Unexpected Gains: An Adventure in Toddlerhood and Grief.

Okay, so, I’ve already failed writing every day in May.

Instead of writing, like I wanted to, I’ve either been outside, redoing things in my house or making DIY Mother’s Day crafts. With all the stuff happening in the world, it’s still nice to just connect with Mila and me to do heartwork and do the things that make us happy.

This week, we went on a hike. It’s the first one of the year and the first time Mila has been out of town for two months (or however long we’ve been locked down). We both love to be outside and the fresh air was so relieving. There are local trails around us and we drove about twenty minutes to this one, the Norma Johnson Center. We’ve had pictures done there before and it’s such a beautiful location. There were a decent amount of people on the trails, but everyone gave each other space and were friendly too.

While we were walking we had a little project, I saw (online) a color recognition scavenger hunt for toddlers and knew we had to try it. Since Mila is liking more colors than just green, I thought it’d be fun to use this while we walked too. She loved walking to the top of the hill and playing in the little kid area. I loved watching her search for the colors. We found the easy ones first but got stuck on blue. She kept saying blue, blue, blue, over and over again, while she was looking. It was so cute and I could tell she was a little disappointed we didn’t find a blue item.

The colors we did find were perfect. She was so proud of all of them and when we were done with our walk, she wanted to touch them all again and show them off. Watching her learn and just become this little, smart person is one of the best feelings ever.

We probably spent an hour in total out there. It wasn’t terribly long, but it was just what we needed.

When I started writing today, I thought I should look back on the May We All Heal prompt for the day… it’s Unexpected Gains. The days Mila and I have are typically always good. She’s a toddler so she definitely has her moments. Every day with her is a gift. Losing Jensen was the hardest thing I will ever have to go through. Even with all the bad in his death, he and Mila helped me find these unexpected gains. Through grief, I’ve found days where I’m lost in the moment. I still have Jensen in my heart and mentally place him where he should be, that’ll always be the case. But completely unexpectedly, I can value joy and peace again. I never thought I’d get that back. Somehow, they both have gifted me this monumental gain and, really, another chance at living fully.

I would one-hundred percent recommend getting outside and even out of your backyard to give your head some space during this time. We’ve felt rejuvenated since our little hike and it’s given us a little push to get a lot of things done this week. As I said, we’ve worked on some DIY Mother’s Day gifts that I want to post on here, so be on the look out!

Meatless Monday: Tomato and Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Another week in isolation means another recipe I’m going to share.

I’ve been low-key obsessed with grilled cheese lately. It’s to the point where different cheeses aren’t even cutting it. In my head, I’ve been coming up with different ingredients to add in my routine quarantine grilled cheese. Sure, there’s probably a recipe like this on Pinterest, but this time… it’s all me (totally hyping myself up at this moment).

Without making my head too big, enjoy this quick, easy, and delicious recipe that I know you’ll love too.

Tomato and Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Ingredients for two sandwiches:

  • Roma Tomato (2)
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Bread (4 slices)
  • Butter
  • Italian Seasoning (to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Balsamic Vinegar (Optional, but highly recommended)

First things first heat up the pan you’re using while cutting up your mozzarella and tomatoes. I made two sandwiches and used two tomatoes and one ball of fresh mozzarella. Salt and pepper the tomato and cheese for extra taste. Butter one side of each piece of bread (normal with any grilled cheese, obviously right?). To elevate this sandwich, put Italian seasoning on the butter side. That way the flavor sticks to the bread and butter. It just seeps into the bread and might be one of the best parts. Place your bread, butter side down on your pan, and layer your cheese and tomatoes too. I did like three little layers: mozzarella, tomato, mozzarella. It stacked up a little high, but after the first flip, I smashed it down a little bit to make it more manageable. At this point, I did think there might be a melting issue, so I turned my oven on 350 F and took out a baking sheet. After the other piece of bread was grilled, I personally didn’t think my cheese was melted enough, so I popped it into the oven for about five minutes until I thought it was melted to my liking. This is a total preference though, but I felt like it made my sandwich way better. After, I diagonally cut my sandwich and drizzled balsamic vinegar over it.

Mila and I ate these way too fast. She’s not a huge bread person, but she made sure to eat her fair share of tomatoes, cheese, and all the balsamic drizzle. We will definitely make this again in the future and I’m planning on trying it with shredded mozzarella cheese. BUT, I’m going to play around with another grilled cheese recipe in the next few days. Think a little spicier, but (hopefully) just as yummy!

I hope you’re able to try this recipe! I’m so proud of how it turned out and was excited to share it with you guys. Before my next grilled cheese recipe comes out, I have another recipe that I didn’t make meatless, but is adaptable to be meatless. So I’ll be sharing that this coming week. Anyways, let me know if you tried to make this and how you liked it!

A Letter To Bereaved Mother’s Day Past.

Dear Danielle,

It’s been almost exactly four years since your first Bereaved Mother’s Day. I know… it hurts. You’re not sure what happens next or how you’re even supposed to go on after everything has happened. If I could somehow go back in time and just sit with you, I would. I’d listen and let you talk about Jensen, letting you cry or smile or however you felt in those moments. It’s what you needed then and you still need it now.

I’m sorry we had to find out what loss and grief was all about; especially losing him. There’s been so many times in the last year where I’ve thought how I wish I could go back and take those moments for you.

If there’s one thing I’ll always be thankful you did, it’s starting this.

Our memory is awful now; four years of grief will do that to a person. Its been awhile since I went back and read anything from that first year. The way we write… I can read through it now. We’re harder now. When we talk about Jensen or how bad death hurts, it’s a lot more blunt. There’s a blog post we listen to now and they say, “fuck politeness,” pretty often. We’ll get there, I promise. Anyways, I read this post: “Honor Your Motherhood.” Twenty-five whole days of being a mom… you’re doing your best and that’s all that matters.

I remember this was the first time in our life that it was hard to order my thoughts. They rushed around and I couldn’t ever catch them, that doesn’t go away, fyi. So finding a prompt really helped order everything. I’m going to answer them again. Mainly to show future Danielle who’s going through whatever how much we’ve grown and how much she’s grown too.

What does it mean to you to “honor your motherhood?” 

Motherhood has changed since that first year… We have Jensen, and we always will. We’ve experiences loss again. We have Mila now too. Since it’s grown and changed, we honor it differently too.

I’m not sure how it is for people with more than one living child, but for us it’s like having a bigger heart. We have Jensen times and we have Mila times. Mila takes up a lot of our time. When she’s awake we’re focused on her and cleaning and taking care of ourselves and keeping up with family and friends and whatever else there is to do. In some ways, the craziness is a way I honor my motherhood with Mila and Jensen. I know this is how he would want us to keep going. It’s funny because even in the craziness of our life, we can always picture where Jensen would fit in.

Honoring our motherhood with Jensen is still one of the most special things. On that first Bereaved Mother’s Day, you did the things to remind you of him. I love that. You helped put Jensen in every room of our home and on our body too. See, that’s a lot in four years. We were a lot more literal in those early days. It was our way to scream to the world that we had him and he means so much. He still does. We honor our motherhood with him by still saying his name, sharing him with Mila (the way she says his name, the cutest thing), and including him in ways that are special to use, but in quieter ways.

Mixing both parts of our motherhood and just by simply moving onward is honoring our motherhood. There’s been so many setbacks in this time period, but you keep going. If that isn’t a strong mother, I don’t know what is.


What would help you feel like your motherhood is being honored?

I remember being so afraid everyone would forget about Jensen. When we first saw this prompt, we wanted everyone to know about Jensen, not necessarily that we were a mom. I think all moms put their child ahead of their wants and needs, but when there isn’t a child physically there, it’s hard to do that. It’s hard for other’s to see and understand that you’re still constantly thinking about your child and wanting the best for them. Honoring our motherhood then felt like making sure our motherhood was concrete. It was, even without him there in your arms. You’re still a mom. That space you hold in your heart and mind for him make you one.

I’m so sorry he wasn’t there to hold and love on. Just like I’m sorry he’s not playing around the house right now.

Honoring motherhood now… gosh, it’s changed so much, but the core of it remains the same. I think we honor it every day. We show up and do our best, mostly with a smile on our face. Mila’s happy, Jensen will never be forgotten, and we have grown. In the calm moments, we take a step back and realize what we have, what we’ve lost, and where we want to go. Wanting to go forward and keep doing better is the best way we honor our motherhood now.


What can you do today, on Bereaved Mother’s Day, to honor your motherhood?

Since Mila’s been born, it feels like Bereaved Mother’s Day is a day to honor our grief in motherhood. I think the best way to honor and connect with that part of motherhood, I’m setting time aside to sit outside and take in the moment. We’ll say his name and look through his pictures with Mila. Maybe I’ll read more of your posts to honor us and this crazy journey we’ve been on.

If I could end with anything or scream through time, I’d let you know that the version of us that you’re living right now is the strongest one. I think future Danielle would agree too. You, we, I, or whatever is easier to conceptualize, will always be Jensen’s mom. Your motherhood will always be valid and honored. I’m sorry that this had to happen to us, but I’m so thankful he’s ours.

You’re doing amazing.

Love,

Danielle

Dear Fellow Bereaved Mothers,

I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve talked, but I see all of you and your babies gone too soon.

Whether this is your first Bereaved Mother’s Day or fiftieth or somewhere in between, I want you to know that your child and the way you mother them is not unseen. I know some days are harder than others and maybe you’re in a long line of hard ones, but you are doing the best you can do. Please reach out on this day or any of the difficult ones you have. There are so many of us here to remember our babies with and to lift each other up when we need it most. And if you’re having a good, gentle day, I’m so happy those moments are here for you. You are so deserving of them.

I’m so sorry that we know this deep of a loss and the tidal waves of grief that comes after. There’s nothing quite like it. On the other hand, there’s love. That love you feel for them, oh, it’s so powerful. This love powers through death, not that anything could tear apart the love a mother has for her child.

Like everyday, say their name. Share a memory about them with someone who knew them or someone new. I know how proud you are of them. They’re proud of you too.

So today, and everyday, I want you to know, I see your motherhood and your child matters and is loved by many. And you, beautiful mother, for as much love as you pour out, there is so much coming your way.

Love,

Danielle

Forever Jensen’s Mom

At the beginning…

At the beginning,⁣
darkness was ever present. ⁣
Then, he showed me light. ⁣

It’s the start of a new month and with May brings a lot of different things. One, that I’ve tried to do since Jensen has been born, is May We All Heal.

Usually I end up starting strong, then something pops up and I get off track. Since we’re stuck at home, I’m hoping to be creative each day and maybe even have Mila join in.

Today, I wrote a haiku. I’m not the best at poetry, but I felt like this poem spoke to my heart. Losing Jensen was the hardest moment of my life and the grief after has been life changing. It was all darkness, but slowly, he’s led me to healing and becoming stronger through love.

I’ll forever be grateful for him.

Mommy and Me Art Box: Mila’s First Chemical Reaction

Mila’s second Mommy and Me Art Box came in and it definitely did not disappoint. Yesterday it let Mila become a scientist. Let’s just say, she loved it.

This month’s box is centered around Mother’s and Father’s Day. There are a lot of crafts to make for them. One of them is an item I’ve never worked with, so I’ll have to update how that goes. There was also one science experiment that we had to try right away.

Like last month’s box, every activity comes packaged separately and is color coded AND it included everything you need. It’s so nice because I can just pull out whatever activity and get right to work. I like how everything’s labeled on the little directions and the items too.

With this experiment, Mila was able to get things in place too. As I opened everything, she placed candy pieces in the candy mold. Some pieces might have disappeared too.

This is a little baking soda and vinegar experiment; the candies color the bubbles. Although most of us know what happens when these two mix, Mila had no idea.

At first she was shocked that the liquid she was putting on there was making it fizz. She kept saying woah and wanting more. After the first round of baking soda and vinegar, I asked her to help me sprinkle more on there. It sort of got a little messy, but we had fun. Seeing her reactions were priceless, especially when she accidentally dumped vinegar all over the mold.

In all, we played with this activity for thirty minutes… which was when we ran out of baking soda and vinegar. If I would have had more outside, she would have easily played for longer. I can definitely see us doing this again too! A little side note though, if you include candies in your experiment, there’s a huge chance they’ll be a snack.

Mila nabbed all the candy hearts… I’m unsure what vinegar and candy tastes like and wouldn’t eat it myself, but Mila didn’t mind. I guess that’s what being two is all about.

Again, this is the Mommy and Me Art Box! We’re on month two and LOVE all the activities and can’t wait to see how the rest go.

Capturing a ‘Last’ Moment.

She smelled like a baby today.

Any parent knows that smell. You don’t even know what it means until it’s truly gone. I remember everyone telling me she smelled so good and I’d think, ‘obviously, I bathe her.’ Then when it went away, I knew what they were talking about.

And today I got it back.

Somehow the smell fought through her hands and face covered with Cookie Crisp cereal. It overpowered the candles burning and the flowers on our dining room table. I don’t know how it pierced through the after smells of lunch, but there it was.

Maybe it was because she napped on me on the couch like she did when she was itty bitty. Maybe it’s because you never notice the last time you’ll experience something, but I know this moment was it.

This is the last time my Mila will ever smell like a little baby. It was only for a few moments, but it’s all I needed.

It’s a bittersweet symphony of being happy she’s growing, thriving even, and a sweeping melancholy for knowing she’ll never be this little again.

So for the rest of the day, I’m just going to keep her close. We’re living today in a mix of crazy toddlerhood and sleepy infancy. It’s not going to be long until it’s full out toddlerhood and into independent childhood. I know I say this a lot… but I’m really going to miss these moments.

Toddler Activity: DIY Bird Feeders

Mila has been ultra curious about birds lately. When we wake up in the morning, she hears them singing and remembers that birds sing to us. She makes the cutest face every time she hears them. The downside is… she thinks all the birds are her friends and she wants to hold them. NOPE! If she sees them in the yard, she’ll chase after them. It’s hysterical.

Sometimes, we don’t get a lot of birds that fly on our tree or around our yard. It probably has a lot to do with the two year old that chases them and the big dog that’s never far behind. With Earth Day almost here (tomorrow), I figured out a way I could combine Mila’s new love for birds and an activity to teach her how to help them… DIY bird feeders.

I took my memory way back to elementary school when I first made one of these. Fortunately, I had recently purchased birdseed, so I had all the supplies at home too. As with anything, you can substitute these items with something better you have at home. It’s whatever is best for you and your child. I probably should have researched using something other than peanut butter. I’m allergic to it, but not severely. Mila loves it, which is why I keep it at home.

Supplies:

  • Toilet Paper Rolls
  • Bird Seed
  • Peanut Butter
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Hole Punch
  • Knife (or spoon)
  • Baking Sheet (or something flat to roll bird seed on)

To make the bird feeder, it’s pretty easy. First, I poured birdseed all across the baking sheet. I did this first because I didn’t want to be stuck with sticky peanut butter all over my hand, then try not to mix the two. Next, I hole punched two holes in the toilet paper roll so I could easily put the string on it. You could also just put it all the way through. After, I spread peanut butter all over the toilet paper roll. This can be a little messy. Then, it’s rolling time. I just made sure to get an even amount of birdseed around the roll. For some parts, I had to push down with a little pressure to make sure it stayed. When I was done, I sat them up so the peanut butter could dry a little. After it’s dried, it’s time to tie the string on the holes. Then you’re finished and can find the perfect place on your tree.

Obviously, this is a lot of steps for a two year old. I will say, Mila did try every step, besides cutting, tying, and hanging. The first roll we did together, she helped me put the peanut butter on the roll and enjoyed rolling the bird seed on. When I went to get the third one, the peanut butter was a little distracting for her. I’m unsure who got more peanut butter… the birds or Mila.

She ended up helping me roll birdseed on the last two, but thought managing and watching me was much more fun. I guess she’s a pretty cute boss.

We found spots in our tree where birds could sit on a branch and easily reach the feeder. With this activity, we were able to recycle the toilet paper rolls and help fees our local birds.

Mila definitely understood that the birds would come eat at our tree. She kept watching for them, but ended up chasing them off. One day, she’ll realize she can admire their beauty from afar. For now, she’ll keep running and stealing their peanut butter.

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Quesadillas

There’s been two things I’ve learned about myself since the COVID lockdown: I love to cook and I’m a terrible food photographer.

Some days I make these amazing recipes and try to document along the way. Then when I’m done and have already ate, I realize the pictures I’ve taken are awful. It happens and it’s life, but today you’ll be getting badly taken pictures of food and a yummy recipe.

Normally on meatless Monday’s, Mila and I fail on the breakfast part. She loves sausage and eggs, but this morning we had raspberry yogurt and Cheerios on the trampoline. I felt pretty confident tackling the rest of today’s food choices.

After a while of playing outside, we came inside to eat. As you all know, I’ve been obsessed with Pinterest lately so I followed this recipe.

The ingredients I used:

  • Sweet Potato
  • Canned Black Beans
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Queso
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Tortillas

A lot of these items can be substituted. Or if you like all the main ingredients and want to make nachos or a burrito bowl, that would be really good too. We normally eat a lot of rice or quinoa, so it was a good change of pace for us.

I followed the recipe as close as I could. Instead of flipping the tortilla over on itself, I just put another one on top. It sort of looked like a Mexican pizza that Taco Bell sells. I still let each side go on the pan to make the cheese melt and get perfectly gooey. It didn’t take long to make or eat. Mila even loved it!

I dipped my pieces in salsa and sour cream. She preferred ranch. Both tasted great.

This meal could definitely be made for dinner. It’s filling and makes you feel warm. We love to go out for Mexican, but since we can’t go right now or if in the future we’d rather just stay home, I’d make this meal again.

I have no idea what’s for dinner, but fingers crossed I can keep our Meatless Monday going.

10 Things I’m Grateful for This Week.

This week has went so quick, but has felt like a lifetime with all the things that have happened. Since Mila kicked me off our new toy, I’m reflecting on all the pictures we took this week. During this time we can all use a little happiness, so I just wanted to share ten moments that have made me the happiest.

Mila Cuddles

I’m unsure if she knew my heart has needed them, but Mila has been so cuddly lately. She’ll come sit on my lap to watch movies and at night she wants me to lay right by her while she plays with my hair. It’s made my heart feel so full lately.

The Piñata Beatdown

All of Mila’s second birthday was the best, but watching her spear the piñata… I don’t think anything can top that. If you didn’t see her second birthday blog post, go back and watch it. I giggle the whole entire time. By the way, the piñata is still being used. It’s broken, but can still be hit multiple times.

Constant Singing

Two has also brought all the singing. Throughout the day, she’ll just start singing as loud as she can and want me to join along. Her favorite song to sing is the intro to Frozen, the ‘nah nah nah nah.’ If you’ve watched the movie or have an obsessed toddler, you know. I’ve also been listening to “My Favorite Murder,” which is a podcast, and she sings the intro tune for it too. Maybe I should mute that when she can here, oops.

An Organized Fridge/Snack Drawers

This is the smallest things and no one really thinks about, but this week, I cleaned out my fridge. I feel like a new person. Now I know all the food I have in there and everything has a spot. Mila even has her little snack and juice corner that she has complete access to. It’s the little things that make you happy and life go a lot smoother.

Gardening

I’m officially a plant mom. I check my little plants multiple times a day to see what else has sprouted. Anytime I see they need watered, I have my little squirt bottle and go to town. I didn’t know how seeing that sort of growth would make me smile so much. It gives Mila and I something to look forward to doing every day. A new part of our routine!

New Recipes

If quarantine has shown me anything, it’s my Pinterest addiction. I’ve found SO many new recipes to make now and try in the future. This weeks new recipe was this bacon cheeseburger grilled cheese meal. Oh my goodness, it was amazing. I’ve been craving grilled cheese lately, but this new recipe is just so good. I’ve also found new vegetarian recipes to make on Mondays and whenever I’m not feeling meat. It’s gotten to a point where I want to share all the new recipes I make, but that would be bombarding.

Mila’s Crafts and Independent Play

For the last few weeks, Mila’s started to play more independently. I’m unsure if it’s because I’ve put more thought into her activities throughout the day or she’s just getting older and her imagination is growing. We do an art craft or experiment almost everyday then talk about it, which she looks forward too. Then we read all the time, but she’s started ‘reading’ to her stuffed animals and Max. Another contributing factor is she got a lot of independent play toys for Easter and her birthday that have worked. I’ll try to write a post about toys she likes and maybe that could help another parent in deciding what to gift their two year old (or around this age) for whatever. One thing she’s gotten that has been used multiple times a day is her new easel. I love seeing her creative side.

Playroom Art

This venture will definitely be a blog post… or two. I’m converting Jensen’s room into a playroom. It’s been hard, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. Again, I’ll save this for a future post when the playroom is completely finished. ANYWAYS, I recently found a college student who makes this artwork from pictures. It’s like she takes a photo of you and sort of makes like pop art. There’s bright colors, the outline of the bodies, and the details in the clothes, but all other details are blurred. It’s so beautiful and I’m thankful I found her!

Almost Finishing Spring Classes

If you didn’t know, I’m so close to finishing all my classes to teach full time. After this semester is finished, I’ll only have four more classes and student teaching. Not a lot at all! But, I still have to finish the two classes I’m in right now. Anyways, the stress of everything going on right now has made it hard to work on my finals. I kept putting them off, but as of yesterday, I’m done writing papers for the spring semester. That’s something to celebrate!

Trampoline Time

The new toy I Mila kicked me off of is a trampoline. It was put up last night and it was a birthday gift for her from my mom and dad. Every time she saw a trampoline, she’d tell us she wanted to jump on the ‘lean.’ Mila is so active and even though she’s a little young to have one, she’s obsessed. While we were putting up the safety nap, she was on there jumping and all day today, she’s been jumping. I love that she’s so active and seeing her get more comfortable with her body makes me happy. It’s crazy because it seems like she excels at whatever she tries to do. No matter if it’s gymnastics or running or doing defensive basketball slides, she’s just naturally athletic. I can’t wait to make memories and watch her make them on her trampoline. This is only the beginning.

I hope all of you can find many moments you were grateful for this week. Just a reminder that we’re all doing our best.