From Left to Write: A Family Unplugged

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

So I was reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and, mean as it sounds, her advice to unplug and sleep more made me laugh. I mean, come on now — we live in an age where everyone’s smartphones are practically glued to their hands, and I can probably count on two hands the number of times Joshua has slept through the night since New Year’s Day. There’s no way I can do either of these things…right?

And then our cable and internet went out.

AND, not OR.

Joshua’s favorite show (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) is on Netflix, and it keeps him occupied while I’m putting away my mini-Mount Everest of laundry every few days. Watching Scorpion or Scandal helps me to unwind after a long day. I spend a lot of time checking email and social media, even if I don’t have something to contribute. These things are part of our daily routine.

Now take all of them away. What’s left? A cranky kid who just wants to sing the “everyone is big enough, big enough to do something!” song for the 8,372nd time this week and one suddenly very frustrated mama who can’t make anyone happy. Having the cable go out or losing a connection on the router can suck big time, but being a stay-at-home parent who loses both of those things at once can spell total disaster. However, it also forced me to get creative with finding ways to keep Joshua busy. He started telling more diverse stories with his beloved cars and planes than ever before, and he also wanted to spend a lot more time snuggling with me. We read stories and took selfies, cooked together and played with his train table. At some point during the week, Joshua even mastered riding a tricycle!

So here’s what I learned during the dreaded Week of No Signal:

1. We rely way too much on our technology. Of course, internet access is necessary for things like email and website maintenance, but we definitely reduced our TV time that week. (We couldn’t even watch basic channels — it was an issue with the wiring, and a cable had to be replaced and buried underground.) I still charged my phone on my nightstand every night, because I prefer keeping it close in case there’s an emergency overnight.

2. Even without the technology, Joshua didn’t want to nap. And if he wasn’t napping, I wasn’t, either.

3. But without the technology, he got more creative. He started doing some really interesting things with his toys, books, and art supplies. He proved that week that technology can definitely stifle children’s creativity.

4. Spring can’t come fast enough! I tend to keep my phone hidden away in my pocket when we’re on the playground, walking around the neighborhood, or at Grandma and Pop Pop’s backyard pool, because Joshua tends to run and getting hooked on Facebook or email provides the perfect opportunity to lose track of him. That said, there’s a lot more room to run around, climb, play, and burn energy outside than there is inside our little house. The sooner the weather stays sunny and warm, the better!

So now it’s your turn to tell me about your experiences! Have you ever tried unplugging for a week? How did it go?

This post was inspired by Thrive by Arianna Huffington, who challenges women to unplug and sleep more to create a balanced life. Join From Left to Write on March 19th as we discuss Thrive. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: Can You Keep a Secret?

I struggled with choosing a topic or theme to write about for The Mill River Redemption, not only because there were so many to choose from but also because several of my options made me really uncomfortable. I could have written about my relationships with my mother or my sister, but we are all in the midst of a difficult time right now and talking about them publicly could damage those relationships. We all drive each other completely crazy at times, but they’re my blood and their ties are valuable to me. I could have written about love, but I’ve already done a lot of that on the blog.

I haven’t written much about secrets, though…and secrets sure are a big theme in the book.

I keep a lot of secrets for a lot of people. I’ve become a confidant, willing or not, for quite a few loved ones, and that doesn’t account for those secrets of my own that I keep. Some secrets are inconsequential, while others are potentially life-changing. I’m usually pretty good at keeping quiet watch over everyone’s confidences, but fairly recently I failed to keep the gates locked on a really big one. It was a huge secret, one that would change lives for the worse once revealed. I promised that the secret would be safe, but my conscience took hold and shook me until my foundation started to crack.

There was not a chance in Hell that I’d be able to keep silent about this person’s infidelity, especially because it affected me and several people very close to me…and so I opened my mouth and spilled everything. The relationship between the cheater and their partner, as you’ve probably guessed, is in shambles.

Should I have kept my mouth shut and allowed the cheating to continue? How much longer would it have gone on had I not said anything? How many more people would have been affected? How much more damage would have been done? So many questions I didn’t have the answers to…that I didn’t want the answers to.

I know that keeping a promise is an honorable thing to do, and it’s unfortunate that I’ve likely lost the friendship and trust of the person whose secret I’d promised to keep, but in the long run I think my actions were worth it. It was simply too big to keep a lid on and my conscience is clear with the knowledge that I refused to play the silent accomplice in hurting someone I care about. Sure, confessing was painful for all parties involved, but I think that allowing the infidelity to continue would have hurt a hell of a lot more.

Lesson learned? Sometimes, it’s just better to share a secret than it is to keep it.

Have you been entrusted with a huge secret? Were you able to keep it or did you end up telling?

This post was inspired by the novel The Mill River Redemption by Darcie Chan, about two estranged sisters who are forced to work together in order to uncover the hidden inheritance by their mother. Join From Left to Write on December 2nd as we discuss The Mill River Redemption and enter to win a copy of the novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

From Left to Write: A Letter to My Dog

When I received my copy of this wonderful little book from the From Left to Write book club, I immediately found myself remembering how much I love cats; if they didn’t make my husband’s body forget how to breathe, I think we’d have one. Though I can’t personally speak to the joys of cat ownership, I do have a canine furbaby of my own who basically co-rules our little roost with Joshua. So for this edition of From Left to Write, I’d like to share a letter to my sweet Frankie!

**Gratuitous cute puppy-dog pictures ahead!! You have been warned!**

Hi, Frankie Face.

I just wanted to write — even though you can’t read — and tell you how much I love you. There’s one problem, though: I don’t simply love you. I absolutely adore you! You have Daddy and me wrapped around your big, furry paws! I loved you when you tore the stuffing out of our couch cushions while Daddy and I were at work (and boy, do I wish I had a picture of that mess). I loved you when you thought baby Joshua was one of your toys, and you tried to bite him like a stuffed animal while Joshua was suffering through tummy time. I even loved you when you threw up all over my pillow, and just missed my head, at 3 in the morning! No matter what happened, I’ve always had a heart full of love for you.

I always wanted a dog of my own, but I never realized how badly I needed one until you came home with us. You’re my sanity when Joshua and Landon get too crazy. You’re my vacuum, picking up whatever scraps of food hit the floor while we’re cooking or eating. You’re my favorite living, breathing “stuffed animal”, always up for a cuddle when I need one. You’re my personal security guard, barking at everything that could potentially harm us (squirrels, leaves, sirens, and the wind being the prime suspects). You’re my foot warmer, settling down by my toes in bed (regardless of whether they’re actually cold). You’re my trickster, offering pawsies and high-fives for your favorite mint sticks. And the best one of all? You’re my reading buddy!

There will never be words strong enough to truly describe how much you’ve meant to me these last five years, and how much darker and sadder my life would be without you in it. They say that dog is man’s best friend; I have human best friends, but you really are my BFF. I love you so much, and I’m forever grateful to Daddy for letting me take you home. Now let’s go snuggle in bed with a book — my feet are cold!

Giving you all the love and kisses,

P.S. Just so you know, I will never, ever stop taking pictures of you while you’re sleeping. That’s something you’re just going to have to keep dealing with. You’re just that photogenic!

So how about you — do you have any pets? If you were asked to write them a letter, what would you say?

This post was inspired by A Letter to My Cat: Notes to Our Best Friends by Lisa Erspamer, a collection of letters penned by celebrities to their furry friend. Join From Left to Write on November 10th as we discuss A Letter to My Cat, and be sure to check out the website! As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I’ve Been A Very Bad Blogger.

What a mess I’ve been lately.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed — and as Google Analytics has so unkindly reminded me — there’s been very little posting going on around here lately. I’m really sorry; it’s (obviously) entirely my fault. To put it nicely, I’ve sort of been coming apart at the seams the last few months. There’s been some family drama, a touch of reader’s block, an onslaught of writer’s block, and a few major changes popping up on the horizon that have kept me from doing my best work. Please accept my deepest, sincerest apologies for letting you down. I’ve been working hard and hope to be at full steam again soon.

I’ve been reading virtually nonstop, but writing literally nothing. It’s funny how easy it is to just stick my nose in a book and tune everything else out — I’ve always been that way. Up until sometime in August, I was reading and reviewing a book every week, and then all of a sudden the reviews just fell off. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading. Aside from the two books I reviewed for The Book Wheel’s 30 Authors project last month, I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 books that I’ve read but haven’t shared my thoughts on. That’s doing a disservice to you, as my readers, and to myself, as someone who loves talking about what I read. Because some of these books were in my hands two months ago, I’m not sure that writing full reviews would be appropriate; I typically prefer writing a review as soon as I finish the book, when the plot, characters, and my thoughts are still fresh in my mind. I’ll have to go back, flip through the very tall stack of books, and figure out whether to review them in full or to make up the time by posting mini-reviews via Instagram instead (which would then be broadcast to my other social media profiles). When I make a decision I’ll definitely let you all know.

As for the big changes? For one, I’ve decided to go back to school one last time! I’m applying to the Master of Library and Information Science program at Rutgers and, if I’m accepted, will work toward my School Library Media Specialist certification. I’ll continue to be a stay-at-home mom until Joshua heads to kindergarten in 2016, so I’m pursuing the online program…which leads to the other change. Joshua is a very active little boy and, according to his pediatrician, needs more structure in his day, so Hubs and I have decided to enroll him part-time in preschool. He’s very excited to attend “little-kid school,” as he calls it, and will go for a few hours a day, three days a week. If he does really well and Hubs and I can afford it, we’ll send him every day. While he’s at school, I can blog or study, all the while knowing that he’s in good hands and doing some learning and growing of his own. I’ll be finishing up my studies around the same time that Joshua starts kindergarten, and I’ll go back to work full-time once I graduate (if I can find a job, of course).

Fortunately, because of the line of work I’m going into, I’ll still be spending a good deal of time around books — and will therefore be able to continue blogging! Whether I continue under Read-at-Home Mama or with a new blog remains to be seen, but I refuse to let my blog die! Not only could it continue to serve its current purpose, but I could also use it as a tool to communicate with students, parents, and school administrators.

Good things are on the horizon! I just have to keep forging ahead, and I’ll finally catch the brighter future I’ve been dreaming of!

A Letter to My Baby Boy on His Third Birthday

My sweetest Joshua,

Just like that — as though I merely snapped my fingers — you, my tiny miracle, sprouted from this…

…to this.

I keep asking myself where the time went. I keep asking myself what I could ever have done to deserve the gift that you are. I keep asking myself how one tiny human being could possibly bring so much light, laughter, and love to so many people. I keep asking myself how you went from a completely helpless newborn, needing mommy and daddy to do everything for you, to getting mad at us for trying to help you cook scrambled eggs. And I ask myself every single day if there is anything, anything at all, that I could have done to slow down time and keep you this small for a little while longer.

And then I tell myself that you, my beautiful, sweet, funny, rambunctious, messy, increasingly independent little boy, are still the same you, only better. Once upon a time, you loved taking baths (and I have the pictures to prove it!) and now you scream when water touches your hair; you’re still wearing diapers 24/7 because you just aren’t ready to potty-train yet; and your temper tantrums could give coddled, spoiled celebrities or politicians in Washington a run for their money…but these things won’t last forever. One day you’ll figure out that, if you just close your eyes and tilt your head back, water and shampoo will avoid your eyes. You’ll eventually realize that you don’t like feeling wet and you’ll shun diapers like you do vegetables, and then going potty will become as routine as asking for your “min and milk” in the mornings.

As for the temper tantrums? Well…I hope you outgrow them eventually. (Fingers crossed nice and tight on that one.)

Right now — literally, the very minute this letter publishes — three years ago, I was lying on an operating table, scared and excited and anticipating your first cry, and desperately trying to hold myself together when that beautiful sound made its grand debut. Today, that’s been replaced with joyous shrieking and giggling, lots of quiet singing, and discussion about when you’ll get to ride a school bus. (For the record, I am not looking forward to that day.) You have filled my days with the world’s most beautiful music, prettier even than the greatest symphony, and I would have it no other way. I’m so thankful to your daddy for finding a way to let me stay home with you; I think we’ve learned a great deal from each other already, and that will only continue as we draw closer to kindergarten.

But today isn’t about learning. It’s about celebrating you! You’ll get to pick what we have for lunch, and we’ll get you a cupcake at your favorite bookstore. Daddy and I know you’ve loved playing with the new toys you got at your birthday party over the weekend, and today’s about picking out some more things you love and bringing them home. That yellow dump truck you’ve been asking Daddy to get for you? Today, it’s yours. And the red Tonka monster truck you wanted? We’ll buy it today. Maybe I’ll even be able to talk Daddy into letting you get the fire truck that matches the police car and ambulance that you got from Grandma at your party! And that’s just the “red store” — the big goal for the toy store is to pick up all the Cars vehicles you don’t have yet (because I know that the six you already have just aren’t enough and that you need the whole set from Radiator Springs)! And of course, as boring as it probably is for you, we’ll buy you some new clothes, because you just can’t seem to stop growing! You’re going to come home today with lots of new stuff and I can’t wait to see you smile as all the toys you’ve coveted for so long will finally make it out to the car with us!

We love you so very much and we couldn’t be even the tiniest bit prouder of the boy you’re becoming. We know you’re three now, and that means you’re a big boy. We know you’re not going to want to hold our hands forever, so we’re taking full advantage now while we still can…but remember, if you ever need a hand to squeeze, Mommy’s and Daddy’s are always available for you.

Happy third birthday, Baby Bear!

Mommy, Daddy, and “Frankie Face”