Monthly Archives: April 2014

Survival: Spring Break Edition

by Christy Heitger-Ewing

My son came barreling through the front door, dropped his backpack to the floor, threw his hands into the air, and announced, “I’m on vacation!”

I remember bursting with excitement to get a break from boring homework, cranky teachers, chaotic classrooms, and sticky cafeteria floors. Those were glorious days because I was a kid.

Now that I’m an adult, spring break looks a whole lot different. I’ve removed the rose-colored glasses and replaced them with lenses smeared in caked-on mud and dipped in slime.

Now, before you label me as a kill-joy mom, let me remind you of the winter we just had. Much of the country endured bitter temps and massive snowfall, which meant school was cancelled a lot. In the words of Taylor Swift, I thought, “We are never, ever, ever getting back to school…Like, ever.” But we did. It’s just that as soon as the snow days ended, spring break started—a two-week break, no less.

Although my fourth-grader was stoked to not have to go to school for 16 days, he was feeling mildly sorry for himself since he had deduced, through various bus chats, that most of our neighborhood was headed to Orlando. A cursory glance at Facebook confirmed his deduction.

“So, what do you have planned, Mom?” my son asked. (Translation: “How will you entertain me?”)

“Well, you and your brother will have to go with me to Wednesday’s dermatology appointment,” I said. “I also scheduled your annual check-up for Friday. Oh, and I’m long overdue for an oil change.”

My son shot me a look that suggested he was none too thrilled with the week’s itinerary. The prospect of banking and grocery shopping didn’t excite him, either. I suggested going to the mall to find pants that actually fit him since his growth spurt has turned his slacks into waders. The mere mention of the word “mall,” however, made him gag.

“Wow,” I thought. “The female mind is vastly different from that of the male.”

This concept was driven home this week every time I drove my sons somewhere. The gross, bizarre backseat boy humor was completely lost on me. The noises, looks, phrases, and howls left me shaking my head and turning up the volume on the radio.

Spring break, as it turns out, wasn’t very “spring-y.” We had a bit of snow, a ton of rain, and mostly brisk temperatures. Such foul weather translated into more iPad and XBox time than I care to admit. The moment the sun peeked out, however, the boys were yard-bound. Those few glorious moments of peace and quiet were the best part of break. But the serenity never lasted long because invariably the garage door would fly open and I’d be greeted either with a stream of tears, a series of screams, or a cry for help.

One day following a request for assistance, I found a rope severely wrapped around the gears of my younger son’s bicycle tires. Apparently the plan was to attach the rope to a sled and pull each other around by bike. Epic fail. You know when you pack your dainty necklaces for travel? And upon reaching your destination, you find your chains in such a tangled mess that you consider tossing the whole lot of jewelry? Well, that’s what this rope/bicycle gear situation was like. I fiddled with it for awhile, but once my fingers were covered in grease and my patience had grown thin, I uttered the words every frazzled mommy eventually blurts out: “Daddy will have to fix it.”

I threw in the towel and packed up the boys to head to the grocery because although the kids were adamant that they didn’t want to shop, they were equally as adamant that they did want to eat.

No sooner did we reach the produce section and the bickering began. Who was going to push the cart? Who was going to pick the snack? Who was going to greet the fishies first?

Then came the check-out line. This is the point in which kids’ hands turn into octopus tentacles as they grab for anything within their reach—even stuff they don’t want or need. Gum, candy, magazines, beef jerky. It all looks appetizing, apparently. Nail clippers, gift cards, batteries, feline breath mints. WTF?

“Put it back.”

Eye roll.

“Put it back.”

Deep sigh.

“Put it back.”

Head shake.

“Put it back.”

Eye roll. Deep sigh. Head shake. Repeat.

This irritating behavior is not as big of a deal if no one is in line behind you. It’s just that almost always someone is in line behind you. And sure enough, there was an older couple waiting to load their items onto the belt. Therefore, I felt the need to explain why my offspring were behaving like zoo animals (only worse because zoo animals don’t scream, “I poop on your face!” to elicit a reaction from their sibling).

“We’ve been on spring break for nearly two weeks now,” I said as I slid the gift cards back into their proper slots.

The woman nodded knowingly and said, “We understand. We just had our two grandchildren here for ten days and we were counting down to the release date.”

Upon closer inspection, this couple did look worn out, withered, and weary. Mostly, though, they looked relieved.

I returned the smile and congratulated them on their survival skills.

Three days later, I loaded my older son onto the bus, then deposited my three-year-old at preschool. When I got home, I dropped my purse to the floor, threw my hands into the air, and announced to the cat, “I survived vacation!”

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s new book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

 Note: This piece was first published on the Huffington Post on April 23, 2014.

Lordy, Lordy, Look Who Finally Appreciates 40

by Christy Heitger-Ewing

I was channel surfing the other day when I came across a Dr. Oz show that caught my attention. I think the segment was called “Beauty Secrets Debunked” or something along those lines. I stay tuned because I thought I might learn a thing or two, and I did. But boy, was my education depressing. For example, did you know that plucking a gray hair from your head damages the follicles so severely that hair may not grow back there at all? And if it does, not only will it still grow back gray but it will also sprout in the opposite direction as the rest of your hair, thereby making the gray even more noticeable? I think back on all of the hours I’ve spent, cross-eyed, leaning in close to the bathroom mirror, plucking away at those stray grays. And to think, I’ve been hastening the balding process, pluck by pluck….Oh, pluck!

In addition to my eager tweezing, I’ve been sleeping on my side for over a decade now—ever since my OBGYN told me it was the best thing for pregnancy. Now Dr. Oz enlightens me that side-sleeping causes delicate facial skin to wrinkle. Well, drat! I’ll spare you the sagging breast question Dr. Oz fielded from an audience member. Suffice it to say that the makeshift model he used to demonstrate the way in which nursing a baby and the mere passage of time impact breast tissue was nothing short of horrifying. I cringed and cupped my breasts in the same way a man reflexively grabs his package each time he watches a video of a crotch-hit.

So, last year I hit the big 4-0 milestone. Anyone who proclaims that age is nothing more than a number has not yet begun to physically fall apart for no apparent reason. For me, at least, 40 is when random ailments started plaguing me—nothing that would be considered a medical disaster but highly aggravating nonetheless.

For example, I used to be able to ride in the car for long distances without any problem at all. Last summer, however, I exited the passenger’s side of our Toyota 4-Runner after a 500-mile trek and noticed that my back was ridiculously stiff. I wasn’t shocked given that I had contorted my body into unusual and uncomfortable positions in order to make floor room for our kids’ snack bags, toy trucks, and various electronic devices. I shrugged it off, assuming the stiffening would subside in a day or two, but instead I battled chronic back pain for several months. All because I dared to ride in a car.

That same summer, I did something else that I’d done numerous times before. I jumped off the back of our boat’s swim platform into waist-deep water. When my heel hit the sand-bottom lake, a piercing pain shot through my right foot. It turned out to be plantar fasciitis, which required six months of intense physical therapy. 

This past year I also suffered from tennis elbow despite the fact that I never play tennis. This supposedly came about because I sleep curled on my side (as evidenced by my wrinkly face) with my right arm tucked beneath me. Bending the arm is apparently a ligament no-no; it’s better to sleep with the arm outstretched, especially when a tendon is inflamed. Man, I miss the days I could just conk out, willy-nilly, and awaken feeling rested instead of wounded.

Honestly, I think all of these irritating injuries are karma for the ribbing I gave my grandparents when I was a kid.

“Whaddaya mean you don’t want to ride the roller coaster?” I’d ask Grandma and Grandpa. “It’s not that bumpy!” I insisted. (Meanwhile, the wooden death machine whipped around the tracks so violently that my earrings popped out.)

Every time Grandma and Grandpa visited our house, within an hour of arrival, they made a beeline for our sofa. “You’re seriously going to take a nap?” I’d ask with disgust. As a youngster, I could not, for the life of me, understand the appeal of sleep during daylight hours. Now, of course, I start to salivate if I know I have a shot at 15 minutes of shut-eye.

My grandparents knew a good thing when they saw it (an empty couch, for instance). They also never edited their thoughts. I remember Grandma used to tell me, “You’re so pretty you’d look good with a burlap bag slung over your head.” It sounded like a back-handed compliment at the time. Now, what with the wrinkles and wily stray grays popping up here and there, the burlap bag doesn’t sound like a half-bad suggestion.

With age, of course, comes wisdom, and now I understand the meaning of Grandma’s message. I look back at my teenage pictures and I looked good! But I never thought so at the time. I only focused on the zit or the freckle or the number on the scale. As a result, I never really appreciated what I had when I had it. Thankfully, I’ve grown. I’m grateful for the here and now because, with time, the “here and now” becomes the “there and then.”

Grandma encouraged me to embrace my beauty, brains, health and wellness (just as Dr. Oz has encouraged me to embrace the invention of the support bra).

Grandma “got it”, and now I get it, too. My optometrist tells me that my excellent vision will deteriorate within the next two years because “that’s just what happens to 40-year-old eyes.” Alrighty, then. So I’ll appreciate what I see and hear and taste and feel right now. That’s my beauty secret. (I’ll also keep the burlap bag handy for bad hair days).

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s new book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

 Note: This piece was first published on the Huffington Post on April 22, 2014.

My Treasured “Never” Tattoo

by Christy Heitger-Ewing

“I will never get a tattoo!”

That’s what I said when college classmates impulsively emblazoned heart, dolphin, and butterfly tats on their thighs, ankles, and shoulders during inebriated spring break festivities. I reiterated the sentiment each time a friend inscribed her soul mate’s name on her body only to later be dumped by her Prince Charming. I’ve repeated the vow whenever I’ve heard people describe the discomfort associated with getting inked.

Honestly, though, I think the biggest reason a tattoo never appealed to me is because I’m no good at committing to anything long-term. For instance, every time I’ve gotten a perm, I’ve immediately run home and massaged half a bottle of conditioner into my hair in an effort to relax the curls. Lest we forget that the whole point of perming straight hair is to make it curly.

But here’s the thing: I’m a realist. I understand that if I were to get a tattoo and regret it, I cannot simply scrub my skin with a bar of Lava soap. My choice would be there to stay–like a “forever perm.” Yikes.

“Forever” is a long time so I don’t use the term lightly. Last year, however, something happened in my life that forever altered the fabric of my soul. My mother was my hero, my best friend, my confidant, and my trusted advisor. She was my shopping buddy, my partner in crime, the person with whom I most often laughed and cried. Moreover, she was a generous, caring grandmother to my two boys, ages 3 and 9, as well as my brother’s three children. In short, she was the sunshine of my world…until the chemicals inside her brain got all screwed up, throwing her into a downward spiral of clinical depression. Then, swiftly and cruelly, like a fierce tornado looming in the sky, Mom’s sunshine was snuffed out with a sinister force. On April Fool’s Day of last year, my dad called to tell me that Mom had ended her life.

Following Mom’s suicide, my brain stuttered as I repeated, like a broken doll, “I don’t know what to do.” I was paralyzed. Unable to move. To think. To sleep. To breathe. Tasks that once seemed easy were now difficult. And those tasks that were once difficult now seemed impossible. Moving forward without my mom in my life was a monumental chore.

In Mom’s profound absence, I lost all sense of identity. Who was I without my mom? I didn’t know. As a result, my universe turned disjointed and unstable. Week on week, I muddled along, but I wasn’t really living. I certainly wasn’t embracing or enjoying life because I didn’t know how to anymore.

Then six months after Mom died, I came across the beautiful French phrase, “Tu me manques.” Its literal translation is, “You are missing from me.”

Ding, ding ding!

It was as if a bell went off inside my soul

Since Mom had died, I had lost the rhythmic beating of my own heart, but these three foreign words spoke to me, and a thumping returned to my chest.

I felt like a kid strolling the toy aisle, spotting a coveted treasure on the shelf, and declaring with breathless anticipation, “Oh-oh! I must have that!”

I knew that every second of every day for the rest of my life, I would feel that Mom was missing not only from my world but also from my being. Suddenly the notion of having a “forever perm” inked on my arm sounded like a fabulous idea.

I opted for a wrist tattoo because I wanted it to be easily visible to me. Unfortunately, I read that the wrist is one of the more painful locations due to the high number of nerve endings that lie there–not to mention that there’s no fat to pad for pain. I rationalized away my fear by telling myself that if I could handle childbirth, getting an itty-bitty script tattoo would surely be a breeze.

I recruited my friend, Jen, to join me at the tattoo parlor for moral support. I sat down in the chair, extending my left arm for the artist, and looked straight into Jen’s eyes. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly in an effort to relax.

The moment the artist began, I realized that perhaps I had underestimated my tolerance for pain. After all, with childbirth, I was given an epidural. I tried to play it cool as beads of sweat dripped down my cleavage.

I’m not gonna lie. It was not pleasant. The good news is that it was over in ten minutes. But even if it had taken ten times ten minutes, the end result would have been worth the discomfort.

As I admired the heartfelt sentiment scrawled across my dainty wrist, a fast, fluttery sensation tumbled through my tummy. I realized that this was the first time I had experienced genuine excitement since Mom had died.

“You did it!” Jen exclaimed.

With my thumb, I lightly caressed the new dark lettering on my skin, and my lips curled into a gentle smile.

“I hope people ask me about it,” I said. “It’ll give me a chance to talk about Mom.”

“So, what’s next?” Jen asked with a sly smirk. “Maybe a heart on your back? A dolphin on your ankle? A butterfly on your shoulder?”

I shrugged and smiled.

I had learned to never say never.

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s new book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

Note: This piece was first published on the Huffington Post on February 26, 2014.

Surviving the First Year of Grief

by Christy Heitger-Ewing

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. That means I’ve endured many of the difficult “firsts” that grievers dread—first birthdays, holidays, and school events. This one-year mark also signifies that I’ve learned how to live in a world without my mom in it. And let me tell you, that’s no small feat.

When the phone rang a year ago at 3 a.m. with news that Mom had passed away, I started shaking uncontrollably. Then came the flood of tears, accompanied by a flood of jumbled thoughts. I collapsed into my husband’s arms and said between breathless sobs, “I don’t have a mom anymore.” Releasing those six words into the universe was a jarring, surreal, unsettling moment.

Mom’s passing was tragic and traumatizing—the kind of death that made me question if I could go on living. Though I never considered harming myself, I do recall thinking that should a car happen to strike me one day when I was out for a run, I’d be okay with that. I’m not sure if I was apathetic about living or intrigued about dying; all I knew was that for a period of time, life crippled me.

Tasks that should be simple—eating, sleeping, and breathing, for example—were now insanely challenging. I also struggled to care for my two young sons. One gorgeous spring day, the kids asked to go outside so I took a folding chair onto the driveway to watch them play. Only I wasn’t so much watching them as I was zoning out in a grief-stricken haze. Looking back, I’m relieved my little one didn’t run out into traffic because I doubt my slow reflexes could have stopped him.

The spring and summer months were never-ending. Stuck in the mire of grief and all the crud that comes with it—guilt, rage, frustration, and sadness—all I wanted to do was fast-forward time. I was desperate to move past the agony to get to a better place.

I was beyond bummed that I couldn’t even escape grieving during slumber. Every night, I had exhausting dreams. In one of them, I was stumbling on stilts down a pitch-black path in search of my mom. I was wobbly, lost, and confused, which pretty well summed up my condition during consciousness as well. In another dream, I fell into a bottomless pit of darkness. At least I thought it was bottomless, but ultimately I did hit rock bottom with a massive thud, at which point I sprang to my feet and ran from three menacing guys in black cloaks who were chasing me with shiny swords. I was terrified initially until it dawned on me that if I stopped running and simply let these people slay me, I would be immortalized—and finally at peace. That sounded awfully good.

“Cool,” I thought. “Kill me.” I stood still and calmly awaited the prick of the piercing sword. Weird, I know. That’s how most of my dreams were for awhile. After several months, however, the fog mercifully lifted, the harrowing dreams ceased, and I returned to the land of the living. Through it all, one thing remain unchanged: my fervent desire to talk about my mom. The funny thing about death (which really isn’t funny at all) is how the majority of the population clams up about the deceased whenever they see you. It’s like they think, “Oh, no! I’d better not mention her mom or else then she’ll start thinking about her mom and get sad.”

Please, let me enlighten you. First off, I’m always thinking about my mom, which I love, actually. Second, while, yes, on some level “mom memories” sadden me, that sadness is always superseded by the joy I feel whenever somebody is kind enough to invite her name into the conversation.

Now that it’s been a year, my thoughts have shifted. I no longer wish to fast-forward time. Where would that get me, anyway, except for additional wrinkles and taller children? My dreams have also shifted in that they are no longer driven by fear and confusion; now they seem to come from a place of understanding and acceptance. The vivid dream I had earlier this week in the morning of April 2 exemplifies my point.

It occurred at 3 a.m.—precisely the same time Mom passed away one year ago. In it, a huge storm blew through our neighborhood and uprooted our beautiful house from its foundation. After the storm, my husband and I frantically searched for our two children and found that they were okay. Relief. Then we realized we wouldn’t have power or water or be able to live comfortably for awhile, but we could still continue to live in the house even with such extensive damage. More relief. We stood in stunned silence, looking at our wrecked house, astounded by the total destruction. We simply couldn’t believe the massive devastation that had leveled our lives in such a brief amount of time. Still, all I could focus on was that we had survived….We were survivors.

And that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the course of this past year. Grieving the loss of someone you deeply love is beyond painful, and some days you really question if and how you’re going to make it through. But if you let yourself feel, open yourself up, accept love and hugs from those around you, and fully embrace the grieving process, you will slowly move forward. You will slowly heal.

Please know that if you are currently grieving—even if it’s an intense, unrelenting, overwhelming, all-consuming, catastrophic grief—you will survive, too. So take that deep breath when the universe allows it, and trust that you will learn to live again—in peace.

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s new book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

Note: This piece was first published on the Huffington Post on April 7, 2014.