All the moms on Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking more often about how much I appreciate all the moms in my life. They have each given me so much, and Mother’s Day offers an opportunity to give back – if I could think of something fitting to give them.

My mom doesn’t much care for gifts – never has. As a mom myself, I can understand. There’s nothing – no products or gift certificates or even hand-made keepsakes – I’d rather have than the things I get every day from being with my kiddos: playtime in the sunshine, bouquets of dandelions, observations about the world from a new perspective.

My mother-in-law is a cherished friend, someone who has always offered love and support and pictures of her latest creative projects. Although she lives 2,500 miles away in Alaska, I feel like we grow closer all the time.

My son’s birth mom already gave me the greatest gift a mom can give by supporting our adoption. It was the most brave, selfless act I have ever witnessed in my life, and a source of inspiration for me every day. It just so happens that Mother’s Day arrives shortly before my son’s birthday. Where would I be without these two people? How much emptier would my life be without my son – his mother’s gift?

No, I don’t really need anything more for Mother’s Day.

Well, a nap would be nice.

 

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Three cheers for Missoula’s grocery stores!

My kids know they can score a free cookie at the bakery counter when we shop at Rosauers. At 8 and 11 years old now, they’re too big to fit in those car shopping carts anymore, but they still have fond memories of tooling around the aisles, spinning the steering wheel, munching cookies.

Now, prompted by a social media storm about a grocery store that gives out free fruit to kids 12 and younger, three Missoula grocery stores are doing the same, only instead of cookies they’re offering fruit. My kids love fruit of all kinds, so they’ll be thrilled.

But maybe not as thrilled as they are to get free cookies.

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Thankful for free carousel rides

The days surrounding Thanksgiving are usually slow ones for me at the office, so a message from Theresa Cox, executive director of A Carousel for Missoula, stood out when it landed in my inbox this morning.

It says that the carousel will be up and running on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – and that during that time, all rides are free!

Oh, and just so you don’t think the anyone is being made to work when they’d rather be at home with their families: the carousel will be staffed entirely by volunteers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Loss of a furry family member

It’s hard to know where to begin.

Our sweet, loyal, lovable black Labrador, Harley, died of cancer a couple weeks ago. We’re not sure exactly how old he was, but we’re guessing around 13.

Harley arrived at our family already named and all grown up, having spent his puppy years with a great family who trained him with military precision. When that family got re-stationed, they gave us Harley with the understanding that we would give him a great life doing the things he loved – being outside, playing with other dogs and, most of all, being smothered by children.

I’m proud to report that we gave him all those things.

Harley pile

And in return, Harley gave me another watchful eye over the kids. He gave the kids his protective presence at night, when he would lie at the foot of their beds and keep the bad dreams away. He gave my husband a buddy who was always up for a hike through the woods or a weekend camping trip. And he gave us all what all the best dogs do: constant love and affection.

It’s hard not to feel the absence of that.

I still expect to see his smiling face and wildly wagging tail whenever I come home. I haven’t been able to bring myself to put his food bowl away. But hardest of all is watching my kids grieve his absence.

My oldest is a fierce animal lover who has had Harley by her side for most of her life. She has cried and cried, and told stories about her memories of Harley, and been open with her feelings of loss and sadness. Her friends have been supportive at school and amazingly kind and considerate at home.

My son, however, is a couple years younger and still learning how to express his emotions in healthy ways. He also happens to be very good at suppressing any bad feelings, so while I know he is also grieving, it comes out in bursts of poor choices. We’re working on that.

If I was forced to say one good thing about cancer, it’s that it at least gives you a little time to say goodbye. The kids got a chance to do that – to take Harley for one more camping trip, one more walk to the park, to give him one more spoonful of peanut butter. They got to give him one last hug.

But we’re all still learning how to let go.

Harley

 

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Goodbye, for now

The breaking point came one afternoon as I tried to hash out who was picking up Baby Girl from daycare. I had to cover a school board meeting and was out of frozen breast milk.

Giving her formula wouldn’t be the end of the world, Jared said.

But it felt like it to me.

Breastfeeding is the one thing I can still do that makes me feel like I’m giving her the best start possible. I feel guilty leaving her at daycare every day. Her caregivers are great, but they’re not me. Between trying to get stories finished and covering meetings and other evening activities, our quality time together is sparse.

When I found out I was pregnant, it felt like the end of the world and I feared exactly what my life has become. I had spent years working hard and had found what I thought could be my forever job at The Missoulian.

I thought I would be a modern woman, one who needs to work to be happy and who takes pride in modeling equality for my daughter.

Turns out, I am not.

 

In August, I sat in my editor’s office and told her I thought I would be bored and ready to come back to work after six weeks. She said to just plan on taking the full three months. In October, I was distraught about returning to work in mid-November and was giddy with thankfulness when my boss said to take off more time if I wanted. I wanted. I desperately wanted. So I ended up taking five months — time that softened the heartbreak of returning to work, but that didn’t eliminate it.

So today, despite having supportive bosses and coworkers, I choose something different. I choose to concentrate on my child instead of splitting my time between her and work and feeling like I’m not doing either one as well as I should.

I hope I’ll write again and I’ll probably regret stepping away in a few years. All I know is that I have regrets about spending so little time with Baby Girl now.

By moving to my husband’s family farm on the Hi-Line I will have time, lots of it. Probably too much of it. The change will be drastic, but I am happy with the decision and excited about more time as a family and flexibility to spend more time with my family on the East Coast.

But before I go, thank you.

Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Doing so has helped me see my life with a certain clarity and honesty that has led me to this point. And thank you for sharing your stories with me and the patience you have expended in telling me those stories. I am honored by the way Missoulians have welcomed me into their homes, offices and lives.

For now, though, goodbye.

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Remarkable people, remarkable work

Today found me and photographer Michael Gallacher at the Early Learning Preschool at Jefferson School to interview Janice Nugent, who has been a speech therapist with Missoula County Public Schools for 41 years and is retiring in June.

Nugent has raised five children; advocated for people with disabilities; takes care of her brother, who has Down Syndrome, during summers; and earned her PhD in special education in 2011 at the age of 61. (“I wanted to prove that I could,” she said about writing a dissertation.)

After our interview, we followed her into a classroom, where she worked with a small group of students — in a coat closet.

The location seemed appropriate, she said good-naturedly.

“Speech therapists never have rooms,” she said.

It just reminds me how amazing the quality of work is that Nugent and others are able to do with limited resources.

 

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Swim Suit Season

Tis the season for sunshine and swimming. But before I get to enjoy summer, I need a new bathing suit. It’s been years since I purchased a new one and figured this season’s bright colors would be a nice refresher to my wardrobe as I enjoy splash-splashing.

That’s all? You don’t want to try on more, Jared asked on a recent afternoon as we took turns holding Baby Girl and trying on suits.

No. I remember why I hate bathing suit shopping. It always make me feel fat and now my boobs are down to my knees, I told him.

Last summer, of course, I was pregnant and was so happy to be cooled down that I didn’t care what I looked like as I luxuriated in the river or soaked my feet in the kiddie pool.

Since having Baby Girl, I thought I was making headway on maintaining a positive body image and found myself cheering on women posting scathing comments about the new “dad bod” and women who share images of their stretch-marked selves.

When shopping, though, I realized I’m not as comfortable in my own skin as I thought I had become.

Do you want to go anywhere else, Jared asked.

No. I just want to go home. I’m exhausted and now I feel fat, I said.

You’re not, he said. Remember, you’re still breastfeeding Baby Girl. You make milk. That’s your super power.

Stop it. You’re going to make me cry.

Are you laughing?

No. I’m totally crying, I said, wiping tears off my face.

But I didn’t feel fat anymore.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see picture after picture of smiling babies and children.

That is not the picture I have to post. Instead, it is of an 8-month-old screaming so vehemently that we left church early and scurried home.

Normally, I would have fed her at church and she would have calmed down and I would have had a chance to hear part of the sermon.

At the risk of sounding petulant, today, a day to celebrate me, I wore a dress I can’t breastfeed in just because it makes me feel pretty. I knew I was taking a chance, but I fed her before we left and church is only an hour and a half.

Baby Girl missed nap, too.

Hence, the combination of factors that led to a hysterically upset child and me, alternately laughing and crying, walking home as quickly as possible as people out and about curiously watched the spectacle that was us.

As soon as we walked into our house, the tears stopped. She ate and fell asleep cradled in my arms. Peaceful and beautiful.

THIS is motherhood.

Hectic, demanding, frustrating, emotionally and physically exhausting.

And then a moment of tranquility as she sleeps. And then a moment when her smile makes my heart burst. And then a moment of determination when I think I can’t give any more of myself and I do and am rewarded with another of her smiles that gives a piece back to me.

THIS is motherhood.

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Calling all kids, young and old

Sunday is Mother’s Day and we need your help celebrating.

We’re compiling a photo album of readers’ favorite pictures of mom, either by herself or with her kiddos.

Email your photos to anne.cruikshank@lee.net, along with names and any other information you would like to share about when and where the photo was snapped.

Photos will go up online this week!

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Telescope available for check out from Missoula Public Library

If you can’t reach the stars, you can at least feel like you can, thanks to the Orion StarBlaster telescope that is available for check out from the Missoula Public Library.

“A lot of people get intimidated by telescopes,” said Nick Wethington, who coordinates the spectrUM museum next door to the library and is president of the Western Montana Astronomical Association. “They think about the computers attached to them, and how much they cost. But with this program, you can get a telescope for free and get used to it. You don’t need something that costs thousands of dollars to look at the sky.”

The telescope comes with operating instructions, as well as various guides to help viewers navigate the skies — and avoid summer break boredom.

Check out all the details in Rob Chaney’s story!

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