Why I Won’t Be Dressing My Twins in Halloween Costumes This Year

jonathan-talbert-530599-unsplashI adore fall. I’m your classic pumpkin-loving, sweater-wearing, apple-picking New England gal. Minus, unfortunately, the pumpkin-spice lattes. I can’t stomach the sugar or caffeine in those suckers, much to my dismay. But lattes aside, fall is my season. I was born in the fall. My husband was born in the fall. Our twins were born in the fall (okay they were born TWO days before the first day of fall, which I’m counting as fall) and I expect they’ll grow up to love pumpkins and wear sweaters and pick apples.

Yet, despite all of this, I have no plans to dress my 13-month-old twins in costume for Halloween tonight. Not because I don’t love Halloween (I was one of those annoying kids who dressed up and went trick or treating well into my early teens). But rather because finding/making/buying costumes for my toddlers, who are not old enough to remotely comprehend what Halloween is, just did not make it onto my list of priorities this year. Yes, I have a list. And everything on it is either important to me, important to my family, or otherwise important to someone or something that matters.

Keeping the kids healthy and happy? Important.  Grocery shopping? Important.  Family time? Important. Paying the bills? Important.  Date nights with my husband now and then to keep our marriage from being eaten alive by the fine art of parenting twins? Important.  Sleep, exercise, occasionally eating something other than the crust off my girls’ peanut butter toast? Important.  Voting? Important.  Laundry? Semi-important.  My super awesome seasonal pumpkin-carving job that I absolutely LOVE? Important.

Scrambling to dress my girls in costume for the sake of some cute photos? Not important.

“But they’re twiiiiinsssss!!!!” I know. That actually just makes it much more difficult and less appealing to dress them up. Twice the effort, twice the price, and almost zero chance of getting a single decent photo in which both of them are looking at the camera, let alone smiling. And then what? I’ve spent valuable time (and precious, limited energy) doing something they will forget by the time they wake up the next morning and that I will remember simply as a stressful couple of days of neglecting my own needs for the sake of a few lousy pictures.

I had a moment of mildly reconsidering this decision and even searched around for child-friendly Halloween events that might make dressing up a little more worth it, but all events are taking place either after their bedtime or during their nap time and let me tell you – Almost nothing is worth getting in the way of either of those.

So bring on fall in all of its beauty and splendor, but I’ll pass on Halloween this year. My girls will be in bed at their usual 6:30pm bedtime and I won’t be far behind.

~ Brittni

2 Ways to Calm a Highly Sensitive Nervous System

20141010_100545 lake pic turning leavesA Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is someone with the genetic trait of high sensory processing sensitivity. HSPs make up about 15% of the population, and have uncommonly sensitive nervous systems.

To me, the theory that many children who have attention deficit disorder are HSPs whose brains are trying to cope with the onslaught of sensory input, makes a whole lot of sense but is a topic for another blog post.

When the volume is turned up on the already very stimulating world, what is a highly sensitive person to do for relief? As you can imagine, or as you know if you are an HSP, this sensory overload can be overwhelming.

Here are my two broad and general tricks-of-the-trait, none of these ideas invented by yours truly, but rather adopted as habits that I’ve been naturally drawn to for their positive effects:

  1. Limit substances that negatively alter your nervous system. This includes caffeine which HSPs tend to be very sensitive to. Hello stimulant. If I have too much coffee, my heart beats out of my chest, I become anxious, irritable and generally want to jump out of my own skin. And by too much, I mean more than a cup or cup and a half in a day. Many HSPs need to avoid caffeine altogether.  As I understand it, alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant, so you get to be anxious and depressed if you consume enough of it.  Unfortunately, many HSPs overuse alcohol as a way to numb their central nervous systems and obviously this can lead to much bigger problems over time. Personally, I just feel bad if I consume more than one or two drinks; the brain fog that sets in almost immediately, the feeling of poison in my body, the tiredness to follow.  And I always feel better and clearer with none. The same goes for junk food.
  1. Increase activities that calm your nervous system. Exercise, yoga, meditation, time in nature ( or any quiet time). Highly sensitive people can enjoy stimulating environments such as weddings or parties, but we just crave less of it, and need to recharge in silence more often. After a certain number of hours, if I am in a noisy, chaotic or otherwise stimulating environment, I will find myself “checking out”. I’ve hit a wall. I cannot take in any more. And if my physical space is very limited (think a crowded bus or a concert, for instance), my tolerance level drops significantly.

 

There are many gifts to sensitivity, yet another topic for a new post.  But these gifts cannot be realized unless we are tuned in to our bodies, our feelings, our own needs. And when we do tune in and honor our unique temperament, not only are we living with more integrity and peace, but we also have more to offer this noisy, beautiful world.

~ Dana

What’s in a Smoothie Habit?

Dana: Being on the other side of fifty makes one acutely aware of the power of habit. One day you realize that everything you have or don’t have, the good and the bad, are the sum of all your choices and habits, leading up to this moment. Everything counts, and everything affects everything else.

Habits make up a life. 

It’s been said that habits aren’t eliminated, but rather replaced with better ones.  So for the sake of health, and energy, and wanting to be around for a long time for my precious granddaughters,  as well as my three daughters and the rest of my beloveds, I want to fill my life with good habits. I want to replace any low-energy habits with high-energy habits.

20180524_155558The good weather brings with it my craving for ice cream. The problem is, the five-year-old me would have ice cream every day, all spring and summer long. Fortunately, the more mature me is in charge here (well, at least most of the time) and I’ve found the habit to replace the urge to Eat All the Ice Cream.

Smoothies! Acai bowls! Delicious cold-pressed juice! 20171209_105358

I am obsessed. 

I won’t load you up with recipes here because, well,  this isn’t a food blog, and the internet is full of great recipes at your disposal. Instead, I’ll just say that any combination of these things go into my smoothies: spinach, kale, Vega powder, acai, bananas, berries of all types, coconut milk, cocoa, ground flaxseed & chia seeds.

20170722_094227And they are delicious! And fun! I can choose my flavor, just like at the ice cream stand. I can make them at home (or order them out). Smoothie making can get creative, be served up to others, enjoyed outside in the sunshine, for breakfast, for a mid afternoon snack, or an evening “special drink” .

Have I mentioned acai bowls? Acai is a super-fruit harvested from palm trees found around the Amazon River basin of South America. I order it freeze-dried from Amazon Prime. Amazon delivers from the Amazon, apparently. It is loaded- I mean, loaded– with nutrients. I can actually feel my cells pulsing in ecstasy when consuming it. Dramatic I know, but high-vibe food  feels dramatic. It feels like vibrancy.

It feels like sweet rebellion against all the messages that tell us-  especially women-  that we will feel heavy, sluggish, and out of ambition, passion, or libido in middle age.

Ha! I actually feel better now than I ever have. Why? Because my habits have gotten better. Not amazing. Far from perfect.  But I finally realize that every single one counts, in every area of life.

I’ve got my share of course corrections to do here on this side of five decades.  But the rewards it seems, are sweeter than ice cream.

***

* If you want to make something like an acai bowl, but do not want to bother finding, ordering or paying for acai ?  Cranberries are a great runner-upper, the most similar in nutrients to acai fruit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twins, Love & Transformation

Brittni:
I told myself my next post would not be baby-related. I was thinking I’d keep this blog separate from motherhood for a while and maybe write a baby update a little ways down the road.  Well it turns out that when you are a new mom of twins, nothing is separate from motherhood. This mom gig is all consuming at the moment. How authentic would I be if I forced myself to write about something unrelated at a time when I literally cannot focus on anything other than the two little nuggets that turned me into a mother? Of course I will find a bit more balance in my life as some time goes by and I fall into more of a rhythm. But for now I am accepting of the fact that there is not a whole lot of room – in my brain, heart, or daily life – for much else.

They are three months old. These tiny beings have been the light of my world for three months now. (Nope, I am not one of those moms who fell in love with her babies during pregnancy – I hated pregnancy to be perfectly honest. It was really quite miserable. So my endless mountains of love for my babies began three months ago at the moment they were born.)

 

It has been three months since I laid under those bright operating room lights, my husband by my side, waiting to meet the two humans that had been growing inside of me for eight and a half months. I was shaking like a leaf, terrified at the idea of surgery (Twin A was breech, which meant I was having a C-section). But the whole experience was surprisingly calm and nothing short of its very own kind of perfect.

 

Those first days were surreal. Suddenly our much-anticipated twins were real. They were here, in my arms, delicate and beautiful and helpless. And here I was – practically helpless myself in my post-surgery state of immobility. My husband scurried around selflessly. He and the nurses took care of me and the babies while I focused on learning how to tandem nurse, determined to breastfeed. We carried on like this for two days, me and the girls practicing our breastfeeding skills while my husband and the nurses did the rest as I was not yet able to stand or walk unassisted. By the third day, the pain had subsided enough for me to maneuver myself slowly around the hospital room. I was weak, tired, and overwhelmed, but oh so happy.

 

But that evening, just minutes after my husband left to go home to shower, get the mail, etc., Kaiya, my precious ‘Twin B’, decided to stir things up a bit.  She was sleeping peacefully one second and the next she was blue as a blueberry and still as a stone and I hope that I will never again in my life have to feel a fear as horrific as the fear I felt in that moment. My mom was with me in the room and we both immediately snapped into action. A thousand thoughts entered my head as I tripped over myself to get to the emergency button across the room, the most prevalent thought being that I am not strong enough to lose her; the second most prevalent being that  maybe I already had.

My mom ran down the hall with Kaiya in her arms and nurses rushed out of what seemed like every room on the ward to come to our aid. I couldn’t see or hear or think straight. The pain that had rendered me immobile just yesterday disappeared as I ran out of my room screaming to nobody in particular that I needed my baby to be okay. And then I remembered I had another baby in the room alone. So I turned around and ran back yelling the whole time, “I need her to be okay, she needs to be okay”.  A nurse caught me when I nearly collapsed as the pain suddenly returned to where I had been sliced open just days earlier.  In a blur, she brought me back to my room and a minute later, my mom came in to tell me Kaiya was okay. “She’s okay”, she said. “She’s okay”. It took a minute for those words to sink in, but when they did, a wave of relief bigger than anything I had ever felt washed over me and I could breathe again.

 

Needless to say, our hospital stay was a little more dramatic than we had anticipated. BUT Kaiya is healthy and strong now and there’s nothing like a little perspective to make a couple of new parents feel grateful beyond words and stop sweating the small stuff. After nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Kaiya was closely monitored until she outgrew her newborn apnea (apparently this is a thing and is not overly uncommon; kinda wish someone had told me about it before ten years had been taken off my life), she joined her family at home and now here we are; wow has it been a fun/crazy/beautiful/exhausting/amazing three months so far…

Three months of nursing; tandem nursing, one-at-a-time nursing, multitasking nursing, nursing in bed, nursing in public, nursing on the floor, nursing in the rocking chair willing myself not to fall asleep. Always. Nursing.

 

Three months of nights that feel longer than days. Grueling nights that are laced with beauty and awe as I rock, cuddle, and feed my two bundles of love in the dimly lit nursery, my husband slipping in and out to help me position them, change diapers, burp, and swaddle. We dance this family nighttime dance together until the sun peeks through the blinds and it is time to try to be thankful for whatever amount of sleep was had and embrace the new day.

 

Three months of diapers, onesies, and burp cloths. Binkies, little baby socks that get lost in the drier, and matching baby hats that hide the girls’ physical differences just enough to make me think twice about who is who.

 

Three months of baby-wearing. Of gliding around with a baby hugged tightly to my body in a sling. Of wishing I could wear both babies at once. Of trying to wear both babies at once at the expense of my back.

 

Three months of baby baths. Undress, wash, dry, lotion, diaper, dress, hand off to husband and repeat with the next baby. How might our routine feel if there were only one baby to tend to? How would all of this be different if I was easing into parenthood as a “singleton” mother? Would I be able to slow down a little? Indulge and enjoy each moment a bit more? And then, feeling guilty for occasionally wishing this were easier, ‘How hard would this be with triplets(!?)’.

 

Three months of Googling. ‘Infant sleep’, ‘twin routines’, ‘diaper rash remedies’, ‘binky addiction’, ‘baby growth spurt timeline’, and on and on and on. I have a whole new appreciation for my parents having had three babies pre-Google.

Three months of becoming more organized than I’ve ever been. I am a bit scattered and disorganized by nature, but as soon as these babies entered the picture, the need for order became notably stronger than my formerly disorderly ways. Looking for an alternative to ADD meds? Just have twins! JUST KIDDING. I mean…I wouldn’t trade my beloved twins for anything in the world, but… let’s just say I have ADD and twins and twins are way harder. I guess it’s for that reason that I have become a sudden queen of organization…
I put dividers in the kitchen drawers and assigned spots for bottles and pacifiers and milk jars. I have a bucket for dirty pump parts and a bucket for about-to-use pump parts. I put hooks on the insides of cabinets for bibs and towels. I have a bin in the nursery for burp cloths, a bin for blankets, a bin for sheets, and a bin for towels. I put a laundry basket in each bathroom and bedroom and do at least one load of laundry (AND FOLD IT AND PUT IT AWAY OMG) every day because we are going through so much laundry that I can’t afford not to. I set up a diaper changing station downstairs and one upstairs. I keep track of each of the girls’ nursing sessions in the baby app on my phone. On the whiteboard, I keep lists of chores to be done, groceries to be bought, thank you cards to be written, and questions for the pediatrician. Each morning, I set up a feeding station on the couch with fresh burp cloths, my tandem nursing pillow, and a full water bottle. Each night, I go through the house to fold spare blankets, take out trash bags full of diapers, and get the house ready for the next day. I do all of this, not because I am trying to be super mom (believe me I am anything but), but because if I leave anything undone, I will inevitably find myself caught soon enough in the sticky situation of having my hands full with two hungry or tired or poopy babies and no time or hands to spare to go looking for what I need in the moment.

 

Three months of falling even more in love with my husband. We have our struggle moments to be sure just as all new parents do, but in the end we are a team. Neither of us could do this twin parent thing without the other and there’s nobody else I’d rather do it with.

 

Yes, it has been one heck of a journey so far. I have been told by countless people to “enjoy every second because it goes by way too fast”. Well I can’t say that I have enjoyed every single second, but I can say that I am loving this with all of my heart. For three months now, I have been mom and not much else. The rest of me – the non-mom parts of me – will come back. They have even started to ever so slowly start to make their way back into my life. But I am not in a rush because, as everyone says, this does go by fast and I am all in.

Decluttering Christmas

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Dana: I hope I reached you before the frenzy swept you away. Chances are, the holiday madness doesn’t have you in its grip quite yet. And just what is The Madness? It is Everything You Must Do in order to have a great holiday. It is fulfilling grand expectations, your own or those of someone else.  Does the thought of that grab you at the sternum and trickle down to your gut? Does it excite you or hit you with a twinge of dread?
If you are anything like me, you are plenty stimulated without the extra holiday hoopla, thank you very much. Here’s my suggestion: Change the goal from having a fabulous holiday to having a mediocre one. Mediocre holidays are much gentler on the psyche. Declutter your Christmas. You know the saying, what goes up must come down?  The holiday mood- anticipation, excitement, chaos. It all has to come from somewhere and it has to go somewhere when it’s over! The time, money, and energy it takes to create an amazing holiday is likely siphoned out of your daily life, leading up to the festivities. Afterwards, the crash.
What if you decided not to steal from  whatever it is that makes your daily life good?  Your exercise routine, time with loved ones, alone time, your creative endeavor – whatever it is that keeps you sane and happy- you could guard with your life. Because every ordinary day IS your life.
Here are just a few things I am not doing in preparation for Christmas:
          Baking
          Sending out cards
          Going to a mall
     Here is what I am doing:
          Downsizing my tree to a mini one
          Making a simplified shopping list and sticking to it
         Going to yoga class
         Writing
Women have been complaining loud and clear about the mental and emotional clutter we carry that is causing all sorts of stress and fatigue. Then when the holidays come, we take on more. I don’t see many men stressing over decking the halls, do you?
Stop.
Simplify.
Rejoice.
Which brings me to this: Maybe you welcome the chaos.  Maybe you prefer not to simplify your holidays, and you make that choice with a happy heart, and skillfully, too. If that’s the case, then I think you are amazing. I bet you are one of those people who multitask with ease. That is not me. While writing, I might forget to take the pumpkin pie out of the oven. If I am deep enough in thought, I may or may not notice if the smoke alarm goes off. I really shouldn’t do two things at once. But the upside of that is, I can be really present for the one thing I am doing.
I look forward to strategically placing a few holiday decorations in my home. I love candles and clear Christmas lights and fern across my mantel. I want to be with family, with some good food and a few presents. I want to enjoy them before the holidays too, though. And after. No rushing, no stress, no frenzy, no crash.  There’s something to be said for being a holiday underachiever.  I’m saying No to the high of an amazing holiday season, and yes to the peace of a simpler one.
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Peace.

Priorities

Dana: Happy October! Fall is in full swing now.20141010_100545 lake pic turning leaves

My two granddaughters, identical twins, were born on September 19th and I could not be prouder of my daughter and son-in-law as they lovingly and whole heartedly take on their new roles as parents.  They have doubled the size of their family in one fell swoop and change is in the air, to say the least.

There was a temporary scare with one of the babies, leading to a nine day stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and perhaps Brittni will want to share more details of this at some point. But for now, I can happily say the baby is doing fabulous and has joined her family at home!

And speaking of family, I just sort of naturally narrowed down my top priorities quite a few years ago which is about as freeing and clarifying as any decision in life could be.  As human beings, I think that we are both limitless and limited. We are limitless in what we can dream of and create and do in our lives. And we are limited in the amount of time and energy we have to spend. Not many people can truly focus on more than three priorities in a single lifetime. Choosing wisely, in my opinion, is key to feeling satisfied, living in integrity, and sidestepping regret.

Health, Family, and Writing are my top three. Every choice I make either supports one of these priorities or it does not.  I choose accordingly and my life reflects this nearly all of the time. When it does not, I know I am out of alignment and need to readjust.  In this age of abundant distractions, this is not always easy. But it has become all the more important to choose what to focus on consciously, so that the distractions do not choose us.

I like to reflect on my priorities at the start of each season, so here is what’s happening in my top three right now:

 

Health/Well-being:  Not a lot is new here. I am in my typical exercise routine of walking/jogging and yoga. I eat healthy most of the time. When I don’t, I feel lethargic and just plain icky.  I know that how I feel viscerally is of huge importance. For example, too much sugar, though it tastes good in the mouth, feels bad in my body. If I don’t get enough sleep, I have trouble focusing on my writing the next day. If I spend too long in a loud environment, my energy is drained. I rarely skip a day of meditation because, well, see the research. It works magic. I find managing energy is just as important as managing time. And I want all the energy I can muster do the things I want to do and to love all the people!

Family: Welcoming my new granddaughters into the world feels amazing! Love truly does grow in an instant. Our capacity for love is bigger than anything else. Oh, the anticipated joy of seeing these babies grow, one day at a time… Bring. It. On.

Writing:  I am excited to see how this blog grows and changes with the passing of time. We don’t know where it will take us, but I hope we can reach other sensitive souls out there, with our words, our memories and our present-day experiences. We are all sensitive beings and we do ourselves a great service to pay attention, every single day- every moment even- to how we feel. Because if we stop feeling, both the good and the bad, physically and emotionally, then we shut down our bodies, our hearts, our authentic selves.  And that is a tragedy.

I am also excited to send my updated memoir proposal out into the world of literary agents, and to move forward with other writing projects as well. I look forward to whatever new speaking engagements the end of this year and next year bring.

***

   I cannot imagine living without creating. We are all creating something, almost all of the time- our day, a meal, a list, a relationship, a career, a song, a home, a family.  I am so often mesmerized by the creativity I see around me, in others, in the world. We are creative beings for sure, and that in itself is amazing.

What are you creating now?

What are your top priorities?

Bring. Them. On.

Summer: It isn’t over ’til it’s over

Mother: Although the start of September signals fall, we’ve still got over two weeks of summer left! I love the contrast and variety of September- summer and fall, apples and flowers, warm days and cool nights, cold smoothies and hot coffee. I appreciate the uncrowded beaches, and writing both indoors and out. Everything about this month, especially the weather, feels “just right” to me. I’m hanging on gently while anticipating fall, with plenty of space between right now and the hectic holidays. Happy end of summer- but it isn’t over ’til it’s over!

The Sweet Spot of Less

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This piece was originally published in  Literary Mama: The Sweet Spot of Less

 

I detest clutter. It feels bad, almost suffocating. Tangible or intangible, it’s all the same to me, space clutter and mind clutter. One leads to the other and a fog sets in that traps precious energy, stalling progress, making forward motion feel like walking through quicksand.

In order to write freely, I need to clear away distractions as much as possible. It takes conscious effort to maintain clarity of space and freedom of mind, and it’s a quest I feel is worthy of writing about. I especially notice how simplifying my environment improves my writing, as if the space in my home invites the muse to come in and move my pen across the page with ease. My mind is open to inspiration, words sweeping through me, uninhibited by too much stuff.

Creativity comes through the empty spaces, the open heart, the uncluttered mind and room. It is in this space that we can get creatively messy.

My three daughters grew up going through their clothing every season, passing down whatever no longer fit. They did it all together and it was a fun time for them, a chore that felt like play. We also made a game out of going through toys, handing them a bag for goodwill and asking them to “find ten things they don’t play with anymore.” Simplifying was a way of life, a joyful way to make room for something new, not necessarily in the material realm.

I get excited for anyone who tells me they’re cleaning out their garage or a closet. I know what it will do to their mind, how the clearing out will invite the flow of something good, something nourishing that finds the opening and begins to trickle in. Call it an obsession or a passion, but I’m harnessing it and letting it manifest into these words, from me to you.

To dive into the stillness, the emptiness, and poke around, is to invite the extraordinary. In the void, we stand a chance of churning out something new. Maybe it won’t happen that moment or that day, but eventually it will burst through as an idea, a creative urge, or the solution to a problem, fresh and stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “The Sweet Spot of Less”

School Fever

Daughter:  Some of my most potent memories of  kindergarten are of seemingly insignificant moments that, to me, felt larger than life, such as when my teacher would have to say my name who- knows -how- many times before she got my attention. That was always so embarrassing.

I remember one morning at circle time, I was fixated on the material of the sneakers I was wearing. They were new & white and I was tracing designs over the smooth leather with my finger when I heard my name.  I knew as soon as I looked up that the teacher had been saying my name for a while because my entire class was staring at me, some of them stifling giggles.

“Are those new sneakers?”, the teacher asked me. I turned every shade of red
and fought back tears as I nodded my head. “It’s your turn”, she said, looking
both concerned and a little amused. I don’t remember what it was that we were
taking turns doing, probably because my distress over being the subject of
everyone’s mild amusement in that moment made me too numb to fully register
whatever followed.

That was not the first or the last time something like that happened in school. It was bad enough each time it happened though that I started to figure out in my later years of elementary school how to avoid such clumsy calamities. If I focused hard enough, I usually didn’t miss anything important. The thing is though, this took a huge amount of effort, as my instincts were to drift into my own world, which I found to be much more interesting than most things we were doing in school.

Nevertheless, I got better at making myself pay attention. I used everything I had to focus and I started to be praised for it. I became the “good listener”. I could tell that the teachers liked me because I didn’t cause trouble or noise or extra work for them. So I kept using all of my energy to pay attention. I kept being quiet and still and “good” because the praise felt nice. I could see and hear how the teachers got angry with the kids who were not quiet and still and good and I did not want that to be me.

Soon enough I started acting out at home. I was like an erupting volcano who had spent all her energy pretending to be a stoic mountain all day. I would cry and yell and lash out at my family.  And I felt incredibly guilty about this. I did not understand how I could be so well-praised at school and so monstrous at home. How could I be labeled as “sweet” and “respectful” and “quiet” at school while at home I was becoming entirely the opposite?

I didn’t know that the school version of myself was sucking me dry. I simply did not have it in me to be a stoic mountain for more than seven hours each day – seven hours of desks, text books, rules, lines, people, and generally way more structure than is natural for a free-spirited child who craves space, creativity, nature, and movement.

In second grade I discovered the beauty of staying home sick. I really was sick a few times and I swear the joy of not getting on that bus and going to school was worth any fever, sinus infection, or sore throat I had to pay for it. So some days, when I woke up and knew I couldn’t possibly manage to be the perfect school-version of myself that day, I would put on a semi-believable sick act; I’d do the classic holding the thermometer under the lamp; I’d fake-shiver as if I had the chills; I’d sneakily plug in my mom’s heating pad and hold it to my forehead for a few minutes so when my mom checked my head with her hand, she would say, “Oh…I guess you do feel a little clammy”.

I used every trick I could think of and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. On days that it did, I was the happiest girl alive – delving into art projects and books while simultaneously trying to act sick. I could sense that my parents were leery on those days. They weren’t sure what to think and that certainly added a pang of shame to my joy. But the bliss of not having to be who I felt like I had to be at school was just too good to give up. On those days, I was not monstrous at home. I was just me. I was happy and pleasant and not like an erupting volcano. And it was easy to just be me. It was a relief – for both me and my family – which is probably why my parents let it happen sometimes even if they suspected I wasn’t truly sick. We all needed a break now and then from volcano-Brittni and this is how we got it I suppose.

Then one day in school we were color-coding our multiplication tables. I had just finished sharpening all of my colored pencils when the boy at the desk next to me grabbed them from me and broke all the tips off with his hand. He gave them back to me laughing and, as I started to ask him why he did that, my teacher walked up to my desk and said in his deep stern voice, “Brittni, you’ve missed too much school to be fooling around. You need to focus on catching up on your work.”

It took all my strength not to cry as I crouched over my worksheet and started filling in my multiplication table with my now flat-tipped colored pencils. I was angry at the boy who broke my pencils and I was angry at my teacher for blaming me for the commotion, but mostly I was angry at myself for not focusing harder. For letting it happen. For not standing up for myself. And I felt trapped because I knew there would be no more “sick days” for me that year.