and the status updates people! We can’t rely on texting all the time. We are meant to connect on a human level. If you haven’t called a human being. I mean, really used your  phone for it is original purpose, dial it. Call someone. Hear a human’s voice.

clear-phoneI don’t want to leave it all up to status updates and “screen” friends, only to find myself with no one to talk to on a Saturday night. I know better. I know because I lived before the smart phone. I was that 8th grader, in my room for hours on end, with that phone that you could see all the wires inside and I talked up a storm with my boyfriend, with my girl friends, and whoever would listen. I can’t imagine a young person today, just sitting there on their bed, typing away with acronyms and emojis instead of really talking and listening to the other person’s energy, their laughter and their tears.

Yes, life for most of us is full to the brim right now. Full with more work that we can imagine. Full with children that need our attention every minute of every day.  Full with parents aging and parents passing on. Life goes on, but is really full.

I know you and you know me and you know we used talk on the phone. We used to meet for coffee. Let’s do that soon.

The next time you go to send a quick text, call instead. The twins might be sleeping. Your friend might be on the couch with their partner. They might be at work. It’s okay if they say, “let me call you back”. The key is you reached out. You heard a voice. You connected.

First published in Multiplicity Winter 2016 issue by Multiplicity Magazine

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Best Part of Being a Dad? Showing Them the World

Last month, I asked my mom friends about their favorite part of being a mom. The running theme that emerged from their answers was over-the-top hugs. This time around, for Fathers Day, I found that the dad response carried a huge amount of pride for being their childrens’ dad. These dads reflected on how important it is that who they are to their child matters and what their child teaches and gives back to them.

“Circle of life….. a dutiful contribution to my universe, hopefully resulting in her contributing greatness to hers.”- Nate Campbell

“Cuddling with my kids at night before they fall asleep.” -Kevin Estrella

“The moments my children surprise me and genuinely make me laugh. Also the ever expanding love I feel for my wife as a result of raising children together.”-Chad Elliot Scherbarth

“Being an empty Nester! LOL”- Serge Alexandre

“I’m inspired by this quote from Elizabeth Stone: ““Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” …Seeing my heart outside of my body, learning, growing, and developing into his own person. Listening to him read, seeing him write, tell his own stories and silly jokes, and make up his own songs!”- Gaurav Mathur

“Introducing Sam to the things I like.” -Matthias Worch

“To be a little selfish, my favorite part of being a dad is seeing the world again through new eyes, and being able to marvel at it all again.”-Seppo Helava

“The best part of being a “Dad”  is watching as your children grow and experience life. The joy of their laughter and learning the consequence’s of their there actions and interactions with other children (and adults). The best part is when you see your children mature and change from being “self-centered” to “other-centered”. When they show they care about other peoples feeling and situations and put them ahead of there own wants and needs. That is when they show that they have learned from your teaching and good example, good religious and moral values to carry them through their life. Just as you teach your children to eat good food you also must teach them good values to carry them in their adult life. I am just as  proud of the achievements of my son’s in their adult life as I am of all that they achieved as children.”-Rick Estrella
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What’s Your Favorite Part of Being A Mom? Hugs of course!

What is your favorite part of being a mom? Mine has to be the hugs. Hugs, hugs, hugs!

There are the I love you mommy hugs. The I’m so glad you are here mom, what are we doing now hugs. The I want only mom hugs that are really tight and pull at your heart strings. Oh and the She is my mommy – No my mommy! hugs. Those ones need all the hugs space you can give.

I’m a hug kind of person anyway, so hugs from my kids fuel me big time. What I didn’t realize is that hugs are huge for lots of moms. I asked my mom friends on Facebook what their favorite part of being a mom was and a big theme that came back was hugs.  The more hugs you give moms, the more we take it all in. The more we love this super hard, super rewarding, super fun journey of motherhood.

Here is what my mom friends shared with me.

“Hey mamas! I’m taking a survey! We play so many roles during the day from chef, to dance partner, to advisor to teacher. I’m writing a piece for Mother’s Day and I would love to share what your favorite part of being a mom. “

“When they wake up in the morning and they ask me they want kisses and snuggles, and we all get to stay in bed for “snugglelandia” this is how we call it in Spanglish…;) when they tell me “te amo mama” just out of nowhere and nothing….looking right into my eyes…”- Sole Drago

“It’s all good!”-Nancy Zumwalt

“Being the best snuggler and having the magic kiss that can make any boo boo feel better.;)” – Lisa Pearson Hamre

images“Reaping the reward of having grandchildren.” – Barbara Welch

“Getting outside of myself and seeing the world through their eyes.”
– Erin Geary

“Learning how to be playful again.” – Amy Zumwalt Rhodes

“Hugs!” – Heather Strong

“Coming home from a long day at work to my little girl excited to see my running over with a screaming big hug!” – Amy Adkins

“Living each day through their imaginative, creative and funny eyes.” – Denise DeBattisha Tosti

“Knowing that I am their world and that nothing compares to the love and nurture of being a Mom. Teaching them about the world and their place in it. Being fortunate to be home with them while they’re still young children.” – Catherine Wittenkeller Alsterlind

“When they leave and go off to college do not smother them. Let them go, explore and enjoy college. Hovering doesn’t help them nor you grow.” – Robyn Tornay

“I love all the parts. From playing ninja at 6am (because who doesn’t?), to the snuggles at night. I also absolutely love making great memories with them as a family. I hope they remember the fun times. And frankly, they make me try harder to be better. So I guess that’s a side benefit. Parenting is hard. Another thought: watching them learn new things and ask questions. So many things are amazing and magical and I hope they hold on to that magic for a really long time.” – Kate Bromley

“Cuddles, kisses and breastfeeding.” – Julie Buckle

02d48527e8269a4c6f82a80e544820e0“I’ve always said “When they’re sleeping”. Hahahaha. Not just because they’re asleep…although that’s an obvious piece of it…. Seeing your children asleep is magical – it’s like the ultimate thank you for feeling loved, comfortable and safe.” – Melanie Manchi

“My son is nearly 2 1/2 years old now and there are so many favorites, but I have found that I absolutely love when he needs or wants me when I am the most swamped with my to do list when we get home in the evening. It reminds me to slow down and truly be in the moment with him and remember that everything else will wait. I also love the mother/son bond that we share because I have never experienced a relationship like this. As a single Mom with a full-time career outside of our home, our time during the work/school week is pretty limited, so I try to soak in every minute…including car rides to and from school. :)” – Lindsay Kretchman

“All time favorite… Watching them grow in every stage, but especially watching them as adults putting to use the knowledge that you have taught them. Ohh and the funnest part is joking with the kids and embarrassing them!! (In a fun matter, not hurtful) for those with young kids you will understand what I’m talking about when they are teenagers and adults. Lol. I plan ahead of how I’m going to mess with them when ever they come an visit.” – Chell Bee

“Loving two people (that you made) that much! And seeing the world through new eyes!” – Ashley Eagle-Gibbs

“Hmmm…hard question because there are too many “best” things about being a mom. Most favorite, when he reminds me that he needs me. Awesome feeling.” – Maria Villagomez

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Acceptance

A Facebook entry I wrote to my twin club during a evening my twins would not fall asleep

The sooner I accept this stage the easier it will get. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the only thing that seems the most positive, the most realistic, other wise I’ll keep thinking about all the things I don’t get to do and will join in the crying that has been happening every night this week while we try to get them to bed. The sooner I accept that I can’t get everything done that I wanted to do because it’s just the way it is right now, the sooner I’ll feel less anger, less sadness, less frustration.

My twins are 2 1/2 and 2 1/2 means they are more aware of mommy being near and when I’m not. They are more aware that they can fight bed time, changing clothes, what they want to eat, where they want to go. We had it so good. What happen?!

And to think I thought I had enough energy when they were 1 and half. Think again. Clear your calendar. Let whatever is extra go for the time being, these twins need you. And accept its only for the time being. That’s the key I’m learning.

Accept its only for a short time. They will get potty trained. They will get sleep trained. They will learn more and more and more. They will eat more. They will explore more. They will hug more. You’ll love it and it will drive you crazy.

Accept and cherish this stage. Just as you did before and will do during the next stage.

Accept and trust. Your not losing yourself along the way. Your discovering a new you. Accept and smile.

Accept and find at least one thing you are grateful that happen today. Hmm.. got my favorite moment. Sweet, feeling much better.

And go in their one more time, sing their favorite song one more time, and know they will fall asleep. They will. Even when they keep calling for you. And so will you. And just like that they fell asleep.

 

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The Field of Stay-at-Home Parenting: A Vocation Worth Receiving

Seven stay-at-home parents share what they love about their work and the biggest challenges they face.

“Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received.” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

With Labor Day upon us, Americans are about to take that final summer vacation, host their annual BBQ, and toast to the amazing gift of work we get to do everyday to keep our country thriving. Maybe you are fulfilled in your career and could not even imagine leaving. Maybe you are searching for a new field or purpose, or are feeling burned out. Or maybe you are a recent parent and wondering what it would be like to stay home with your child or children?

I want to tell you that the field of stay-at-home parenting is a vocation worth being received, worth planning for, and worth opening yourself to. That it is possible to have a fulfilling life that does not involve a paycheck. “But how is that possible?”, you may ask.

Think about it: the field of stay-at-home parenting might just be the oldest field of work. Women and men have been raising children since the beginning of time. Yet the calling of being a stay-at-home parent is now quietly chosen by fewer and fewer people. We are told to “Lean in” no matter what. But for what reason? Financially, more families need both incomes. But it also feels that staying at home is not encouraged anymore in this day and age, and not always acknowledged.

In May 2015, Family Circle magazine interviewed the “20 Most Influential Moms” for their Mother’s Day issue, and not one of these women was a stay-at-home parent. And I started thinking that what I do all day takes heart. It takes energy. It takes finding the confidence you didn’t even know you had. I was certain that there have to be other stay-at-home parents who feel the same way. Inspired by the Family Circle article, I’ve realized that I need to share the story of the stay-at-home parent. I interviewed a handful of stay-at-home moms and dads, many of whom I’d met through my twin club, my son’s preschool, at local parks and libraries, and a long time friend, who I think are just as influential in their own way.

I discovered that each one of us became stay-at-home parents at points in our life where we weren’t expecting it. That it became a vocation worth receiving. Worth making happen. For some, staying at home made more sense financially, for others is was something that they always knew they’d want to do and the timing worked out.

If at one point in your life you do become a stay-at-home parent (or you know it is something you would like to try for a period of time), I hope that their answers will give you some insight into what we go through, what we love about it, and how lucky we feel.

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Ann Graham, 42 

Role: Mother, Household Manager, Youth Group Volunteer Leader

Mother of: Teanca (20), Alex (18), Daren & Jason (18 mo)

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: like to call my career path: the long and winding road. :) I began my college career studying theater but then switched to English and got my BA in English. Through crazy twists of fate, I ended up in administrative and managerial positions in several non-profit organizations, including a museum, two universities, an endangered species recovery program, and an educational technology company. About 10 years ago, I went back to my real love and got my teaching credential. This time I started out in English and then switched to theater arts. Before I had the twins I was working part-time managing an art studio and part-time teaching theater, music, and dance. Long and winding… but fun!

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? I love teaching! People ask me why on earth I had more children when my older two were almost out of the house. I tell them I was either going to start my own company, or have more children. I’m the kind of person that has to stay busy! And what greater use of my time than to teach children to be happy, productive human beings? I love spending my time teaching and exploring and watching the children learn new information and skills. I love planning adventures where we get to learn and I love grabbing unexpected teaching moments. That (and all the hugs) makes being a full-time mom worth all the exhaustion!

 What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? My biggest challenge has turned out to be a good kind of challenge! I struggle with the monotony of seemingly menial tasks (i.e. laundry) and getting bored! But what I’ve done to combat that boredom and monotony is to take the years of managerial experience I have and turn it toward the running of our home. I find it an exciting challenge to develop systems that will streamline the running of the household. I also make sure that I am taking the time to learn things for myself. I take a class or take on a project to give me a creative outlet that is for my own development. These usually happen during naps or after the twins go to bed.

How has motherhood changed you? I’m not sure it has. I am the oldest of 5 children and I’ve always been “motherly”. I think I got my teaching credential for the same reason – I’m drawn to teaching, mentoring, and guiding children. I don’t feel any different as a mother, just more of who I authentically am.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? Creative, Organized, Giving.

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Maria Rey, 31

Role: Stay at home mom and baker/cake decorator

Mother of: Francisco, 5 and Sophia, 2

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was looking for a job back home in Uruguay when we got married and my husband got transferred here.  I studied interior design for 2 years. He had a work visa but I didn’t so I couldn’t legally work. We got our green card last year so I would be able to work now, but I will still be a stay at home parent for now. I work at home as a baker/cake decorator so I still have a small extra income and so far it’s working for us.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? Even though it’s exhausting sometimes I consider myself very lucky to be able to stay home with my kids. I love being able to experience new things with them, do fun outings, take them to school and extra activities, to the park, etc.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? I think the biggest challenge is trying to juggle being a parent and a home maker. Trying to find the balance and the time to do house chores and taking care of you kids when you don’t have any extra help. Sometimes people don’t realize how much you do everyday.

How has motherhood changed you? Motherhood has changed me so much. I could have never predicted how I would have been as a parent before I had kids even though we all say “ when I’m a parent I will do/ never do this and that”. I am more relaxed with things I couldn’t have imagined, like letting my kids get really dirty when playing or eating.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? Awesome, funny, happy (said by my 5 year old).

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Chad Scherbarth, 32

Role: Stay-at-home dad/homemaker/dual child-wrangler

Father to: Alexander and Charlotte, 2.

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was working at an Architecture startup in San Francisco as an Office Administrator.  I quit around when Elsa became pregnant to try and establish myself as a freelance graphic designer with only some success. When the kids were born I quickly realized I didn’t have time or energy for side-work at home.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? Being a stay-at-home dad plays very well into my strengths which in itself is satisfying.  I’m good at facilitating things, operations, and organizing.  I’ve always done well with kids for as long as I can remember.  I’m also a homebody, so I don’t get cabin fever often.  Most importantly I have the opportunity to spend every day with my kids.  I try to be very mindful of how lucky I am to have the support and means to do what I do.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? It took some time to adjusting to the idea that I couldn’t schedule the day and fit them into it. The opposite approach is needed. Every time I feel like I have a handle of things, they grow up and present new challenges.  I’m in a constant state of pain and exhaustion not to mention the general emotional drainage. There is no weekend or vacation from this.  Sounds terrible but I absolutely love it.  I’ve always loved hard work.

How has fatherhood changed you? Fatherhood has been affirming and confidence building for me, largely out of necessity.  I have to be confident and trust my instincts. I’ve also learned to be less selfish and more selfless. With having kids in the world, your worldview and everything you do is filtered through the idea of being a parent and doing what’s best for your children.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? I will quote them directly “daddy’s funny” “daddy cuddles” “daddy’s a boy” Can’t disagree with their assessment.

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Erin Geary, 34

Role: My main role is stay-at-home parent. That is a 24/7 job. But on top of that, I work part-time as a communications coordinator for a wildlife photographer,  and before my son was born, I worked half-time as a grant-writer for Okizu, a nonprofit supporting the pediatric cancer community.

Mother of: Evelyn, 5 and Calvin, 2

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: Before becoming a mother, I earned two degrees — a B.A. in Sociology and a M.S. in Journalism/Mass Communications. I worked as a freelance journalist, as a nonprofit communications manager, and as a grant-writer. I had many hobbies including rock climbing, backpacking, writing, and cycling … many of which I’ve had to put on hold as I raise my small children.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? The hugs and kisses. Seriously. They are the best! And I love that, if I have the energy and optimism, we can have really fun adventures whenever we choose.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? For me, the hardest part of being home all the time with kids is the isolation and the monotony. No one truly understands what my day was like. I have no coworkers to kvetch to; this is why moms complain so much when we get together! We need that camaraderie. The other major challenge is finding the motivation to feed and clean nonstop all day every day and still have patience, even when I haven’t eaten or had a moment to sit and breathe. So I guess there’s one more challenge; finding “me” time so that I can better appreciate my children and be the best mom I can be for them.

How has motherhood changed you? It has given me wrinkles! The weight of motherhood and the constancy of it is unimaginable until you are in it. Even when I am away from my babies, I think of them. The weight and concern never leaves. I can’t escape it. It truly is like your heart is walking around outside your body. I love having breaks from them but the lightness I felt before motherhood is gone. Perhaps it will return when they have grown, I don’t know. But becoming a mother has also made me feel connected to this amazing sisterhood that I never had before. I have something in common with millions of people I don’t know; I can see a mother on the street dragging her children up the block — she sees me doing the same, and even if we don’t speak the same language, we can share a glance, a wink, a nod that we are in this together and that we support each other. It’s really beautiful. Also, after having my second child, I learned a lot of humility. I am much less judgmental than I once was, because I know this is HARD and have had so many experiences that have taught me that the way my children are often has little to do with my parenting. They are their own little beings, so unique, and we are all just DOING OUR BEST. I feel that I am more gentle with other people. Also, I have learned how deeply people can love one another … and how deeply my parents love me. I don’t think I could have ever known that without having children. It’s an intense, mad kind of love. I would do insane things to keep my babies safe from harm.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? Silly, ticklish, and squishy.

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Nina Vigarino, 37

Role: Stay-at-home mom, Co-Director of Novato Mother’s Club,

Mother of: Genevieve, 4 and Michael, 1.5

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: My previous career was as an attorney. I most recently worked in legal research and sales. I still occasionally do some consulting in legal research for former colleagues and clients.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? I love that I can be a part of every discovery, excitement, and wonderment. Not only do I witness all the firsts of their lives, I see them grow and improve at the little daily tasks. I have the luxury of being present. I love that I am not plagued by the mommy-guilt that affects so many of my friends and former colleagues. I enjoy the confidence of being the best parent I can be. My kids have an awesome mom. Not all days are awesome, but I know that I am all-in on this part of my life.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay at home parenting)? So many challenges! Shifting down to one paycheck was difficult in the beginning, mostly because I was accustomed to making my own money.  It was a long time to see the money in our bank account as “ours.” It took some time for me to figure out how to channel the energy of my previously ambitious career into my new role as a stay at home parent. I have found my niche now with volunteering and trying to improve our community through parents making connections. Spending most of my time without adult communication was isolating. I filled the void by reading news and books and listening to NPR as much as I could. Eventually I made the rounds to baby events and tried to find the like minded parents. Enough baby music, story times, swim, and gymnastic classes and I eventually found a few other parents who keep current on world news, events and literature. And of course there is the long term sleep deprivation. The struggle is real!

How has motherhood changed you? Motherhood has changed me. I am a kinder, more compassionate person.  I am more tolerant of people in general since I see them all as someone’s kid. I have more compassion for people that struggle through day to day life. I can’t watch thriller movies anymore. The brutality and gore is too much, the fictional victims were someone’s fictional child.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? My mom is very silly, she is my snugger, and she has white hair. And also something about grilled cheese.

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Spencer DeWoody, 34

Role:  I am a stay-at-home father. My wife does not have a consistent schedule so it makes it difficult to do any part-time work. So I decided I would rather raise my own children than work and pay for other people to raise my children. You only get one childhood, and I remember feeling very loved and taken care of by a wonderful stay-at-home mother of five children. I wanted my children to have a similar experience. I also volunteer for the Marin CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program.

Father to: Eve, 4 and Grant, 2

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: Before staying at home with the children I was finishing up my graduate studies in social work and working as an intern counselor at a continuation school in Palo Alto.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at-home parent)? What I love the most about being a stay-at-home father is the opportunity to see my kids learn and discover new things. Like my daughter very much impresses me with her art (water-color), and her basketball dribbling skills. My son makes me laugh with his hilarious “funny-faces” and I love hearing him sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay-at-home parenting)? The most challenging part of stay at home parenting is keeping your sanity.  All day you are stuck with two little humans that don’t really adhere to any sense of logic.  Attempting to negotiate or reason with a two and four year old is very challenging. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that little people think the same way as adults. It can be very frustrating and it is important that you do take care of yourself so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  I spend a lot of time at the gym playing basketball.

How has fatherhood changed you? Fatherhood has changed me in a lot of ways. Most importantly it has made me a much less selfish person. For the first time in my life someone else needs me for everything and more often than not that means putting their needs before my own. It has helped me become more patient (how many pairs of shoes can you actually misplace in one day?). It has made me feel young again, seeing things through their eyes.  Gives a new fascination and wonder to the world.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? If my kids could describe me in three words it would be: Goofy, Fun, and Patient.

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Christine Do, 38

Role: stay-at-home mom

Mother to Nathan, 8 and Danielle, 4

A few sentences about what you did before you stayed home: I was the Executive Director of Life Eldercare Meals on Wheels. Then I was the Health Programs Manager in the Central Valley for the American Cancer Society.

What do you love most about your work (as a stay-at -home parent)? What I love most about my role is… being the main influence or influence in my children’s life.  We only have about 6 years to be the main influence in their lives before they head to school. Then friends and teachers have the most impact. I need to make those 6 years count. Teaching them what is of value in life and what is not.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your field (stay at home parenting)? The biggest challenge to staying at home is my own selfishness.  My desire to feel accomplished by the worlds standards, to get praised by coworkers, to earn a great wage and freely spend that wage. Staying at home requires You to put your work self on hold for a while.

How has motherhood changed you? How has motherhood changed me?  Motherhood is like a mirror. It reflects both the wonderful qualities you have and the not so pretty features of yourself. I try to focus on the wonderful things it brings out in me and pass that on to my children. As far as the not so pretty features (like patience in my case) I try to work on it. I also ask forgiveness when I fall short. We all fall short and need to ask forgiveness. Another great thing to teach children.

Which three words would your children use to describe you? Nice, fun and helpful.

 

Close up view of the income tax return

The Year My W-2 Said Five Dollars

It’s tax season. You’ve either finished yours, doing them right now or thinking to yourself “I better get on that, fast!” It is also the time in the year where you reflect on the work you did, where you made big changes (kids, marriage, divorce, homes), and how you did financially. As I sat with our new tax person, with all our stuff organized, I remembered that my financial contribution was only going to be $5.00.

2014 was a huge year for me. I quit working to be a stay at home parent with twins and a part-time preschooler. Even though I was on maternity leave for the first part of the year, and stay at home parent the rest, in some shape or form I had a W-2 and had made $5.00.

As we talked about what my husband did for work, I wondered how to share what I had done myself. The experience of being a stay at home parent was new to me. It wasn’t something I planned and I knew it was only for a short time. If you are someone who is a stay at home parent, which parts do you share? The concept of work, the question “what do you do?” seems so simple to answer until you realize it isn’t.

Months ago I took a moment and wrote down all the things I was doing.

Hosted daily story time. Reading books and pointing to the words. Teaching them letters and numbers.

There was the work of picking up after the twins. Washing the floors after they have taken the street chalk and drew and drew.

Introducing and showing them how to eat sold foods.

Teaching them how to hold a crayon, holding up their work, then telling them how great it was.

Getting them both to nap at the same time, while also going from 2 naps to one nap.

There were days where I changed my son’s sheets, again, because he just couldn’t get up in time.

I was folding the laundry when I could.

Three times a day I was making meals for myself and my three kids and if my husband was lucky, something good for him too.

Daily, I was loading the dishwasher, washing the pans, clearing off the counter, because chaos brings chaos.

There was the doctor visits, hair cuts, preschool pick ups, play groups.

I knew I wasn’t leading a group of students, or writing a budget report, but I was doing something.

In the winter and spring I was the editor of my twin club’s website and a co-chair for their annual garage sale.

In the fall I had organized my Transfer Hike 2.o at the Stanford University Dish and was excited to see 8 college students join me.

By the following winter, I was freelance writing monthly articles for Twiniversity.com.

I was busy. Even thought I wasn’t bringing home a pay-check, I wrote to-do lists. Created projects. Went to planning meetings. Even made a weekly schedule for my now toddler twins. As each day passed, I understood more and more my work was happening in our home, at the local library during story time, at the local cafe during snack time. At the gymnastics center during their weekly class. Each day I was realizing the work of a stay at home parent was non stop and I had the fortune to design my days and my time anyway I wanted.

For instance, I had:

52 Adventure Thursdays.

Wrote,  photographed and Tweeted over 150 inspirational quotes from my entry way blackboard.

Made sure to look out my front door and check to see if my neighbor, who was also a stay at home parent, was busy or taking a break. To make sure she knew she was not alone.

Paid the bills, update our budget, looked for ways we could save and we could spend money.

Applied for jobs when I saw a promising opportunity come up. 

Baked cookies and asked lots of questions in my monthly 2014-2015 Leadership Novato Chamber class.

But what I really truly got out of 2014, was the confidence that I could do it. I could stay home with my kids. I not only have a better understanding and respect for my friends and the parents I met who had been stay at home parents, but I gain more respect for the choice I made.

Before I had my twins, the only experience I had was being a working parent. I felt the mommy guilt. I felt the joy. I had those days where I had it all under control, and I had those days with the stress of racing out to my car so I could pick up my son from child care before they closed. At the time, I even thought I was a better mom because I worked. Then I had twins. My husband had changed jobs. And to make it all work, I made the choice to try something new.

I had my own assumptions about what a stay at home parent did or what motivated them to be one. Now after having this chance to be a stay at home parent myself, I now know I am someone who can give advice from both camps. I learned that most important lesson of all; you have to and you will find what works best for you.

We are all doing our best to give our children a healthy and happy childhood. For some of us it works better when both parents can work. For others it works better when one can be home. The thing to remember is we were all doing something in 2014 even if someone of us did not receive a paycheck. And that $5.00 I made, while it bought me my favorite green tea and yogurt at Starbucks, it ended up giving me a year with my children I didn’t realized I needed and the confidence knowing that both of us can contribute either with or without a paycheck.

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8 Days a Week x Twins: Planning a Schedule for Toddlers

First published on November 28, 2014 on Twiniversity.com

It’s Wednesday. The girls are looking at me, looking for something to do. On Saturday, they turn sweet 16 months. I’m looking back at them. “Now what?” They have torn my house apart. My days have turned into weeks. My exercise has turned into me bending down to pick up a toy, a sock, a piece of food all through the day. I’ve got to find us something to do or I will be cleaning for the rest of my life.

My twin girls no longer nap at 10am and at 3pm. Instead it is noon to 2. They no longer stay in one place. They run free as soon as the front door opens. All that keeps going through my head is that I used to be a Student Activities Director. I can surely come up with an activity for these gals. It can’t be that hard. Right?

The problem is that I’m not a big craft person. So I’ve got to shift my planning there. I’ve not “always wanted to be a stay at home mom”, so I had to shift my mindset there, as well. I like talking and listening, so I’ve got to shift my communication skills to toddler level if I’m going to survive the next 7 months. That’s when their slot at my son’s preschool opens up.

So, what do I do when I start to feel overwhelmed or lost? I make a plan or a schedule. The only way I’m going to remember that schedule is to make it creative and fun. That’s where “8 Days A Week” came from.

We all know the famous Beatles song 8 days A Week, right? If you are a stay at home parent, picture your week ahead and see if my activities schedule might help. I broke it down into Parent’s Activities and Twins’ Activities. If you are a working parent, I encourage you to imagine your own schedule and see what you come up with.

Soul Sunday (Day 1)

Parent’s Activity: Feed your soul! No more doing laundry or major cleaning. There will be plenty of that during the week. Instead, read the Sunday paper while the twins run through the fall leaves in the backyard.

Twin Activity: Working parent time. Encourage your partner to take the twins to the park or do story-time. Time with dad is super important as they need him too.

Moving Monday (Day 2)

Parent’s activity: Move the laundry, move the toys, move your mind. Whatever it takes to keep you moving, it’s a great way to kick off the week. Sometimes I have a moody Monday because I’m not heading off to work. So I try to keep myself busy.

Twin activity: Schedule a play date with a fellow twin parent. I meet my twin mom friend at a local park or each other’s house. Sometimes, we host our twin club’s Twin Parent Meet Up at a local parent educational center. We’ve recently moved our Twin Parent Meet Up to Fridays, however, I still try to schedule a playdate on Mondays to kick off the week.

Twin Tuesday (Day 3) 

Parent’s Activity: Make this day all about your twins. I try to have Tuesdays as my social media free day. I also give myself a break on “work” stuff or “career concerns” and just enjoy my twins. Tuesday could be when you work on your twin Shutterfly photo album or clean out clothes they have grown out of. Whatever you do, make the day all about your twins. I know it helps me to remember why I chose to stay home with them.

Twin’s Activity: Follow their lead, be it playing outside, reading stories or trying new food, see where the day takes you. If you need to find scheduled play activities, try the library or local play area. Watch and enjoy how they come alive.

Warrior Wednesday (Day 4)

Parent’s activity: I’ve designated my Wednesdays as clean up day and/or shopping day. My twins are old enough to have someone else come in and watch them for a bit. It’s also my day to be a warrior and develop my professional skills so that, when I transition back into the work force, it’s not difficult. Write. Volunteer. Take a class. Do something you enjoy that may be “professional” and fills the other passions you have in your life.

Twin activity: Have your daily schedule typed up (Food, circle time, naps, etc.) and put it up on the fridge or on your activity board so that when you have someone come watch your twins, they know what to do. If you are unable to have extra help come in, make shopping with your twins an adventure. Teach them about the fruit you are picking up. Or schedule their hair appointment. Let that woman warrior come out!

Time Out Thursday (Day 5)

Parent’s activity:  In my house, Thursday nights are Dad’s night. This usually means that I’m out in the evening and my husband performs the bath and bedtime routine for our older son. Once the twins are bathed and in bed, I’m out the door on my way to dinner with a girlfriend or to get some alone time at a local sushi place or cafe.

Twin activity: I’ve discovered morning story time at the local library in my time. You might wonder how I do it with twins? Thursdays are the day my 4yr old is home and not in preschool. So I bring him along to run after one twin, while I run after the other. During the actual story time the twins do great! They love the interaction, the bells, and seeing all the other kids. Plus, there are tons of other people there to help. People love seeing twins. Twins are a magical sight.

Fun Food Fridays (Day 6):

Parent’s activity: No plans, no to-do lists. Go with the flow. Maybe order takeout for lunch. Let yourself enjoy the fruits of your labor and calm down as the weekend rolls in.

Twin activity: Food exploring. Let the twins taste and feel all different kinds of food. Friday is pizza night in our house. I’ve found some fun pizza making recipes and have all the kids make their own pizza.

Super Saturday! (Day 7)

Parent’s activity: You most likely have a birthday party to attend, a local festival, a family gathering or a trip to IKEA. There is something about doing it all on Saturday. Lace up those cute tennis shoes and have a great time! Wherever you go with your twins, remember that it’s the weekend. Enjoy the moments. Take lots of pictures!

Twin activity: Don’t forget nap time! It’s easy to overlook or try to push it. If the party is scheduled in between their nap, tell the family that you will get there when you can. They will understand; you have twins. Sometimes, we manage to combine the drive to our activity with the twins’ nap time. But we always let their nap time guide our weekend plans. It always pays dividends later.

Day 8: Priceless 

Now that you have a fun activity guide that covers both your and your twins’ needs, let’s talk about that 8th day. Don’t we all wish we had another day in the week? We don’t, but we can create substitutions. Right now, my 8th day of the week is a planned 2-day mini vacation with my husband; celebrating 7 years of marriage and a decade of knowing each other.

Another 8th day of the week used to come when my twins started sleeping through the night. It also comes during the moments in the day when I drink my green tea, look outside and feel a huge sense of gratitude for these two amazing girls. Twin mom. Who would have guessed?

We all have an 8th day of the week, and during the months and years that our twins are here, the memories of more and more will stay. That fuels us. May yours be arriving soon.

 

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Stay At Home Mom’s Bucket List

“Now you are more likely to have less time home before returning to work than you did before.” – A close friend

After discussing the right amount of expresso for my cappuccino with the barista, finding the most comfortable seat at my local Starbucks (I moved three times) I begin to write. I made my little to-do list of what I want to achieve before I head back to the house: 1. Write this blog post. 2. Write the first draft of my cover/resume.

If you could do anything? If you were given time with your children, what would you do? As I write this, my twin girls are 17 months old and I’ve been home with them from the beginning. My son’s preschool is reserving two spots for them when they turn 2. Now that I’ve been their mom plus their teacher, their care giver, their daily hugger, their chef, practically on call 24/7, I feel more and more the need to focus my time with them before I  return to work.

“I really need to knock out this resume, but what I really want to do is write.” – Me “Your heart must be telling you something. Listen to it. There is no pressure or need for you to work.” – My Husband 

For someone who enjoyed arranging programs and developing students, I also appreciated how work gave me clear breaks. Weekends. Vacation days. Sick days. All the above. Now, I find a break here and there. That’s why I’m here at Starbucks on a Sunday night, when my husband can watch the kids. Yes, it probably sounds like I’m having “grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome. Yet, for some reason, at this very moment, at my local Starbucks, I chose to write about my experiences, rather than work on my cover letter.

I recently saw a commercial about a woman trying to be the best mom she could. Ironically, the commercial shows her failing and the last word you hear is “maybe I should start a blog”. I wish I could remember what the commercial was selling. Instead, I remember how it made me feel: the honest truth is that the 1950’s homemaker we used to see on TV is hardly there any more. Instead, we see amazing women filling rolls in our work force, leading companies, doing all most anything. Doing amazing things. So, if a woman decides to stay home with her children, she is left to imagine for herself, what others see. She is left to write a new version of who the stay-at-home mom is today.

I see stay-at-home moms doing amazing things every day. I see the pressures they feel knowing that they are relying on their partners to support them financially.  I see the creativity they have. I see how they achieve balance doing what they love, and being with her children. I know one SAHM who started her own cake decorating business. I know another SAHM who grew her own pumpkins. I know how this experience can be lonely, tough to do, and yet worth doing. Which brings me back to my bucket list idea.

My need to return to work outside the home (which may or may not be shared by other people) comes and goes like the moon. For me, the need to have a separate identity from my role as a mom is now more important to me than ever before. I’ve always been an independent person. But when our lives were turned upside with twins I came to the realization that what was best for my family was more important, and it was time to be home with my twins and son. I had a different job I needed to take.

The scariest, hardest and most out-of-the-normal thing I’ve ever done (so far) has been that choice to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t know that I would be using my time management skills or conflict resolution skills so much. Or that I would feel so willing to try new things. Liking writing this blog post. I honestly didn’t know what I would be taking from this experience. I’m learning now that some things stay and some things go away. Jobs come and go, but family is forever. And your time at home is also a job. You have to be willing to see your life as a journey and to hold on for each day offers you something new. You also have to be ready for when the wind changes, and you start to feel that it is time for you to return to work that is outside the home.

I used to tell my students that I’m like Mary Poppins: I will be here as long as I am needed. If there is one thing we know, it’s that the wind always changes. We can’t control which directions it comes from. Like anything I’ve done, I know my time being a stay-at-home mom will come to a close when it is meant to be. Until then, I want to make sure I go after all the tasks that are on my bucket list. I also hope I keep adding to it. Because, as my husband reminds me, “You will miss this.” If I can check off all my tasks on my bucket list I will be more than proud and will never have to wonder.

My Bucket List Before Returning to Work Outside the Home.

1. Fill the twins’ bedroom door with art projects. I’m more of a baker than a craft person. So, sitting down to craft will be an adventure in itself. I made a craft box. Now I just need to use it.

2. Teach my twins to speak 25 words. My son was in daycare since the age of 5 1/2 months. All his amazing teachers were the real ones who taught him to speak. I continue to coach him. With the twins, it’s all on me. I’ve got to get creative and keep pointing and saying “Toes, ears and nose”.

3. Take the twins to gymnastics. I will need someone to come with me, but I’m staying positive that  I can make it happen.

4. Get really messy with the twins. I keep reading about how children under the age of 2 are so ready to get messy. Either with sand, paints, play dough. Anything! It will be worth it!

5. Take them to a mommy and me swim class. Once again, I will need to bring someone with me, but these ladies deserve the experience too.

6. Create an Adventure Photo Book on Shutterfly. If there is one thing I’ve learned being a stay-at-home mom, it has got be to put yourself out there. Go to the next story time offered at the library. Visit that park near your home. And while you are doing all these crazy adventures with your kids, take pictures. Lots of picture. I have the Shutterfly app on my iPhone, and when I can, I upload those photos so I’ve got them saved and ready when I put together our Christmas Calendar. And for this future adventure photo book.

7. Play hide and seek. I know, I know. This sounds crazy, but I have not played hide-and-seek yet with my girls.

8. Play in the puddles. Before that much needed rain returns I have to pick up rain boots and mini rain jackets for the girls. Maybe even some for myself, so I can join in the fun.

9. Be published in O Magazine. Since I’ve seriously started writing, I really believe that I’ve written something that is worth trying to get published on that kind of level.

10. Finish Novato Chamber’s Leadership Novato 2015 program. I was pregnant during the last leadership class I was part of, ended up on bed rest and missed the last few classes. I decided to apply for the Novato program because I wanted to keep practicing my leadership and team building skills. I knew having reasons to get out of the house while a babysitter looked after my girls would help them transition into preschool much better. I also wanted the chance to connect with and support the community we now call home.

11. Introduce myself as a Stay-at-Home Mom and freelance writer without stumbling but with tremendous pride and excitement. Even 17 months later, when it is time for me to introduce myself, I still stumble. I still second-guess my choice. I still think I’m disappointing the person I’m talking to, especially if they are a woman. I still think that they are wondering what I can offer since I’m not working. With a deep breath I turn inward instead of projecting that I made the right choice, the best choice, the choice that brought me more than I thought I wanted. It changed my life for the better. So, before I go back to work, I want to proudly introduce myself with my current title: Mother of Three, Writer.

Oh, and about that second item I was going to get to at the coffee shop, the cover letter and resume? I ended up taking care of that, too. Because the wind always changes, and I won’t know when it will change for me. When I return to work, I will no longer be a stay-at-home mom. It could happen any day: all of the sudden, I’ll have a new title. A new place to go in the morning. In a way, I will be reborn into the work place. There will be things I will miss when that happens, but that is for another post. For now, I’m busy getting through my bucket list.

blog photo I love my life

I used to love my job. Now I love my life.

I used to love my job. Now I love my life.

When I was working, I had my son, my husband and our dreams of owning a home. I loved working with my students. I found great joy being on a college campus. Yet, when I arrived home, I didn’t realize I had given all my energy to my work. Thinking work was what fueled me.

In the Spring of 2013, my work life came to a screeching halt when my maternity leave started abruptly. I was taken from my comfort zone and placed into a whole new way of seeing my life.

What was supposed to be a routine 32 week check up on my twin girls, what was going to be a morning doctor’s appointment, with the plan that I would be back in the office to organize my desk and finish the final prep for the woman who would fill in for me on Monday, abruptly became the last day I would come to work. By 10am I was seeing my doctor. By noon, I was in premature labor. Five days later, the babies were still inside me, but I was put on bed rest for the next 5 weeks.

I used to find my confidence in my work. Now I find my confidence from within.

I used to feel like a veteran, an expert in my field. Now I know I’m an outsider looking in but this time I have knowledge and skills to share in a new way.

I used to not worry what people thought of me. Now, my twins introduce me. I’m now someone with their hands full.

I’m learning more each day about how much I’m gaining from staying home with my children. How many memories I’m making, how much talent I have in making kids laugh and learn. Talent that I didn’t realize I had. I will tell you, in all my years of advising community college student leaders, I’ve been given the tools of patience, grace, love and forgiveness. It’s helping me now.

I feel like I’m learning one of the hardest lessons anyone of us can learn: to rely on yourself to make you strong. To make you happy from within. To give you that self worth that no job, no promotion, no amount of money can give you even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are what we do.

I still have those moments where I think that maybe all I need is to return to work. And I will. But I can’t live saying I will love my life when I go back to work.

You don’t know. You can’t know. You can hope. You can pray. You can dream and work hard but in the end, your life will happen the way it was meant to be. Your next job or career will come when it is meant to. The only thing you can truly do is try.

I try every day to see my children learning, growing, struggling, loving, laughing.

I try every day to be easy on myself, on my husband, on my friends, on my family.

What if we are all afraid to say “I have enough”. To say “I love my life”. Can I say that I love my life? That I went through a hard part and now I appreciate it even more? That I really did love my job, but that I now realize that I measured my life by my work rather then by the people in my life? And that now, because I’m not working, because I’m staying home with my children, I don’t know how to measure my life? I’m here to admit that I love it! I admit that I’m scared to  love my life without a job. I admit that by even thinking that, I’m afraid that I must be letting people down. That I’m letting myself down. Because I was really good at my job!

But we were all good at our jobs. We still are good at our  jobs. Our talents never leave us. Instead, we trust that careers, the passions, doing any kind of work we have known is only one part of us. I love that I know now to carry my career as part of me.

And maybe I think more and more about the career stuff because it is the area in my life to work on. We all have things to work on. We can keep working and working. Improving. Adding. Yes, all that is good.

At some point, you have to give yourself a break. To let your shoulders drop. To let your heart breathe where you can feel it. To let yourself feel the weight of your current life.

At some point you have to love your life. May that moment be now. Love your life for all that is given to you. All that has come to you. For only you truly know what gives you light. Gives you purpose. Makes you who you are today.

Do whatever it takes to create a life you will love. But also understand that you can love the life you are currently living! You can love it without anyone thinking less of you or judging you. It all starts with you believing that this is the life you were meant to have. The life you have today needs you. All your talents, all your humor, all your quirks. Love this amazing crazy life! I do.