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.



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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.


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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$60k awarded to 16 schools for breakfast programs

This just in from Helena about nearly $60,000 in privately funded grants that will help fund breakfast programs for healthier, more-focused students:

Sixteen Montana schools are about to take a very important step for the health and future of their students and their communities – and it all starts with making sure that every day starts with a healthy breakfast.

Governor Steve Bullock and First Lady Lisa Bullock announced today that a total of $59,600 in privately funded grants have been awarded to 16 schools across Montana to assist them in starting new breakfast programs and expanding participation in existing programs. All of these schools have pledged to adopt innovative approaches to school breakfast, such as serving breakfast in the classroom or offering a “grab-and-go” style that appeals to teens on the go.  These grants will help make healthy school breakfast accessible to the 7,000 Montana students who attend these schools, more than 60 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.

“Every Montana student should start the school day with a healthy breakfast that ensures they’re ready to learn. We are thrilled to see that so many Montana educators are recognizing the value of making breakfast a part of their school day, and that private businesses are stepping up to make this a reality for Montana students,” said Governor Bullock. “Breakfast at school is an important step we can take in our fight against childhood hunger.”

These schools are about to join more than 90 other Montana schools that make breakfast a part of the school day, whether they serve it in the classroom at the start of the day, or from a hallway kiosk between school periods. Participation in these innovative, accessible breakfast programs is more than twice as high, on average, than when breakfast is served before school in the cafeteria. Montana teachers are already seeing the difference in their students’ behavior, attendance and ability to pay attention during morning lessons.

These observations align with national studies that have found that school breakfast is associated with lower rates of tardiness, fewer referrals to the school nurse, and fewer disciplinary incidents. Research also shows that students who eat breakfast at school perform 17 percent better on math tests compared to those who eat at home or do not eat breakfast at all.

The 16 schools that were awarded grants in this grant round are:

  • Browning Middle School (Browning) – $3924
  • Browning High School (Browning) – $5000
  • Washington Middle Elementary (Miles City) – $2711
  • Longfellow Elementary (Great Falls) – $5000
  • Whittier Elementary (Great Falls) – $5000
  • Cornelius Hedges Elementary (Kalispell) – $5000
  • Elrod Elementary (Kalispell) – $2129
  • Lakeside Elementary (Somers) – $4998
  • Columbia Falls High School (Columbia Falls) – $1000
  • Troy Junior-Senior High (Troy) – $5000
  • Stevensville Elementary (Stevensville) – $2675
  • Billings West High School (Billings) – $2600
  • Riverside Middle School (Billings) – $4964
  • Elysian Schools (Billings) – $4000
  • Canyon Creek School (Billings) – $666
  • Custer School District (Custer) – $4910

The grants were made possible through generous donations from the Walmart Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Share our Strength, AT&T and a personal donation from Harald Herrmann with Round It Up America. Award funds are intended to help schools to pay for essential equipment and infrastructure such as grab-and-go kiosks or carts for delivering meals to classrooms; programs are expected to be self-sustaining thereafter. This is the second round of school breakfast grants. Last November, the Governor and First Lady awarded $55,000 to 20 Montana schools.

The Bullocks launched the Montana Breakfast after the Bell initiative to increase participation in school breakfast and make it a part of the school day by serving it after the school day begins. The initiative aims to ensure that all kids can have a healthy start to the day by helping schools adopt proven breakfast models that increase participation, such as breakfast in the classroom and grab n’ go breakfasts. One of the most effective ways to significantly boost school breakfast participation is to make it part of the school day.

Schools interested in starting a new breakfast program and/or making breakfast part of the school day can contact the Montana No Kid Hungry School Breakfast Coordinator, Rosie Cody at RCody@mt.gov or by phone at 444-3925.

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Missoula Baby Bistro breastfeeding support group

Going back to work after having a baby can be difficult emotionally and logistically. Toss breastfeeding in and moms not only have to worry about when to drop off and pick up their kiddos but when to pump so their kiddos have a supply of milk when they’re not around to give it to them from the source.

So where to look for support and resources? The Missoula Baby Bistro is a good place to hear from certified lactation counselors and other moms about returning to work and a host of other breastfeeding-related things.

The breastfeeding support group meets from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Zootown Brew, 121 W. Broadway.

And if you’re like me, it’s an opportunity to upgrade from sweatpants to yoga pants and get out of the house and talk with other moms about everything from what worked for them when they tried to get baby to take a bottle to sleep habits to just how you’re feeling. I went to the group almost every week when I was still on maternity leave and it was definitely helpful to hear from other moms and lactation experts — without having to make an appointment. I also gleaned all sorts of nuggets of info, like how socks stuffed in bras do in a pinch when you’re out of nursing pads and how you can make your own hands-free nursing bra by cutting slits in a sports bra.

The group began last August after members of the Missoula Breastfeeding Coalition decided to have one support group instead of the various ones hosted by different organizations. Coalition members take turns facilitating so there’s always an expert, or two, on hand.

During a recent session, Jennifer Stires, who owns the Nursing Nook, gave some tips on how to make the transition back to work easier for mom and baby while still breastfeeding.

• Give your chosen childcare a trial run for a few hours the week before you return to work.

• Pump once every day if starting to pump two weeks before going back to work; pump every other day if starting four weeks before your return.

• Store milk in 2-4 ounce increments so it can be warmed up in small amounts and waste less.

• Make sure the room you pump in at work has a lock for privacy. Don’t pump in the bathroom. (Would you eat in there?) Be near water so you can rinse your breast pump parts after each use.

• Drink lots of water, exercise and get fresh air. Keep healthy snacks available (oatmeal helps with milk production).

• Have a feeding plan on file with your childcare provider and ask to have a synopsis of your child’s day. When did they nap and for how long? How much did they eat and when?

The law is on your side, too, ladies.

According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers — with some exemptions — must give nursing mothers reasonable break times to express breast milk for up to a year after birth and are required to give mothers a place — other than a bathroom — in which to do so.

If you need some advice or just an encouraging smile from another mom who is going through the same thing, check out Missoula Baby Bistro in person, or find them on Facebook.

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Parents of Multiples group forms

Ever feel like all the baby-care hacks are geared toward one baby at a time?

You’re not alone and to help families with multiples (i.e. twins, triplets) a new group has formed.

Missoula Parents of Multiples was formed by Emma Hunter and Cerisse Allen – both parents of twins and certified lactation consultants.

The group meets the first Thursday of each month from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library. (Although Hunter said they are open to meeting at a different time if it will be easier for families to attend.) The gathering is a judgement-free zone for families to share experiences and support each other, Hunter said.

“I feel like you don’t realize until you have more than one baby what a large part of all of our available parenting advice is specifically geared toward one mom and one baby,” she said.

“It’s nice to be able to chat with people who have made it through the first year of two or what have you to be able to bounce ideas off of,” she said.

Especially when children are younger, it can be reassuring to see other moms and families handling the demands of multiples and still managing to enjoy them, she said, adding she and Allen became friends after bumping into each other when walking their children and then again through mutual friends.

Basic needs are the same for all babies, Hunter said.

“It’s just more relentless,” she said about caring for multiples.

“It’s just keeping up without really getting much of a break very often,” she added.

Being pregnant with and giving birth to multiples also presents challenges and moms can’t legally have a home or birth center birth experience. Cesarean sections also are more common and it’s not unusual to spend active labor in the operating room just in case, Hunter said.

Sometimes, moms have a vaginal delivery for the first baby and a c-section for the second, which means they recover from both types of delivery after, she said.

Neonatal intensive care unit stays also are more prevalent for multiples, she said.

“It seems like something most of the moms don’t really get an opportunity to talk about much but then given the opportunity they were eager to,” Hunter said about the first group meeting earlier this month.

“It seems like the desire to be kind of proactive and provide support in turn to someone going through a similar difficult situation is definitely there,” she added.

For more information, or to make suggestions about what meeting time would be best, find Missoula Parents of Multiples on Facebook.


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