It's Okay to Cry

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When I was 11 years old, I accidentally lit my clothes on fire while cooking soup. The Stop, Drop and Roll method worked fine but I panicked, ran through the living room, tripped on a step, and broke both bones in my left arm. The next morning a doctor would place two large metal plates and a variety of screws that still hold my arm together to this day. I only remember small details about the fall—the ugly fringe Christmas blanket around my shoulders, my mom on the phone in her office, my younger siblings, zombie-faced in front of the television as I screamed.

And I remember the pain. Because it hurt like hell.

***

A few weeks after kindergarten started, our oldest had a break of her own. Unlike my experience, the fall didn’t happen at home. It was my husband’s day to drop her off at school, and Anna was eager to show him everything she was learning on the playground’s gymnastics rings. She slipped on the second one. 

I was standing right there, he told me on the phone. It seemed a little too high for her. I winced when I saw the way she braced her fall. Another parent rushed over. They’ll call us in an hour if she’s still upset.

The bell rang right after, and my husband walked her to class. The teacher figured that Anna was overreacting, as five-year-olds tend to do. The classroom was in complete chaos because of her tears—12 little bodies distracted and bouncing around instead of standing in line like they were supposed to be doing. Her teacher made a judgment call: she asked my husband to leave. Later that night, when Anna's finally asleep, he will replay all of these details again.

Probably just overreacting. She said Anna would be fine. I didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry.

***

I can’t really tell you why I stayed home until the noon pickup time instead of picking her up early. It was a load of things, really: the baby’s nap, my need for a shower, the voicemail message from her teacher saying she wasn’t moving her arm but seemed like herself.

Perhaps it’s time for me to stop rushing to her every time she cries. Toughen up.

Do I drive over there and ask to see her? Helicopter parent.

Do I ask them to put her on the phone? Hypochondriac.  

Teach her to be courageous. Help her to be strong.

***

Something no one prepared me for when I became a mom was how often I’d be forced to choose a way of doing things. It starts with those early weeks of pregnancy—will we use a doctor or midwife? Will I breastfeed? Can we afford for me to stay home with the baby? Will we do daycare or a nanny? Will we give Tylenol for fevers or let his body fight the infection without drugs? Will we do baby led weaning? Co-sleep or sleep train? Montessori or Waldorf? I imagine it continues until college.

And then there are the not-as-commonly-talked-about, seemingly insignificant choices, like:

When my kid skins her knee or falls off the swing, will I be the mom who rushes to her side, or the mom who says, “You’re okay! Shake it off!”?

This is a thing, you know. Two different philosophies on what to do when a child has an accident. Some parents want these painful moments to be a training ground for learning how to suck it up and move on without tears. After all, kids do cry a lot. And they do overreact. Other parents think these painful moments are an opportunity to teach kids their emotions are valid, and then determine what we do with all the big strong feelings.

Some might go so far as to say that our response will either lead to fearless, adventure-seeking kids or pansies; emotionally intelligent young people or those who stuff their feelings. Some might say it’s not a big deal either way.

The problem was that until that day on the monkey bars, I’d been the mama who rushed to her side. Then, I wasn’t.

***

I know Anna’s arm is broken the moment I try to make eye contact with her. She is glazed over and stoic. She tries to cover up the pain, and she’s doing a really good job of it, but I know. I am her mother, and I know these things.

“She had a great attitude all morning. I’m so proud of her,” her teacher says. She has a lot of experience with this age, and she loves her students, but she doesn’t know my daughter yet.

We aren’t three feet into the parking lot before Anna bursts into tears. She can’t buckle her seat belt because the pain is too great, and I start sobbing as I do it for her.

I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you.

I watch her weep from the rear view mirror—the silent kind—the worst kind. She asks why I didn’t come, and I say that I didn’t know she needed me. The school said she was doing her work without complaint. They weren’t sure and let me decide what to do. I wasn’t sure and let them decide what to do.

She fooled everyone.

Her arm is broken, and so is my heart.  

***

Anna returns to school a few days later, arm wrapped in a pink cast, with a smile back on her face. The teachers and a few parents compliment me upon her arrival.

“She was just so brave, staying at school without complaint.”

I force a smile and nod. Yes, it was incredible how well she could push through her pain. It is also, in many ways, incredibly alarming. Because even though I’ve spent five years trying to teach her that sometimes it’s okay, even necessary, to cry, she still thought she needed to be tough.

She already believes that pain should be hidden. That tears are meant to be choked back.

And I know—truly I do—that her ability to push through discomfort is admirable in its own way. But I also know that true resiliency is not pretending that pain doesn’t exist, but naming it. Knowing when and how to ask for the people we trust, and then wearing our hearts on our sleeves when we’re with them. Bravery isn’t skipping the junk, it’s working through it.

Bravery is also getting back on the rings. Which she did, just days after her cast was removed.

Anna has a long way to go in learning how to express herself in healthy ways. It’s a skill I’m still learning myself. But on the last day of kindergarten, as the school parking lot clears out, she drags me onto the empty playground for her final performance—“The Snowflake”—a one-handed, dangling move she’s perfected over countless recess practice sessions.

She beams at me, not afraid to show her confidence and pride. And I cheer for her, the strong little girl she is, and the confident woman she will certainly become.

Happy Three Years to Coffee + Crumbs!

Last year I spent the two-year anniversary of Coffee + Crumbs at the ice cream parlor with a couple of mom friends. We toasted our water glasses as six children licked whipped cream off their lips on an otherwise totally average Friday.

This year, July 1 fell on a Saturday, the same weekend we happened to be in the country visiting my grandparents. We ate Grandma's cherry cheese pie (crust made from scratch, #obviously) and rode Grandpa's horses. We sat in the driveway while the kids played with magna tiles and listened to the birds sing as my Grandpa told us story after story. 

My grandparents have lived in the country for seventeen years, and they are the epitome of retirement goals. Simple life. Fresh air. Their backyard is home to two horses, a few squirrels, and a family of hummingbirds. 

The funny thing about their house is that it hasn't changed much in seventeen years. And, most of their house today contains the same artifacts and furniture from their previous house—the one I spent lots of time in as a child. The same photos hang on the walls, the same coffee table sits in the family room, the same dining room table rests under the same pale pink tablecloth. Walking through their house is like strolling through a museum of where I come from. Baby pictures of me are hung beside baby pictures of my mom. Old pictures of my grandma are propped up on shelves next to old pictures of her mom. Everything is familiar. Everything is the same.

My brother and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house growing up. I remember my grandma would serve us Eggo waffles with Hershey's chocolate syrup on top, an entree that never quite matched her dining room mantra: "Eating is serious business." (No offense, Grandma, but there was nothing serious about waffles slathered in chocolate sauce.) I remember my grandpa would take us for rides around the neighborhood in the radio flyer wagon. Back then they were made of metal, not plastic, and certainly didn't have cup holders. They actually weren't very comfortable, come to think of it. I remember he always wore overalls and had traces of drywall on his fingertips, proof of a hard day's work. 

Anytime I visit my grandparents, a wave of nostalgia washes over me. I remember myself as a kid, the little girl I used to be. I sang and danced constantly; any quiet moment was fair game for a performance. I loved to read. I loved to write. And more than anything, I loved to pretend to be a mom. 

While I'm no longer obsessed with dancing and singing (cue: my husband sighing in relief), I do still love to read and write. And, thankfully, I don't have to pretend anymore—I became a real mom five years ago.  

In a lot of ways, Coffee + Crumbs feels like an untapped childhood dream come true. I get to read and write about motherhood while mothering my very own kids. I get to be a storyteller, and help other women be storytellers, too. 

I think of all the jobs I had before this one ... waitress, nanny, executive assistant, communications coordinator, wellness concierge, marketing manager. My (extremely outdated) LinkedIn profile seems like it was composed a lifetime ago. And while I truly enjoyed some of those jobs (the hotel gig came with great perks!), there is no comparison to the joy I find in what I do now. 

Coffee + Crumbs is three years old, and this is officially the longest job I've ever had. 

I worry I'm becoming a bit of a broken record at this point because anytime I write something like this, I tend to say the same thing over and over again. But, three years in, it still holds true. This is my dream job. And on our three year anniversary, it feels important to tell you that again. I am crazy grateful for this work, for this team, and for all of you. 

Any time you read this blog, listen to the podcast, buy our book, donate on Patreon, leave a comment, drop us an e-mail, or sign up for whatever creative course we're offering at the moment—you are telling us to keep going. Thank you for that. You, the C+C readers, have shown up time and time again with steadfast encouragement and unwavering support. You've shown us that fostering empathy and compassion on the Internet is possible, and that grace can absolutely exist in the comment sections between women who may parent differently from one another. You have exuded such warmth in this space, such open arms to us, and I cannot possibly thank you enough for that. 

We love writing here. 

Thank you for loving us well for three whole years. It's truly our honor and privilege to keep going. 

In sincere gratitude, 
Ashlee Gadd

p.s. Grandma, if you're reading this, it's "Coffee + Crumbs" not "Cookies + Crumbs" ... love you! 

A Full Lap

I have a bad habit of romanticizing working parenthood, even though I live it every day and really should know better by now.

All week, I look forward to Friday, and not just because it promises the coming of the weekend. I still have eight hours of work to put in, but I get to do those hours from home instead of at my office.

The romantic side of me dreams that this Friday will be different: my 15-month-old daughter will play independently and quietly all morning, allowing me space to focus on my perfectly achievable to-do list and to relish the work I love. My coffee will stay hot. I’ll take a break for lunch and play time, and we’ll run around the house and dissolve into giggle fits. She’ll go down for a long nap, and I’ll have three hours of uninterrupted work time, allowing me to plow through my remaining tasks.

There will be room on my plate for everything. There will be room on my lap for everyone.

***

On my real Friday morning, my phone’s alarm begins to chime, starting low and increasing its volume as I claw my way out of the deep circles of sleepiness at 5:30 a.m. I stumble to the bathroom and scroll through Instagram while brushing my teeth, a habit I know I need to kick (the scrolling, not the brushing).

Assessing my reflection and weighing the cost of the time it would take to shower, I decide to pull my dirty hair back into a messy bun, but not the glamorous kind. I tiptoe down my creaky stairs to start the coffee while I cringe and pray with every step that my daughter doesn’t hear me. If I’m lucky, I’ll have about an hour of uninterrupted work time before she wakes up.

Selah wakes at 7 a.m. on the dot, and after a breakfast filled with demands and shrieks for more, I open my laptop and get back to work on the manuscript I’m editing. My daughter, who was playing happily on the floor 15 seconds ago, breaks down crying when she sees I have something in my lap that is not her. I turn on the TV, I turn off the TV; I bring out toys I hid last week and the puffs she’s not even hungry for, hoping to distract her and buy myself work time in five-minute increments.

An hour later I’ve used up all my downstairs tricks, so we climb up the stairs to her bedroom and I close the door behind us. At least here in her nursery she’s contained and can’t wander to places where I can’t see her. I settle into the glider, my laptop back in its regular place on my lap, and she begins to pull the books off the shelf one at a time, tossing them behind her without so much as looking at their covers. It’s not reading she’s interested in, but destruction.

She pads over to the storage drawers and discovers a box of baby Q-tips. Her mischievous fingers pull them out in handfuls, depositing them in piles all over the floor. She picks them up one by one and walks them to another spot and creates new piles. I hate this game to my order-loving core, but I know it will allow me 20 minutes of work—maybe it will even carry us all the way to naptime, and if it does, I vow to buy myself a lottery ticket.

For a few beautiful minutes, I’m  deep in thought and absorbed in the manuscript before me. My eyes scan the document, words dancing and sentences singing as I polish the writer’s voice. My work is more than a job to me: it’s a career, craft, a calling. It’s a piece of my life that tethers me to my womanhood. Whether I’m sharpening ideas or tweaking punctuation, I feel capable and confident, connected to who God made me to be.

Selah’s hands reach up and strike my computer keys, snapping me out of my reverie. I frantically lift the computer out of reach and scan my work for errors her fingers may have introduced.

Selah has a book in her hand, which she’s now shoving into my face as she scrambles up my legs and into the lap that just a minute ago held the work I’m responsible for. I feel a sharp pang of guilt because I know she is also the work—the life—I am responsible for. I breathe in the smell of her cheeks and give myself permission to read her a book and actually enjoy it, but that joy is crowded out by the thought that maybe this moment of connection will be enough to buy me more time, more time, more time.

We finish the story and she pushes me away, trying to get down from her throne as I pull the computer back onto my knees. She glances back for just a moment and sees that she’s been replaced, her gray-blue eyes registering betrayal, and I know she’s not going to let this go without a fight. Mommy’s lap is sacred, and it is mine.

I watch her face crumple before she lets out a wail, her little cheeks growing red with outrage at my slight as the tears fall hot and fat. I know I’ve broken the tender heart of my little girl, and worse, I know I will do it again.

I pull her back onto my legs and comfort her, and then I attempt to keep working while also keeping the computer out of her reach. I find myself wanting to set them both aside so I can catch my breath and catch a break.

***

We say things like “I have too much on my plate,” and “I have full hands and a full heart,” and all I can think in this moment is I have too much in my lap.

My lap is holy ground, built to cradle and protect the things I care most about: my child, my work, my writing. But my lap has space for only one of these things at a time, and I fear what my daughter will ask when she has the words, “Mommy, why is your computer always in your lap? When will it be my turn?”

But now it’s naptime and I choke down my fears and snuggle my daughter with abandon, not willing to move her out of the sacred space and into her crib. I do it anyway because this nap will equals two hours of work time, two hours without a fight over my lap.

On my bad days, I worry that the picture I’m painting for my daughter is one of a too full lap that doesn’t have enough room for her.

On my good days, I feel satisfied and empowered by the picture of womanhood and motherhood and workinghood that I am painting for her: Mommies can work and be good at their jobs and find meaning in their careers just like daddies do. Mommies can be faithful workers and loving wives and joyful parents.

And on Fridays, I’m reminded that I can cradle my child, my career, my craft, my calling. I can take pride that they all grow in the security of my lap.


Guest post written by Brittany L. Bergman. Brittany is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. She is passionate about living a simple life marked by authenticity and gratitude. She is unashamedly incapable of pacing herself when it comes to reading mysteries or eating French toast. Brittany writes about living simply, savoring motherhood, and finding the sacred in the everyday at BrittanyLBergman.com. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Communion

“But how does it make you feel?” It’s out before I realize what I’ve said.

He pauses. “How does it make me feel?”

It’s not that he hasn’t heard me or doesn’t understand my words. We’ve already talked about the need. The money. The style. He just can’t understand why I’m making the process of buying a new table emotional.

“Yes.” I’m owning it. “How do you feel about this table?” Not a table. Not any table. But this table. How do you feel about this table?

He shakes his head. “I like the table.” Concrete. He does not, will not, connect feelings to tables.

Before this interaction, I hadn’t realized: I do.   

***

I cut my teeth and started eating mashed peas in a metal and plastic highchair pulled up to a dark brown, oval laminate table in a small wood paneled kitchen in a college town in western Ohio. The table had a seam down the center which my parents would pull apart from opposite ends to make room for a leaf or two, should company come over. It’s tapered metal legs ended in flat silver feet.

Tucked into a photo album, there is a picture of me in a red velour jumpsuit sitting in my dad’s lap, all thick framed glasses, lamb chops, and winning smile. He has a baby spoon in one hand, an elbow resting on the table. I have clear memories of sitting in the same spot when I was older. It’s where my parents told me to look out the window at the neighbor’s oak tree—to distract me from gagging on my lima beans.

In my teen years, my parents bought a honey-colored wood table with one or two leaves that almost always stayed in. It had enough chairs for our family of five and whoever ended up dropping by or being invited to join us for a meal. It was a table ever-welcoming of family and friends.

I ate thousands of bowls of cereal at that table. Sat through unknown numbers of praying-for-everything (including-world-peace) length prayers there. Got in trouble there. Blew out candles there.

It was at this table my dad and my uncle would cry-laugh through the exact same story every single December: about going shopping at a discount department store at midnight on Christmas Eve decades ago. They walked past two men a few aisles over. One man held up some cheap lingerie and said, “Do you think this will fit her?” The other man replied, “I don’t know, she’s your wife” and the first man replied, “yeah, but she’s your sister.”

Around 3 p.m. most days, my mom drank a cup of coffee and ate a little snack at this table. It was a place she’d sit at late into the night and talk with my aunts, cousins, her friends—sometimes even my friends—long after I lost interest and went to bed. 

My brother, sister, and I have been out of the house for more than 10 years. There is another table now. It’s Amish built, solid as a rock, and can seat 12 comfortably. Most days, it serves as a lovely place for two people to eat in peace.

But once a week, the grandchildren who aren’t in school yet come over and eat goldfish and hummus, frost cookies in booster seats—learning, just like the rest of us did, that this is a table where you are loved and can always come back to.

When I come to town with my kids, the table is extended to its maximum size and my dad makes a quintuple batch of crepes before sitting down to drink a few cups of strong coffee with  splashes of cream. When he brings the mug to his mouth, he overlooks a table full of two generations of his making.  

My husband and I have a 17-year-old solid oak mission style table—the first piece of real furniture we ever purchased. It came with two 10-inch leaves and four chairs. A good friend insisted we buy two more, because our family was sure to grow. (But it was just the two of us back then, we only had so much money, and what did she know anyway?)

It’s the table where he studied for his thesis and told me his headaches wouldn’t go away. It’s the table we cried at after his brain surgery, when he couldn't keep up with our conversation and I wondered if he’d, we’d ever be the same.

It’s the table we broke apart at. Where we sat next to each other, but were so distant and disconnected, it felt like if we pulled just a little further in opposite directions, the table’s seam would open up and one of us was sure to lose balance and fall in forever.

It’s also the place we came back together. Where shared meals became more than just a shared life. Where grace intervened. Where open hearts prompted us to put in both 10-inch leaves permanently, making plenty of room. For hope. For our future.  

I have a picture of Chris, exhausted, eating cheerios at this table while cradling our sleeping first born six pound baby girl in his right arm. Our three biological children learned to hold their spoons, crayons, and sippy cups here.

It’s the table to which we brought home Viv, our three-year-old daughter who became a part of our family through adoption six months ago. It’s where she learned that pizza is indeed good, and that this—this table, this home, this family—is where she belongs.

It’s the table my children will remember when they think about their early childhood—when I think about their childhood. It’s the table I make all of my kids look out the window to the birch tree in our backyard—to distract them from gagging on their squash.

I can’t tell you how many meals we’ve eaten, how many prayers we’ve said, or how many people we have tried to squeeze around these four sides through the years.

But I can tell you I thought the style was charming—until cleaning multiple glasses of spilled milk off 20 slats of wood became an annoying part of our daily routine. I can tell you the “6, 7, 8, 9” etched into the top is from Nadia stenciling numbers onto a thin sheet of paper using a heavy hand and a fine gauged pen. I can tell you it’s been refinished once and I’ve reupholstered the seats three times, and that I sit in the one that isn’t secured onto the chair frame (because too many screws fell with a ting onto the floor, fed up and refusing to stay put after so much time and so many changes). I can tell you we use two folding chairs at every meal, and a piano bench when company comes over, because, you know what? Our friend was right: our family did grow.

Deciding on a new table isn’t even the issue, I guess.

It’s that when you buy one or two (maybe three?) tables in your life and this next one will be the second—it’s a significant milestone. And a reminder that seasons change and time is passing and the babies I first brought here aren’t babies anymore. Around the table now, I’m less concerned about what they put into their mouths and more focused on what’s entering their minds and coming out of their hearts.

I’ll miss our first table.

But it’s not the table that nourishes our children or holds the memories.

We do.