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How Do You Celebrate Easter When You're Grieving?

April 20, 2014

How do you celebrate new life in the midst of grieving?

For the past two years we have not truly celebrated Easter in our home. Half-heartedly, I fashioned baskets filled with candies and other treats. My husband took pictures of the kids wearing their Sunday best but I couldn’t bring myself to get into the Easter spirit.

Easter was the first holiday after I lost a son. It was just a month and a half after burying him. Was I supposed to be happy and cheerful; decorate my house with flowers and colored eggs in honor a holiday representing rebirth just after losing a child?

I felt like a hypocrite for even considering letting some joy into my life again.

Two years ago, in February, before I lost my son, I couldn’t wait for the trees to bloom. After, I sat trying to will the daffodils from breaking through the earth. And since, my world has been stuck in an eternal winter. And I have been content to dwell there. I don’t want to know about springtime, much less celebrate new life.

The bunny made his appearance the last two years, because I needed to do that for my other kids, but I just didn’t have it in me to cook a meal and entertain family. I can’t even remember if we went to Easter Mass? I would like to think we did, but honestly, I can’t remember.

There was no Easter ham two years ago. Instead, we ate at Red Lobster as I sat oblivious to the holiday trying to break through my icy exterior.

By the next Easter, I was newly pregnant with another. I had buried a second son, and was scared that my newest pregnancy would have a similar outcome. Running late, we missed Mass and wound up at Red Lobster for the second year in a row. Was this to be our new tradition? Secretly, I hoped not.

Truth is, last year I wanted Easter back. But could I bring myself to celebrate it again? I told myself that whether or not I was holding a baby this year, I would have to let Easter back into my life.

Today, I took a trip to the grocery store and bought everything I needed to prepare Easter dinner while holding and cherishing my newest baby, Linus. Because Easter is about hope, and finding away to move past the grief to celebrate life again.

Welcome back, Easter. I have missed you.

Jennifer Swartvagher is an author, freelance writer, social media specialist, and blogger. She is best known for her blog, Beyond The Crib, and its corresponding Facebook and Twitter pages. She is also a regular contributor to Today’s Mama and has been published in Mamalode and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine. Jennifer lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley with her husband and eight kids.

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How to Clean Your House When Hosting a Holiday

April 19, 2014

Oprah used to say that your home should “rise up to greet you.” Isn’t that a nice sentiment? It does feel good to walk into (or stay at home all day in) a tidy house with gleaming furniture and a floor that feels nothing like the boardwalk at the beach.

And yet, I let my house go for weeks at a time without cleaning, only finally attacking the task because I’ve invited company over for the sole purpose of forcing myself to clean. So, since my house is super-dirty, offering to host Easter was the obvious thing to do.

Here’s how my pre-visitor-cleaning normally goes down:

1. One week prior to our guests’ arrival, I begin stressing about how much there is to do. I think, I should do the master bath now, that way it will be sort of clean just in case anyone needs to use it in an emergency, but I won’t have to clean it in the two days leading up to visitors coming. I do a lot of thinking about how I should clean the master bathroom, but I don’t actually do it, because after all, there’s still a week left till our visitors arrive.

2. Five days prior, I make a list of all the things that need to be done. After writing it out, I decide it would be way more organized if I put the list on an excel spreadsheet. That way I can save it for other occasions and print it up whenever I need it! Genius! When I sit down at the computer, I figure I’ll spend five minutes checking my Facebook feed. An hour later I decide that my hand-written list will be just fine, but at least I’ve printed what looks to be a super-delicious recipe for homemade granola bars. Here are a few of the things on my list: Pick up random crap lying around everywhere (none of it is mine), organize random crap (none of it is mine), sweep, mop, vacuum, dust, bathrooms, baseboards, mirrors, doors, doorknobs, and possibly walls (these last three are only dirty if you have kids), fan-blades, outdoor patio area, sweep front walk, weed flower beds. Oh and laundry because I can’t have laundry piling up when guests are over, and I don’t really want to do laundry while guests are here, either.

3. Four days prior, I look at my list and map out how long each of my tasks is supposed to take. I underestimate on every single one of them so that I can justify going for a jog, playing My Little Pony with my three-year-old, or writing a blog instead of doing anything from my list.

4. Three days prior to guests’ arrival, I look at my filthy, cluttered house and get super-disgusted with all of the crap lying around that was put there by someone other than myself. I say to myself, I’m not their servant! They can pick up all their shit before I’ll vacuum! And I go on strike until everyone picks up their crap.

5. Two days prior, I yell at everyone about how I’m not a maid and whoever lives in this house needs to be responsible for picking up their own crap. I point, yell, and gesticulate wildly as I deliver my demands. The kids try to pick up their toys, but they are flustered because I’m issuing so many commands at once, so every task takes them ten times longer than it should. The husband is annoyed that I’m asking him to do stuff. The dog is hiding under the bed.

6. The day before guests arrive, once I’m satisfied with my family’s efforts at not being filthy, selfish, lazy pigs, I really start cleaning. Mid-way through the upstairs hall bathroom, knowing I still have the half-bath and master-bath to clean, I decide that our family of four plus mother-in-law could really do fine with sharing just one bathroom. I think maybe I should take a break from cleaning and go to realtor.com to search for a home with less square footage. But I know I can’t procrastinate anymore, so I press on. As I finish the half bath, I realize I’ve completely forgotten to feed my three-year-old lunch and also we are almost out of milk, eggs, bread, cereal, coffee, and juice. So I load the three-year-old into the car and hand her a granola bar and a cheese stick to eat on the way to the grocery store.

7. The day our guests are scheduled to arrive, I’m still scrambling to finish all the tasks from the day before because of course the laws of physics would not have allowed me to do all that stuff in one day while simultaneously taking care of a three-year-old. Duh. I make myself a stern mental note that next time, I really must start cleaning four days prior to guests’ arrival. I give the kids a couple of moist rags and some water-vinegar cleaner and assign them to clean the doors, doorknobs, and baseboards (they’re the ones that got them dirty anyway!) When I’m finally done with my cleaning, I light a candle and look around at my spotless house. I breathe a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction and think to myself, I should really put more effort into keeping my house clean. This feels GREAT. I think I’ll even clean the master-bath after my guests leave!

8. And then, as the doorbell rings, I notice the windows are filthy and the kitchen-island light has cobwebs hanging from it.

So what does your house-cleaning routine look like? Is it anything like mine?

Kristen Mae is a devoted wife and mother, ADHD momma-warrior, violist, health-nut, and writer. She is the voice of Abandoning Pretense, where her goal is to provide a community where women are free to be honest about their struggles with marriage, parenthood, and life. In addition to her blog, Mae shares hilarious and heart-warming tidbits of her life on her Facebook page, Google+, and Twitter.

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My Messy Laundry, My Messy Life

April 18, 2014

I really hate folding laundry.

I mean, I have four small children, I do plenty of things every day I don’t enjoy such as scrubbing poop off the bars of a crib or closing my children’s drawers (how hard is it to close a drawer?). But I really hate folding laundry. I have no issue washing or drying; the laundry in my house is mostly clean. But processing them from the dryer to the closet? Forget about it.

For a long time I hid my hatred of laundry. I’d put my heaped-up, spilling-over baskets in the furthest corner of my bedroom where company wasn’t likely to go. If my husband mentioned he couldn’t find what he needed, I’d bristle and snap. Because clearly it was his problem that a crumpled sock was hard to find in that enormous mound. I hated to fold laundry, but I didn’t want anyone to know or talk about how much I hated to fold laundry.

It was just like the rest of my life.

For years I worked hard to look a certain way. I had friends, but I only shared easy problems with them. Sleepless babies, fitful toddlers … the kind of frustrations every mom feels; the kind of issues that won’t make anyone uncomfortable.

I did not share my fears or passions or uncertainty.

I pretended hardships in my marriage didn’t exist, and I completely ignored how disconnected I felt from God. I never opened up, because I wanted to be the mom who had her life together. I wanted to be the kind of mom whose children wore matching socks, and whose car had never christened a drive-thru line. The kind of mom who didn’t hide clean laundry because she didn’t want to deal with it.

Maybe it worked, maybe I created that image. But it wasn’t worth the price. My soul shriveled in that world. I spent so much time ignoring who I really was that I no longer knew myself. Surrounded by friends who thought they knew me, within a few miles of all of my extended family, I was utterly alone. It was miserable.

I don’t do that anymore.

These days I keep my clean laundry in the kitchen. If you walked into my house, you would see it right now; this mountain of clean towels and sheets and pajamas of crumpled socks and children’s underwear. I handle my internal life in a similar way. If you know me now, you know exactly what my struggles are. You know my ongoing debate over how to educate my kids, or how I’ve managed (and failed to manage) my husband’s recovery from a serious accident. How much I love liturgy, and how I still feel disconnected from God most of the time, but I keep showing up anyway.

I keep my laundry in the front, and I keep my emotions close to the surface.

Because it turns out a messy life is much happier than a hidden one.

I am Stephanie – mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes me smile. Last spring I moved to Colorado, where I fell in love with the mountain air and the Anglican church. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me. We’ll talk. You can visit my blog at A Wide Mercy.

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Five Parenting Mistakes I'm Doomed to Repeat

April 17, 2014

I consider myself to be a fairly quick learner. I’ve memorized the names and faces of every engine from Thomas and Friends, all the cars in Disney’s Cars and Cars 2, about 40 species of dinosaur, and more space facts than I could list here. Keeping up with my three year old is better than Sudoku for keeping the mind sharp. It helps to counteract the brain cell death from chronic sleep deprivation, excessive whining, and Mickey Mouse Club House.

However, for some reason there are lessons that just never seem to stick with me no matter how many times I learn them the hard way.

Five parenting mistakes I’m doomed to repeat:

1. Bathing with the kids – When my first son was born it seemed like the perfect way to ease him into his first bath, score some extra bonding time, and save my back and knees from bending over the tub trying to hold a squirming infant. Genius, right? Wrong. My oldest son used to poop EVERY time we put him in the bath until he was about 6 months old. It was sort of like the timer letting us know that bath time was over. Damn, he pooped. I guess it’s time to get out.

It was like the mustard yellow cloud of doom and it was only a matter of time each night before I’d get bombed. Yet, for reasons I can’t even begin to defend, I still bathe with both kids. Luckily the baby doesn’t have his brother’s affinity for pooping in the tub, but we still have the occasional blow out. Would it kill me to lean over the tub and bathe them from the outside? No, of course not. Would bathing them from outside the tub drastically reduce the number of times I get pooped on? Yes, of course it would. Do I stop bathing with the kids? No. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment.

2. Running a quick errand without the diaper bag – I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought, Well, I’ll just be out for half an hour, I don’t need to lug the diaper bag. It’s like the parenting version of saying It’ll be a piece of cake or What’s the worst that can happen? It’s the kiss of death for anyone with young children. No matter how quick your errands are, there is always time for a massive poop explosion or severe wardrobe malfunction. Often times, the two go hand in hand.

I once took my baby to an insurance meeting. I knew the meeting was only going to last a few minutes so I left the diaper bag at home. Of course, we ended up waiting for half an hour in the lobby and the moment we sat down in the agent’s office my son turned that tell-tale shade of purple. The benefit to having an extremely foul smelling child with you at an insurance meeting is he didn’t try to sell me anything and I was out of there in three minutes flat. Unfortunately, I had to change my baby’s diaper in the trunk of my car, wipe him with an old towel I found under the front seat, strap him into his car seat naked from the waist down, and just hope for an uneventful drive home. I still haven’t learned to keep a spare diaper in the car. Old french fries: yes. Anything useful: nope.

3. Planning to do ANYTHING productive during nap time – Almost every day I make plans to fill my “free time” when I put the baby down for his nap. I intend to take on a ton of housework, the yoga I swore I’d do last night at 2:00am while I couldn’t sleep, the blog reading I need to catch up on, the blog writing I definitely need to catch up on, and the relaxing I really want to do. There’s also the little detail of the three year old I should be spending quality time with. It’s a completely reasonable, not at all ambitious, itinerary for the hour and half that the baby usually naps.

Except the moment I make plans, the moment I choose to play with the kids while in the morning instead of doing my chores thinking I’ll have time later, the moment I get cocky about how well my baby sleeps, that is the day he decides he no longer needs to nap. So then instead of accomplishing even one of those tasks I end up listening to the baby scream on the monitor for half an hour before eventually giving up and rescuing him from his crib. Then I have a cranky baby, a messy house, an attention starved three year old, and a flabby tummy. Epic failure.

Of course, this lesson goes both ways. If I ever make plans to go somewhere because I figure the baby won’t need or want to take a nap that afternoon, then he’ll sleep for 3 hours. Every time. And instead of taking advantage of the unexpected free time, I sit and stare at the monitor certain that he’ll be awake any minute. I really am a slow learner.

4. Letting the kids eat their weight in fruit – Fruit is healthy, right? So if your kid wants to sit and eat an entire box of blueberries as a snack, you should thank you lucky stars it’s not Cheetos and tell him to go nuts? Well, as it turns out there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, even fruit. When a 20 pound baby eats 2 pounds of blueberries bad things happen.

Remember that horrible black tar-poop that babies do for the first couple days after they’re born? Well, imagine that only three times bigger, smellier, and riddled with entire blueberries that I guess the baby just couldn’t be bothered to chew before swallowing. You’ll never see blueberry cobbler the same way again. However, the next day when the three year old asks for strawberries I’ll once again set him down with the entire bowl, knowing I’m going to regret it later when he has to poop all night long.

5. Traveling with children – Once you have children, the very high risk that your flight will be delayed, or that you’ll have to sit on the runway for an hour upon arrival, or that someone will vomit on you during the flight becomes more consequential. No one likes sitting around with nothing to do in a crowded airport, but a toddler and an infant go completely nuts. Fueled only by twizzlers and potato chips from the vendors at the airport, the children refuse to nap, quiet down, stop vibrating, or listen to a single word you say. It’s Hell with an audience of crabby wannabe travelers ready to glare daggers in your direction until you change seats.

Then once you arrive at your destination, assuming you’ve all survived the initial traveling, your children will once again refuse to sleep. They’re either jet lagged, over tired, under tired, whacked out on sugar and adrenaline, or just plain stubborn. Either way, they’re not sleeping. So you know all that sightseeing or visiting with friends you were planning on doing? Well, now you’re going to have to sleep in the bed with your restless toddler all night long while he kicks you repeatedly in his sleep. You could do that at home.

The next morning it will take everyone until 11am to wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, get undressed again after the baby inevitably smears avocado all over everything and everyone in the room, and convince the sleep deprived toddler that there are better things to do than watch traffic out the hotel window. Once you’ve accomplished every one of those tasks and are finally ready to go enjoy the vacation you’ve worked so hard to take, the baby will yawn and it will be time to put him down for his nap. It’s just not worth it for the hour a day you manage to spend doing something other than sit in the hotel room.

I’m sure there are many other parenting lessons that seem to just go in one ear and out the other, but these are the ones that I seem doomed to repeat for all time like some sort of gypsy curse. What are your parenting lessons you’ve learned (or not learned!) the hard way?

Mary Widdicks is a 30-year-old mother of two boys, two male dogs, and an ever­ changing number of gender-­indeteriminate fish. Her husband calls her ‘Honey’, the three-year-old calls her ‘Mommy’, the baby calls her ‘Milk’, the dogs call her their Indentured Servant, and she’s pretty sure the fish have no idea who she is at all. She is also the writer of the humorous parenting blog www.outmannedmommy.com. You can also find her on Twitter.

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You Have the Luxury to Not Vaccinate Your Child Because I Vaccinate Mine

April 16, 2014

The recent outbreaks of measles in the United States hurts my scientific heart. And I say “heart” not because the way I regard vaccines is based on a feeling or what a Playboy Bunny said or a real estate mogul tweeted, but because there are children who are seriously ill who could have been protected.

My scientific brain that was put through the rigors of earning a Microbiology B.S. and an M.D. from the University of Maryland is not happy either. I’m not practicing medicine at this time, but I know vaccines are safe because I have read and evaluated the scientific research. It is not swayed by the hype that drives ratings sweeps and cranks up website pageviews. If the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine was a cartoon, many would draw it with a pitchfork and horns.

I understand that as an individual, it may seem like no big deal for YOU to skip immunizations for your kids or to alter the administration schedule. “It’s MY right. I’m just being safe.” Unfortunately, you are part of a community or as it is put in immunological terms, a “herd.”

It all comes down to herd immunity. When many people are immunized, it doesn’t leave a place for the diseases to “breed and live.” When the community at large is vaccinated and protected, this means that people who are not eligible to be vaccinated such as infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people also get some measure of protection from the disease because the collective “community immunity” doesn’t give it room to spread. This also means that even if a vaccine is not 100% effective, people are unlikely to get sick because the disease is just not around.

So if YOU decide not to vaccinate your kids in a community with high immunization rates, your children will probably be fine. They’re getting the benefits from your community’s responsible actions.

You Have the Luxury of Not Vaccinating Your Child Because I Vaccinate Mine

The problem comes when you “herd” yourself with other anti-vaccinators. You create a lovely pool for the disease to infect and spread as can be seen in New York City. We live in a global society and measles is still out there because of fear mongering and because OTHER COUNTRIES CAN’T AFFORD THE VACCINE.

And guess what? You’ve not only put your children at risk, but you’ve put those who can’t be vaccinated, as mentioned before, at risk also.

Oh, and one more thing, YOU may be at risk too. Up to five percent of children vaccinated fail to develop immunity and sometimes immunity can wane, but this is usually overcome by giving a second dose of MMR before entering school. However, the second dose policy was not implemented until 1989. Did you get that second dose?

The decision not to vaccinate seems to sprout like a fungus from the false beliefs that 1) vaccines cause autism and 2) that childhood illnesses are no big deal.

1. False Premise: Vaccines cause autism.
A few things first. I understand that scientific papers are hard to slug through. And not all research is created equal. Studies that are observational, do just that, observe what has already happened. These rely heavily on patient reporting.

This is a weaker study than the gold standard, randomized controlled trials, in which the subjects are randomly distributed into groups which are either subjected to the experimental procedure or which do not receive it and serve as controls. In this kind of study, there is less bias and it is easier to weed out coincidences.

Also, published research is not a proclamation of fact. It is a sharing of what has been discovered to advance science. It doesn’t mean it is flawless. “Discoveries” do not come from one paper. Multiple scientists must replicate and advance a finding before a real “Eureka!” moment is reached.

It’s easy to forget this when the press latches onto a concept like “MMR causes autism,” and pukes it from the rooftops to stir panic and fear because that keeps you coming back for more.

All of the MMR vaccine misinformation can be traced back to one paper. The link between this vaccine and autism was proposed by a British physician, Andrew Wakefield, in the Februrary 1998 issue of The Lancet. This finding has never been replicated by any other researchers. More importantly, it was discovered to be manufactured from fraudulent data and has been RETRACTED.

There were only twelve children in the observational study – this means that even if the findings were true, they really only provided a starting point for other research, not for conclusions. However, that hardly matters since the entire causal effect was based on what the parents reported as the length of time from the administration of the vaccine to onset of autism spectrum symptoms AND THAT DATA WAS FALSIFIED. The timelines of the children’s symptoms were misrepresented.

Even more damning was Wakefield’s conflict of interest. How could an article with such a small sample size and the title, Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children, cause such a fervor? Wakefield had an agenda to advance because he was a paid consultant to attorneys representing parents with anti-vaccine lawsuits. The General Medical Council in the U.K. revoked Wakefield’s medical license because of his fraudulent report and unethical behavior.

What is atrocious is that it took until 2010 for that paper to be retracted and for Wakefield to lose his license. For over a decade the fires of misinformation have been fanned and stirred into a bonfire so raging that four years after it should be extinguished it is still smoldering.

And the target of controversy has also shifted. The original autism scapegoat was the MMR vaccine, but the blame game has subtly shifted to focus on the ethylmercury vaccine perservative, thimerosal. This shift was spurred more by activist and political groups than science. Regardless, thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, mostly since 2001.

My heart breaks for the parents who are just looking for answers for their children on the autism spectrum, but I seethe with anger over all of the money that has been diverted from worthwhile autism research to prove over and over again that vaccines are not linked to it. With the combined studies to date, millions of children have been studied and no link has been found.

2. False Premise: Childhood illnesses are no big deal.
In the United States, today’s parents mistakenly think that not vaccinating is the safer choice because they do not remember nor have ever seen the diseases. But these “childhood diseases” aren’t just spotty rashes or coughs. They can cause lasting disabilities and, at times, death. At the very least, they cause weeks of suffering and prolonged time off from work for caregivers. Because these are viral diseases, there is generally no specific treatment once they are contracted.

Here is a crash course on a few, but not all, preventable diseases.

Measles: Worldwide, it remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 122,000 people died from measles in 2012 – mostly children under the age of five. Some of the more serious side effects are blindness and encephalitis.

Mumps: The infections are usually mild but cause painful swelling of the salivary glands. Sometimes there is swelling of the pancreas and testicles (rarely, this can lead to infertility).

Rubella: It’s generally a mild disease in children; but the infection of pregnant women is dangerous because it can cause congenital rubella syndrome (a variety of birth defects) in developing babies.

Pertussis: Also known as whooping cough, it is most severe for young babies. About half of babies younger than 1 year of age who get it end up in the hospital, and a few even die from the disease. It can be pretty serious in adults too. The coughing can be so forceful, it can crack ribs. Pertussis is seeing a resurgence so check with your doctor to see if you need the Tdap vaccine as a booster. You may be due.

Chicken Pox: While the disease is usually mild, it can lead to pneumonia and swelling of the brain. Also, the chicken pox virus “embeds” in your nerve endings. You may get painful shingles infections later in life when the dormant virus re-emerges.

Polio: There was a time that every parent lived in fear of this disease. While it most often produced flu-like symptoms, it could also cause paralysis and death.

(This is not a childhood disease, but it deserves an honorable mention.)

Human Papilloma Virus: This virus causes cervical cancer. The vaccine reduces the risk of CANCER. That is amazing.

My oldest child was born in 1998 and was due for her first MMR vaccination in 1999, right when the hysteria was gaining momentum. My husband and I had her vaccinated. I had read Wakefield’s paper for myself and realized the flaws. Also a well performed study by Brent Miller was already published. He studied 498 children and could not find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Since that time, millions of kids have been studied and no links have been found. Please consider the weight of the evidence produced versus the fraud that was popularized when making decisions for your kids. You’re not just affecting yourself, but the health of the whole community.

Ellen Williams and Erin Dymowski are the dynamic creative duo behind Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms they prove that funny and sensible are not mutually exclusive. Ellen firmly believes in the power of duct tape, kisses, and Google searches to fix most things. She also believes that if you follow Sensible Moms on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, you won’t be sorry.

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