What Happened to My New Relationship When I Was Diagnosed with Cancer

bear1

Have you ever noticed how quickly people fall in love during action movies? They’re brought together during times of extreme stress, and at the end they live happily ever after, simply because they survived a hijacked bus or a zombie apocalypse.

But the truth is, healthy relationships aren’t based on surviving a common disaster. What happens when you get off the bus and Macho Man doesn’t help out around the house? Or you try to have a kid, and you realize that you can’t stand his parenting style?

There are other pitfalls to relationships that start this way, too. When you don’t like someone’s behavior, it’s easy to attribute it to their heightened level of stress. “Oh, I really wish Macho Man would stop shooting people . . . he’s not a killer, though, he’s just being chased by the FBI, it’s not his fault.”

But sometimes (in fact, most of the time I’d venture to guess) people show their true colors during times of stress. If someone calls you names because they’re having a hard time at work, they’re probably a dick.

The truth is, a lot life is dealing with stress. Work is stressful, money is stressful, kids are stressful. At some point in a long-term relationship, you have to face the death of a loved one. One of you might face a life-threatening illness. If your partner’s behavior makes the situation worse instead of standing beside you and working cooperatively, you’ve got a problem.

When you get married, you pledge to care for one another “in sickness and in health,” hoping that the “sickness” part doesn’t get much worse than a man-cold. But in my case, I’d been dating Bear less than a year when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We hadn’t taken any oaths.

I’m not sure how I expected Bear to react to my diagnosis, but he had a much stronger reaction than I expected. In part, I think my own denial made me think “this isn’t really cancer, so why is everyone so upset?” I know him and his values, so I didn’t expect him to leave me, but I definitely didn’t expect his immediate level of total dedication.

The first things he said to me the night I was diagnosed were: 1) I will find you beautiful, no matter what, 2) You will not fight this alone.

Since then, his sense of humor, positivity, and kindness have helped keep me afloat. When I was trying to eat a mostly plant-based diet, he brought me a bouquet of vegetables instead of flowers. He slapped a “Fight Like a Girl” sticker on the back of his car and sports a “Fight Together” shirt. He made me a boob cake for my 35th birthday (laughter keeps you alive!) and helped my 7 year-old daughter shave my head after I started chemo. On my hardest days, he has helped me to set small goals so I feel like I’ve accomplished something – which makes long, tedious days much easier. He’s helped me physically recover from surgeries, has attended every appointment, and has made sure that I feel supported every step of the way. He has never assumed to know what I am going through, and has allowed me to process this in the right way for me, without telling me what I “should” be doing. I can imagine that, in and of itself, is difficult.

vegetable-bouquet-for-cancer-patient

To me, though, what he said to me the night before my double mastectomy really sums up the kind of man he is. He took a long walk with me, held me as I cried, and said, “I don’t want you to worry that this will affect how I feel about you. I’m not here for what you look like, I’m here for you. You’re going to have scars, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I actually think that’s pretty cool. Every scar tells a story, and the good thing is that I get to be part of your story.”

He wants to be part of my story of survival. And he is.

If I’d had any remaining doubts about him (which I did not), his actions during this process have solidified that I have found a Unicorn.

Cancer, as much as I hate it, has shined a spotlight on all aspects of our relationship and forced us to support and understand one another in ways that life wouldn’t have required us to do for years. We’ve had to talk about uncomfortable things, deal with really complicated emotions, and be empathetic to the other person’s needs.

Bear doesn’t have a big ego, and he doesn’t like attention. So I share this not because I think he will love it (guaranteed he will turn bright red), but because as a partner he has shown up for me every day, and I am so grateful for him. I wish that every cancer patient had a partner that is half as amazing as he is.

Last Valentine’s Day, he told me he loved me for the first time. This Valentine’s Day, I will have my last chemo infusion with this man by my side. This man, who has shown me with his actions every single day that he loves me.

I may be right in the thick of breast cancer treatment, but I feel like the luckiest human on the planet to have found this man. I am so grateful.

Charlie’s Modern and Colorful Hand Painted Kid’s Room

I haven’t shared pictures of our home in years – since before I divorced. I felt pretty private at the time, and it also took me a long time to get things looking the way I wanted them to, while also balancing work and quality time with C. Her room is finished now, and I thought I’d share it with you because we both love it. 🙂

In our home, there’s nothing more important to me than empowering C and making sure she feels that her voice is heard. She chooses her own clothes and has a say in most everything that affects her life. If you remember back to three years ago, C’s previous room had a “Big City” theme. When kids get older, though, it’s hard to stick to a theme – they have their own opinions, and they want to hang their own artwork.

When I asked her what she wanted her room to look like, C said “lots of colors!” For a kid who often wears every color in the rainbow and enjoys mixing a lot of patterns, this wasn’t very surprising. The problem is, I want to like her room too, and I’m not always wild about her outfit choices (the sparkly purple leopard print pants paired with a multicolored star shirt and flashing shoes? Not something I want to see on her bedroom walls every day!). I wanted a room we could both be happy with.

Modern and colorful kids room with diagonal stripes

I love modern design, and I wanted a room that was colorful, but not tacky or overwhelming. Stripes are obviously a big trend in rooms right now, but I didn’t want a whole room of stripes, and it felt like lots of colorful stripes could quickly overload the senses. I decided to pick six colors and do diagonal stripes – and not across the entire wall. To tone it down even further, I chose black and white accents (the black and white dot rug is from Ikea, $20).

Modern and colorful kids room with diagonal stripes and toy storage

I can honestly say that the stripes project was a pain in my tuchas and I was really glad that I decided to only do six stripes. It required a lot of painter’s tape and measuring so that the stripes were lined up perfectly.

DIY diagonal stripes in a kids room using painter's tape and paint samples

This was a cheap project, though, thanks to paint samples from Home Depot. Each 8oz sample was $3, and I still have paint left after painting two walls and the borders of all her picture frames.

In case you’re curious, the colors are Glidden from Home Depot. Yellow is Sunflower (GLY01), Blue is Peacock Blue (GLB01), Green is Lucky Shamrock (GLG05), Pink is Watermelon Smoothie (GLR09), Red is Red Geranium (GLR06), and Orange is Orange Marmalade (GLO04).

DIY diagonal stripes in a kids room using painter's tape and paint samples

As you can see, only half the wall is painted; the other half I left white. I gave the picture frames (Ribba from Ikea, left over from C’s nursery and big girl room) some pizazz by painting the edges. I mixed in some other colorful stuff too – a vintage blackboard I found in Oregon and a Felix the Cat ceramic piece I did in high school.

Modern and colorful kids room with diagonal stripes and toy storage

Colorful gallery wall in a kids room

Colorful gallery wall in a kids room

Another priority for me is storage. A couple of weeks ago, I shared my method for teaching toddlers to clean up after themselves. One of the main reasons this works in our house is the toy storage I have, which provides a home for most everything. These are from Ikea’s Trofast collection.

Modern and colorful kids room with diagonal stripes and toy storage

At four, C can’t read yet – but she also can’t remember which drawer is for which toys. I labeled each one and drew a picture of what’s inside.

toy storage in a kids room

The other wall is very different – I painted circles freehand on the opposite wall. The white clock is from Target ($7), and the mid-century dresser and bookshelf are vintage. When I saw the little coat rack at Ikea ($25), I couldn’t believe how perfectly it matched the room and I had to have it. She hangs her coats and doctor jackets there.

Hand painted colorful circles in a kid's room

Her dresser has a few knickknacks, mostly from my childhood, and a fan I spray-painted pink (she was thrilled!).

Hand painted colorful circles in a kid's room

C loves books (and so do I!). I love this old bookshelf I found at the antiques fair for $20.

bookshelf in a colorful hand painted circle wall

I’ve been carting these cute star garlands in bronze, silver, and gold around for years (I got them at Paper Source when I worked there), and hung them from the ceiling. Good thing there’s no theme here and I can do what I want. 😉

hand painted wall in a kids' room with star garlands

On the left, below, you can see the blackout shade situation. This is a very wide window, and after battling for over a year with a ridiculous blackout shade from Home Depot that kept falling down, I finally decided to get two smaller shades from Ikea. These are much higher quality – the inside is made of metal, rather than cardboard like the Home Depot shade. Yes, there is a space between the two shades which lets light in, but it doesn’t bother C. I got the idea to use two shades from my friend Reichel, who did the same in her kids’ room – they aren’t bothered by the light either.

The night stand was $15 from the antiques fair. It works perfectly and can take a beating. 🙂 She loves her “special drawer.”

Colorful modern kids room with blackout shades and night stand

Overall, I wanted C to feel at home in her room, and be delighted every time she enters it. From her perspective, there’s color everywhere. From my perspective, it’s fun, cute, and not tacky at all. Success, I’d say. 🙂

Colorful kids' room with diagonal stripes

Teaching Bravery

C has a long history of being completely terrified of miscellaneous things. Some of them, I totally get. Others – like bark chips, for example – seemed to come out of nowhere. Right now, it’s birds, spiders, and crocodiles.

About two months ago, we were getting ready for bed when C saw a spider on the bathroom floor. I was washing my face when I heard screaming. I looked up to see C, half-nekkid, plastered against the wall and screaming hysterically.

I will admit, spiders aren’t my favorite things either. I really don’t like their legs. And seeing a particularly big one – quite frankly, even thinking about a big one – makes my skin crawl. But I picked that spider up and threw it in the toilet without thinking twice about it. Granted, it was a really small spider, but still: I picked it up with my bare hands. I deserve a medal.

C stopped screaming went back to taking off her pants.

Up until about a month ago, I’m pretty sure C thought I wasn’t scared of anything. She sometimes says things to me like, “remember when you took that vacuum and you SUCKED that spider RIGHT UP?” Why yes I do, kiddo. And I was scared shitless and I did it anyway.

But C didn’t know I was scared, because I didn’t tell her. In fact, I pretended not to be scared, thinking my fear would make hers worse.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking: I don’t think we are doing our kids any service by pretending not to be scared. Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about acknowledging fear, but not giving into it. C is scared of things I wouldn’t expect her to handle, like spiders. But she’s also scared to stand up for herself when a kid takes her lovey. Sometimes, I catch her as she avoids sitting next to another child, already anticipating having her lovey taken.

In the past few weeks, I’ve used incidents like the spider to talk about fear and bravery. I say things like, “YOWZA that was scary! I am so glad that’s over! Were you scared of that spider? I was too!” I also ask her to help me in the process of taking the spider outside*, announcing “We are so brave for doing something scary!” when we’re done.

I’m not asking for an overnight acceptance of spiders (after all, I’ve got almost three decades on her and I still  hate them!), but I’m hoping to use everyday bravery to help her gain confidence, slowly but surely. Up until now, she’s been asked to be brave in instances where she really shouldn’t have to be – like the time she encountered a very pushy goat and couldn’t sleep for weeks – and I’m hoping she’ll learn that you can be cautious and brave.

How do you handle your child’s fears?

 

*For the record, I save almost every spider. I didn’t save the spider in this story because I didn’t have any clothes on, and the situation – as you can tell – was a dire emergency.

Homemade Hemp and Coconut Milk: a Dairy-free, Soy-free Cow’s Milk Alternative

Make hemp/coconut milk in your home blender. Dairy-free, soy-free, carrageenan-free milk.

As a single mom, most of my choices make my life easier. Reading this, you may think I’m an insane hippy mother who makes her own milk at home, but trust me: I am normal and I swear I’m doing this because it saves me time and money. If you’d like to know why I make my own cow’s milk alternative, scroll down to read the backstory and nutrition information.

C has major intolerances to dairy and wheat, and a sensitivity to eggs and soy. As some of my long-term friends and followers may recall, I discovered this when she was about three weeks old; it was part of the reason she had colic. Instead of soy milk, almond milk, or any packaged “alternative milk,” I make her a mixture of hemp and coconut milk at home, using my Vitamix. Here’s how:

Supplies:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1/2 cup hemp shelled hemp seeds (in the bulk section at Whole Foods)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (I buy a 22-pound bag on Amazon for the best price – I know, that’s a lot of coconut)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (Subscribe & Save on Amazon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I buy a huge bottle at Costco)

Directions (photos below):

  1. Put all ingredients in blender.
  2. Blend.
  3. Pour the mixture into the nut milk bag, while holding it over the Pyrex. I now do this in the sink, which is cleaner, because there can be a little bit of spray when you squeeze the bag.
  4. Squeeze the liquid out of the bag. The liquid will strain into the Pyrex, and the pulp will stay in the bag. You can compost or throw away the pulp.
  5. Pour the milk into the bottle.
  6. Enjoy! It’s better when it’s cold (which is why I start with cold water from the refrigerator), and it will separate after awhile, so shake before use. 🙂

Here are some photos of the process:

Steps 1 & 2: Put all ingredients in the blender, and blend:

makingmilk1

 

Steps 3 & 4: Pour the mixture into the nut milk bag and strain into the Pyrex:

makingmilk2

Steps 5 & 6: Pour into milk bottle and enjoy!

makingmilk3

 

Now, for the backstory and nutrition information. I basically listen to everything my friend K says. When she tells me she’s made a decision, I know she’s researched the heck out of it. And that, my friends, is my little disclaimer about this post. I didn’t do the research, K did. But I trust her.

C has intolerances to dairy, wheat, egg, and a sensitivity to soy. As some of my long-term friends and followers may recall, I discovered this when she was about three weeks old; it was part of the reason she had colic. K’s daughter also had a milk allergy, and her story is part of why I recognized what was happening with C.

Fast-forward a year: Everyone in my mother’s group was adding whole cow’s milk to their baby’s diet, and I needed an alternative. I asked K what she decided to do, and here’s her answer:

I give my kids a combination of hemp milk mixed with coconut milk. Here’s why: Hemp milk is equal or superior to cow’s milk in every.single.vitamin and nutrient with the EXCEPTION of protein (more on this later.) There is also no cholesterol in hemp or coconut milk, and there is also much less sugar in both of these than in cow’s milk (cow’s milk has 13g of sugar in just one cup of milk.

The unsweetened hemp milk from Tempt, which is what I get, has 0g. I get “original” coconut instead of unsweetened coconut, because I find that one to be bitter. The original coconut milk only has 6g per cup… so less than half that of cow’s milk.)

I thought maybe almond milk would have more protein, but no such luck. Cow’s milk has something like 8g of protein per cup, while hemp has 2g and coconut has 1g per cup. Almond milk also only had 1g. Go figure. Most adults get more protein than they need, but a lot of kids don’t like meat, so they don’t get as much or enough. Kids between the ages of 1-3 need 0.55g of protein per lb of body weight, so my kids need 13-15 (roughly) grams of protein per day. One large egg, 1/2 cup of beans, 2 Tbsp of nut butter, and 1 oz of cheese (which C can’t do) each have 6-8g of protein. Breads, some cereals, and some vegetables also have protein in them.

The sole purpose of the coconut milk is to give them the same amount of saturated fat that is in whole milk, which is important for their growth.

For about a year, I did the exact same thing, using the same brands. Then I came across an article about carrageenan, which is a thickener used in a lot of “health foods.” The article warned against the risks of carrageenan, citing studies indicating it may cause cancer. I checked our milk cartons, and sure enough, it was in both of them. Add that to the cost of the milk, and I wanted to find an alternative. I may be an alarmist, but I don’t care – better safe than sorry.

I now make C’s milk at home, and it seriously could not be easier. It takes less time than going to the store to pick up the packaged brands, costs less, and is healthier. I use a Vitamix (seriously, worth every penny – I sold a piece of furniture to pay for mine, but I would have ferreted away money for it if I’d known how amazing it is), but another blender would probably work fine too.

As you can see, I add two sweeteners to the milk. I tried it with just maple syrup, and C hated it. I am slowly decreasing the amount of both over time, hoping to have as little added sugar as possible.

Parenting Newborns, Parenting Children

When C was a baby, I had a ton of new mom friends, both online and in “real life.” I belonged to three newborn support groups. We leaned on each other for everything, asking all sorts of questions of each other. No topic was off-limits.

When you have a newborn, there’s no shortage of parenting advice. And I, along with every other mom I knew, sucked it up like a sponge. None of us had a clue what we were doing, and we took advice from anyone who seemed halfway sane. We were desperate for sleep and terrified that we would somehow screw up parenthood. It was all very new and terrifying.

At some point, though, that all changed. Maybe we realized our kids weren’t as fragile as we thought. Maybe we started to realize that, aside from figuring out how to keep our children alive, parenting is different for everyone. Whatever the reason, we stopped asking each other for parenting advice.

Parenting advice for newborns is different, too. It’s easy to package up in small chunks: Weird looking poop. The four-month “wakeful period.” Starting solids. There is, amazingly, a “quick fix” for many baby-related problems.

Toddlerhood, though, is a different animal. Discipline is a huge part of life now. And discipline – which is not at all fun to talk about – requires a lot of work and a full-time commitment. Plus, no one wants to hear that they aren’t doing it right. I’d venture to say that a lot of parents know they aren’t doing it right, but they don’t think they have the energy to do what’s required to fix their problems.

And because there’s no such thing as “let her cry it out for three days and she’ll stop climbing on tables at restaurants,” we don’t ask for advice. We don’t want to hear what we know is true: Sometimes you have to leave the restaurant. Sometimes people stare at you in Target when your child has a temper tantrum because he can’t have what he wants. And you have to do it every single time, until they learn what behavior is acceptable and what behavior isn’t. In my experience, there are no exceptions. It is, especially in the beginning, exhausting (especially when you’re doing it alone). But it’s also 100% worth it.

I use a method called Positive Discipline, which I love. C attended a Montessori school when we first moved to Marin, and the teacher is an instructor in this method. Essentially, you treat your child as a person who deserves respect. And you understand that developmentally, your child can’t be expected to behave as an adult would.

I am very kind to C, but I’m also firm. As a result, she says please and thank you. She cleans up her toys before she takes out another one. Obviously we have our challenges, but generally speaking, she is a very easy little girl.

At this point, it’s hard for me to tell whether I lucked out with her personality, or if I’ve been using the same method since she was 18 months and it simply works. My guess is that it’s a bit of both, because I’ve seen her behavior with other people, and it’s very different.

Parents of toddlers – what do you think? Is toddlerhood harder or easier than babyhood? Do you talk about discipline with your kids? Would you take advice (or ask for it, or give it)?

Picture Books for Troubled Toddlers, Post #1: Separation Anxiety, School, and Divorce

Books for toddlers dealing with separation anxiety, divorce and starting school or daycare

Over the past year and a half, C and I have amassed quite a library of books for anxious toddlers. A few of them are great, but most of them were less than unhelpful. Some of the better-known books (like the Invisible String, for example) are aimed at older kids. Overall, it’s pretty slim pickins out there, lemme tell ya. 

I debated whether or not to review each book in its own post – I think each book deserves a few words to explain the rating. It seems, though, like it would be too hard for people to wade through individual posts. Instead, I’ll break it up into a few different posts and review six at a time.

The star ratings aren’t so much about the quality of the book, but more about its appropriateness for this age group (1.5 -2.5 years).

1.
When Mama Comes Home Tonight, by Eileen Spinelli & Jane Dyer.
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 5/5 stars. Ages 2+

This book is fantastic. The book starts with, “When Mama comes home tonight, dear child, when mama comes home tonight, she’ll cover you with kisses. She’ll hug you sweet and tight.” The book talks about all of the wonderful things Mama will do when she gets home from work. I love that it reinforces the idea of a routine and helps a child know what to expect. In fact, I love every single thing about it – a must for working moms! Side note: the inscription from the illustrator makes me cry.

2.
The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 2/5 stars. Ages 3.5+

While the idea behind this book is great (Mama gives her baby a kiss on his hand, which stays with him all day), it’s just too complicated for little kids. There are too many words, and the concept of a nocturnal animal is something for older kids. I had to paraphrase a LOT with this book so that C could understand it, which made it hard for me to read. I don’t think C found the story very helpful.

3.
Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 4/5 stars. Ages 2+

I love the Llama Llama books – they’re so fun to read! C understood this book – which is about starting school and missing Mama – a little before age 2. It helped her process her BIG feelings about going to school. I first realized how the book made her feel when she started ripping it apart (this one and “Owl Babies” both got torn up), which made it good for talking about “big feelings.” Though there are a lot of words (the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars), I think the pictures help illustrate what’s going on. Poor little Llama looks really sad.

4.
The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst
Topic: Separation Anxiety/Divorce/Death/ Fear of Being Alone. 2/5 stars. Ages 3-4+

This book is very well known and is often recommended for kids experiencing divorce. The book is about twins who wake up in the middle of the night because of thunder. They want to be with their mom, who explains, “even though we’re apart, our hearts are always connected by an invisible string.” It’s a great concept. Like the Kissing Hand, though, it’s too advanced for little kids. C didn’t know what “invisible” meant when she was 2, and even the concept of twins is a bit much. There are too many words for toddlers.

5.
Little Monkey’s One Safe Place, by Richard Edwards
Topic: Trust in parental figure. 3/5 stars. Ages 2+

Little Monkey is asleep by himself when a storm wakes him up and scares him. He finds his Mom, who tells him that he always has “one safe place.” He spends the book trying to find his “one safe place,” and at the end the reader discovers his one safe place is in Mommy’s arms. The concept itself is good, but I’m not sure how I feel about Little Monkey having only one safe place. Parts of the book were a little scary too (the places he looks are scary, with a crocodile in one place and scary eyes in another). C understood this book, but I don’t know if it made her feel any better. I will say, though, that it helped her talk about how scared she felt all the time.

6.
Hug, by Jez Alborough
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 4/5 stars. Ages 18 months+

This book has only three words: Hug, Mama and Bobo. The entire story is told with pictures, which makes it ideal for younger kids. The book follows Bobo the monkey as he looks through the jungle trying to find his mom. He sees all the other animals giving hugs to their babies, and he really wants his mommy. This book was really hard for me, because it covers a topic that I had a lot of fear about as a child and I know C does too: not being able to find your mother. As the story goes on, Bobo gets more and more panicky and sad, and is so relieved when he finds his mom. The book brings up feelings, so it’s good to talk about them (“Sometimes little kids are scared when they don’t know where their mommies are, but Mommy is always there. Mommies always come back”). I admit to being a little uncomfortable with how long it takes Bobo to find his mommy, and there’s no real explanation for why she was so hard to find, which seems kind of scary (this is why I knocked off a star).

A Divorced Blogger: My First 1.5 Years as a Single Mother

I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.

This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.

***

In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C’s life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.

C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.

Starting Daycare

I have been the only constant in C’s life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.

I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day.  The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.

Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.

The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.

You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.

C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).

In the depths of winter, I discovered there was in me an invincible summer. -Albert Camus

The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.

Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground…and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.

Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.

Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.

***

A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.

Trying to Find Help

Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horrible experience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.

It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.

As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.

We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.

Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.

Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everything going on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.

The Future

I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.

The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.

If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.