May Your Hotel be Welcoming by Annita Woz

wrestlingfrontfeet1   Seconds of time on a wrestling mat combine with time spent at the Woz Hotel during the state tournament and become a part of our family wrestling story.

The yearly trek to the state tourneys is a cherished pursuit of athletic honor and a trip that team mates and family look forward to all season.  It is a bittersweet opportunity where mothers of wrestlers get sleepless nights while wrestlers dream deeply of walking in the Parade of Champions, lights out, single file, ready to work for one last win.   We would wish this on everyone if we could.

After the history books record the final match points, the fastest pins, the major decisions, what matters most is that the competitors got the chance to  face the best in their class and the spectators, the fans, the families, are all in the bleachers where they are able to embellish and retell the tournament with the detail that comes from having been there.

What is left standing after the trophies gather dust, and the medals cease to clank on unworn letterman jackets, what remains long after sight of the bus being escorted out of town by the fire department has faded, are the routines of planning the trip south every year and of watching state wrestling with our a family and friends. With or without a state appearance, everyone in the family has a good memory of the state tournament because it is as much about the wrestling as it is about family.

For the week between Sectionals and State, these state bound wrestlers enjoy the simple fact that they are on their way to the the final matches of their season.   Parents have faithfully followed their kids’ dreams, prayed for the next victory, and are looking forward to an honest match without any stalling.  The pep rallies and big posters gracing the entrance of the school announcing a trip to state are sure signs that the best are ready to take to the mats.

Congratulatory handshakes and nods of heads from old rivals recognize the opportunity that has been earned after the sectional tourney is done.  Seniors are preparing to put their final records into place and are starting to accept and enjoy what so few wrestlers get to experience.   The wonder at their role in this adventure is starting to take hold.

Parents traveling in the middle of winter to the Fieldhouse or the Kohl Center are both worried and wise.   They know their athlete’s success at Sectionals and the sendoff to the state tourney is much more than just a scrapbook moment,  it is the moment.

Some might say that the state wrestling tournament has always brought out the best and worst of the sport.  Maybe a healthy heckle of the ref sometimes led to a lost match.  A proud word on the quality of a move sometimes started an uncomfortable sizing up in the hallways outside of the mat-covered main floor.  Knowing that someone always has to lose has caused a mom or two to hide far from the bleachers, her face turned away, her fingers entwined in a necklace or flipping some keys inside a coat pocket, silently repeating to herself how much she hates the pain of this sport but willing to be there for her wrestler because that is what parents do and this is the sport her kid loves – the oldest and greatest sport on earth.

The best part of the state tourney is the the family part.   In our family the opportunity to be a part of a storied tradition of staying at the Woz Hotel is easily given up for the relief of securing a spot in a real hotel with the coach and the team while wearing that lanyard that identifies each as a Participant, not a ticket holder.  The best plan is always to stay with the coaches in the hotel off the square.

Each year, the wrestlers who make it to the state tourney are not welcomed out to this home in the country.  Right around Regionals, the joke starts surfacing that they are not going to be asked to stay this year.  The free hotel stay at Uncle Bob’s is over.  Reminders are not subtle.

Wrestlers who are going to compete at state get axed out of the poker tourney and then they take some ribbing that their spot in the ping pong bracket has been taken by a seven year old nephew.   The pile of shoes in the entryway doesn’t have space for one more pair of size 11’s and wrestlers are told the hotel is full, and reservations are no longer being accepted at the house.   The crowd of fans,  oh say 20 or 30 of them, enjoy the tradition of traveling a few hours south to share floor space and two bathrooms for a few days in our home.  The convenience of a short drive to each round is what started all of this but the routine of organizing tickets, debating parking strategies and planning State Street window shopping excursions from the crowded but happy house creates a comfortable rut.

This house as seen 17 years of brackets being reviewed.  The kitchen table statisticians guess how who is going to win each round and no one ever fills in a winning bracket until after the match is over.  Together, the cousins, the siblings, the uncles, take in some of the best wrestling there is to see at the high school level and combine it with some of the best late night mountain dew drinking monopoly challenges and a few of Grandma’s home made minute cookies.   They might believe life doesn’t get any better than this except of course for the perfection of  having their own name appear on a  page of the WIAA program instead of on the list of names on the fridge that keeps count of the visitors at the Woz Hotel.

It is the tradition of the Wozniak family to eat, sleep and cheer together for our local heroes and then unite in the evenings to relive the best matches of the day.

Those who do not have a match at the tourney, placate their competitive spirits by breaking a records of a different kind.   Conspiring with friends, old and new, they ponder the ways to exceed the record of 44 overnight guests, who arrive armed with blankets and pillows, all as campers in a house that loves not only wrestling, but loves the family gathering that comes with State tourney weekend.

And yes, one year we resorted to counting the dogs.   And yes, one year we had the advantage of a whole family, with two sets of twins, come down to get record numbers up there.   But in the end, it doesn’t matter so much how many stayed and slept, but what matters more are the walking tacos after the second session and the celebratory party after the final matches have been wrestled and the winners have taken their places on the podium.

Grandma and her cardboard box of crafts, has always handled the babies and younger cousins who cannot go to the tournament. She sometimes rallies a teenager or two to stay back from the current round and help out if there are too many little ones to keep safe.   With just a list of who is here and how many dogs, too, Grandma manages to diaper, hug, hold, feed, clean up behind all of the little ones and still has time to drink a cup of coffee and look rested when everyone returns at the end of the day.

There is no special formula hosting of all these kids and grown ups in one home for the annual state wrestling tourney.   The true miracle is in the gift of Grandma’s approach to this challenge which she describes as a vacation.  She has no worries when she is watching grand kids.  She confesses that she mostly just lets them have fun and create their own magic, as kids well know how to do.  She says it is almost peaceful to be here when given the run of the house, and the freedom to mix and match toys and furniture in ways that grown ups have forgotten how to do, the children do their thing and she enjoyes them and thinks about the clean up later.

Blankets and stools become tents, oatmeal boxes and wooden spoons become band instruments,  shows with everyone in costume and everyone getting a staring lead are written, practiced and performed.  Big cousins teach little cousins how to scrapbook and the babies eat, and sleep and manage to get rocking chair time with a blanket and a Grandma to hold.  There’s not much cooking that needs to be done since bread and jam can feed a pretty hungry crowd while nutrition is easily balanced by adding ice cream to each meal.

Those who go to the tournament come home at the end of a long day to tired kids, who have  learned all the things that cousins need to learn from each other. They tuck easily into blankets acting as beds, their little feet dirty from the adventures of the day and their tummies happy from laughter and giggles. Despite being separated by hours of highway, the connections they make with their cousins during these few days of staying away from the competition and focusing on the fun,  are lasting and precious.

The memories of surviving wrestling seasons and the medal counts that make the paper are not what these young cousins remember though they clearly remember the best and the worst. They remember the longest sleepover ever, with Grandma reading her paper and sharing a bite of her sweet roll and they quickly forget the worst- the tired heads, the long drive home, the leaving, the the long, long wait until the next wrestling season can begin again.

***Good luck to all the WIAA STATE WRESTLING participants and fans. May your tournament series be successful, your hotel be welcoming and your company of the family kind.  May your memories be all about only the best moments.

### A. Woz.

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Realistic Options for Responsible Parents by Annita Woz

http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/bristol.palin.interview/index.html

Bristol Palin announced today that she wants to set the record straight on some of the media stories about her pregnancy. She has a healthy baby boy and is engaged to the baby’s father. 

The best option is abstinence, the teen said, but added that she didn’t think that was “realistic.” I am not a fan of any parent’s stance of restricting sex education for teens.  I believe knowledge is power and that even with that power, it is still hard for teens to make the right choices. With or without sex ed, Bristol Palin and her now-fiancé, got pregnant. 

So what is a realistic expectation when it concerns teenagers and sex?

In her interview Bristol mentions that being a mother is not glamorous. Don’t we know it parents! How quickly images fade of cuddling a newborn to that crook between shoulder and ear and then listening for the sweet sighs of baby wisdom when a teen parent, heck any age parent, is faced with endless diapering and poop filled hours?

If Bristol Palin knew that motherhood would not be glamorous, would that have prevented her from having had sex? What if her fiancé thought she would not be glamorous as a mom, would that have stopped them?

In my group of friends, there are mothers with teenagers, grown children, some with young kids who are just getting the first “talk” about sex from the school.  Some of us had sex education in school, some of us didn’t.  While some in the group had been very frank about discussing the actual sex act with their own kids, some had only focused on contraception and some had used the “the talk”  to introduce formal names for body parts and some told stories about other people’s kids “in trouble”.   Sex-ed meant different things to each of us.

We readily admitted that despite our age, many of us are in our 40’s, we still made huge parenting blunders and didn’t think we were perfect mothers,  but didn’t necessarily want our kids to know that we struggled.  Confident parenting carries a lot of weight in the eyes of a child and  does wonders to encourage compliance when we ask for cooperation from our children. Is it this fear of admitting how hard it is to be a parent, even at our age, that prevents us from sharing realistic expectations with teens about sex? 

After all, if it is this hard for us, parents clearly grasp the fact that it will be so much harder for someone who is so young.  Should the purpose of preventing teenage pregnancies focus less the prevention of having sex, and more on helping teens preventing themselves from becoming mothers and fathers?

When thinking about the people I know who had babies as teens, I recognize that some of them became amazing mothers and every teen mother that I know who has successfully managed motherhood, has not done it alone. Some are finding much success in their careers, others have married and had more children. The fathers of these children- some were active in raising the baby, many married the mother of the child and sometimes that worked out well and sometimes it didn’t.   

But the secret to success for the teens who turned into good parents was parental involvement.  I don’t agree with Bristol’s mom on sex ed, but I believe in Sarah Palin’s mothering spirit. Her parents are helping with childcare, finances, encouraging school and providing emotional support.  Parents of teens who are pregnant are forced to face the consequences of their child’s behaviors and those that respond well should be applauded.

Perhaps parents should be taking sex education classes, too.  This way they are prepared for realistic options, too.  If our kids do have sex, and become a teenage pregnancy statistic, then it no longer matters what sex ed did or didn’t teach them but what matters is whether parents are ready to be responsible parents, to be there emotionally, financially, confidently, for their kids before and after sex-ed classes are approved and reality puts those lessons into practice.

Bristol essentially says in her interview that becoming a mother is a permanent and forever job and that she recognizes that she is no longer the most important person in her world anymore. The baby’s father, her fiancé Levi, has changed his definition of what a parent is to include himself. Can we ever successfully teach this lesson in a sex education class?  

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by Annita Woz

The Simple Goodness of Giving by Annita Woz

cowgirlfeetI sat in the backseat, my elbows bent over the vinyl middle of the front, barely tall enough to see over the dash of our car, just staring at the red spinning lights of the ladder truck then covering my ears as each siren sounded the arrival of another fire and rescue vehicle.

We were parked on the gravel road and far enough away from the driveway that the firefighters could easily get in and out. I didn’t see any flames, but I could smell the smoke and see it, too, blacker than the night sky, rolling out of the roof.  Our two story house was surrounded by strangers doing their jobs in the night when it seems most chimney fires decide to make trouble for families.

Rudely awakened by being pulled from my bed, I grabbed my blue kitty blanket for warmth and I do not remember my dad scooping my sister out of the bottom bunk or how I got down the stairs and into the family car. My mom explained that we had a fire in the chimney but that it was not going to burn our house down and that we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm for the rest of night.

With a gasp I remembered our black poodle and asked my dad if she was burning in the fire. He pointed out the window at her, where she seemed oddly enough to be more safe nipping at the tires of the incoming trucks than she would be inside the smoke filled house.  I could see her mouth opening and closing in typical fashion as she did her job of defending our home from strangers or guests. In my six year old head, I imagined her jumping on my dad’s chest in the night to disturb his snoring, to wake him, and allow my dad to be the hero and save our family from the flames.

In the morning, I sat on my mother’s lap in Grandma Isabel’s kitchen.  We had a traditional breakfast of fried eggs, with a pat of butter on top, then  all of it mashed together with a fork to make the orange yoke and the white of the softly fried egg into a beautiful collage of warm and salty goodness.  The blue light bulb in the socket at the top of the stairs had been left on all night in the upstairs room while we slept under the slanted ceiling of the farmhouse.  Our talk at the breakfast table was about the fire.

It was then that I realized that it was Valentine’s Day at our school and I was late and oh, my valentines were at the house and we had to hurry and get them and get to the party.  My mom patted my nightgown and hugged my shoulders and pointed to my bare feet. She gently told me I would have to miss Valentine’s day because I didn’t have any clothes to wear to school.  I was very sad, very angry at chimneys, and really mad that Dad had not told those firefighters to save my valentines and my clothes.

This morning, while driving my three to school, I listen to them talking about the parties planned for the day. One has made her own valentines this year after rejecting the store bought ones with princesses, or barbies or even the fabric draped chubby winged cupid baby valentines that she had rejected at the local bookstore.  Instead she folded the paper, cut out the twenty-two half hearts.  Inside she had carefully written the same message to the girls and then a shorter, less wordy and less warm message for each boy and informed me that the boys just took the candy and threw the valentines away anyway so really, it wasn’t being rude to not write nice messages to each of them.

My other daughter looked puzzled for a minute, then declared that she didn’t want the boys to keep hers anyway. She had carefully printed the names of all the classmates, then the teachers, then after realizing she had extra valentines proceeded to write out cards for special kids in the lower grades, some neighbors and then two cousins and and gave me strict instructions on how to position the candy on the cards and securely tape each side so the to and the froms would be readable.  It was at that time that she realized some of the cards had messages like, “You are dog gone cute!” and she hesitated after seeing that some of these were going to real boys who were not cute at all to her.  She settled for scribbling out the words with permanent marker on some of them and tried hard to ignore all the red hearts and lovey words that still remained. She carefully sorted, stacked, realigned and planned how she was going to deliver her valentines, determined to not let any friend down and intent on making everyone feel as special as she wanted them to feel.

My youngest took all of his valentines to school in his Sketchers shoe box, the same one reserved for carrying valuable Pokemon cards, or spy gear or matchbox cars to and from play dates.  He had taken time to cut out three black paper hearts after seeing his big sister make her valentines and knowing she had used every scrap of the red and pink construction paper from the craft bin. His black valentines were carefully set to the side since they would go to the important people he really cared about- Dad, Big Nick, and Big Nick’s little brother, his good friend Michael.  On one of the valentines he carefully wrote seven numbers in the order he had memorized and learned to recognize while playing with the calculator taken from my desk.  He hoped that a new friend, just a girl in his class, he casually said, would call him for a play date.

As I drove to school,  I was thankful for the commercialization of Valentine’s Day.  My children took it for what it was – another opportunity for candy and a party- yes, the most important things in life.  They didn’t make the valentines to declare their love for anyone, or to impress anyone but simply for the opportunity to give some sugar and know that they would get some sugar in return.

All grown up now, I have no worries of chimney fires and love the February holiday that can get my children to run to start their day at school.  This Valentine’s Day, right now, is all about them,  is all about the good stuff, the bag of goodies they will deliver, the simple goodness of giving and the sweet satisfaction of getting.

While watching them run down the sidewalk to their friends, I remember carefully choosing the candy hearts-with just the right message- for each of my classmates in elementary school.  I remember carefully reading my valentines and making sure to give ones with a beautiful message to my girl friends, and maybe a special one was selected for the boy that was kindest to me in the classroom.  My thoughts were not about making boyfriends or pledging my love, but I was already good at imagining what my future should be.  Even then, I knew my future  included someone who could bravely rescue me and my dog from a burning building.

I clearly remember- and it makes me grin to think of it again,  just as it did that day- I remember when I did meet someone who meaured up to my imagination,  someone who still proves chivalry exists,  someone who slipped a neatly folded piece of notebook paper that had my name carefully printed and spelled correctly on the outside of it,  into locker 103.

His request for a first date,  delivered nowhere near February 14th,  remains the most true and honest valentine ever given to me.

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It is Like a Day, Says Grampa John- by Annita Woz

check-your-cleats-feetI tucked my big little girl into bed tonight.  I asked if her day was long or short, she replied, long. I asked if she had a good day, she replied, good. I asked if she enjoyed the movie she saw with a friend, she said, uh- it was okay.

I pulled the covers up to her chin and took a minute to sit down beside her. She had asked me to tuck her in, something that she kind of gave up when she turned ten- with the excitement of staying up late and all. Dad and I, glad to have a night of togetherness, welcomed her independence and her ability to go up the stairs, and get into bed without the routine, no to the tuck in, no need for the send-off to the night.

We kiss her good night now and up she goes; the girl who can set her own alarm, do her homework in her own room, get dressed by herself also knows how to make her night work and takes pride in staying up later than the other kids. She catches up on some computer time, takes a moment to watch a big girl show, gets an extra cuddle on the couch with mom and dad and then off to bed she goes.

It was yesterday when she was a tiny girl, arriving a few weeks earlier than expected, a teensy thing, with spindly legs, and a neck that could hardly hold her beautiful head. She cried the first few months. Colic.  We know now. I spent the time holding her on my chest in the rocker and gave her to dad to hold her in the rocker some more when he came home from his long day. She seems to never be sick now,  never a sad day, always a happy face. Somehow she has purged all the grumpy unhappy,  unhealthiness, likely from fighting so hard those first few weeks.

Our girl was a wonder from day one. People would meet her and remark that she was an old soul, tell us that there was something special about her, remind us that she had some childhood magic to spread around, congratulate us that we had a pretty special girl as our firstborn.

I did not know what to say to those comments.

I knew no different, had no comparisons. Like a mom who’s first born are twins, I did not know life any other way, could not imagine it being any harder nor easier.

And here she is.  All grown, all long hair flying, all green eyes shining. She is the best of both of us, my husband’s analytical self, my creative self. She is reserved but giggly when over tired. She is cautious with her hugs, but once secure, loves with her whole heart. She is quiet, but can be listening when we don’t think she is. Serious, but playful, she is a magical blend of the both of us.

Her limbs are growing now, practically as tall as I am, she can still gracefully turn a cartwheel. She has graduated out of her glasses, her braces and her little body all in one swoop. She has training bras, feet that have to be fitted into her vision of ugly adult style shoes and will stop short of taking stuffed animals into her school. She is clueless on boys and still gets red in the face when we ask for boyfriend’s names, but she has friends of both genders, holds her own against a team of boys her math brain and competitive drive.

She has a dad who loves her. A mom who stops short of telling her with every new experience, that she could be an engineer, an artist, a doctor, when I see her interested in so many things I don’t want to limit her like life does.

Grampa John told me many years ago, at her first birthday party,  “It is like a day. One day they are in white getting baptized, the next day they are walking down the aisle. That is how quickly they grow up. ”

I don’t want to miss it, don’t want to rush it, but cannot help myself in my imagination. I see her doing so many things, but know that when she does them, I will be grayer and older.

My life is over as hers is beginning. It is all about our children, no longer about us, an awareness of reality that begins from the first day they arrive and claim our best parts.  It is a transition from our self centered selves, a release of our own goals and dreams, a realization that we are done.

My girl can put herself to sleep at night, but sometimes, she asks to be tucked in. We practically race to be included in her routine. As quickly as we gave up the responsibility to have to put her to bed, we just as quickly miss the opportunity to be a part of the end of her day.

I sat on the side of her bed, tucked the covers under her chin, adjusted the night light, the pillow, made myself busy. I took a minute to tell her I loved her. She grinned and in a baby voice she said she loved me, too. I hugged her not once, or twice, but several times and took a minute to remind myself that I was so blessed to have been given the opportunity to learn about myself, through my own child. I would not have known I missed this, had I not allowed myself to get caught up in the baby making.

I did not know that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a thing to share with a child- that child had plenty to share with and teach me.

I am always learning, Annita Woz.

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80 year old Me by Annita Woz

blurrysquishedhammockfeetI’ve been accused of acting like I’m as old as an 80 year old woman.  This from my sister who has always had a way of saying things that make you tip your head and think about why it makes sense but doesn’t feel completely accurate.

My sister is bipolar.  The common term for it when she was twelve was manic depressive. She could tell a convincing story, could stay up all night and talk and imagine and tell and retell stories until she didn’t even know what she had seen, heard or embellished. Her tales were clever, almost to the point of making them absurd, but not so off the wall that a stranger would ever notice the discrepancies in the chronological order or the changing participants.

She could accomplish surreal events, like getting via taxi from a small rural town to the nearest mall, a mere 49 minutes away and then somehow know how to ask the driver to wait on the cement slab in front of our three bedroom ranch home while she ran in to retrieve for him uncounted but carefully folded dollar bills from the dresser drawer in the room we shared.

I just know I had never seen a taxi on our street, ever.  And it wasn’t yellow like on television.  And I didn’t know when it arrived to pick her up or who had called in the address.  I had no idea we had that much cash in our home.  It was exciting for this 80 year old woman,  until I really thought about it.

Actually, the excitement stopped there, really.

When you have someone who is so clearly suffering from a mental illness, who has no understanding of the consequences of her choice of words,  has no concept that her accusations and arguments might never be smoothed away,  it ceases to be amusing.  She would alienate all who cared about her while trying to convince us of her position on an argument.  She played the devil’s advocate and infuriatingly wrapped the details around the story rather than admit that her truth was just her truth and no one else’s.  She believed herself.

One day we woke to a half-painted kitchen.  It stayed that way for many months, maybe it was years,  like a scar our home wore to remind us of all she was going through.  We either refused to see the paint halfway up the wall near the front door because we wanted to believe that it was just an unfinished project that she would return to finish or we refused to fix it because if we painted it over, made it right,  it would be like accepting that we understood why she started to paint it in the first place.

While we tried to adjust, she cried.  She cried often and would tell us that she didn’t know why she was sad.  “I just am,  and I cannot change it, ” she would confess.  Teachers would come to my classroom and rap on the door. I sat in the desk closest to the door, and would get called out to the hallway or the lunchroom or the playground to come and calm her. This was 25 years ago. No one knew how to help her-  how to hear her. There were no classroom aides or guidance counselors prepared for the confusion.

She once packed up the living room in black garbage bags and declared she was shipping them to Ethiopia for the starving children, just as the Pope had requested. In fact, she was going on the Phil Donahue show later that day to tell her story and get others involved to fly there with her. She was fifteen.

My family took the advice of a social worker, declared her a ward of the state, and they led her through a procedural scene in a courtroom;  her hands were cuffed behind her back.  I believe she is still angry about what she still calls “the betrayal.”  Insurance then didn’t cover medications,  psych wards,  repeated returns to the hospital.  When I went to see her, my first trip to a mental ward was unlike anything I had ever read.   It was full of regular looking people, regular until I heard them rattling on,  telling stories to anyone who would listen.  All were endless victims in a society that didn’t treat them fairly, never realizing that the standard fair is hard to apply to those who defy logic.

No matter how much we loved her,  we could not love her enough to make her mind work. We kept trying to rationalize her problems, to address her issues, to understand her confusion disguised as reality.  Except to her,  it was reality and confusion is what she lives.

I did not get to visit her that day. She was not allowed to see me because she had been trying to engage in a romantic relationship with another patient.  I left her a note. She kept it and showed it to me years later.  Somewhere in her head, she keeps everything.

My calendar quote for today says, “The brave know fear but march on anyway.”

She grew up. She found medication. She went on it, she went off it, she convinced herself she didn’t need medicine,  she gave up, she started over, she met and married, she has two children.  She may not have slept for years.

We don’t know her.  And she doesn’t know us.  But I believe it is good that she has two children. They can rely on each other, and know that they aren’t alone in wondering why she is where she is in her head. They aren’t alone. Some day they will connect with us and we will all not be alone, together.

Two years ago, she called and reminded me that I have always acted like I was 80, that I needed to relax and have a little fun more often.  I needed all that ancient wisdom that she credits to me, wisdom to teach me to learn from her spirit.  Something good has come from knowing this girl, this sister of mine.

I am an 8o year old woman, and I am grateful for the lessons my sister has taught me.   I have learned that the world doesn’t always follow logic and that sometimes we have to accept that, and appreciate our life as it is.

I have gratitude. I am thankful that she is in a safe place, in a world that she has created, where she can balance her imagined life there by forgetting her life here. I am grateful to be left behind.  I am grateful that her husband must be a patient man, must be a good provider, must be a stronger human being than I am.  He has loved her for all these years, somehow made sense out of her stories, allowed her the safety of hiding from all of us and given her purpose and value in his world.

I know that twice, after delivering her children, she was hospitalized, held, stabilized.  She has protected her children as any mother does, from the world. Even if her world is much scarier than it is for all of us, she has been the best parent she can be.

We do the best we can with what we have no matter our age. 40 or 80,  I am grateful.  I could be lost in my own head, fighting to find myself, thinking I had and then repeating the journey over and over.

by annita woz

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