My Constant Battle with Grief

This past weekend, we had dinner with some of my husband’s family. As the night’s conversation went on, we got on the subject of grief. Each of the four of us had lost one of our parents: I lost my father almost five years ago, my husband lost his mother at the age of six, and our hosts also lost a father and mother.

It was an emotional conversation for all of us, as each of us know that the grief from our loss never goes away.

There are many days that I do not want to think of my father, and it pains me to admit it. The reason being, thinking of my dad ultimately leads to sadness at the fact that he isn’t here anymore. But despite my efforts, thoughts of my father always fill my mind.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my father. Just recently, I had the sudden urge to pick up my phone and give him a call to tell him about what his youngest granddaughter is getting into. Despair soon came over me, realizing that I won’t ever have a chance to tell him about my children. He would have loved hearing about all the new things my daughters are doing. In particular, he would have enjoyed that the girls are taking swim classes. I know he would have taken credit for how talented my oldest daughter is in swimming. Being a natural in every sport he played in his life, any athletic achievement my brothers and I made growing up, were because of him.

So I imagine how the conversation would go in my head. Telling him how well Isabella is doing in swimming, him telling me that she gets it from our side of the family. And I would chuckle, and let him take pride in his granddaughter’s athletic abilities.

I remember a time when I foolishly thought I had my grief under control, that I was finally getting better. But then I gave birth to my youngest daughter, and I was overcome with sorrow. I agonized over the thought of my baby never meeting her Granpappy. Pained, because the only memories she will have of him are the stories I tell her. It took me a long while to deal with this anguish. It is a feeling I still battle with daily.

I long to have one more conversation with him, to make him laugh like I used to. I want to give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him. Wherever my dad is now, I hope he knows just how much I miss him. My heart breaks a little more every day that he isn’t with me.

This April will be five years since my father passed away. Some days are easier than others. There will be times I hear a song my dad used to listen too, or I suddenly smell his cologne, and I break down crying. Sometimes I’ll hear the same song, and smile fondly at the thought of my father, sitting in our living room, enjoying the music, looking over at me with his smile. I like to remember him that way, before he got sick, before he left me forever. When I dream of him, he is his old, healthy self. I want to always remember him that way.

I miss you like crazy old man.

– Toniann

Happy 1st Blog Anniversary to Me

Wow, one year already! It’s actually been a bit longer than that, but I have been slacking with posting here on my site. What an adventure it has been since I started this endeavor over a year ago. When I first started my blog, my goal was just to help people, and even myself, by sharing my stories. And the more personal my stories, the more support I got from friends, and even people I’ve never met before in the blogging universe. That has been the best feeling ever, feeling that I am making some small difference in someone’s life.

It’s been difficult to keep up with my goal of a weekly post, especially as the year has gone on. And it is difficult to promote my blog while at the same time trying to stay off social media as much as possible. So I say to anyone out there who is reading and who has been enjoying my blog, please subscribe and you can read my posts directly in your email.

A new year is upon us, and I have to admit, 2019 was a pretty rough year for me. I had hoped that it wouldn’t be because I also struggled during 2018. I think I’ve just been feeling a bit lost. Moving here to Arizona has been the best decision for my family. Our daughters are thriving out here, my husband has a great job and we’ve made lots of friends, some really great ones.

So why do I feel this way, despite my life being as great as it is?

Yes, I am married to the most incredible man, and we have 2 of the most amazing daughters I could ever ask for. But I can’t help but think: who am I, without my family?

I believe moving here has forced me to really look at myself. I don’t have all the family support that I used to have back in Florida. I am out here, raising my children, without the help I once took for granted. I find myself wondering if I am a good mother, if I am doing right by my girls, if I am a good wife, and even, if I am a good person.

I have started many projects in an attempt to get me out of this funk, this blog being one of them. I got my Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition, I started (and stopped and started) studying to get re certified as a Fitness Instructor since fitness has always been my passion. I joined the PTA at my daughter’s school to get more involved. All have lit a spark in me at first, but soon fizzle out.

Now, coming up on my 30th birthday in a few months, the feeling of “What have I done with my life?” is stronger than ever. It can get pretty daunting.

But I won’t let this feeling consume me, not this time.

Family time

I know I am an incredible mother, I am a wonderful wife, and I am a great person.

My goal for this year is to really focus on myself. Accomplish the goals I sought to accomplish last year. And to stay committed and be consistent.

I promise to workout everyday, drink lots of water, and eat healthier. I promise to read more books, study fitness and work towards getting re certified. I promise to blog weekly and stay off social media as much as possible. I promise to be grateful for everyday I have with my husband and kids.

2019 was tough, but that doesn’t mean 2020 has to be too. I am stronger than I think I am. Another year over, and I hope I’m another year wiser. I cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store for me.

Happy bloggiversary to me!

Bring it on 2020!

-Toniann

My Love of Christmas

I’m sure many people, like myself, love Christmas. It has always been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. When I was very young, Christmas was my favorite because all the anticipation for the presents we would be getting. But I don’t remember many Christmas’s like that as I got older.

When I was a preteen, there were years my mother did not even want to put up a Christmas tree. I would ask her why and she would just say “What’s the point? There won’t be any presents under there on Christmas morning.” That feeling stuck with me. Yes, I was sad that she did not see a point in putting a tree up. So I made a promise that I would be the one putting presents under the tree that year, and every year afterwards.

We had a fake white Christmas tree, I was ecstatic when my father first brought it home. We had done real trees up until that year. But this year, I would be putting up the Christmas tree all by myself. I was the only one in my apartment with the Christmas spirit. I put the tree up, inserting each set of branches from bottom to top. Then, I got the ornaments out. When I came across my mothers antique glass figurine ornaments, I asked if she wanted to put them up with me. Still no.

But that didn’t stop me. I put the tree up, put all the ornaments, lights, garland, and finally our star with the angel in the middle. It was wonderful. I had some money saved up, and I would make trips to the Walgreens and buy little gifts for everyone: Milky Way candy and makeup for my mother, my fathers favorite musk cologne, and monster LEGO-type toys for my brothers (despite them being teenagers). I wrapped each gift and placed them under the tree. I knew it wasn’t much, but I was so excited for Christmas.

I honestly don’t remember everyone opening up their gifts, I just remember the joy I felt getting ready for Christmas. That feeling of bliss during Christmas has never left me, even years after that Christmas as a young girl.

And that wonderful feeling of happiness I have during Christmastime has only intensified since I’ve become a parent.

Seeing the delight in my daughters eyes as we put up our tree and decorations is amazing. Hearing Isabella talk about Santa and the magic of Christmas fills my heart to it’s brim. And absolutely nothing is better than seeing their eyes light up as they see their gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.

I will always love Christmas. To me, Christmas is a time of happiness, giving and pure magic. The tiniest gestures have a greater impact during this season. I hope my daughters never lose sight of the magic of Christmas. I sure haven’t.

Our attempt at a Christmas photo this year.

-Toniann

My Lifelong Struggle with Stretch Marks

If you’ve ever seen me in person, you’ve certainly caught a glimpse of some of my many stretch marks. They’re part of me I’ve had no choice but to accept, even though I’d rather not have to deal with them.

I credit my skin to my father, although he never got stretch marks as badly as I did. I remember him having stretch marks around the tops of his biceps from working out. My mother on the other hand, never got one stretch mark, despite 3 pregnancies and weight fluctuations while we were growing up. She couldn’t relate to my struggle at all, she couldn’t fathom why this was happening to me. She would even say that she didn’t even moisturize, while I slathered my body in cocoa butter, praying that I wouldn’t get another stretch mark.

I remember getting my first stretch marks on the insides of my knees in seventh grade. I had gone through a growth spurt over the summer. Later that year, I got 4 huge horizontal stretch marks across my back that even my pediatrician had never seen before. They honestly look like whip marks across my lower back. Then puberty hit, my boobs and butt grew and stretch marks came along with those.

I used to use Mederma scar gel, which did lessen the appearance of my stretch marks. But it was too expensive for my parents to keep buying for me. It needed to be applied 3-4 times per day and I had many stretch marks covering a good part of my body at that time. I remember one little tube costing $24. My parents tried, but the cost became too much.

Despite having stretch marks, I still wore my two piece bathing suits during the summer (no stretch marks on my stomach) and I always wore short shirts baring my midriff. Some people would comment but it didn’t bother me much, it was never negative, at least not to my face.

And then my now-husband and I started dating, and we both gained so much weight. I gained around 50 pounds, weighing the most in my entire life. As I packed on the pounds, I noticed stretch marks forming on my upper arms, soon reaching all the way down to my forearm. I even started to get some on my gorgeously smooth tummy, which was heartbreaking to me. When I realized I needed to make a change and start exercising and eating healthier…

I got pregnant.

I weighed 175 pounds when I got pregnant, and I was beyond excited that we were going to have a baby. The day my daughter was born, we checked in at the hospital and I weighed 201 pounds. My stomach during that time had gotten covered with stretch marks, which I expected. Despite using all kinds of lotions and creams. Yes, I used Palmers Cocoa butter, I even used cocoa butter baby oil. But nothing I tried worked. Nothing I had EVER tried worked to prevent my stretch marks. My belly got so big, people thought I was carrying twins, and the stretch marks that came in my last trimester were painful. The stretch marks on the underside of my pregnant belly were half an inch thick, my skin was literally tearing.

38 weeks pregnant.

About 2 years after my daughter was born, I was heavily into fitness and became a group fitness instructor. I had become vegan and I lost all the baby weight and then-some. I was in the best shape of my life. But I fell off when my father got sick with pancreatic cancer. I took up smoking cigarettes again and gained some weight back.

December 2013

Then in 2016 I got pregnant again with our second daughter. I was at a healthy weight to start and all was well, weight-wise. No new stretch marks, at least none that I could see. My stomach had stretched out so much the first time I was pregnant (and I still had a lot of excess skin) that at the end of my pregnancy with my second daughter I still had a little pouch of skin at the bottom of my belly. It wasn’t noticeable to anyone other than myself.

It’s been a lot harder to bounce back after having my second child. My stomach is extremely saggy and even at my lowest weight last year, I still had a lot of excess skin. So I only wear bathing suits that cover a majority of my stomach because I’m embarrassed of how horrible it looks. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be ashamed, I should be proud of my body. And for the most part, I am. I feel like a total badass that I carried two children. But there’s always that little voice in the back of my head telling me that my body, covered in all these stretch marks, is hideous. That no matter how much I work out and get my body in the best shape, I’ll never be able to do anything about these stretch marks.

I have accepted the fact that I can’t do anything about my stretch marks. The best thing I can do is love my body with all its flaws. I’m learning to ignore that voice in my head telling me my stretch marks make me ugly. I love myself, and I’m learning to love my stretch marks. My stretch marks tell a story about my life:

A story of a little girl growing up…

…of a young woman happily in love,

…of a mother carrying her children,

…and a story of a certified badass.

-Toniann

Riding the Happiness Wave

Hello everyone! I’ve taken the longest break in posting since I’ve started this blog almost a year ago. It’s been a crazy busy time during my absence. To sum up, I started this month with anxiety and dread because my husband was going to be away for almost a whole week and with his schedule, we wouldn’t be able to talk frequently. Partner that with the thought of me being completely alone with the girls for that entire time without any help, and I was scared shitless. Thankfully, brother-in-law came to the rescue and came over for the weekend and helped me out. That week was rough to say the least, but I made it through.

About a week after my husband came home, I woke up in a good mood, which is rare for me. And I thought to myself:

It feels amazing to be in such a good mood!

Now when I usually wake up in a good mood, it doesn’t make it to the afternoon. With picking up my daughter from school, heading to the grocery store, homework and cooking dinner, I’m pretty wiped out and cranky.

But these past few weeks, I’ve been choosing to be happy. It started out unwittingly, but then I became aware of the choices I was making throughout the day. I realized that happiness is not a daily choice, but its a moment-by-moment choice. That sounds exhausting, but honestly, holding on to my anxiety and stress of the day is so much more tiring. It is hard to choose happiness in certain moments, but I am becoming more conscious of when I need to just let things go. And it feels great.

I always thought singing along to music meant you were in a good mood, but that’s not always the case. When I’m starting to feel anxious, I’ve been busting out in song while in the car with the girls and getting them to join in. It makes me forget about my stress in that moment. It’s little things like that that are keeping me on this happiness wave.

When I thought about riding the happiness wave, I always imagined it was something out of my control, like an actual wave.

“I’m riding this happiness wave for as long as I can because I’m not sure how long it will last.”

I would always say that when I was in a good mood. But it’s not actually like that. I can ride this happiness wave for as long as I want. I can choose to be happy, to see joy in everything, even the stressful situations. I’ve always heard that happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey. Even knowing that, I still didn’t fully understand it. Now, I feel like I’m finally grasping it. I no longer want to drown in a sea of unhappiness and negativity, and I don’t have to. I choose happiness.

It’s pretty liberating to say “fuck off” to those negative feelings. I not only owe it to my family to be happy, I owe it to myself. So to all of you reading this, I hope you choose happiness today and everyday. It’s too fun to pass up.

Halloween Family Fun

-Toniann

A Lesson from my Daughter

My world has drastically changed since becoming a mother. Motherhood has taught me everything. I’ve learned about unconditional love, patience, failure, happiness, gratitude, and forgiveness to name a few.

My daughters are constantly teaching me new ways to be a better mother, a better person.

I remember this one time, a few months back, where I dropped something of my daughters. I don’t remember what it was exactly, a box of crayons, cereal maybe. All I know was that it made a huge mess. I apologized to my daughter and she just said “Don’t worry Mommy, accidents happen.” And it just stopped me in my tracks.

When my daughter was growing up, I always told her this. But recently, with the addition of another daughter and my patience wearing thin, I’ve gotten frustrated almost every time the girls make a mess. It took my daughter to remind me that accidents happen, we all make messes, and that’s OKAY.

I’ve been holding my daughters to a higher standard than I even hold myself. I’m clumsy, so if I drop something (which happens too much) I get upset but quickly brush it off. Why am I not doing the same for them?

When they get upset, aren’t they allowed to be angry or sad?

I’m learning more everyday about how they are just little people who need a great amount of patience. And I’m glad my daughter reminded me of that. It’s gotten too easy for me to lose my shit lately. But I’m learning to be patient with myself as well.

I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. Two of the three happiest days of my life were the days they were both born. My daughters mean the world to me. This journey of motherhood has taught me everything, and I’m still learning every single day. I hope everyday that I can be the best mom for them. I want to be someone my daughters can be proud of.

Being a mom is hands down the toughest job in the world. But even on the worst days, I wouldn’t trade being their mom for the world.

I love you girls.

-Toniann

The Importance of Mom Friends

Making friends as an adult is one of the most difficult things to do. At least it’s been that way for me. I am usually very shy when I first meet people; it takes some time for me to warm up and I rarely initiate conversations with people I don’t know. Also, being a stay-at-home-mom, I don’t have many opportunities to meet new people. And of course, moving away from my family and childhood friends has made the quest for adult friendship much harder.

And it’s been even more difficult to make mom-friends.

I got pregnant with my first daughter at 20 years old, the first in my circle of friends (both of whom were back in the Bronx, while I was living in Florida) to start a family. My family was also back in the Bronx and I didn’t have anyone in Florida to lean on besides my husband. The friends we had made while living in Florida were all very different: the ones around our age were still living at home and the thought of kids was a long way off, and the ones who had kids already were so much older and a lot more established i.e. living in houses they owned while we were renting an apartment. So it was difficult for both my husband and I to find friends who truly understood our struggle as young parents.

Thankfully one of my best friends had a daughter a few years later. But living so far away from each other means not as much face time as we’d like. We do get together every time we visit New York and it’s like we were never apart. I love getting texts from her asking about breastfeeding and if I’ve gone through the same things. We lean on each other and realize things are okay.

My best friend, our daughters and I back in 2014.

And than goodness for my sister-in-law in Florida. Over the years, once my oldest was born, we grew closer and closer, which helped me so much. She has truly become my sister.

My amazing sister-in-law and my youngest daughter.

But we moved across the country to Arizona.

And we had to start all over. Don’t get me wrong, both my husband and I were all in on the decision to move, we felt this would be the best choice for our family, and it has been so far. But when we first arrived, I went through postpartum depression. I was already suffering from anxiety since my daughters and I were away from my husband for almost 3 months. To give you an idea of how my depression was triggered: before moving to Arizona, I lived with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and their kids. So, I went from a place where I had more help with my kids than I knew what to do with, to having absolutely no help with my 6 year old and 6 week old daughters while my husband was at work.

Thankfully, my depression wasn’t too bad. We soon started to make friends, but no mom-friends for me. And the mom-friends I had tried to make on my own fell through. We just didn’t click. It seemed like the harder I tried to make mom-friends, the more horribly it would turn out. So, I had to just come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t have any mom-friends in Arizona. Oh well, I guess.

But recently, I’ve made a mom-friend here, and things are going pretty well. We all just went on an impromptu trip this weekend. The toddlers had a few meltdowns, but they’re toddlers. The best part about that was we understood the struggle each of us was going through. The meltdowns, tears, and tantrums were things we were both trying to deal with. With other friends who don’t have kids, sometimes it’s just embarrassing when your kid cries or misbehaves.

That’s why having a mom friendship is so important. Being a mom isn’t always fun, its demanding and can really wear you down. A lot of times, I’ve felt lonely because I struggle so much with my girls. I’m constantly worrying about them, wondering if I’m doing a good job. It’s nice to have a friend who can empathize with you. To know you’re not the only one having a hard time managing motherhood is a great relief.

So to all my mamas out there who are struggling, it won’t last forever. Find the courage to put yourself out there and make some mom-friends. And don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away or if you don’t click with the moms you’re meeting. If you’re really having a difficult time, reach out to someone or even send me a message. Your tribe of mamas is out there. I sure do appreciate mine.

My girls and I at Walnut Canyon.

-Toniann