Viva Las Vegas: Leaving on a Jet Plane. 

So, many have asked — and the answer is no. I’m not in Las Vegas…yet. 

With a very heavy heart, I have decided I will depart tomorrow evening. I feel the weight of the evil that took place there – It’s taken me this long to begin processing any of it. 

Tomorrow, I will hug Those Johnson Girls and The Man a little too tight, give them a few too many kisses, and board a plane with 5 of the raddest bossbabes I know. 

You see, I won the opportunity to attend the national convention for my side business. I couldn’t have been more excited for my first ever trip to Las Vegas. But, when I woke up Monday — that was the last thing on my mind. I thought of all the people injured or brutally murdered at the hands of evil. 

I was reminded of the mantra I have adopted for my life “The Answer is Never to Love Less” and wondered how in the hell that applied to this situation. 

I have decided I will go. And I will celebrate life to the fullest for those who cannot. I will wear a sparkly dress — even if I feel numb and empty and heartbroken. These people showed up to a live concert because they loved life and loved a good time. These are my people. It’s personal. So personal. 

So, I’m going to smile my best smile. Even if it’s fake for now. I will dance, I will sing, and I will laugh. I will celebrate life & I will live it to the fullest of my ability  If not, then fear and evil win. It’s NOT a way to disgrace those who have or are actively suffering. I wrestled with that internal dialogue for some time. It’s a choice. I know my people. These are my people. 

My cousin John was the first to clue me in on what had happened. We talked rationally about the statistics for a bit (because, I suspect we are both more comfortable talking this way) and without saying it – he said said “go”.  I value him and his opinion. He’s level-headed, but also has a good soul. He’s my people too. 

My mom opened my eyes to a new perspective tonight — the medical workers who have been working triple or quadruple shifts and not taking breaks to eat, use the bathroom or rest. They are saving countless lives and will never appear on TV lauded as heroes. You will never hear these stories. They won’t be on the news or in the paper. Because they can’t stop working. Ever. 

 I am looking for a way to give back while I’m there – maybe a way to thank the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, …..? Suggestions welcome. All blood donation appointments for the area are booked solid — so I’ll have to find a different route to help. Ideas?

Prayer always helps – and they are welcome too.  Please show those around you MORE love. Fear and evil cannot win. You are my people too. Thanks for being a part of this crazy journey. 

“The Answer is Never to Love Less.”

Be in the picture. (It’s not what you think)

My mom is one of the smartest people I know.  There was a commercial on TV about having a readiness plan in the event of an emergency. So, I asked my mom what she would take from our house if she only had 5 minutes to grab things.  Without hesitating (this was clearly not the first time she had thought about it), she said “all my pictures”.  That really stuck with me.  Pictures weren’t that important to me and I really didn’t understand why they were to her.  

 I’m not sure when it happened. But it does, to most people (mainly women) at some point and it certainly did to me. I despised having my picture taken unless I was 100% perfectly groomed, with a new dress and every hair in place. 

When I was 5 years old, I imagine I was a whole lot like M (well-played, karma).  Spunky, wild, and begging to have my picture taken any chance I could. “MOM, take one of me up here in the rafters of the garage!” I never even considered what my hair or makeup or outfit looked like. Chances are pretty high that I was covered in dirt, bruises and scrapes (a lot like M) and had a huge smile, the kind where you can see the sparkle in the person’s eyes many years later.  

Perhaps puberty is to blame, or society with their images of perfection…but I’m not interested in placing blame. 

In high school I was uncomfortable in my own skin (as I imagine many are at that age). I didn’t enjoy having my picture taken most of the time, but I still obliged my mom or grandma when special occasions demanded photos. 

I had a lot of fun in college (there, I said it). A lot of fun. I joined the best sorority in the world and quickly learned how to pose for pictures so I would look marginally better in them. We took more pictures than anyone could ever need (and yes, we needed film then). It was just a thing we did. And…looking back at them, I’m so glad we have those pictures. 

So, not to go all amateur philosopher on you, (but this is my blog, so I get to do whatever I want), but I believe there are two branches of the “meaning of life” and I’m going to oversimplify them to the point where my philosophy major friends will likely unfriend me…but here goes:

The first is to be happy, and the second is to leave your mark on the world. 

When I married the man, we had a photographer and a videographer like people sometimes do. I’m certainly glad we have pictures of that day — but I’m mostly glad I have pictures of all the guests and family on that day. I will look at that album about once every few years (when searching through the boxes in the basement for something else, generally) and I never look at pictures of me in there — but all the other people of that day. 

My body doesn’t do pregnancy well. That was a big understatement…but, it doesn’t. So, I definitely didn’t want any pictures taken of me. This was true when I was pregnant with M as well — and also the years in between when my body wasn’t “normal” anymore.  Those Johnson girls and I have a saying about that now anyway:

Normal is a dryer setting

Between M and P, I realized a lot of things. I grew as a person in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I changed. My perspective was dramatically different. Because of the sign I saw (see blog post from June 2017). 

So, I started allowing people to take my picture whenever they wanted. I willingly jumped in to pictures (no matter how I looked…but a side effect was that I started taking better care of my appearance because I knew someone might take a picture of me.  I even honed my ninja photobombing techniques. My mom even commented that she was surprised I let her take my picture when I was pregnant with P. 

Here’s the thing. Funerals make you think about life. I had a streak where I was attending too many in a short period of time…which shifted my amateur philosophical ramblings into hyperdrive. They all had picture boards or slide shows with pictures and I was always drawn to them (I’m socially awkward and NEVER seem to have the right words to say in these moments, so looking at the pictures gives me something more comfortable to do). It made me start to wonder what pictures they would find of me one day….I had childhood pictures (albeit FAR less than my sister since I was the youngest), I had senior pictures, wedding pictures, and…. pictures of me that one time I had my hair done for someone’s wedding…and…. well, there wasn’t much else. Don’t get me wrong I am a mom of 4 girls. I have a million pictures of them. But, if you needed to find a picture of me as an adult, you would have been more likely to find a live unicorn making muffins in your kitchen. 

So, I decided those johnson girls needed some pictures of their mom with them. Their mom doing stuff (I am actually fortunate to do an incredible amount of stuff). My nieces will want to see a picture of their Aunt one day. They deserve them. My picture board at my funeral will have happy memories because of this shift. There are definitely some photos I cringe to look at – but through my girls’ eyes, I am beautiful and that’s all I need. 

So, I’m pleading – be in the picture. Some say that selfies make our society narcissistic… I say take a crazy selfie with everyone you meet.  Because they are fun!  Smile and let the camera see the sparkle in your eye. Be alive.  

How to use your lockdown training at home…and other tips!

This one is embarrassing. I was fortunate to attend A.L.I.C.E. training on a Wednesday morning earlier this month. Essentially, this is a form of enhanced lockdown in the event of the unthinkable. I’m happy to have the tools to keep my students and myself safe should the worst happen. However, the training was…scary.  We wore riot masks (in case we were “shot” – with airsoft gun- by the “bad guy”, who happened to be our school liaison officer). Im in the middle in the picture above. I’m happy to report I was quick to think on my feet and my teammates and I survived and actually had a pretty secure room! I was pretty proud of myself.  I learned a lot that day – most of which I never wanted to know and ALL of which I never hoped to use. Except I did. Only two days later. All of the training was used. But, in my home. 

I also had the privilege of having lunch with a colleague (a rarity in education) due to the training schedule. It was good to catch up, but even more so – this is the type of colleague & friend where you can talk “deep” very quickly and really know one another well. It was good for my soul to have someone ‘really’ listen and I did my best to be a good listener too (I hate to admit, but I’m usually so caught up in myself that I’m not very good at really listening- I’m working on it). This friend dropped me off to pick up the rental car (the van woes continue). We went back to work to teach the rest of the day and I didn’t think much more of it. 

Friday morning, I wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off (at 5am) because P is stirring. She’s FAR too big for the bassinet, but it’s so convenient…I know, I know. Remember I already lost “mom of the year” on Jan 1st – it’s so freeing!  So P is right next to my bed (on my left), and starting to stir. I stick the paci back in and start playing on my phone. M is snoring (we have a tonsil consult later this week) and wedged under my right arm, because she is incapable of sleep in her own bed – yep, she’s 5.  “The man” likes to go downstairs each morning at a ridiculous hour and think about running. Most days he goes – but all days he thinks about going. 

I hear the loudest man’s voice coming from down stairs.  It was not “the man” that I’m married to. It said in the loudest, scary calm, serious tone I have ever heard “DON’T MOVE”. “DON’T MOVE. I WILL SHOOT YOU.” My heart started racing and I froze. For a minute I was sure I had imagined it (early morning, moms don’t sleep much anyways, …). But then he repeated those same words in that same tone. 

I called 911. An angel named Ashley talked to me. I was too scared to move at first. Then the Training kicked in. I grabbed the baby and Maggie and headed for the closet in my bedroom. I locked three doors between us and the “downstairs” on the way. Charlotte was on the other end of the house. There was no way I could get to her. I just prayed over and over that she wouldn’t be scared and that he wouldn’t come upstairs. I found all the ways I could barricade the door and everything around I could use to protect us. The training was powerful!

I was trying not to throw up hiding in the closet, clutching my babies very tight. I was angry that the 911 lady kept making me respond. I wanted to be silent so I could hear if someone was coming. It seemed they were taking an eternity to come. “Why was it taking them so long?” I kept pleading with her to ask them to hurry. I’m sobbing silently, shaking and trying to simultaneously convince M we were playing a fun “practice your hiding” game. She was even doing such a great job. All while trying not to hurl or pass out. 

Ashley told me when the police arrived. Then she told me they were walking around the outside. It still felt like forever. She finally asked if there was a way to get in. So, I told her how. The next thing I heard was that it was ok to hang up that they were there. I stayed hiding until there was a knock on the closet door (my locks had been foiled). It was….”the man”…the one I’m married to. He had a strange look on his face. I was terrified. I asked if the intruder was gone. He didn’t say anything and just said “the police are here and they want to talk to you”. I asked repeatedly if he was sure it was safe for us to come downstairs. It was 17 minutes from the time I called until the time he knocked. That’s the Longest. Time. Ever. 

I come downstairs, still clutching two kids tightly to find roughly 7 officers in our kitchen. I start asking questions rapid fire style, like only a concerned mother can do. No one answers any of them. I panic a little more. 

Because, apparently “the man” fell asleep on the remote control and the  weather radar channel (without audio) was on. He hit the vol up button in his sleep (a lot) and then hit the channel button at some point. Apparently, it turned to a crime show at an extremely unfortunate time.  They explained this to me no less than 5 times before I even heard the words they were saying. Oh. Oops. Big big big oops. I was so embarrassed and apologized profusely to the officers for wasting their time and resources and pulling them away from real emergencies. They assured me that they would much rather come protect me and my babies from the TV than have me wonder if I should call or not in a real emergency. They were so kind. One gave me a hug when he would see me shaking uncontrollably.  I’m so incredibly thankful to live in a community with amazing police officers who keep us safe from all threats (real and perceived) without making me feel dumb. So thankful. 

M got some high 5’s from the officers for her great hiding work (see, they are amazing people) and thought it was really cool that we had real police officers in our house. 

C – slept through the whole thing and refused to believe M that any of this happened (she’s known to tell a good story – like most 5 year olds). Relieved. 

I go to drop C off at latchkey and our neighbor is standing there on the phone with another neighbor and the woman at the desk is also a neighbor. He asks me if I’d seen all the police cars and if everyone was ok — and did I know what house it was for?  I thought HARD about pretending I had no clue what he was talking about — but I couldn’t. I said yes, everyone was fine. He dropped the phone and waited for the story. So I told it. And he lost his mind laughing. And called back the other neighbor, who also lost his mind laughing. Yep. 

I was still shaking at the end of the work day.  I ended up having to tell my first hour students what had happened because they kept saying “you are not alright”. Kids always know. They got a good laugh and we went on learning properties of circles.

To hear “the man” tell it is quite different. From his perspective…he was watching TV & thinking about running when the door opened and he heard “police”. He laughed and said “yeah, right”, convinced it was a neighbor playing a joke. Then there were so many officers and he was so confused. He said “hey fellas, you want some coffee?”  Because he’s an awesome guy like that. 

I immediately recognized two of the officers as school police liaison officers – though not the ones who trained me two days before. I prayed they wouldn’t remember me. It seemed to work….until today. One of the officers came in to our school for a extra support for the seniors last day “just in case” because, as I mentioned, they are incredible. He was chatting with a friend and he looked at me and said “you look familiar”. So, I had been found out. I blurt out “you came to the house when I called on my husband”.  Except that wasn’t at all what I meant. He said “oh, well that happens a lot” and tried to change the subject. I corrected myself “No, I mean I called 911 on the TV!” And he chuckled and admitted he definitely remembered that call. See, I’m memorable after all!  Since that day, I have mentally prepared for all kinds of traumatic events that could happen in my home, including contingency plans for C, the only kid who sleeps in her bed. 

We cut cable, and are trying to think up ways to thank our police department. They really are extraordinarily people. 

So there you have it. You, too, can use emergency lockdown training at home!  Just…don’t sleep on the remote!!

The next blog post will detail where the quote below came from and why it holds such significance in my life. 

“The answer is never to love less. “

How to notice when all the lights are green (and other bonus tips).

Wow.  I can’t believe how much has happened with Those Johnson Girls since the last blog post.  I don’t know why it still surprises me; chaos is our MO.

To begin, the car troubles continue.  The van is currently in the “van hospital” where the local dealership is attempting to exorcise the demons from the electrical and transmission systems.  The man is driving the big diesel that belonged to his dad.  Tomorrow, kind friends have agreed to pick us up and take us home, and my mom is helping to shuffle the little Johnson girls home and C to her activities.  I’m thankful we have supportive, willing to help, people in our lives.

C is not making a lot of progress at PT due to her refusal to do the “homework” as it’s uncomfortable.  If we can’t get some cooperation soon, it looks like a night splint is the next step.  Meanwhile, M needs tonsils and adenoids removed.  We, again, were fortunate that the head of pediatric ENT at U of M (who was NOT accepting new patients) agreed to do her surgery consult and surgery because her sister was a patient four years ago.  Phew!  She’s super excited for kindergarten, and from what I can tell…she’s ready!

On March 29, a close friend at work passed away suddenly (at work).  This man was one of my best friends at work.  The one I could vent to, and would offer support and encouragement.  He would tell me “you’re doing a hell of a job” exactly when I needed to hear it.  He was also a local celebrity.  With his celebrity status, there were many ceremonies to honor him.  I attended them all, hoping to get some peace.  They were beautiful ceremonies: a candlelight vigil for students, a faith-filled funeral service for family, and a memorial service at my school.  All beautiful tributes to this man and teacher.  But, my friend was still gone.  It still wasn’t real.  It still isn’t now.  I keep expecting him to walk around the corner with his big toothy grin and yell “hello”, except he was never actually yelling.  I keep waiting for him to barge into my classroom and tell me the latest news about our school and we would discuss it.  We both had the same mindset when it came to decisions about teaching and learning “are we doing what’s best for kids?”  It was wonderful to have someone whose teaching intentions were so closely aligned.  An ally in the political world that is public schools.  Especially the last few years. When I returned to work after P, I was pumping and therefore not eating lunch with others.  I didn’t have much time to chat with my other friends at work due to my schedule, but he made time — and made it a point to talk to me several times each day.  Many days, that was the only adult I spoke with all day long.  I took over one of his classes.  That has helped me the most.  These were the students who were with him when he passed away.  Together, we feel his presence.  It’s healing for me to get to know them and to work with them.  We all agreed he would be angry if we sat around being sad and NOT doing math for very long….so we do math now.  Every morning.  They are some of the most amazing students I have had the privilege to work with in the last 15 years.  It’s a very special group.  If you’re out there wondering if I’m alright, the answer is “not yet”.  I still get mad at him for leaving his family and his friends and his students, but I know that he wouldn’t have chosen to.  No one loved their family more than him.  For now, the students will laugh at my attempts at 3D drawings and we will carry on doing our math with our heavy hearts.

In the midst of this incredible loss, I was feeling rather rough.  The day I attended the funeral, I went home and slept.  It was 3pm and I woke up the next morning.  Definitely not normal for a mom of 4!  Feeling so rough, I decided a trip to the doctor was in order.  My mom and dad met me and took the kids and my dad drove me in my car (they quickly realized I was a mess and shouldn’t be driving).  Dad took me to the doc and they wanted an ultrasound and some blood work stat.  So we did those tests (luckily in the same building) and I got a nausea shot and we went home.  I slept from 11am when we got home until the next morning (Saturday).  I had a voicemail from the doc saying some things weren’t right with the blood work and he sent me for more.  So the man took me this time and we did the blood work and went back home.  Again, I slept until the next day.  Apparently, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law visited on Saturday and brought C home from her sleepover and I didn’t even know they were there (I was sleeping on the couch in the middle of it all).  Sunday rolls around and my family heads to mass.  I couldn’t do it.  At this point, I hadn’t eaten since Thursday and I was no longer able to keep anything down (including water).  I called the doc and he sent me to the ER as things were getting worse and not better.  The rest is a blur thanks to the magical potions they put in my IV line.  I was sent from the ER to the ER Observation floor (from what I can tell, it’s a regular hospital floor but they don’t have to tell your insurance you were “admitted”).  I stayed there Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and had many tests and scans and pokes.  They determined on Tuesday that I needed my gallbladder removed and they did that around 4pm.  I was sent home immediately after and NEVER FELT BETTER.  They think it hadn’t been working at all in quite some time and I was feeling rough and didn’t realize how bad I felt.  The only downside (other than the days I lost) was that I couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds.  M is 35 and P with car seat is definitely over 20.  I didn’t listen exactly, but took it easy.  I asked if I could go to work on Wednesday.  The surgeon said “usually two weeks”.  I can be very persuasive when I need to be and convinced him that Monday I would be ok to work.  I have a high pain tolerance (physical pain only, I have zero tolerance for emotional pain…giant baby).  He reluctantly agreed.  I just wanted to be back with my students and back to routine.  As luck would have it, I missed out on administering the SAT, and the other state tests and didn’t miss much of class time (Friday happened to be Good Friday as well).  I’m thankful for great health care, health insurance, my mom, my mother-in-law, the man, and my friends at work for arranging things for me.

I was anxious to get to know my new students – nervous like the first day of school.  Only, it was actually worse.  They had been together all year and had witnessed his death.  The trauma and grief were real, and they would be looking to me, an outsider.  I played out so many scenarios in my head where mutiny in the classroom was the reality.  None of those happened.  The kids were warm, inviting, amazing souls who were also eager to get to know me.  All my fears subsided quickly.  We are working each day, and I am learning so much from them.  I’m truly thankful for these amazing students.

Getting ready to end a school year and making summer plans for the kids always makes me second guess my choices.  Have I scheduled enough activities for the big kids?  Did I schedule too many so we can’t have plain old fun at the pool and outside?  Will they forget about me when I go to grade papers for a week out of state?  Anyone else have this anxiety?

So, in addition to taking on an extra class I also have been contracted to write questions for a national test.  Sort of like, a little freelance side work.  I figured that could pay for one kid for one week of summer camp and I was spot on with my estimate.  It’s also crunch time for my new advanced class as papers and presentations must be scored (by my partner and I) by tomorrow at midnight.  Also, I have two groups of students preparing to take tests to receive college credit in high school next week.  The pressure is certainly on!  I have been too busy recently with all this, but I know it’s temporary and things will ease up.

So, I was feeling overwhelmed one afternoon and rushing to get home from daycare before C gets off the bus (she would NEVER forgive me for not being there – and I haven’t missed yet, but it’s a huge fear).  I must have said something like “Oh, come on!  Every single light has been red!  I can’t seem to catch a break today!” while driving.  M piped up (like she usually does) and set me straight.  “Mom, three of them were green.  How come you never say ‘Every light has been green’?  You never notice when the light is green.”  Wow, incredible wisdom for a 5 year old.  She was so right.  This was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to get back to my mission of gratitude (and I’m so thankful for her comment).  So, I challenge anyone who has read this far — to take note of when the lights are green, of when things just fall into place, of when the plan works, of when the backup plan works, of when one little thing goes your way.  Take note.  It will change your life.  Because after all….the answer is NEVER to love less (the origin of this tagline deserves it’s own post soon)!

Dear ‘That Mom’: This is why I recognize you from a mile away.

I see you.  You’re exhausted, but pretend you’re pulled together and energized.  You even joke about not having enough coffee.  I’m not an expert, but I’ve been ‘that mom’ and suspect that we are all ‘that mom’.

The seemingly binary dilemma: reading articles like this one, which state you are doing fine playing on your iPhone on the playground and the ones that accuse any mother who owns any electronic devices of neglect.  As a mom, no matter what you are doing, society will convince you…you are doing it wrong and your kids will suffer, permanently, for your failure.  This doesn’t even include the debate over screen time for the children.  I am not qualified to host that debate.

Then, there’s the age-old binary quandary: stay-at-home vs. work outside the home moms.  I will not participate in this debate either.  My feelings are clear:  I love my job, I love my kids.  I genuinely wish I could be both places at once.  I imagine both groups wish they were able to be both.  I don’t believe there is a ‘win’ or a ‘right answer’ here.  It just doesn’t exist.  In my perfect world, I would be a professional speaker of some type and would travel with Those Johnson Girls and the man to all of the places my hypothetical job would take us and I’d be with them all the times I wasn’t presenting and basking in the fame and glory and admiration of my fans.  HA!  In case you were wondering, seniors who struggled in math for 12 years don’t exactly show this fandom in my daily classes on algebra.  Nor, do I get to travel often or even be with Those Johnson Girls or the man as often as I’d like. But, I am grateful for all I have (see my first post for how to achieve total gratitude— there are two step 9’s and 12 billion errors, no one mentioned it).

The binary issue I’m currently battling:  time with the kids vs. time for self-care/fitness.  The smallest of Those Johnson Girls will be 6 months on Monday.  I’m making some changes.

I’m also battling what I believe is a trinary issue: having a clean house, having happy children, or having your sanity.  Sadly you can only choose two at one time. For example, I just offered children the choice to go get groceries with dad or stay and help me clean up so we can get the groceries in the house when he gets home.  Guess what?  They are all interested in grocery shopping this morning.  Which means, I can clean up without screaming at anyone.  They think they won.

It’s a beautiful mess though. 

My cousin (who also has four children) said to me recently when we were debating if you ever get over the imposter syndrome as a parent, and you do.  I haven’t reached that point yet.  I still feel like I’m not a real mom.  Even though I have Those Johnson Girls who call me mom.  Society says I’m a mom.  I even describe myself as a mom.  It’s strange.  I don’t feel like I’ve done any of it correctly.  Another friend says “if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t make mistakes”.  I like this philosophy.  It makes all of my failures into lessons I’ve learned.  This aligns nicely with my personal life philosophy about not having regrets.

You see, I’m completely average in life.  I am SO average, in fact, that I teach about averages (ok, means) all day long.  I’m an overweight, suburban, mini-van driving, schoolteacher, mom in the midwest.  I live in a house, have 3.2 children, a mortgage and lots of responsibilities.  Average.  I like all of the things I am (except maybe the overweight parts).  In fact, a dear friend recently told me that everything she’s ever wanted was to be married, be a teacher and have kids.  She has none of those things.  I have them all.  Then pinterest hit me in the face that night with this.

So, I am working on gratitude.  And I’m becoming more astute at recognizing ‘that mom’ everywhere I go.

P, at the playground.

This week has brought some challenges.  It has been said that bad things come in threes.  Unfortunately this we true this week (I still saw the things I was grateful for in each of the bad things).

So many tears…

I cried over spilled milk.  Anyone who has ever nursed a child understands this pain.  It’s real, it’s raw.  At work, after working VERY hard to get this milk, I dropped it all over the floor trying to rush to get to my afternoon class on the other side of the school.  I wept.  A lot.  It was the ugly cry.

First, I was on my way to a beautiful cousin’s house for some nutrition advice that she graciously offered to help me with when the van died.  It just died.  I was not out of gas, the electrical system quit and the dash lights were doing a great strobe-light show.  It was 12 degrees and sleeting sideways with gusts up to 40mph.  I was about half a mile from my cousin’s house at the time.  So I called the man to come get me (the man is good at fixing EVERYTHING and has my respect for life) and fix my problem.  In the meantime, I got cold so I called my cousin to come get me and take me to their house while I waited.  He loaded all Those Johnson Girls in the truck and headed over even though it was bedtime (around 7:30pm).  Apparently, in the truck C had a complete meltdown and had to be returned home.  The man forgot to let me know (so glad I went to the cousin’s house to wait) in the chaos.  At 9:44 he finally answered the phone and said “mission failed” and to get a ride home.  I joked that my cousin would call me an uber — which he apparently thought was serious.  Obviously, my cousin took me home.

When I got home, the man took the van keys and went in the truck to go rescue the van.  About six minutes after he  left my phone rang.  I answered hushed (the baby was sleeping next to me) figuring he was trying to locate the van and I could help him find it.  I was wrong.  He kept saying “I’ve had a collision and I can’t get out of the truck”.  I’ll never, ever forget the robotic sound of those words through the phone. You see, the man is a trained merchant marine and incredibly amazing in any kind of crisis.  He goes into some sort of alternative state where he’s extremely calm-appearing and able to make good decisions.  This is a helpful skill if a ship is on fire or taking on water or…. My heart stopped.  I told him to call 911.  The next thing I heard was him figuring out that he could climb out the window.  The truck was apparently in the ditch and the door was blocked.  He climbed out the window and I heard a police radio in the background.  I heard him asking about the other car and running over to make sure they were ok.  Thanks be to God, they were ok.  He was ok.  Did I mention the sleet coming down sideways and high winds?  That makes for an icy mess of a road.  No one needed to go to the hospital, thanks be to God.  The truck is likely totaled.  We’ll find out more next week when the insurance estimates come in.

He got home around 11:30pm and came in the front door and out the garage door in one swoop.  The “calm” part of his crisis reactions usually manifest later as a suppressed delayed adrenaline rush.  He wanted to go for a walk (remember the weather?).  He walked off.   I watched carefully which direction he went, etc.  I called my dad (yes, I still call my parents even if it’s the middle of the night if I need help).  I was home with Those Johnson Girls asleep upstairs and had no wheels anyway.  My dad jumped in his truck (I told him to PLEASE be careful driving) and came over to help.  He found the man who insisted on going to get the van.  They did.  With his magical fixing abilities, they got the van to limp home (about 5 miles).  In the matter of an hour, we went from two vehicles to none.  Interestingly, that morning at C’s IEP meeting they mentioned she had a strange fear of car crashes, obsessing over them.  I laughed and said we’ve never even had one (and she’s never been in one).  Damn you Karma.  I think we went to bed around 4am, completely drained of all life.  I got up with the baby about 4:45 for the day.  I was in bed long enough for my iPhone to charge from 0 to 32%. Convinced that the next work day would be rough, I put the coffee in my stomach, showered and put on that face.  The one I talked about above.

My mom came over and watches Those Johnson Girls on Thursdays.  When she arrived, I borrowed her car to get to work.  I got to work early, gave my plate info to security so the car wouldn’t get towed, set up for the day, graded some quizzes and got as ready as I could be.  Of course, I was observed by an administrator for 1/3 of my yearly performance evaluation this day.  Of course.  Damn you karma.  It went ok, but definitely not as good as a typical lesson in my class.  When I called the man to check on him, I said “Where was St. Christopher on that one?” (he had a visor clip).  He quickly set me right.  He said “I wasn’t hurt, and an hour before I was on that same road in that same place with all three kids in the back”.  Yes.  This.  He was right. (I don’t say those words as often as I should).  Sorry, St. Christopher, and thank you.

We survive the day as a family, make it home.  I order pizza (remember how I went the night before for nutrition advice?  this wasn’t it…) and we ate and went to bed early.  I felt better.  It was going to be ok.  The man had replaced the battery in the van and retrieved his dad’s old diesel truck to drive.

It was this sentiment, anyway…

I wake up Friday morning around 4:30 (normal for P) and go downstairs in search of magical hot bean juice.  But what I found was something different.  Water.  The floor in the kitchen was wet.  Very wet.  Now this, alone, is not unusual for Those Johnson Girls do lots of strange things. It was right in front of the refrigerator so I figured it could be ice cubes that had melted or someone spilled something or….  But, then I looked up.

The saturated drywall had fallen down at a seem and water was actively dripping on my head.  I said the appropriate four-letter words and headed upstairs (after feeding P – she’s super impatient with the food).  By this time, the man was up.  I cautiously told him what I had discovered – after all, he’s had a rough week too.  The sink in Those Johnson Girls’ bathroom leaked all over and through the floor.  We haven’t filed that claim yet……  trying to give our insurance time to finish our vehicle paperwork before filing a home-owner’s claim.  Thankful we have both insurances, but may start a gofundme for deductibles soon.  Lol!

N, The oldest of Those Johnson Girls on her 17th birthday!

Honorable mentions  this week:  C started physical therapy after finishing an occupational therapy stint.  My students did an amazingly professional presentation for the school board. The oldest of Those Johnson Girls turned 17.  P ate cereal for the first time and LOVED it.  I signed both girls up for latchkey in the fall and I signed M up for Kindergarten!  She’s SO ready and I’m excited FOR her.  She thought she got to go the next day though….

Incredibly grateful for: God, my ‘average’ life, my man, Those Johnson Girls, my mom and dad, insurance, cousins, friends, and my children’s teachers and professionals.

I’m making some changes, planning my next moves, and have some exciting things in the works for me, the man, and Those Johnson Girls.  Stay tuned…

If you are ‘that mom’ reading this, I have some advice for us that I heard this morning on “Splash and Bubbles” on PBS:

“I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m just doin’ it”

This has particular meaning for me this week. 


How to Achieve Complete Gratitude: 10 (not so) Easy Steps!

Step 1: Have a baby.




This is the most straightforward way.  I’m not an expert at anything…but…I have done this three times.  You see, I’m a  mom to four girls (one is technically my step-daughter (N), but you’ll never hear me refer to her that way — because she’s just my oldest daughter and that’s how it is).  Last September, on the first day of school, P was born.  P is the youngest of Those Johnson Girls and hasn’t learned to do much other than eat, sleep, cry and poop.  She’ll have to get a job soon though…these kids are pricey!

You see, when you have a baby – gratitude is automatic and authentic.  The first thing I was grateful for was the change to take care of one more of God’s children for him.  He sure trusts me, which always surprises me.  The next thing I was grateful for was the doctors who took careful care of me during my third “high-risk” pregnancy.  Some of my favorite terms were “geriatric pregnancy”, “pregnancy in the elderly” and “advanced maternal age”.  Then next thing I was instantly grateful for was the anesthesiologist and his magical potions which made my legs float and my cares disappear.  I may have proposed to him several times with my husband by my side…

After that, there are SO MANY people to be grateful for.  The nurses who bring the magical potions during recovery, help you use the bathroom, and everything else these angels do.  The lady who brings the terrible hospital food, the lactation consultant, this list could go on forever…. you get the idea.

Then, there are the relatives and friends.  My man and my wonderful mother-in-law kept the other two sane during my hospital stay  and my mom took such good care of me and P. I can’t possibly list all the reasons I’m grateful for my mom.  Not possible.

Step 2: Suffer Post-Partum Depression.

This step isn’t so pretty (childbirth isn’t exactly pretty either – except on sitcoms).  I’ve never suffered from this with any of the others – and I’ve never talked about this with anyone except very close friends.  This was real.  It was ugly.  It made me grateful for caring doctors, my sister for helping me through some social settings where I was overwhelmed, my man, and of course, my mom.  I take medication now, and I am grateful for health insurance where I could receive the care I needed.  I don’t want to join any political movements of any kind – but if you are out there suffering from depression or anxiety, please see a doctor immediately.  There are great medications that can completely remove the black cloud and let you live your life. Seriously.  My only regret was waiting to admit there was a problem.  Beautiful friends came to visit the baby and me and brought food, chocolate, flowers, gifts and best of all…hugs.  I can’t possibly list the reasons I’m grateful I came through this.  Not possible.

Step 3: Return to Work (with a stressful job).

This was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done.  You see, I’m a math teacher at the local high school.  I absolutely LOVE my job and love the people I am lucky to work with.  They are like my second family, truly.  I have always been one to “say yes to everything”, and this school year was no exception (who would want to slow down extremely pregnant anyway…).  I am teaching two different Advanced courses for college credit and developing a third one for next year.  In addition, I represent the most wonderful math department to administration and handle leadership duties for my math friends too.  I’m grateful they trust me to do this.  Did I mention I also teach math? I love all these things, but the thought of returning to them all when I was struggling to move from my bed to the couch in a day was more than overwhelming.  I was panicked.  It was two days after the election and the medication was starting to work.  I packed all the bags, pump, and lunch and laid out my clothes.  I received some timely advice from a cousin I admire “You’ve got to change your attitude about it.  Find something good about going back to work.  If you keep it framed in your mind like that – it will be pure torture.” I knew she was right, and I knew it was the kick in the pants I needed.  You see, I come from a long line of stubborn Assyrians (and apparently Irishmen too – but that’s a story for another post).  Friends gave encouragement and my boss let me know I was missed.  I talked myself into faking it for a day.  I walked in and met my students – having no idea of student names and no idea what they were working on.  It was slightly overwhelming but my colleagues had been teaching them and left me great notes.  I remembered very quickly why I do what I do.  The students keep me young.  They are witty, bright, and kind.  I can’t possibly list all the reasons I’m grateful for my job and co-workers.  Not possible.

Step 4: Have Christmas.

This was a gift from great friends.
Santa knows Those Johnson Girls
This is what happens when you are allergic to your Christmas tree…

All four of Those Johnson Girls were spoiled rotten as were the man and me.  Santa brought a cupboard under the stairs room for our Harry Potter fanatic (C).  Our sisters, moms, dad, and friends poured love and thought into each gift given.  I am most grateful for the time spent together (however short it was).  It seemed like a blur, but wonderful memories were made.  I discovered I’m severely allergic to whatever kind of tree we had – and then I was grateful for Zyrtec!  I hate putting up and taking down decorations…a lot.  But, I loved seeing the familiar ornaments a little more this year.  I can’t possibly list all the reason’s I’m grateful for my Christmas and all my Santas.  Not possible.

Step 5: Hospitalize Your Baby.

ICU Jan 2017 P
First snuggle in a week.
On the mend.

This one is tough to write about.  It’s tough to look back on.  It’s tough to think about.  I likely have some type of PTSD from it.  P had a nasty cough for a few weeks, but nothing more.  We took her to the pediatrician on Monday for a “well-baby” checkup.  She was not well enough for the shots, but Doc said it was viral and to keep doing what we were doing at home.  Wednesday evening, the things she told me to watch for were happening (retracted breathing, high respiration rate) so we headed to the local ER at her direction.  They checked her out while she smiled at them and they said “she’s too happy to be sick enough to keep”.  So, home we went.  Relieved she was okay.  Except she wasn’t.  My mom watched her the next day (a retired RN) and kept her upright and breathing.  Friday morning, I begrudgingly sent her to daycare.  My mom had a hair appointment at 9am and I texted her on the way in and asked her to stop by daycare and check on P – I just had a bad feeling.  She texted me at 10:30 and said she was on her way to my house with P.  I called the pediatrician to see if we could get in one more time before the weekend (urgent care didn’t sound like fun).  I met her there at the end of my work day about 2:30.  The pediatrician looked her over and smiled at me and asked if I wanted her to call an ambulance or go straight to the hospital (not the local one – the one a little further that was a children’s hospital).  I was scared – but told her I would go in the van, thank you.

She tried to “direct admit” P, but found out it would take a few hours and she didn’t want her off the monitor that long.  So, we went in the ER.  As I looked over the jam-packed waiting room my heart sank.  I checked in to the desk, gave the info and asked how long they thought I would be before we could get her on the monitor.  Exactly three seconds later a nurse came in (before we even had time to realize there weren’t any seats in the waiting room) to get us.  She took vitals and took us back to a room (I understand the premise behind triage now).  We met many nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other people in this er room who informed us she had RSV.  We stayed until about midnight when they finally had her room ready.  This is where we met an angel of a Nurse named Tanya.  Tanya saved P’s life that night.  As Tanya was doing her initial checks on P, she never left the room.  It wasn’t going well.  P took a quick turn for the worse.  After about three hours in a normal pediatric room, it was clear we were moving to intensive care.  P needed a lot more support to breathe than they could offer.  This next part is hard.  We were moved into the middle of a room with two babies already in it.  Since I was nursing, I had a pump and refrigerator brought up (which I was very grateful for).  I had about three square feet of space between the crib and the curtain to live.  I was punched through the curtain by a neighboring family several times.  They would sometimes peer around the curtain while I was pumping.  In addition to my baby being on the verge of being intubated, I had this too.  I tried to keep remembering – they had a sick baby too.

This is when I reached out to a friend who was familiar with having kids in the hospital.  She offered amazing support and tips.  It was going to be ok.  I could trust the doctor we had.  I was going to be ok too (she assured me).  Another of Those Johnson Girls (M) had been hospitalized at just over a year old for a different virus.  We survived that.  We stayed in the PICU for almost six days.  It became my new normal.  I had to go through two sets of security doors to use the bathroom.  I got to shower once in a weird hallway room that just had a shower (I have no idea the actual purpose of this room).  I joked with my mom (who was by my side almost the whole time) that I would be better off in prison.  The security doors kept us safe, and the doctors and nurses kept P alive.  My man took care of the big kids and my mother-in-law brought dinners and kept the kids occupied.  My sister and friends brought me real food and my co-workers took care of literally everything for me at work (did I mention this was during final exam week?).  I could not possibly list all the people who helped P and me this week.  Not possible.

Step 6: Have a baptism party.

Beautiful gift from a beautiful baker.
The Godparents!

We were in ICU when we were scheduled to attend the baptism prep class with P’s Godparents-elect.  They were amazing and went without us (the Godmother with a severe migraine at the time too).  The chatted with the coordinator for over two hours and prayed for P.

The day before the party, my Martha tendencies kicked in and anxiety about the cleaning and cooking crept up.  Except, we went to celebrate my sister’s birthday at my mom and dad’s house (which they graciously rescheduled so P and I could attend).  We got home late, but I worked hard to enjoy the party and not let my anxiety about the next day win.  I dragged the oldest Johnson Girl (N) through the grocery store at midnight after dosing her with NyQuil for a cold and we laughed our way through party prep.  You see, when you lose your “mother of the year” nomination status on Jan 1, you are free to make terrible parenting decisions the rest of the year.  Take note of this excellent tip. I went to pick up the beautiful custom cake made by a co-worker’s wife — and they refused to let me pay.  I cried.  They said it was their baby gift to me.  I cried some more.

Our family and friends celebrated her baptism and celebrated her recovery too.  My niece even flew in from Iowa, and her fiancé drove down from Marquette to be there.  Another niece came from MSU to be there.  I felt God’s grace all over that day.  I can’t explain all the people who helped make this celebration of life spectacular.  Not possible.

Step 7: Have a giant 5 year old birthday party.


Seriously.  There were roughly 50 people in my house.  I didn’t mean for it to get that large – but I didn’t know where to stop.  You see, my intention was to thank people for being a part of our “village” and to have an excuse to visit with the people who mean the most to me and Those Johnson Girls.  It was less than a week from invite to party and I figured not many would make it.  I was wrong in the best way.  All of my best friends came with their littles, our family came out in full strength, and I couldn’t have had a bigger smile.  This party was easier to plan/execute as I just ordered pizza and picked up a cake.  But, it was really fun if I do say so myself.  The kids ran wild through the basement and the upstairs and I’m quite certain every toy actually got played with that day.  I ordered way too much pizza (having too much food to serve is in our Assyrian DNA) and absolutely loved seeing friends we haven’t seen in a while as well as our family who is always helping us with Those Johnson Girls.  M got a million and one perfectly chosen gifts which she plays with constantly and C got to have a sleepover with her fairy Godmother for some perfectly timed 1-1 attention.  I couldn’t possibly explain the strength of the love we felt that day.   Not possible.

Step 8: Have Another ER Trip.

P was breathing really fast again.  I called the pediatrician who let me know we needed to head to the ER to get checked.  My mom met me there  (she’s always just magically there when I need her, seriously).  They checked her out, and her breathing had calmed down.  Stats were good and they sent us home.  I apologized to the attending for being “jumpy” and she looked me in the eyes and told me that I had every right to be jumpy after the week in ICU and that was what they were there for.  I tried hard not to cry.  Thankful for my mom, my heath insurance, and excellent health care in my area.  Can’t explain the level.  Not possible.

Step 9: Have a child with special needs.

Daddy Daughter Dance 2017: C with The Man

I was awoken at 3 am with a whimpering child.  M was on fire (102 fever) and quite miserable.  We went downstairs, got the motrin down and waited for it to kick in with some ‘Elena of Avalor shows.  I texted my mom at 3am (yep) and she said she’d be over to watch M for the day.  At 4:15 she puked all over and I knew this was’t great…

But this is about C.  C has been diagnosed with lot of different labels.  None of them are important.  What is important is all the amazing strengths she has.  She cannot tell a lie, she is extremely sensitive and kind-hearted.  She’s an excellent reader and loves math (and it comes easy to her – not due to me in any way).  She struggles to relate to friends her age.

Valentine’s day brought a ton of anxiety for her.  Other kids brought in elaborate boxes (one even looked like a portapotty) and she had only a gift bag with hearts on it.  You see, her mother (me) is not crafty.  at.  all.  I try my very best for Those Johnson Girls, but it’s minimal.  Jealousy was very real for her.  Mind you, she told me she was going to use the bag they made at school.  8pm the night before valentines day — she informs me that she wants to make an incredibly detailed box of Harry Potter for her receptacle.   This really occurred.  I tried.  I did.  Gift bag was the final result (and an extra late bedtime).  The next day I got several emails from her teacher and social worker indicating there had been quite a struggle getting through the day and many tears.  C’s friend received an award for bravery too.  Instead of being happy for her friend, C felt “as special as a rotten egg”.  Jealousy without the skills to deal with it spelled a rough day for her.  During this time, my students were giving presentations to central office administration, principals and school board members.  Keep it together.  Keep it together.  Keep it together.  We had just  finished an OT stint, which I am eternally grateful for, and didn’t have that help on the way.  We talked that night a lot and did by best shot at OT at home.

My video production colleague set up the taping for my students, my co-teacher kept me sane, the secretaries helped with all my needs, the maintenance and tech guys came in and setup the room perfectly. C’s teacher and social worker helped her deal with a day she couldn’t have made it through on her own. I can’t explain all the people that helped me through this day.  Not possible.

Step 9: Take a Preschooler to Urgent Care.

Influenza B = no fun.

I don’t love urgent cares, but they seem to be a large part of my life thanks to Those Johnson Girls.  My mom, the RN, let me know I needed to take her in to be checked.  She’s almost always right about these things so I call the pediatrician (I’m thankful they still answer when they see it’s me).  She’s not in the office at all that day.  Urgent care it is.

We get to urgent care and M is miserable.  On both tylenol and ibuprofen the fever still won’t break.  They swab her.  Influenza B, which was apparently surprising to the doc because everyone else had A.  All of my questions for the poor doctor who helped us were about keeping it away from the baby….He perscribed Tamiflu (which is the worst yucky poopoo medicine ever, in case you are wondering).  We’re currently on day 3 of the high fever.  Did I mention Those Johnson Girls and the man hallucinate when feverish?  Double fun.  I can’t explain all the people that helped us through this.  Not possible.


Step 10: Have Students Give High-Stakes Presentations and Attend Well-Baby Checkups

Finally well enough for a well-baby checkup!

My students have been pushed extremely hard in the last few weeks in one class, particularly.  So hard that many tried to see counselors to get out of the class.  My co-teacher and I received countless angry emails and phone calls from students and parents in these weeks.  Many.  Counselors let us know that they too had received similar calls.  There was a deadline, you see.

Students gave the most powerful team presentations I’ve ever seen.  I was blown away with what they did.  We had invited our central office (think district leaders) as well as the entire school board to these presentations and were a little bit nervous on how they’d turn out.  Two of the students who had complained the loudest in the previous weeks wrote us notes of thanks and brought chocolate.  Our students received great praise from all the supportive people who came out in droves to support student learning.  And I remembered again why I do what I do.  I can’t possibly thank all the people who made this happen.  Not possible.


So, there you have it. 10 steps to complete gratitude.  This blog won’t make sense to all people.  It won’t always be this long either.  In fact, if you’ve read this far and you didn’t give birth to me you may need to see a mental health professional.  This blog is really for me.  To get all the stuff in my head out.  There will be spelling and grammar mistakes, for sure.  If you’re worried I’m not grateful for my man, don’t fret.  He’ll get his own blog post soon.  If this sounds like bragging, I’m sorry not sorry.  I’ve been through some stuff and learned gratitude by fire.  I’m not perfect, although I suffer from perfectionistic tendencies (how’s that for irony).