Hello.

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 All the darkness of the night is no match for a single candle that refuses to die out.

Hello friends. It’s me. Just a little candle that’s been holding on in the wake of the darkness of grief.

I haven’t been writing or sharing regularly, because, when living with grief, it is hard to tap into creativity or really anything in addition to the daily things needed for survival. If that sounds dramatic, it is. But it’s the truth.

What I have learned is the timeline for “feeling better” is fluid. The feelings ebb and flow with periods of light, then darkness, then a little more light. Annnnnddddddd, repeat.

There have been so many times when I thought about sitting down to blog but something stopped me. I felt blocked. I had no energy. I didn’t know what to say. There was this emptiness in me that made it hard to channel any words. I felt like I had nothing to give.

My therapist gave me good advice – just start writing. Write something. Anything.

So here I am, writing something.

Losing My Mom

For anyone happening upon my story for the first time, I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer in 2016 after a 10 month battle from diagnosis to death. My super happy and “normal” life got turned completely upside down in an instant. I will look back at photos, and there is a definite, distinct separation of time. Life before, when everything was okay in the world and life after, when nothing would be the same again.

When my mom got sick, I stopped everything, including blogging regularly, to help her and my dad. I researched about the disease, treatments, clinical trials and attended every doctors appointment.  I would have done anything to save her. When she got sick, nothing else mattered. It’s all I could think about. She was my best friend. I couldn’t lose her. I couldn’t live without her. But then the news came, there was nothing else doctors could do, the cancer had taken over. She was home for 27 days on hospice care before she died and our collective hearts, mine, my sister’s, dad’s, my precious girls’, were broken into a million pieces.

The First Year of Grief

The following year, the first year after she died was a blur. I remember getting through the memorial service, and then each day thereafter was a mix of fuzziness, grit and despair. The pain and anxiety was so bad, my mind had to put an end date on it. I tell myself if I can just get through this first year, I will be better next year. There is no choice, it has to be better, it can’t be worse.

So we power through as a family all the firsts. The first birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. without her and the list goes on and on. I find the anticipation of the event in the days and weeks leading up to it are not quite as painful as the actual day. When you have kids, you can’t spend Christmas in bed sobbing, so we fake it, we make it magical for them. Because that is what my mom would have wanted. We do this, over and over again, until we make it through the first anniversary of her death. We survived.

The Second Year of Grief

Okay, time to “feel better” now. I have lived a year without my mom. I “should” be better this year because I have gone through it before. I know what to expect.

Except it doesn’t quite work that way, at least it hasn’t for me.

It is sort of cruel to think that year two could be worse than the first year, but for me it has been. I didn’t think that would even be possible. But the hole of missing her so much keeps getting deeper.

I am now able to deal with the obvious hard “event days”, because we know how to do it. It’s the surprise ways that the grief sneaks up on me I wasn’t prepared for.

Like looking at a photo I snapped of my girls on their first day of school this year. They looked so pretty and grown up. My heart swelled with love and pride.

It was the “second” first day of school since she died, but this year, looking at that photo, I just started sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn’t share it with my mom. She would have been equally enthusiastic about their cuteness and agree my kids were THE most beautiful kids that ever walked the face of the earth. And I would say, RIGHT?! But I couldn’t.

The fuzziness of the first year is gone, but as the fog lifts, the reality becomes more clear. She really is gone. She’s not coming back. It’s those moments like the above that reinforce that fact over and over. Little things, incidental things. The loss is immense.

Enter a little depression and anger. And loneliness, so much loneliness. It’s hard, so hard, to lose someone who can’t be replaced.

Finding Some Light

About halfway through this second year, I knew I had to get back to therapy. I have always been a huge fan of therapy. I have always gone on and off on in the past, but for some reason, when I needed it the most, I stopped going. Didn’t have the energy to face it. But I decided I need to get back and found a new therapist who has been really good for me. When you are struggling it’s important to realize we don’t do life alone. There are people to turn to for help. In this case, I needed a professional!

There are many, many, many difficult emotions that come along with grief, and they will wait there for you until you are ready to deal with them.  At some point you have to look at them smack in the eye and say, “OK, bring it.” Therapy has given me the space to do this. In facing them, I have started to find healing.

My therapist also happens to practice something called EMDR, which I had never heard of before, and she believed would help me. I didn’t realize how much trauma, anxiety and post-traumatic stress I was holding on inside me. The visions, the snapshots, the memories of those last days, were all there. The EMDR has helped me process them in a way that doesn’t elicit the same panic response it used to.

I am not done, I don’t know if you are ever “done” but I am on the way to days filled with more light than dark. The journey continues.

Writing

My therapist has really encouraged me to start writing here again, she must know how healing it will be for me, and I know she is right. But I am also a bit scared because blogging isn’t the same as when I started in 2008! This summer will mark my 10 year anniversary of starting Tiny Oranges.

My baby, Emma, who was 2 at the time is turning 12 and going to Jr. High next year. This summer I will have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. I have TWEEN ORANGES. There is so much I want to write about but it’s not the same vision I had here when I started. We don’t go to many parks anymore but, oh my, there a lot to talk about.

Moving Forward

Let me let you in honestly, on what I am thinking, I am just going to blurt it all out. I welcome, encourage, and would run to your house with a latte and hug you if I could, for any and all feedback or thoughts. Here are some ideas I have been pondering for this space…

How about a branch of Tiny Oranges called TWEEN ORANGES? A place for me to talk about the issues parents of tweens are facing today. Would you be interested?

But what about all those mamas with TINY ORANGES? I loved having resources and tips and sharing life when I was in the trenches of having babies and young kids. I feel like I still want this to be a place where mamas can connect. But it’s just not my phase of life anymore. Is anyone out there reading this, someone with littles, who might want to take on writing about life with tiny oranges? Drop me an email, jennifer @ tinyoranges.com. Let’s talk.

I don’t have the answers today, but like my therapist said, just start writing.  The posts to come might feel more like a stream of random consciousness but I just want to get back in the saddle. Will you take the ride with me?

Life is so hard. Life is so beautiful. Life is so unpredictable. I want to share it all.

In the meantime, here are 5 random things I want to share in upcoming blog posts since I am talking about random streams of consciousness, and want to get some ideas out on this paper.

No. 1.  I love my Instant Pot. You might be saying, welcome to the year 2018, Jen. But truly, for anyone that doesn’t have it…TOTAL game changer! I will share my favorite recipes please share yours when I post because I am really obsessed and finding those no fail IP recipes make me happy.

No. 2. You guys. This article on teens and phones. Wow. I am working on a blog follow up with my own letter that suits my 11-year-old in the stage she is at and want to share.

No. 3. Books. I love to read. Love, love, love to read. But I need page turners, books that grab you from the get to. Recently discovered Holly Seddon.  I am a fan. Want to share more page turners. Here’s a list of 15 of my all time faves. Want to do a new updated list.

No. 4. OC Locals. Have you been to the old lighthouse / lookout tower thing in Laguna? Lived here my whole life and just discovered with the family this weekend. Will share deets. Super cool. 

No. 5. Gotta EARN it sometimes! My daughter begged me to go to a $675 gymnastics camp this summer, of which the price seemed exorbitant – just learned how to spell that word – and we said, OK, if you want to go that badly, dad and I will pay for half, but you have to find a way to make money so you can pay for half as well. She has made over $240 selling something in just over a month! Super cool, will share.

How about we start there? Love you guys. Until next time…

xo,

jen

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Tiny Oranges Loves Tiny Truckers!

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Tiny Oranges loves Tiny Truckers!

Well…October has rolled around quickly again this year (HOW???) and it’s always my cue to get my annual mammogram, doctor’s appointments, blood work, etc.  You know, all the appointments that just seem impossible to make in the summer?!  If you haven’t done yours…do it. Like, today.  Just make the call.

We love all things PINK this month in support of breast cancer awareness and wanted to share this Fighter hat, Survivor hat, and Fight Like a Mother hat from San Diego based Tiny Trucker Co. 

All proceeds from the sale of their breast cancer awareness hats will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation

Use Tiny Truckers discount code TINY15 to get 15% off your entire order.

Tiny Trucker Co. was founded by a mom who started by making trucker hats for her baby and toddler. When friends started to ask her to make hats for their kids Tiny Truckers Co. was born and can now be found in over 100 retail locations!

What started as a line of hats for babies and toddlers grew into hats for mamas, families, bridal parties, and sororities. Super cut hats. My favorite thing as a trucker hat-loving mom myself is they  ACTUALLY fit my head nicely without that awkward oversized trucker hat shape! 

The founder’s goal is to provide income opportunities for moms who want to stay home with their kids but also provide financially for their families. Every person employed by Tiny Truckers is a mom.

www.tinytruckerco.com

Use code TINY15 and get 15% off your entire order through 11/30/17.

Photos by Christy Walther Photography

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Tragic Events

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In the wake of last week’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, this article on how to talk to your kids about a tragic event in the news is brought to you by CHOC Children’s

When tragic events happen in the news it is sometimes hard to know how to handle conversations about it with our children. How much information should we give? How do we answer specific questions? How does this vary with a child’s age?

Which is why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Nicole Vincent, PhD, a licensed psychologist at CHOC Children’s to get her advice to share with you today. 

 5 Key Things to Remember When Talking to Your Kids About a Tragic Event in the News

My very first question I had for her was,

“Is it better to bring up the event with your child at home first OR wait and see if they hear something from a friend or at school before discussing it?” 

1. Be Mindful of the Child’s Age

Dr. Vincent expressed how we talk to our kids about tragic events in the news will vary depending on the age of the child.

For preschoolers through about 1st grade, the chance a child would be exposed to information in the news is not as likely as it is for older children. So for young ones, a parent might consider not bringing up the event unless the child specifically asks about something they heard.  

For older elementary schoolers she suggested it might be a good idea to touch base with your child’s teacher or administrators to ask if the event has been brought up in class or if it is being talked about? Depending on the answer, this might cue you in to whether you might want to address it with your child at home. 

As kids become middle and high school age, it is very likely, especially with technology and social media exposure, to hear about tragic events and get information outside of the home. For these ages, Dr. Vincent said it is usually a good idea to take a proactive approach and start the conversation at home so you can discuss the facts and give them the opportunity to ask questions. 

Which led to my next question, how do you approach the topic about a tragic news event with your kids?

2. Consider Starting the Conversation With These Questions

The best way to start the conversation is to ask your child open-ended questions like “Have you talked about events in the news?” If yes,What have you heard about it? Tell me what you know.” 

The answers will help guide the conversation as to how much information to share.

For younger age groups, it is best to keep your responses honest and factual, but brief. Details are not totally necessary and often times these responses will be enough to satisfy their curiosity.

For older age groups, she advised to let your child take the lead with information they heard or questions they might ask. It is important to validate their concerns by letting them know they are asking great questions. It’s okay to not always have the answers, you can tell them as much, and empathize with also wanting to also know.  Being there to listen to your child is the most important. 

But regardless of age, she stressed you know your child the best and to pay attention to behavior and cues that might indicate they heard something or have questions. Even young children can pick up on information or overhear things that might surprise you.

Bottom line, take the above age suggestions as general guidelines. But again, you know your child the best.

For me personally, I was surprised my 8-year-old daughter had many more questions and wanted to talk about Las Vegas much more than my 11-year-old daughter. It also elicited more fear in her than her sister. For kids who seem to be experiencing an increase in fear as a result, I asked for suggestions on how to help.

3. Reinforce the Rarity of the Event

Tragic events often trigger fear and anxiety in people of all ages, and for children tragic events can be especially scary

Dr. Vincent suggested this could be a time to highlight the fact that a shooting like the one that occurred in Las Vegas is a rare event. And when rare tragic events happen there are many people that will work together to try to avoid it from happening in the future.

4. Teach Kids to Look for the Helpers

In times like this, I often see people quoting Mister Rodgers when he said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Dr. Vincent mentioned it is very helpful to highlight for your children the people that step up to help in crisis.  Teach them to look at the first responders, volunteers, or strangers helping strangers. These people show us the beauty of humanity in a crisis. 

For some kids, she suggested even possibly talking about what you can do to help as a family. Even a small act like choosing a Go Fund Me account to donate to, writing a letter to a first responder, or looking up supplies to donate can help by showing there are always things people can do to help. 

5. Keep Home Life as Normal as Possible 

One last parting piece of advice was to keep your routine at home as normal as possible.  When a child’s day to day routine is altered for whatever reason, it can cause additional anxiety to build. 

On this note, Dr. Vincent also stressed how important it is to allow yourself the time to process the events. Whether it’s talking to your partner, friends or therapist, it is important to be mindful of your own self-care so you are in the right state of mind to discuss it with your child. 

When To Seek Help

After a tragic event, it is not uncommon to experience a variety of emotions or symptoms like mood changes, difficulty with sleep, or increased headaches or stomachaches. If any of these changes persist in you or your child for more than a couple weeks, and if the symptoms are disrupting daily life, it might be a good idea to pursue help by a mental health professional. 

Get more tips from CHOC experts

For more information about CHOC Children’s and their mental health services visit www.choc.org/services/mental-health

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Getting Beyond the One Word Answer

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This article is brought to you by CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist Dr. Carlos Konishi Ph.D on conversation starters for kids and advice on how parents can encourage communication beyond the one word answer. Getting kids to share more can be a challenge at times, especially for parents of teenagers. His information on how to get kids to open up gave me so many “AHA!” moments during my interview I actually had to apologize for saying “TOTALLY!”  so many times after he said something that struck a chord. I was like an 80’s teenager myself. Totally.

conversation starters for kids

One word answers.

Ugh.

How was your day?

Fine.

Good.

Okay.

What did you do?

Not much.

The process of trying to get more information out of your child can be painful at times, like pulling teeth. So how do you get beyond the one word answer?

Here is Dr. Konishi’s insightful advice… be ready to say TOTALLY yourself…

1. CHOOSE YOUR TIMING WISELY

Have you ever come home from a long day and had your spouse ask, “how was your day?” right when you walk in but felt too tired to even put a sentence together?

Dr. Konishi said children and teenagers are exactly the same.

Their school days and life in general require a lot of energy from them.  To have you chirp, “How was your day?” the instant you greet your child after school might not be the best timing.

If you sense your child is not in the mood to talk right away, he suggested giving them some wind down time.

You can let them know you really want to hear about their day when they are ready to talk, and then keep an ear out for other situations when conversation happens naturally. It might be in the kitchen when they are eating a snack, or in the car on the way to a sport practice, or right before bedtime.

Point being, don’t think the immediate moment you see them has to be the time to discuss all that happened in those hours when you were apart. Opportunities will arise, we might just have to exercise a little patience, and take the cues from our child as to when they are in the mood to share.

2. BE CREATIVE

“How was your day?”

Isn’t that usually the go-to question? Dr. Konishi said frankly kids might be tired of it and find it BORING which is why it doesn’t inspire more than a one word answer!

He suggested getting a little more creative in your questioning by asking different, specific questions about their day instead. More like bite size questions vs. a general one. Sometimes these types of questions are easier for kids to process and express.

For example, if you knew they had a specific project going on in one class or subject, you could ask an open-ended question about it.  Or, ask what activity they did at morning recess and who they played with?

You can also be creative in the timing of your questioning. During fun family activities like a walk, bike ride, or family game can be great times to talk.  Speaking of games, he highly recommends a game of conversation starters called TABLETOPICS which you can pick up on Amazon. There is a Family edition and Teen edition and it is a fun way to get the family talking. Not just the kids, but the parents too! (Amazon affiliate links)

tabletopics

3. BEWARE OF AUTOPILOT MODE

Many times the question, “how was your day?” simply comes from us being in autopilot mode – and it is possible that it in turn triggers an autopilot response of “good” or “fine” from our kids in return.

Dr. Konishi recommended that before starting a conversation with your kids, to first do a self-check as to whether you are able to really listen to what they have to say. Kids can sense when we are multi-tasking and not really listening. In this case, they might not want to answer because they know you aren’t listening.

Bottom line, 0ne way to improve communication with your kids is to start the conversation when you really have time to listen and be present.

4. DON’T FOCUS ON YOUR AGENDA. EXPLORE THEIR INTERESTS.

When starting conversations with our kids many times our questions come from the information we want to know. But these topics might not be super interesting to our kids.

Dr. Konishi said a powerful communication tool can be to tune into their interests and ask questions about the things that excite them. Kids are more likely to open up when it is a topic they want to talk about.

Making children feel like you share and acknowledge their passions is a great way to build better communication, because they know they can share things about it with you.

5. PICK AND CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES

Often times dialogue and conversation between parents and kids can start to go into negative spiral due to constant nit-picking from parents, which can be especially true as children become tweens and teens.  Naturally parents expect more out of older kids, but that can mean kids are constantly being told what to do, what they did wrong, or how to do something different.

If your child starts to feel like all conversations with you are negative, they can start to tune you out because they are conditioned to think you are just going to nag them again.

Dr. Konishi recommends pausing before approaching your child with something that is bothering you and ask yourself, “Is this really important?”

If it is, then by all means, start the conversation about it. But he then advises to keep your message concise and focused on the behavior – not your child’s character. When complaints are piled upon complaints the initial message can be lost. And when a child feels you are judging who they are (and not what they did), the doors will close.  

To take that one step further, he also advises parents to pause and assess whether you can approach the conversation and keep your own emotions cool.  If you can’t, your child will shut the door and go on the defensive.  This is a natural human trait when someone feels attacked. So, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if you can have the conversation without “losing it”? If the answer is no, it is probably best to wait to discuss it with your child.

 YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Dr. Konishi wants parents to realize they are NOT alone, and you don’t have to take on parenting challenges alone.

Parenting is hard. There is no instruction manual and every child is uniquely different. The truth is we don’t have all the answers, and it is OK to ask for help if you are experiencing problems with your child.  There is so much power in sharing your struggles because it encourages others to open up too, and gives us the the opportunity to learn from each other.

He wants parents to seek support…whether it’s from friends, a parenting class, or a family therapist.

One final note he also wanted to stress was that it is normal and natural for kids to go through phases where they are a little more quiet than usual, and it is normal for some kids to be innately less verbal and for some to be more talkative.

You know your child the best. What we always want to stay on the look out for are sudden changes in behavior and/or functioning. If a normally open child suddenly becomes more closed up or has challenges with daily functioning, it might be time to seek professional help. We are so blessed to have places to turn to, like the professionals at CHOC Children’s mental health services.

Get more parenting tips from CHOC experts

For more information about CHOC’s mental health services visit www.choc.org/services/mental-health

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Alexa Echo on Sale for Only $99

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I got Alexa for my birthday last year and our family loves her so much we feel like Alexa is almost a part of our family.  She is just so darn helpful and resourceful.  Many times I even catch myself saying, “thank you” back to her after she completes a task for me.

By now I am sure you have heard of Alexa, a.k.a. the Amazon Echo, the Bluetooth enabled wireless speaker that just might change your life. When I saw Alexa on sale today for only $99 on Amazon, I had to post about it and share my passion for her.

She can stream any of your favorite music and if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can stream the Amazon Music library on Alexa which includes a gazillion songs and stations. Not only that, but her sound is incredible. I love walking into the room and asking her to play music without having to lift my phone or remote.

You can request something like, “Alexa, play Ed Sheeran radio.”

And she will play Ed and other artists like Ed.

You can say, “Alexa, turn it up (or down), and she will adjust the volume.”

You can say, “Alexa, play Ed Sheeran, and she will shuffle all songs by Ed Sheeran.

Or, “Alexa, set kitchen timer for 10 minutes.” And she will ring a little timer after 10 minutes if you are cooking. I love this one because if my hands are messy from cooking I don’t have to wash them before setting my kitchen timer!

She can answer things like, “Alexa, how do you spell “occasion”?  That one always gets me. Or, give you a definition.

She can recite today’s top news or play games like Jeopardy with you.  I mean, she can do almost anything.  She’s extraordinary.

You can link up your account via the Amazon Echo site and app and have her keep a running shopping list or to do list.

“Alexa, add almond milk to my shopping list.” And then you can pull up the Amazon Alexa app on your phone at the store and even check off the items as you purchase them.  She’s amazing.

One last favorite Alexa features before I ask for yours…”Alexa, what’s the weather?” And she will say, “Right now in Costa Mesa it is 78 degrees. Today you can expect a high of 80 degrees and a low of 60 degrees.” Which is so flipping awesome when the kids ask what to wear to school! Now instead of asking me, they ask Alexa for the weather.

Alexa is normally $179 on Amazon but today for some reason Alexa on sale today is only $99!! If you  been contemplating getting one today is THE DAY to buy it!!!!!!! 

You won’t regret it.

Now, what are your favorite Alexa features??

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