In pajamas,eating homemade soup,waiting for my man to come home just before the stroke of midnight…

So off we go into a new year. It feels like a big one.

HT is changing. He’s kind of stepping into himself. Figuring some things out. I won’t go into detail, because it is his stuff, but it’s good. A little frightening at times, but good.

Then there is the fact that we will begin homeschooling Riley in, oh, four days. Seth is seriously leaning in the direction of joining us. At first he wanted no part of it. He loves recess and his friends at school. But as we’ve been making plans, preparing curriculum, he’s been walking around with a wrinkled forehead, fretting about not wanting to miss any of the fun we’ll be having at home. He’s a wreck. We finally had to tell him, “Mommy and Daddy will decide.” He seemed relieved not to have to make such a heavy decision. But now we have to! Part of me thinks it would be great to start with just Riley, one on two (Todd is home ’til 12:30 each day to help). Kind of get our rhythm. The other part feels like if we’re going to homeschool, we’d better be a homeschooling family and get our feet firmly planted in one world and not go back and forth between the two. It will be an easier transition for Riley if she doesn’t have to pick Seth up at school everyday. But Seth has a lovely teacher this year, and he’s doing really well.

As parents, do we ever know anything for sure?

Some feel they do. 

I know one woman who with absolute conviction, “beats her kid’s ass” for serious transgressions.

She’s not wondering if it’s okay. Or if there is a better way. Or worried about what people think of her. Or terrified about the effects of her parenting on her child’s future.

How does she do that?

I worry about everything. Not just the kids either. I worry about telling the truth. Is it okay to say what I think? Even if others don’t agree? Even if it pisses someone off? Is it brave or is it just asking for trouble? Is it attracting more of what I don’t want? I’ve had experiences of saying or writing what I thought only to face painful backlashes. Sometimes later the person thanks me, but not always. I’ve taken a whole lot of heat in the truth telling process in my life. Sometimes I just stay quiet, but that feels suffocating and cowardly. I hope to get more clear on this in the new year. When do you speak up? When do you walk away. Who gives a rip what I think anyway? When are things just none of my business? Then, isn’t that the point of relationship and of writing? To toss ideas around and say what you think, and learn from the interactions?

I need to seriously lighten up.

Who cares if I make mistakes?

Who cares if I piss people off?

Who cares if I beat my kid’s ass? KIDDING!

I’m not going to beat my kid’s ass.

Aha! Finally, something, I know for sure!

It’s a start.

Happy New Year to all of you who ponder with me. 

Lovingly yours, 

MO’N

Kissing Match

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HT and I have this thing we do with the kids. It’s a bit of a kissing match. We each take one side of a kid’s head, plant one on them, and then see who can kiss them the longest.

It looks like this…a kid in between us, and we’re kissing the kid, say, around the area of the child’s temple, and then we just hold it. 

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm………………………………………………….”

I tend to win. I attribute it to chorus. Lots of breath control.

Once in a great while, HT will beat me. He’ll kiss the kid longest. I hate when that happens. I feel like I’ve let the kid down.

Sometimes, the kid who isn’t being kissed will join in from behind, so the kid being kissed will have a parent on each temple, and a sibling in the occipital region.

It must feel quite strange, the vibration.

Three family voices, Mmmmmmming into your head.

Oh come on. Like you’ve never done it.

If you haven’t tried it, you should.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmawh!

Taking a Few Moments For One’s Self While Home for the Holidays

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Jingle and I have some good walks together. These pics are from last week in upstate NY. 

This is the Struble Dam. No matter the season it is beautiful up there.

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 Beyond this snow covered soccer field there is water. 

 This is the top of the dam.

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 In the fall those trees are bright red and gold.

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We had our cross country races up here in high school. I’m one of those people who loved practice, hated meets. I’ve got endurance, but no speed. I don’t like competition. I prefer to just mosey along at my own pace, and be left alone with my thoughts, and the clouds. 

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This place is just two seconds away from Todd’s parent’s house or my sister’s. It isn’t planned, but I usually find my way here with each visit to my hometown. Meditation. Walks. The Struble Dam is the place to be.  If I just get a half hour to myself there, I’m a better person. 

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Just ask Jingle.

What’s a Coke?

We don’t drink soda. There, I said it.

HT used to drink it like water, but several years ago he heard something about if you just give up soft drink, if you do that one thing, you will be taking a big step for your health. Something about 17 teaspoons of sugar in every can, etc. So he quit. He didn’t feel it was a big sacrifice. He didn’t miss it and never looked back.

So we’re at the in-laws last week. Over the years, they have resigned themselves to our various diets (Feingold, GF/CF, Specific Carb for Riley, now we’re doing all organic for Seth). They eye our food suspiciously, but don’t give us much trouble. It was all good, until Todd’s dad came upstairs and offered him a Coke.

“Do you want a Coke?” he asked.

Before Todd could answer Seth asked, 

“What’s a Coke?”  

Silence filled the air. Images of us on a back wood organic homeschooling commune surely ran through my FIL’s mind.

I could see the scene, for years to come, at family gatherings, they’d look at our kids, shake their heads and wring their hands, whispering to each other,

“The poor boy doesn’t even know what a Coke is!”

In our defense, if he had said “soda,” or “pop,” or “soft drink,” Seth probably would have known what he meant.

I’ve laughed myself silly over this several times in the last few days. 

I swear we never set out to be so counter-culture.

12 Years Young

About 13-14 years ago I was a hospital pharmacy technician, putting myself through school, getting a second bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing. todd & michelle pharmacy 1996

I got sick of taking orders from Todd, so I turned the tables and married him. 

wedding gazebo

When we got engaged, many people warned us about marriage. We worked with a lot of married people, and most of them basically said, it sucks. We would shake our heads, incredulous. How could it suck? We were so happy! We fit perfectly together. We were riding off into the sunset! Nothing they said could kill our buzz.

It has not sucked, but it’s been harder than we expected.

Our lives together have taken very different turns from where we thought we were headed.

Looking back, I did not have a clue about marriage.

Todd did though. The day I walked down the aisle, I could see it in his face. After all my rush, rush, rush to get engaged and get married, he was the one who was steadfast. He was the one who was sure.  

He’s never wavered in his love for me. He has never wavered in his belief in me, or in Riley, or in Seth.

Today is our 12 year anniversary. Over the years, there have been many challenges. Despite his steadfastness, my knight has on occasion fallen off the very high pedestal I had him on while we were dating. Today, I ask him to forgive me for ever putting him up there in the first place.

12

 He’s human, like he always said he was.

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In some ways it feels like we are just getting started. Just getting real. Beginning a new, grown-up kind of love. One where I don’t hold him responsible for my happiness. One where he is safe to express how he really feels. It is exciting.

There is so much of him I still don’t know.

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I do know this, you are my family Todd O’Neil. 

We’re in this together.

I love you, and I’m very glad to have married you.

Thank you for loving me.

Happy anniversary.

Love and Holiday Blessings to You

We are back from upstate NY, (not the city), and it is good to be home. The house isn’t as messy as I envisioned. I mean, it isn’t in dying order, but it isn’t horrible. We stayed with Todd’s parents, who gave Riley and Seth the things they wanted most in life, Nintendo DSIs. Kept them busy for hours on the ride home. We likey. I want to show you some photos of the holiday decorations at the O’Neils. They are too beautiful not to share. I couldn’t capture all of them, but these are some that I loved. The one above. How could you not love it if your last name is O’Neil? The one below, that belly. Enough said.

 

There is something about an Irish Santa.

2000 was a good year. Riley was born.

The one below on the right looks like he’s been going a little heavy on the egg nog if you know what I mean.

Next we have the nativity set.

Look at the detail!

What does this wise man’s expression say to you?

To me he’s saying, How is this baby, born in Bethlehem, lily white? Not bloody likely!

Keep the guy on the right in mind. We’ll get to him later.

The reason for the season.

I rode a camel once. At the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baily Circus when I was a child. It was scary and thrilling. Not that it has anything to do with Christmas.

Look at his pipes. He’s been working out. I thought it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

And now we’ve reached the end of our holiday tour. We had a lovely time. We’re home safe. The little ones will wake up tomorrow in their own beds, eager to see what Santa brought them. I’m going to stay up and spy to see if he’s really Irish. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy holidays.

Love,

The O’Neils

Amusing myself on the road

IMG_0557The kids are having a ball on the way to Grammy and Grampy’s. They are watching Woody Woodpecker, a DVD from the library. They’ve never seen Mr. Woodpecker, and Seth, for one, thinks he’s hysterical.IMG_0555

 Uh-oh. I’ve been spotted.

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Fine. I’ll take a pic of HT. This is his, “What is wrong with you? Why do you have to take my picture while I’m driving?” expression.   IMG_0541

Oh HT. Lighten up. I showed him this next one, and mentioned the chin situation.   

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You know what he said?

I’m not going to tell you but it wasn’t nice. He’s a mean, mean man.   

There, that’s better. 

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Jingle was oblivious to all our shenanigans. Here she is, tuning us out. Hoping she’s not going to yet another home. We are the fifth in her short life. 

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Off to Endicott, NY.

Now, between you and me, because we’re so close, I have a confession to make. When we tell people we are going to NY for the holidays, they automatically assume NYC. Endicott is more rural than all of that. It is three hours north of the city. It is a small town. But when people assume we’re off to NYC, they get a little reverent. Like we’ve just jumped a notch in sophistication in their eyes. NYC is not my favorite city. It overwhelms me. It intimidates me. It is big, and loud. And intimidating, did I mention intimidating? Anyway, when people assume we are going to NYC for the holidays, and they get that sincere look in their eye, I just go ahead and let them think it. I’m all about appearing sophisticated. 

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Love.

Our Home is Not in Dying Order

In the rush of preparing to leave for a few days, to visit family for the holidays, I look around. The house is a mess. I hate leaving it like this. I hate, hate, hate it. I’m not the world’s best housekeeper anyway, but with all the holiday prep, and packing, and on and on, the dust bunnies have become overpopulated.

As Todd loads the car, I fret about. Wiping off the counter. Attempting to get a spot of the kitchen floor. Wiping the bathroom sink. The tub is too far gone to tackle. Ick.  

“C’MON,” he yells. Kids already in the car.

On the road, he says, “I don’t know why you care so much. The only way anyone is going to see the house is if we die while we’re away, and who cares? We’ll be dead!” He smiles.

I stare straight ahead. Still a little unsettled. The student staying with the cats will see it and he knows it. Apparently, she doesn’t count.

After a time, I ask,

“What if we’re just incapacitated?”

Hands on the wheel, he doesn’t miss a beat, “Well, if we’re incapacitated, they should be filled with compassion for us and not judge. Walk a day in our shoes.”

Then he adds, “And if they really want to help, they can clean up a little.”

 

*Dying order. A term I learned while living in Virginia, meaning the house should look how you would want it to if you died, and people would be going through it to settle your affairs.

Busy Little Elves

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We baked yesterday. I’d offer you some cookies, but you’d have to sign a disclaimer first. You’d have to not mind how the knife used for frosting was licked in between each cookie. You’d have to be cool that someone who wiped their nose on the back of their hand, also rolled the dough.

But enough about me.

The kids had a riot. By 9PM (they are usually in bed by 8:00) I thought maybe I should feed them some dinner. Some real food. I prepared a simple meal, and when I went to put Annie’s Goddess Dressing on Riley’s spinach, I unscrewed the lid, and the contents of the bottle spurt forth, all over the trays of the meticulously decorated cookies on the kitchen table. I could not believe it. Never before had Annie’s exploded. Why now? Why Annie? Had we offended the Goddess in some way? So many cookies had to be tossed. That dressing really flew. I thought I’d thouroughly cleaned up, but this morning I found splatters of it on the wall, on the water cooler, and on the floor. Who knows where else I’ll find it. IMG_0523

Luckily we were able to salvage many cookies.  The cuts outs are Christmas shapes but the decorations are a bit unconventional since they are all organic/non-GMO (can’t vouch for the marshmallows or the Sun Drops, so Seth isn’t eating those).  

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Here is Seth, making some wrapping paper for the gift he gave to his teacher. I was in a bind, and did not have time to run out to the store for gift wrap. He rose to the occassion. I can always count on my boy. He specializes in skinny legged Santas.  

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He is literally bouncing off the walls, and climbing up them, happily anticipating Christmas. Riley too.

The air is filled with joy. Christmas carols play. Our kids are young and innocent.

These are the good old days.

The Decision to Homeschool

So. We are doing it. Homeschooling the girl. Yesterday was her last official day at school. I’d be okay if it weren’t for feeling a bit battered about by everyone else’s opinions. First homeschool lesson is for mom. Go to the stillness within and stay true to what feels right, at this time, for this girl, for this family.

People have so many different ideas about what homeschooling is, and none of them have much to do with us. We are going to have to figure out our own definition.

What do we want to teach her? What do we want her to learn?

-We want her to know her value is not in question, and has nothing to do with keeping up with anyone else. 

-We want her to know life does not have to suck. That she can actually have a joyful existence, not work to live, but live to work.

-We want her to be enthusiastic about learning.

-We want her to respect her own rhythms, to allow herself the time and space she needs, when she needs it. 

-We want her to be damn good at math.

-We want her to be damn good at writing.

-We want her to have time for creativity. We want her to bask in it. We want her to roll around in creativity. Eat it and breath it.

-We want her to trust her intuition (first step, parents trusting theirs).

-We want friends to meet her in an environment where they can see who she really is.

As of yesterday at 3PM, it is winter break. 

We have filled out the forms and taken the first step in faith. We don’t have to see the whole staircase.* 

Riley pink pjs

*Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Daddy’s Little Girl

It’s been a very emotional week. Seeking a way to distract ourselves and find some joy, we looked up “funny dancing” on You Tube (always a hit) and came across the video below.  

Riley, after viewing it turned to Todd and said, “Maybe one day if I get married, we can do that.”

He pulled her close, sighed, and squeezing her said, “If I can keep myself from crying, maybe.”

I’m already choreographing the routine.

To Riley’s future husband? You’ve got some big shoes to fill.

The Yin Yang of Seth

My boy is complex. The testosterone surges.  

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He orchestrates battles. Everyone must have a weapon, and some, an extra head.  

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He will take.. you.. out.

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But then, he arranges pillows and blankets while Riley is doing her homework. He knows she is stressed, so he prepares for a nice meditation by the Christmas tree. The photo below is actually after the meditation. We’d messed up his perfectly set up blankets by then.

seth's arrangement

Note the puffy eyes on the girl. She’d been crying. Even still, in two seconds he can have her laughing. She adores him. He adores this up the nose, toothless jack-o-lantern shot of himself. He adores not ever looking when I try to take a picture. I adore digital cameras. Mine makes me a nicer person. He’s lucky I have one and can delete, delete, delete, every photo he messes up by wiggling, or turning his head, or sometimes dropping entirely out of the frame. 

chapped and laughing

You’re a good boy Seth.”

“You’re a good mom.”

I adore him.

Decisions

Riley has been having a very rough year. She is with two “new to her” teachers, both are kind, and doing their best, but it does not seem to be working. When it isn’t working, there is an unsaid disapproval Riley feels. From others. From herself. No one has done anything grevious, or wrong, but she takes in the message and believes, she is “the problem.”  Disapproval of yourself, for who you are, for something you can’t change; there is nothing worse. 

In prep for the service dog going to school I asked for and received a list of the meltdowns, triggers, duration, time of day, etc. It was way more than I expected. Not a week has gone by this school year where she hasn’t had at least two meltdowns, often more, and some of them are going on for two hours. There are also big meltdowns every single night during homework. The kid is stressed, and school is the issue. There are a bunch of social issues too. She is ruminating on “I’m a baby. I’m the youngest. I hate being the youngest girl.” She is chronically worked up over this, fighting daily about going to school. 

But you know what? She is a baby. Socially, she is so confused. Her peers have been good to her, but she’s different. She does not understand 4th grade banter,flirting, any meanness, even in jest. She feels like a baby because she’s innocent. But she is so aware of being different. To her, at this point, it just means she is fundamentally wrong. She compares herself constantly to her peers and in her eyes she never quite measures up.     

You don’t have to be a genious to know prolonged negative stress breaks down the immune system and leads to disease. Physiologically, what is happening to this girl? Two days ago I was combing her hair, getting ready to put it in the bopsy little pony tail on the side,  just how she likes it, and I found a grey hair. A grey hair on my nine year old.

There has not been a lot of support for the service dog among the staff at school. The teacher who would be handling it is supportive, but mostly there is a tentative vibe, or worse, an eye-rolling type of energy. The once friendly principal now basically avoids us. The special ed higher-up claims to want to do a home visit, to learn more about Jingle but doesn’t call back.

I believe if we wanted to, we could shove this dog down the school district’s throat. Legally we could get our way. And how much of our life energy(and money),otherwise devoted to our kids, would be lost? How awful for our “attention shy” Riley to be the center of a legal battle. And even if we get the dog in the door, we can’t force it to work. Jingle is very helpful at home, at martial arts and at cello lessons, but if the school isn’t fully supportive, I am never going to be able to relax. Jingle will have to be perfect every second she’s there, and since she’s a living breathing creature and not a robot, that won’t happen. It all seems so upstream.

Riley is a very sensitive person. So sensitive she can’t tolerate perfectly intolerable things most of us have desensitized ourselves too.  I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Over the summer we went to a baseball game. You have to pass by a movie theater to get inside the stadium. Under the marquee, there was a poster for a horror movie. On it, a woman was covered in blood. A jagged shard of glass poked through one of her eyes. Hundreds of people passed it on the way out of the baseball game. None blinked. Riley wept.

Why the hell aren’t we all weeping? What is wrong with the world? Riley is not the problem. She points out the problem.

This girl experiences her feelings, ALL of them. When she is lined up with Who She Is, (and it is often) her joy is palpable. When she isn’t, it is intolerable to her. She does not walk around with negativity or sarcasm. No low grade misery like the rest of us. In my soul I know this child did not come here to conform. She is not a square peg needing to be contorted into a round hole. She is brilliant, but will likely never be a nine to fiver. She’ll likely not go to college in the traditional way. Why are we attempting to prepare her for that? How many people who take that route are actually happy anyway? This girl is a creative force, with no time or energy left to create after putting her all into maintaining at school, and often failing miserably.

Who says she has to do everything like everyone else? What an impossible thing to ask of her.

We’re seriously considering homeschooling Riley. 

Do stay tuned.

Kitten in the Midst

A year ago this past summer we became the guardians of a third cat, ZuZu. She was a scrawny one pound kitten found downtown 9th Street scrambling from the traffic and jackhammers. She made her way into my friend’s office building, and somehow found her way to our house. While she loves our male cat, she’s never warmed up to people. She’s not really any trouble, but not really a pet. A bit of a phantom in our house. Our female cat Tanya became more attached to the people as this new kitty wormed her way in. She’d been displaced, but she just insisted on more affection from the humans and she was more or less okay with the arrangement.

Then we left for a few days in June, and when we came back everything had changed. Tanya would not let ZuZu out of Seth’s room. The kitten had burrowed a hole under Seth’s box spring, and stayed in there as if on a hammock, day and night. She’d sneak downstairs for food, but the second Tanya got sight of her, there would be a mad chase back upstairs. The sound of cats howling and fighting woke us every night. It went on for months. It was ridiculous. Clearly someone needed a new home, and if it were up to me it would be Tanya the bully to get the boot, but she’s Riley’s and Riley loves her, and she was here first. Tanya can’t go.

But who would want the kitten, now over a year old? She’s spayed. She’s declawed. She’s really no trouble, but she won’t let you near her. Go to pet her and she vanishes. Corner her and she hisses. She is still terrified of people.   

The vet says my best bet is to tame her, and find her a new home. So she’s up in my attic office, locked away from the beast that is Tanya. It is cold up in my room. I work with electric heaters turned on and I shut them off when I’m not up there. Lately, I’ve been bringing tuna upstairs, turning on the heaters, capturing the hissing cat, and sitting with her on my lap in front of a heater, the tuna bowl right there where she can smell it. She’s so traumatized from her earlier life, she can only tolerate being pet if you come from behind. I have to face her outward so she doesn’t see my hand approaching her.

After a few minutes of being massaged, the heat on her back, the smell of tuna wafting through the air, she settles down. She purrs. She rests her head in the crook of my elbow looking out. After a while, I can loosen my grip and she’s beginning to stay even when I’m not forcing her to. ZuZu’s demeanor is that of a wild animal, but I am the whisperer! I am petting her! It is thrilling! Much more rewarding than than petting a “normal” cat. A “typical” cat.  I am Jane Goodall. Kitten in the Midst!

It occurred to me the other day as I pet ZuZu, there was a time in my life, when this very moment, petting this “wild” thing would have been enough. When I was a little girl, nothing made me happier than animals. Our neighbor’s house burned down one time and their dog had just had puppies. We got to care for them (Brittany Spaniels) and I was the only one that momma dog would let in the basement. Holding those puppies was a beam of heaven for me in an often bleak childhood. Another neighbor had a German Shepherd (named Jason) tied up outside. He was old, and blind, and every day I inched my way closer, not knowing if he would charge and bite me. He didn’t. After some time I was able to announce my presence and walk slowly up to Jason and hug him and pet him. He stunk to high heaven but I didn’t care.

Riley and I have had some powerful bonding moments lately, petting this frightend kitten. No words are necessary. We look at each other, knowing full well how amazing it is. ZuZu is letting us pet her. I don’t know if ZuZu will ever make the perfect pet for someone (I tell the friend who found her to keep an eye out for a quadriplegic recluse who would just like to be entertained by her from afar). I don’t know if it was right to rescue her in the first place. I don’t know why I am feeding tuna to a wild animal in my attic. I don’t know what else to do, so I do it. It’s really not much trouble.

Oh Dear

This weekend, the kids sat around watching old videos of themselves. They found the plastic bin full of home movies while digging through the closet looking for something else. Riley and Seth demanded to see the tapes, most of which they had never seen before.

Today our 14 year old baby-sitter watched the kids while I went to chorus. Before I left, Riley and Seth asked if they could watch more home videos.

“Sure!” I replied on my way out. Whatever makes them happy, I thought. Whatever makes it easier for the sitter.

Four hours later I returned home and they were still in front of the TV watching themselves. Our poor baby-sitter. She endured everything. The moments after Riley’s birth. Seth’s first steps. Riley’s first baby cereal, good times. Good, good times.

I paid her extra and sent her on her way.

And then I remembered.

OMG!

Naked HT in the bathtub???! 

It’s not like that. You see, Riley was a baby, and he had her in the tub; bubbles and baby were strategically placed, but still, naked neighbor in the tub is not what any 14 year old wants or needs to see. At the time my shy HT was none too pleased with me for taking the video, and so now, he would be mortified. I totally forgot about that little segment. Jingle and I cringed at the thought.

I took Riley by the shoulders, “Did you happen to come across a video today of you and Daddy in the tub when you were just a couple of months old? Did you? Did you? Did yoooooooooou!” 

“Uh, no,” she said.

Apparently they didn’t get to all of them.   

Jingle and I will rest easy tonight.

And we won’t tell HT a thing.