Here’s some hard truth that I’m gulping down with this mornings third cup of coffee…I haven’t been a great Mom, lately or maybe ever. It’s hard for me, maybe it is for all of us but for me… man it just doesn’t feel natural. I get frustrated easily. I snap so much more than I care to admit. I struggle with being present. My response to “Mommy can you play with me?” is more often a reason or excuse as to why I can in “just a few minutes” with the hopes that they’ll find something to play on their own rather than “Yes, whatcha wanna play?” I know it’s not okay. I catch it everytime yet still find myself unable to correct in the moment. The other day I was sitting on the couch zoning out and Riley asked if I would play a card game with her…my response? “Sure, let me clean up a little and then we’ll play.” Seriously. In that moment I chose to CLEAN rather than PLAY. As I washed the dishes that prior to her inquiry I had zero intention of doing I could hear the “good mom” I have inside my head asking me “what the actual f*&# I was doing” yet I kept washing…and then I started a load of laundry. I thought of the families I work with who would give anything to play a card game with their kids again and felt guilt, I thought of the comments I get from this community of what an “amazing mother” I am and felt shame, I thought of my girls sitting in their rooms coloring and staring at screens and felt regret. And then I swept the floors.

On Saturday we did solo nights with the girls…we try to do this regularly to give one on one time to them. Riley was with Chris and I had Pres. When we went to pick Riley up yesterday her and Chris were running wild in the front yard playing some super hero game they’d made up together. She was joyful in a way I rarely see because I don’t cultivate that with her the way Chris does. He nails it. He is so damn good at playing with them that if I wasn’t so grateful for him being the other half of our parenting equation it would piss me off. I get jealous, envious even of how easy he makes it look. And while I wish those emotions would be enough to make me realize that I too could do those things with them they only make me tense up more. The four of us went up to Presleys room to play…we sat on the carpet with American Girl dolls strewn all around but instead of being in the moment I sat there thinking about how I would give anything for this to feel “easy” for me. What is wrong with me that I have to convince myself to play? I watched the three of them…Riley curled in Chris’ lap unable to get close enough to him and could see the connection he’d strengthened during their sleepover by just being present. By being silly. By meeting her where she’s at. I wanted to be that so bad. And then I totally snapped at the girls as they got into a tiff about who was going to fetch drinks for us. The way the moment unraveled, the string pulled by me…I hated it. Their argument wasn’t the problem…I was. Chris stood snuggling Riley and I stood in a puddle of shame. Within minutes the girls were fine, happily singing along to the Glee soundtrack on the way to the grocery store while my “good mom” voice urged me to try again. To reset. Later that evening we met Jake and his daughter for a picnic dinner at a beautiful park…it was fun, the girls had a blast but what I’ll be remembered for from that evening was the snack plate I made…not how I played with them. Because I didn’t. I didn’t attempt to skip rocks, I didn’t run down the hill or push them on the swings. I missed it. I didn’t snap on anybody this time but I opted out of the presence of parenting…again.

Last night as I laid in bed I was overcome with all of this…spiraling down a rabbit hole replaying all of my Mom based shortcomings. I stared at Riley sleeping wishing I could be half the mother I was to her when she was sick now that’s she’s healthy. Wondering why all the things I begged to be able to do with her again as she lay intubated like color and laugh and play now felt so hard. How could I be so strong when she was facing death and now so weak that she’s living life?

I get a lot of emails from people asking for advice or just sharing their stories. I got one last week from someone talking about their trauma and the ways in which they felt a struggle to bond, their wording indicated a feeling that their circumstances weren’t worthy in comparison to mine or those of which I document. That’s simply not the case. I responded with this:
“Truth response…trauma is trauma. There is no comparing any of it. Finding my way into being just a mom continues to be harder and more traumatizing than any of the medical stuff ever was. It makes no sense but that’s the way trauma works. The thought of volunteering to chaperone a field trip for the girls paralyzes me while the idea of ending up in the hospital again with Riley doesn’t put a single hitch in my step. Zero. Sense. I’ve always wanted nothing more than her to be home and healthy…us all together living carefree but you know what?…living “care-free” with them is hard. Getting down on the ground and playing barbies gives me obscene amounts of anxiety, reading with them, telling them jokes, any sort of “mommy let’s pretend…”…it doesn’t come natural…it is constant work. I thought when you became a mom you’d just know how…9 and 6 years later I still don’t know what I’m doing. I see other moms…the patient ones…the put together ones…the arts and crafty ones and wonder if that would have been me if it wasn’t for everything and then I remind myself that narrative doesn’t matter. Because it’s not mine…and you know what? It’s probably not there’s either. Everyone is struggling…with something…most in silence.”

I don’t want to struggle with this in silence. I don’t want you to either. I want to shatter the illusion that not being “okay” once you’re on the other side of your version of trauma is…well okay. I really wanted to crawl back into bed this morning after drop off, to not do this day, to not confront the fears I have that I will never be any better than this. I didn’t and I hope you didn’t either. My goal this week…to play. To not capture the moment of them playing but to be in it with them.

The Drive Dance

The drive. The once dreaded now beloved drive to UCSF. Sometimes 50 minutes sometimes 3 hours (thanks Bay Area traffic). We make it frequently. Really frequently. Like enough that it had to go into the “re-frame” pile for things I needed to get my head right about. The need to make those drives wasn’t going away so my attitude against them had to. For a while Riley would just sleep, she’d sleep and  Brene Brown’s southern drawl would quell my anxieties reminding me I could “brave this wilderness”. But then she stopped sleeping…she’d just sit and stare out the window, quiet…too quiet. “Watcha thinkin’ about kiddo?” “Nuthin.” BS. For those who know Riley she NEVER shuts up…like ever. Part of me tried to embrace the silence and convince myself that a moment of quiet was serving her but I couldn’t…I could feel it all…her silence matching mine…both pretending we were thinking about “nuthin” both knowing there’s no such thing. Not for us at least. We’re thinkers…over thinkers…my thoughts have thoughts and I’m pretty sure hers do too…and accents…I think her thoughts thoughts have accents. Anyway, the silence… it wasn’t working…

If she was going to be awake I had to come up with a way to fill the silence. Most people are probably wondering why I didn’t just turn on the radio…well here’s the thing…music doesn’t really do much to me in the soothing department. I can’t zone into like I can a book or podcast…no matter how high I crank the volume my thoughts are louder…the bass of my anxiety unmatched. And there is certainly not a single thing soothing about Kidz Bop. But I was at a loss. She didn’t wanna talk, I didn’t either. She wasn’t gunna sleep and someone had to drive. So…okay…here’s where pretend comes in. I’m a “fake it til you make it” connoisseur. “Ok self…pretend you like listening to music while driving.” No. Pretend you LOVE it. Pretend like you are on the AGT stage and that million is about to be YOURS. I threw on a top 40 pop station and got after the One Direction lyrics like a teenage girl in heat. Oh and there were dance moves. It was charades meets carpool karaoke meets full blown dance club up in that mint green Ford Escape. Riley first gave me a look like “Oh no…it happened…Mom lost it…she GONE.” but I kept going…the corners of her mouth started to turn up with the volume. Honestly…I was hating it…the “feel-goods” that people feel with music hadn’t hit me yet, anxiety was still winning but then came the laughter…and her laughter was all the encouragement I needed. It’s working. Keep going. I got nuttier…I sang louder…I’m pretty sure passerbys were actively dialing in to the CHP reporting the maniac bellowing down 280 North.

And then there were the cows. The only thing to interrupt my crooning was the cows.  Anytime I’d spot a group of them off to the side I’d shout “MUCCCCHHHHHHOOSSSSSSS VAAAACCCCCCAAASSSS” (which loosely translates to a shit ton of cows in spanish) as loud as I possibly could. Riley erupted in laughter…I thought girl was going to combust. That part of it was my favorite…she found it hilarious and I found it therapeutic. I didn’t realize how much I needed to scream at the top of my lungs until I found a productive way to do so.

By the time we got to UCSF I was exhausted…I wore myself the hell out…no joke. My throat legit hurt and my voice was close to non existent (which Riley also found hilarious) but I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t on edge…I was just there…with her. And she wasn’t anxious, she wasn’t on edge…she was just there…with me. We faked it…we made it.

Those drives…we’ll make them often and honestly I can’t wait…Harry Styles…I’m comin’ for ya.


ps…over-the-top adorable bow featured atop Miss Riley’s head courtesy of fellow Medical Mompreneur and dear friend Kelsie of Three Tiny Knots. Her daughter is battling Retinoblastoma and all proceeds of bow sales go towards her treatment. I photographed Harper receiving her new prosthetic eye just yesterday and I swear once I stop bawling at the beauty of the experience I’ll tell you all about it 🙂

Go help Harper kick cancers butt by purchasing today at…use the code “makers10” to receive a 10% discount!


I’m going to preface this by saying it has nothing to do with Riley…aside from the fact that it’s written by yours truly…her mother…and that the throwback feature image of me carrying her up the stairs as an infant seemed fitting. Most of the things I share with families in rooms has nothing to do with Riley, most of the questions I get asked through emails and dm’s don’t either. They’re broader…they’re about coping, they’re about trauma, they’re about the processes I use to not lose my damn mind with all I carry. Those families follow along here and I’ve been encouraged more as of late to share stories beyond Riley updates. So…if you’re just here for the Riley stuff…she’s fine and you can stop reading now. 🙂 You wanna hear me ramble…carry on…

I’ve had a week…oh have I had a week. The type of week where the entire stack of my Jenga life started with a single block at the base…teetering from the beginning. I woke up Monday consumed with anxiety and tried really hard to bury the why because the why made me feel weak…the why made me feel guilty. I was short with Chris during a phone conversation in which we were talking over the logistics of attending a friends viewing together. I ended the call quickly…me frustrated, him confused. And then I went into the bathroom and cried so Riley wouldn’t see me.

When I’m in an anxiety spiral I do this thing…it’s kind of silly but it’s helped me so many times so I just don’t care. I take the voice inside my head and give it a body…that’s right, separate entity. I pretend she’s across from me and I listen to her. She even has a name (I call her “McDonald” which is my last name but her first) While still crying, safely locked in the bathroom I let her go on…and on…and on. All the thoughts in my head were now coming from this “real person”…she bounced around with a whole lot of “but you should’s” and “pull it togethers”…she interrupted herself and took both sides of every story she was telling.  Turning that inner voice into an outer entity gives me the space to understand what I need…after much babbling with my imaginary friend I had it…I didn’t want to go the viewing, I didn’t want the last time that I saw my friend to be in a casket. The last memory I have of his face months ago while bittersweet is the one I wanted to hold onto. I didn’t want to see his tattooed hands laid across his chest in a box…I have that memory of the brother I lost almost a decade ago and it’s not a memory I wanted to replicate. But I felt I had to…I felt I had to be there for Chris…I felt that my place was to do what was “right”…the problem is that exact thought has guided much of my life and left me resentful of those very same people I’m intending to be there for. I knew I had to try something different, I knew that I couldn’t support him the way I thought I was supposed to and that I had to admit that.

I pulled myself off the bathroom floor and I called him back…I apologized for being short, he responded that he’d thought it was strange and didn’t understand why so I took a deep breath and through tearful broken words explained. I explained how I didn’t want to go, how I knew it wouldn’t be good for me, how I was only going because I thought he needed me to be there with him. I told him I didn’t understand how I could photograph the last breaths of children but couldn’t do this. I told him I felt weak, selfish and guilty for feeling this way…I told him the truth. And you know what. He listened and then he told me it was okay and then he told me he was proud of me. Turns out…he didn’t want to go to the viewing, he wanted to go to the funeral the next day which I couldn’t attend due to shoots I’d had scheduled for weeks. He reminded me my feelings didn’t have to make sense to be valid. He also assured me he didn’t “need” me there, we both understood that was something I had put on myself. Turns out my truth allowed him to voice his. I hung up and thought back to all of the times…too many to count…that I had just done “the thing” whatever thing it was that I didn’t want to do, that I knew to not be good for me instead of taking the time to speak my truth. I wondered how many moments I’d spent resentful of giving something of myself to someone that I wasn’t asked to give. I sat with that. I grieved the person I’ve forced myself to be and the ways I’ve attempted to show up for others now with the knowledge that it was likely not what the other person needed either. How many other situations had I silenced myself thinking I was doing the “right” thing? How many opportunities had I missed to share how I felt and it be okay? A lot. Too many.

My point is…the hard things…the hardest things…that’s where the lessons are. That’s where the opportunity to really connect is…both with yourself and others. With all that Chris and I carry together there is no room for resentment…we can’t show up the way we need to as parents and friends if we don’t make space for each others feelings. I went to bed early Monday night…exhausted from the day, grateful for the lesson and ready to take on Tuesday. I’ll tell you about Tuesday tomorrow because well…like I said, I’ve had a week…Monday was just the beginning.


The “In-N-Out” tradition. I can’t remember exactly when it started…these past months have been a blur of ER visits, admissions, nurses office pickups or missed days all together with so few “normal” days mixed in that I can’t even refer to them as normal anymore. I can’t remember the last time she went a full day without saying “I don’t feel good.” Like at all. I scrolled back through my feed to see if that would give me a clue. There was a post from November 20th…I’d said it was our 3rd weekend in a row in the ER so…the In-N-Out tradition must have started somewhere around October?

For every ER visit our next step went one of two ways…ambulance ride to UCSF or car ride to In-N-Out. When they ended in the latter Riley would squeal with delight and inform the poor chap removing her IV that she was heading for a burger…on at least two occasions she never even touched the burger…which we both knew would be the case but there was still a sense of reward that came with sitting in the drive thru and then gripping that white bag walking back through the doors of home. We needed our fast food trophy even if it meant we’d crawl into bed leaving it to display on the counter.

There was one night we barely made it before closing…She squealed from the backseat ”Mommy!!! The line is still SO long even in the middle of the night.” It was about 1:20am…prime time for the drunken college crowd to crave an animal style feast. It took forever. We didn’t care. When we got back to the apartment I realized I didn’t have my key fab to get into or up the elevators from the basement garage. We took the stairs to the street and up to the main lobby fingers crossed that the security guard would be behind the desk to grant entrance to us exhausted residents. I schlepped up the stairs carrying Riley and our beloved white paper bag. As I got to the door I realized how disheveled we looked. Oh and we STUNK. The fries masked the vomit stench (but only a little.) Riley had thrown up on both her clothes and backup clothes so her panty clad body was wrapped-ish in my sweatshirt leaving me in a t-shirt. As I knocked the security guard looked up with total confusion. He opened the door for us and I shuffled inside pulling the sweatshirt over her exposed shoulders. Don’t mind us. Nothing to see here. Sorry about the smell. Can you let us up to our floor? It was charming.

In-N-Out is always the prize. Avoided admission. Prize. Discharge. Prize. Knocking an MRI outta the park. Prize. Letting Mom get through a mound of editing while home from school with headache. Today’s Prize. I love it and all but I’m also pretty ready for a hiatus or maybe a commission…is “burger brand ambassador” a thing…if so…I got a girl.

riley in n out burger-4637riley in n out burger-4633



I screamed at my girls yesterday. And I mean SCREAMED.

They had only been in the same room for about 4 minutes…it wasn’t like a day of slow built frustration that came out in a booming holler. Nope. Presley had spent the night with Chris and Riley with me. We try and do one-on-one nights with them from time to time when it’s apparent that one (a-hem *usually* Presley) needs it. Their irritation of each other was immediate and my lack of patience for it well…you read the first line. Somewhere in the space of four minutes I lost my mind or they found my trigger…the octave indicated both. “GIRRRRRRRLLLLLLLS” I screamed from the kitchen as I turned towards the living room to face them. We all froze. All three of us. Frozen. Like Elsa in that scene…we were solid. I moved first…towards them. I wish I could say like Anna I wrapped them up, my love melting away the fear that mean mommy had just induced. But no. I scolded. “Girls…come ON. I just can’t. Presley you have GOT to stop trying to upset her…you know what you’re doing…you KNOW jusssst how to push her buttons. What is the point? Just PLAY. And Riley…you HAAVVVVEEEE to stop being so sensitive…just ignore her. You KNOW she’s just trying to make you mad….MOVE ON. I can’t do this with you girls…PLEASE….just play. Just GET along.” Blah, blah, blah, I rambled on.

Presley moved first…it was love that caused it but not any she felt from me…girl was radiating it out my direction. “Ok Mom, it’s ok” she stated with the confident calm in which a therapist would deliver those very same words. Her eyes wide like windows…focused on mine, forearms parallel to the floor she motioned her flat palms downward…not only calming me with her tone but using physical movements for added effect. Riley was still frozen…I don’t think she realized my voice got that loud. Shaking I hastily replied “No Pres, it’s not ok…this is NOT ok…clearly I am NOT ok.” Yup that was my response…again I’d love to say her sweet words and loving body language snapped me out it immediately and sent me falling to the floor in apology and cuddles. Nope. “Pres I just can’t.” I’d said it again…”I can’t” What does that even mean? Can’t what exactly, McDonald?…referee a mild dispute between your children? You “can’t” do that? Really? But the thing is…I couldn’t. In that moment. I couldn’t. I screamed at them for something that only required me to sit my bum on the floor between them and in an upbeat tone go “Change of plans ladies…” or I could have shouted “Tickle FIIGHHHHTTT” and darted their direction, or I could have said “Hey Google…play Greatest Showman” or I could’ve I don’t know…done anything OTHER than scream the word “GIRLS” at them like a full blown lunatic and then follow it up with a lame lecture that highlighted my shortcomings not their misbehaviors.

“I need you guys to just go to your rooms and watch a show for a bit.” I said it as nicely as possible so that they would know they weren’t “in trouble”…I was the one in trouble. I needed a minute. I needed to get rid of the demon inhabiting my being…that’s honestly what it felt like…I know better…I mean KNOW better than to act that way…even the deafening of my shout couldn’t silence the right minded voice in me sadly pleading with myself to stop…the part of me actually saying the exact words Presley used “Ok, it’s ok.” But neither my inner voice or my eldest daughters could make me believe them. I wasn’t ok. I had just screamed at my children and I clearly wasn’t “ok” before or that wouldn’t have happened. But why wasn’t I ok? What in THAT moment made me lose it? I don’t even remember what they were bickering about…honestly I don’t even think I was aware of the content or context at the time…they could have been playing a game of “house” and the argument ensuing fully pretend…a part of their storyline. Crap. I hadn’t thought of that until just now…it’s entirely possible I screamed at them for playing. This is great. Just great. I sat down at the table. Shaking. “Pull it together McDonald”. More shaking. I felt so defeated. I thought of how I would feel if I heard someone else speak to their kids that way. I felt sick. I thought about all the times I’d been called “an amazing mother” and felt even sicker. The shame gremlins came in HOT…”What’s wrong with you?”, “Do you have a pretty picture to go along with that moment? Huh?”, “Was that some of your famous “light in the dark” BS”, “Yelling huh, that’s your plan?…you’re an idiot.”…it went on and on and ON. And on. Guilt and anxiety and anger and fear…I was being pummeled from every angle. Then came the realization that I had to face them…not just leave them in their rooms with YouTube for the remainder of oh I don’t know…forever. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t face them. Not because I was so sorry for what I’d done but because I was so frazzled that I couldn’t know for sure I wouldn’t do it again. I could feel the angst rising in my throat like acid reflux…taunting the threat of more heated words. I closed my eyes and tried doing “breath of fire”…yeah that’s a thing and if you feel inclined to judge then add it to the list of all the other reasons I’ve just given you. I felt like Maleficent so I leaned into it…”you wanna act like a dragon…breathe like one.” Like Tums for emotional reflux…fast acting relief but in my case a bandaid for a deeper issue. I sat there for another few moments, trying not to move…afraid to wake the beast inside again but knowing there was both dinner and apologies to be made. The anxiety was gone but the shame…so. damn. heavy. “Really? Breath work to be a decent human? You need that huh?”, “Where do you think Presley gets her nasty tone from…could it be YOU?”, “You just screamed at your sick kid.”, “Everyone thinks oh Alissa, she handles everything sooooo well…meanwhile you’re screaming at your children for playing.”, “Go on ahead and pretend you’ve got it together, good story.” “Why don’t you write THAT little ditty and post it on the internet?” FINE…I WILL. That right minded voice in my head shot back. FINE…I WILL. I will? Yeah. I will. With that it was gone, shame shut up and I got up.

The weight of it wasn’t fully lifted but I had a better grasp that made carrying it possible. I apologized, I made dinner and drew baths. We went about our evening and all was well. We didn’t have a totally blissful rest of the eve, there were still tantrums (theirs this time not mine) but there was no more screaming. No more shaming. Neither me at them or me at myself. I hesitated to make good on my “FINE…I WILL” promise but here I am…telling this little ditty because I know I’m not alone and I need shame (mine and yours) to know that as well.

**This morning while deep in Play Doh playtime…

”Hey Riley…what did I look like when I lost it and yelled like a crayyyyyzzzzzy person yesterday?”

She giggled and then“RAAAAAWWWWRRRRRRR”.

Click. Take that shame…I even got a sorta pretty picture to go with it.

Happy New Year

When Chris called Sunday night, I knew. “Soooo…Riley threw up, didn’t want dinner and went to sleep at 5.” Riley has 5 distinct “tells” and in that one sentence we’d already checked off two of them. Tell #1: Not wanting food…honestly hearing her say “I’m not hungry” almost sounds like a foreign language leaving her lips. Tell #2: Sleep…when she doesn’t feel good she just sleeps…or pretends too…always has, hence the whole “Possum” nickname, it’s been her go to move since birth. His call had woken me up and it was only 8pm…I moved from the couch to bed because well…sleep…I was going to need more of it. I thought I was getting to play catch up from Friday’s ER stint but turns out I now needed to prep for round number…oh who’s even counting anymore. I kept my ringer on high, anticipating a call. It didn’t come. That should have brought relief but I knew it just meant she hadn’t spiked a fever, that Chris was taking on whatever was going on knowing I needed the sleep more than he. Teamwork…we’ve got it down.

Sun came up, still no call. Coffee time. I didn’t want to call them, no news at an hour they’re usually awake didn’t mean “good news” it meant sleep, it meant a long night was had, it meant I should take my step-mom up on going out to breakfast because chewing wasn’t going to sound good much longer. The call came right as my food did. My suspicions confirmed…long night. She’d basically been either asleep or erupting like a vomit volcano since we’d last spoken. When I got to her she was listless…Tell #3. Her body limp as I carried her to the car, her eyes glossed over as she used my jacket as a barf bucket once again on the 5 minute drive to our apartment. Call time…to the team, “Alright guys…Riley strikes again”…”Bring her in”. It took 2 hours, the attempts of 4 or 5 nurses and I’m not sure how many sticks to get her IV placed. No lack of skill on their part or cooperation on Rileys. They’re the best and so is she. She was so dry. So dehydrated. Squeezing her eyes tight, her cracked lips quivered as they poked and fished around beneath her skin, all of us holding our breath silently begging for access. Ultimately an ultrasound was brought in to guide and we could exhale as bright red came dripping down her arm. Her head just dropped to the side and her eyes blinked to a close once again when she realized it was in, my patient little pin cushion.


Labs drawn, fluids going…finally. She wanted me to stay next to her, a gurney jigsaw puzzle…two pieces…her and I. She weakly played with my fingers…running her own up, down and through mine, her eyes following every pinch and invisible line she traced. Tell #4…Playing with her hands. Her body may be unpredictable but her…her sweet little soul approaches each illness the same, one tell at a time. With that she slept. We were admitted to the BMT floor just a few minutes before the year became new…we laid together quietly, listening to fireworks we couldn’t see. “Happy New Year baby, you ok?” Tell #5…The final tell. ”I just can’t get comfortable.”

ER Sleeping

Send some good juju our way…for hydration and clean cultures and energy bursts and returned appetites and smiles, all the smiles.

Right on time.

It’s here. The “post crisis/post admission” aftermath…right on time. It always shows up. I crush the game in crisis…in the hospital I am good. It’s almost superhuman. I can function on no sleep, I am the damn positivity “we’ve got this” queen. And then…something happens. Something good. We get good news…or no news which in this world I consider good. Or we go home. Or she gets better. And it’s good. It’s all I’ve wanted. But then it happens. That superhuman I was…that girl leaves. Or actually she stays…that version of me stays in the hospital and my mortal/broken/traumatized shell of a self trudges back into the world KNOWING that when I wake up the next day it will all come crashing down around me. For years I didn’t understand it…I didn’t really talk about it, I acted like it wasn’t there, I internalized it. I thought I was weak. I thought there was something “wrong” with the way my emotions functioned. How could I be ok seeing her body riddled in cords but be so NOT ok once said cords were no longer needed? How am I ok when she is not and then wrecked when she is? What. The. Actual. {insert expletive here}.

I know now that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am in fact not weak or crazy. Knowing that however does not change the course of events that will play out for this process of mine. However it does change how I will react to it. I went to bed last night knowing when I woke up my entire body would hurt. I mean, hurt. It did. It does. It will for the next 2-3 days. Food will be hard for me, tears will be constantly trying to fall, anxiety will be at all time highs, self-judgement will consume me, simple requests like “Mommy want to play?” will feel painstakingly impossible to fulfill. Instead of fighting it I’m learning to lean in. To listen to my body and mind and attempt to care for it the way I do my children. To not fight the tears, they’re falling now…running down my fingers and onto the keys as I type. To not force myself to feel any way other than I do in each moment. I am breathing in my own advice on the inhale…”it’s ok…” on the exhale “to not be ok.” This PTSD of mine…it deserves respect. This broken girl that I am waits her turn…every damn time. She keeps quiet so Riley can be heard. I have to stop telling her that she is not welcome. I have to stop treating her like she is wrong. This pain, this process…it’s valid…so very valid and necessary and in about 5-7 business days I know will see it as beautiful.

Riley is home today due to a virus outbreak at her school that her team has no interest in her being a part of. She is sleeping now, giving her body the rest it’s due. As for me, like I said…I’m leaning in…a few moments ago that looked like writing and crying…now it looks like crawling right back in bed with her. Alright broken girl, I hear you…let’s rest.

Baby Riley pc: Meg Perotti : Photographer : Little Meg

Second Home

This place. Second home. In some ways…in so many ways as I’ve said before it feels more like HOME to me than any place ever has before. During this admission I think I’ve figured out why. The me that I am today…she’s FROM here. This person that I am was born the day I walked into the doors of the old Parnassus campus…UCSF is like the small town that this person I’ve become is from. I was raised here, learned the lessons that would lead me in life, discovered my true values, leaned on my community, made lifelong friends and then one day I escaped small town living and went out into the big world. But much like a Hallmark Christmas special I always find my way back here…sometimes for a few days and sometimes there’s a bigger lesson to learn that keeps me around a while. My hope…this visit is the former. ⠀

But really. Hand to God it’s like country song level small town lyrics here. There are people that have known me for my “whole life”…I run into them in the halls and cafeteria (the hospitals small town version of sidewalks and super markets)…we catch up on “back in the day” stories and they still remember my awkward/embarrassing phases. We hug…no…we embrace…like only the way you do with humans you really love but don’t often see. I then see people who I’ve never met but they know I’m from here so no introductions are needed…word travels fast in a small town……they’ve seen me around…they’ve heard about me, about Riley, about The Mark Makers…they know me by proxy. Because we’re all from here. Our nurse last night knew us through these small squares of social media because the families I serve she does too. So while we didn’t know each other we have loved and lost the same people. We’re connected. It’s so real. It’s surreal. And Riley…she’s one of the small town heroes. There are quite a few here but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a full on parade in her honor one day. ⠀

We’re settling in, soaking up the nostalgia, reveling in the small town charm and looking for what brought us here…what we always come here to find…health. Once we’ve found it…back to the big world we go. ⠀

Ps. The view isn’t bad. ⠀

Happy Life Day

“Mommy Mommy tell my friends what today is, tell my friends what today is!” Riley is wildly bouncing and repeating this as I stand between her and two of her Kindergarten besties waiting for the morning bell to sound. “Oooooohhhh what’s today?!” Gabby questions…I take a deep breath. “Tell em Mom!”

Ok, ok. One more deep breath and then I start…I start even knowing they will have no comprehension of what I’m talking about, that it will make zero sense to them, that it will go right in their tiny pierced ears and out the other but I begin to tell them anyway…

“Well girls…today is Riley’s “Life Day”…so a life day is kinda like…” Riley interrupts me. She can’t contain herself and begins to tell it in her finest adult-like inflection. “It’s my Life Day…it’s kinda like a birthday…my birthday was when I was born but then my life day is when I got to live…right Mom?” she looks up at me beaming with pride and that “I know better than you” smirk. All I could do was smile and give a strong “yup” nod.

Neither of her friends knew what the crap their bouncing blonde buddy was talking about but they felt her excitement and went with it…”COOL!” “Happy Life Day!” they chimed in and just like that we switched gears to chatting about the unicorns on Rayleens backpack. They didn’t get it but Riley did and in their sweet sweet innocence they supported their friend anyway.

5 years later those cells pulled from my body and put into hers have carried her all the way to this Kindergarten conversation. I’m amazed and grateful and all the things.

Happy Life Day Riley…I am so damn lucky to be yours.

1,2,3 Presley…

So it’s Presley’s birthday. She is 8. Today. I have an 8 year old. I can hardly believe it. A couple weeks back when I wrote the post about her I sat her down on the couch after finishing it and said “Hey so…I wrote a post about you for Riley’s blog?” A stunned “About ME?” Was her response. I dropped my head because that response confirmed my fears…she was surprised she was being seen. “Yes baby, about you…can I read it to you and then you can tell me if you’re okay with me posting it? I won’t if you’re not, okay?” Her face settled into a shy smile and she nodded curling up next to me.

I’ve said time and time again I don’t often read what I write, hell I barely proof read and edit which I’m sure as readers you’ve picked up on with the overabundance of curse words and typos. The content was heavy and I didn’t realize how heavy until I was reading it aloud to my subject…my Presley. My voice cracked in all the parts that likely made y’all cry, she moved closer to me with each paragraph shifting her gaze from following along with the words and stealing glances of my face. She let out a shocked “MOMMMMM!” when the words “fucking champion” came out of my mouth to describe her…”Whoops sorry kiddo, I know I know…but I mean…you WERE” She got emotional too…she sat up taller during the bits about Riley being so broken up and terrified seeing her come out on the stretcher…it was like an automatic reaction to be brave at the mention of her sisters pain. A task she has taken on for Riley’s entire life. She laughed too…a lot…partly because of my use of inappropriate language but also because like me our lives sometimes are so unbelievably bizarre that all you can do is laugh.

I finished reading and said “So?…what do you think?…Can I share it?” Her face was glowing as she nodded her head yes and her shy smile transformed into a full grin. She was proud of herself. I often don’t know how I feel about a thing until I write it…that day I also learned I don’t know how I REALLY feel about a thing until I read it aloud. Clacking my fingers across these keys is therapy for me…reading those words to her was therapy for us both. So today on her birthday…therapy session round 2. Writing now, reading to her later.

At the end of the post I mentioned Presley’s involvement with The Mark Makers and even shared the images that she shot and processed. When asked what she wanted for her birthday this year her immediate response was “A camera exactly like Moms”…naturally she wants work equipment for her birthday, totes normal. Her jaw dropped at the price tag and her wishes turned to her more reasonably priced desires such as desk supplies and a lamp. I’m not kidding. And yes, she’s 8. Her interest is not limited to the photography aspect…she’s all in. As I said she asks a million questions…I always answer but half the time figure she tunes me out as many of the details of running a nonprofit are painstakingly boring. I learned a couple weeks ago that she absorbs it all. I went to pick her up from her grandparents and with a cheeky grin said “Mom I’ve got a surprise for you.”

She bounded over with a stack of cash and slapped it down in front of me.

“What’s this kiddo?”
“It’s my donation for The Mark Makers.”
“I emptied my piggy bank and rolled my change and Grammy took it to the bank and this is how much I’ve got $128…oh and it was all my tooth fairy money too.”

I was floored. What kid donates their entire piggy bank AND their freakin’ glitter covered tooth fairy money?! I explained to her that she DID NOT need to donate any or all of her money but she was insistent. “Seriously Pres, I am so proud of you and this is amazing…how about you keep some for yourself though, ok?” She reached over grabbed a crisp 5 dollar bill and said “Ok, fine…but the rest is The Mark Makers” While the fact the she did this at all made me beam with pride the idea she approached me with a few days later left me speechless.

“Hey Mom? You know that money I donated?”
“Yeah Kiddo.”
“Well remember that day you were signing up for the matching thing?” (she was referring to an Employee Matching program that I signed up for so that employers will match their employees charitable contributions…you know one of those questions that I answered that I figured went right over her head)
“Well…since I work for The Mark Makers and that’s who I donated to it doesn’t make sense for them to match it but do you think other people would?…Like I bet I could ask Mark (our friend/neighbor) and he would…or maybe like…if you wrote about it on Facebook somebody else would too.”

I. Was. Speechless. Like for real.

She broke the silence…“Mom?…whadya think?”
“I think that you are brilliant Presley…I think that you are absolutely brilliant”

I told my Mom the story and she was the first to match her donation and honestly the look of pride on Presley’s face when she was handed that check was just….gahhhhhh…so cool. She stared at it and then confidently handed it over to me…”Here ya go Mom…for deposit.” This. Kid.

The complexities of the whole thing…the fact that she really listens, absorbs, crafts plans and then finds ways to implement her ideas. I mean. Good Gawd. So here I am…on her birthday…telling this story and making the request on her behalf.

Let’s see how many $123 donations we can get so Miss Presley can really rub in my face how much better she is at running the show. 😉

*Donations can be made through the Facebook Fundraiser, on The Mark Makers website or via check. Donors…please send an email to with your name and address so Presley can mail you a “Thank You” card…I know she will be very insistent on this. 🙂

And some Presley throwback favorites because…WHERE did my little girl go?!?!?!

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