You're having a baby! In Scotland!!

First of all, congrats mama! You are having a baby! And while this reality can be overwhelming in itself, it can be all the more so when you are planning to have said baby overseas. I’ve been getting a lot of messages with a lot of really good questions about prepping for the experience in the UK, and hopefully this can help to answer some of them. I had my youngest son in Kirkcaldy two seasons ago on November 25th through their national healthcare system (NHS). It was my first season in the UK but it was my second baby and my third season abroad. I had a wonderful experience from pre-natal care to delivery and post-natal care. It was such a lovely place to live and raise my babies that we happily returned for another year even though my husband had sworn that our first year there was going to be his last before retirement. (How many times as your hockey guy said that? And then decided on “just one more”.) Anyway, I’m so happy he signed on for an encore season. The point is, we loved it there. And I’m confident you and your little family will too. Here are just a few things that might make the move a little easier and ease your mind about the whole “having a baby in Scotland” thing…

The Packing

Not knowing what would be available to me, I grossly overpacked on year one. I brought everything that a person would need to live on a deserted island with a toddler and a new baby on the way. Totally unnecessary. The UK has everything you need and lots of it at discount prices. Nursing Pads (Savers), bottles and diapers nappies (Asda), Clothing (PRIMARK!!). Plus, there’s Gumtree, the UK version of Craigslist. I bought a pack and play, umbrella stroller, ride on toys, play kitchen and TONS of other things on there for super cheap and just sold them back before I left.  Long story long, you can be rest assured you will be able to find pretty much everything you need over there without breaking the bank. So when packing, I would consider these things:

  • Infant Carseat: Easier not to mess with finding a seat in the UK that meets US standards or that's compatible with your stroller. Get a travel bag that will fit the next size up carseat and you’ll have space to cram any extra belongings in there with it. No one ever questioned why my carseat weighed a gazillion pounds. Shhh… 

  • Stroller: Buying a stroller is like buying a car. It’s likely you’ve researched for hours and found the stroller of your dreams. So, if you want it, bring it! Worst case they will charge you for the extra bag since the baby technically isn’t born yet to redeem his/her free-stroller privileges. I gate-checked my double stroller, and maybe they just didn’t bother me because I technically already had one kid. If they do charge you, I think it’s still worth it. It’s fairly mild weather year round out there, so you’ll want to be out walking. And unless you are due at the very end of the season when your baby is still content full-time in a carrier, you’ll probably want YOUR stroller. If you haven’t found “the one” yet, there are some great options over there you could buy and bring home. Then your baby will have a fancy foreign “buggy” as a great conversation starter. Whether you buy here or there, get a travel bag for it. You can buy generic ones for fairly cheap off Amazon UK (Yes, they have their own Amazon!). And def splurge on a rain cover… it is Scotland after all.

  • Breastpump: These are expensive to buy in the UK and don’t come with your insurance like it does in the states for most people. If insurance covers it, talk to your doctor and get your script for one. Sometimes the pharmacies that distribute them are funny giving them out too early, but they should accommodate you. It’s worth calling the manufacturer and ordering the adaptor for UK outlets. It would suck to have it fry because of being incompatible with power. Or just plan on using batteries. You can buy those in bulk at your nearest dollar store Poundland. 

  • Rock and Play: I only brought one pack and play and it was for my then-toddler. I brought the rock and play for my newbie because it’s super compact and I figured it would hold me over for a little while if I couldn’t get a second pack and play out there. Sure enough, Gumtree hooked me up with one for 15 quid that I sold back for the same price two years later.

  • Peace of mind pieces: Pack some outfits and onesies and a small collection of whatever other baby items will appease your inner nesting instinct. You can build from there once you’ve settled in.

Now, for the fun part…

Pre-natal care

If your man goes over before you, have him get right on top of filling out insurance info for you. Once you have an insurance number (or whatever they call it), you can find a GP. The GP office is where you will go for most of your pre-natal appointments, general health issues, and where you will bring your baby for wellness checks. GPs aren’t always accepting new patients, so it might take a couple tries to find one that is. From there, schedule your first appointment with a midwife. Midwives are only in GP offices on certain days so the appointments tend to fill in fast. Best to get in there as soon as possible and schedule your remaining check-ups. Don’t panic if it takes a couple weeks to be seen. If you are ever worried about anything, they will get you in quick and you will at the very least be seen by a nurse practitioner. They can always refer you to the midwifery unit at the hospital if necessary. The fact that an OBGYN isn’t available on a daily basis initially made me nervous. However, my baby and I were always taken care of even though the process is a little different than here in the states.

Comparing my two pregnancies, one here and one there, there weren’t too many noticeable differences leading up to my deliveries. I found that they didn’t do as many routine ultrasound scans as my OBGYN in the states who took a look at the baby nearly every visit. You’ll fill out a big binder of info and they will determine whether you require any special observation. At one point in my pregnancy, I was considered higher risk so I had my pre-natal checks with a Consultant at the maternity ward at the hospital as opposed to the midwife at the GP office. I was then deemed fit to return to regular non-consultant led pre-natal care. In both places, I was very comfortable.

Also, I found the birthing culture there to be less inclined towards induction than here in the U.S. I was induced with my first at 41 weeks and he was still over 9 lbs. I was petrified when the midwife in Scotland scheduled me for a 42-week check-up at my 39-week visit. Fortunately, my little one arrived the day after his due date at an itsy bitsy (compared to his brother) 8 pounds. They obviously induce if it’s medically necessary for you or the baby or when you’ve reached the 42-week mark. But, ladies, just prepare yourself for the long haul.

The Delivery

Ok, so I have now had two very different birthing experiences. In one, I was induced, in labor for 14 hours before begging exhaustedly for an epidural. I then took a three hour-nap and woke up for another lonnnnnng round of painless labor before my son finally decided to make an appearance in front of my doctor and about three nurses.

With #2 in Scotland, I went to the hospital for a night of contractions increasing in intensity only to have them slow back down. I was sent home in the morning, returned that night, and had the little guy within two hours completely naturally. The only people in the room were me, my husband, and our absolutely wonderful midwife.

I’m sure these are the 91st and 92nd birth stories you’ve heard since you announced your pregnancy. I don’t know why everyone shares theirs, but, in my case, I’m trying to stress the fact that, though they were very different experiences, both ended with me holding a sweet little baby. You can't really plan for anything other than that baby coming out, and likely on his/her own agenda. That's the same no matter which side of the ocean you are on. 

All that said, you obviously have to do a little "planning" while you wait for your own birth story to unfold. Should you opt for an epidural, you will automatically be scheduled to deliver in the consultant-led wing of the hospital. If you opt to try a non-epidural route, you will be down the hall in the midwife-led unit.  As a heads up, epidurals are not the norm in Scotland. But this isn’t as scary as it sounds. They do have alternative pain management options, “Gas and air” being the big one. It’s actually starting to make its way to hospital in the states because it supposedly works really well. My delivery progressed too fast for me to use it, but I’ve heard it’s wonderful. I found that, while the final stage of labor was tougher without the epidural, my recovery time was much better than when I had one. So I guess it's a little bit of "pick your poison". 

Post-Natal Care

You will hear that women in Scotland are discharged 6 hours after giving birth. And, it’s true!! Crazy, right? I got ten hours, maybe because they sympathized that I was a foreigner and was not genetically engineered to be a Birthing Superhero like all the other Scottish mamas. But here’s the amazing thing. I actually felt great. And, their system of post-natal care is amazing. Yes, in the states you get two days for your standard delivery. But then, that’s it. Two days and you are ON YOUR OWN until those six-week checks. In Scotland, the turnover is quick in the hospital. But then you get two weeks of in-home personalized care for you and your baby. A midwife comes to your house every couple of days and answers all those burning questions you inevitably have when you step foot out of the hospital doors. They help with nursing, check your vitals, weigh the baby, and even administer baby’s first shots. They help you with nursing if you need it and are all around the most resourceful people you could ask for, especially when you are so far from home. I LOVED this aspect of the UK healthcare system.

Once you are are settled in at home, you will need to start thinking about getting your baby HOME home. Here's the U.S. process of getting citizenship for your scottish-born babe. You will go to the town clerk to buy your baby's long-form birth certificate which says all the important info that you see on traditional birth certificates. Then you will fill out stacks of paperwork for baby's passport and U.S. Consular Report of Birth Abroad certificate, the birth-certificate recognized in the states. You'll make an appointment with the consulate, and receive both documents together.  

One more thing:

One last final thing I think is worth mentioning and it only pertains to those of you who are expecting little boys… It has to do with the big “C” word. I know this is a topic that can spark huge debates, and I am not trying to offend anyone, but here’s the scoop on circumcision. My husband and I chose to have our first son circumcised and so we planned to go the same route with his little brother. I found that it was not an easy issue to discuss at my pre-natal appointments abroad. Through my own research, I found that it can be done privately in various clinics in the bigger cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, but ultimately decided to wait until we were home. The procedure was carried out at the pediatrician’s office when my son was 3 months old and, although I’d assumed it would be an out-of-pocket expense, it was covered by our insurance. I think when they are a little older, they need to use general anesthesia. Whatever you and your hubby are planning to do, it’s worth consulting your pediatrician at home before you go so that you know all of your options before baby arrives.

Alright, so that’s about all the rambling I am sure you can handle. Hopefully it touches upon most of the questions you have. If not, feel free to message me at any point and I can try and help out or direct you to someone who can. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and safe travels. I’ll be wishing you all a healthy and happy pregnancy (and hockey season!)

XO - Sarah


A Note from Kevin

I wanted to write something meaningful about retirement, something that would cover my whole career. Something honest about the ups and downs of being a professional hockey player. But I can't really find the words right now. Maybe it hasn't set in, or maybe it’s just been too busy getting started on this next chapter to really think about it…
After giving everything I’ve had to this sport for over 20 years, retiring certainly wasn’t an easy decision. The fact that we'd be leaving Scotland made it even more difficult. 
When I first signed two years ago, I was hesitant. Sarah was pregnant with our second baby, and I had no idea how we would adapt to raising our family overseas. I didn't really know what to expect, what the atmosphere would be like for a small hockey team in a soccer country.  I really couldn’t believe the support the team received from the community, and we found it a great place to raise our family. The people there made us feel like Scotland was our second home, and we will be eternally grateful for that.
I'll always think I had more to give to my team these past two seasons. A large part of me wanted to recommit to my training to come back for another year and finish on a higher note. But few hockey players close out their hockey careers with a win. It's just a part of the job. And retiring was never going to be easy, not this season or three seasons from now...
In the end, it’s hard work being a hockey player. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to stay at your peak and, as I get older, the costs of those sacrifices begin to outweigh the benefits of playing another year. I couldn't come back knowing that I might not be able to give all I have to the game. Not to mention, despite everything we loved about Fife, it’s not an easy task to move a family of four overseas every year. It's time to give our boys a permanent home, to be around our families for the whole year instead of just 4 months. I’m excited to start a new career and a new life outside of hockey. 
There are so many people I could thank for helping my family over the last two years. I will end by thanking my coaches for giving me the opportunity to play in Fife and the fans for all their unwavering support. I couldn't have asked for a better place to play. The Flower of Scotland will remain our three-year-old's favorite "hockey song", and Fife will always have a special place in all of our hearts.
- Kevin


Dear Fifers

In two days, we will be on our way home after having completed our second hockey season in Scotland. As often happens when you come to the end of any wonderful experience, you start getting sentimental. And that’s what I’m doing now. Looking back fondly on our little Fife life.

It seems like yesterday we arrived here, after what had been a whirlwind off-season. Just two months before, Kevin had been recovering from his second-consecutive season-ending injury. His career may well have been over. He wasn’t a particularly marketable goalie seeing as 1) the timeline of his recovery might not allow him to regain his form before the start of the season and 2) signing him meant bringing along his pregnant wife and their little boy. Would all that extra paperwork be worth it for a player that might not be able to stay injury-free for the entire year? Most recruiters would have said “no”. And I wouldn’t have blamed them. But Stewy wasn’t most recruiters. He saw past Kevin’s injury-record and past the fact that our family situation was more complicated than other potential prospects. I will be forever grateful to him for taking a risk on us, and to the rest of the Flyers management for trusting his judgment. Had it not been for them, we never would have had this extraordinary opportunity.

In two seasons, we’ve been lucky to see so much of what this beautiful country has to offer. From Edinburgh and Stirling to Inverness and The Isle of Skye, from little fishing villages like Crail and Anstruther to bigger seaside towns like St. Andrews and Kirkcaldy, we’ve marveled at the scenery and soaked in the culture. In all our adventures, we’ve driven through more rotaries roundabouts than we will drive through for the rest of our lives in the States. We’ve eaten more toast and consequently more butter than ever before. And we’ve taken more pictures than we could ever afford to develop.

Looking at our lives now, I see little pieces of Scotland everywhere. I love that our backyard is the “garden”, the mail is the “post”, soccer is "football", and Brayden knows chips as “crisps” and fries as “chips”. I don’t have any shame about the fact that I practically eat Scottish butter with a spoon. (Yes. It’s that good.) I’m proud that I now understand about 90% of what Mr. Allan Anderson says, which is a testament to my vastly improved understanding of a thick Scottish accent. And I’m happy that my boys have spent many of their toddler days puddle jumping in tidal pools at the beach, playing in Fife’s pristine parks, and exploring the ruins of Ravenscraig Castle. We are so lucky that so many of our earliest memories as a family-of-four will have Scotland in the backdrop.

Thinking back to what this community has meant to our family, I couldn’t be more grateful. This is the place our youngest son was born. The place where I was welcomed into a group of lovely mothers who, over the course of playdates and playgroup sessions, and the occasional night out, have become wonderful friends. Where we have found lifelong friendships in players and their better halves. The place where my husband’s played in front of his favorite type of home crowd, the big and loud and proud kind. Where he was given tremendous fan support, even when he thought he didn’t deserve it but probably needed it the most.

This hasn’t been the easiest two years for us. Having a new baby so far away from our own families comes with its own set of challenges. Losing my sister last January was the start of what has been a long and painful journey. Through it all, we have been so humbled by the support that's poured in. We are so lucky that hockey brought us here because we would not have been able to do it alone. 

So, to all those who have been there for us in different ways over the course of our time here, I want to say thank you. And to those of you who also happen to be Flyers fans, keep doing what you do. This may not have been the season that you all wanted and deserved. But better seasons will inevitably come, as well as some long-awaited hardware. Until that day, no matter what future seasons hold for us, we will be cheering on the Flyers. And, all the while, you can take pride in having made Fife such a wonderful place for your hockey families to play.

All our love and thanks,
The Regan Family


My Love Affair with Hockey

I didn’t always love Hockey. It only took one pre-adolescent trip-up on double-bladed skates for me to decide I should stick to sports that aren’t played on frozen surfaces. And so my father, a former collegiate player himself, swapped his skates for a softball glove and spent his weekends at track meets instead of hockey games. He wasn’t offended that his three daughters had little interest in his personal sport of preference. On the topic, he only had one request : “Never date a hockey player”.

And so I made it through the first nineteen years of my life with very little understanding of the sport. How many innings(?) were played in a single game… how many players were on a roster… Which hall-of-famers played for which NHL team… That was until, in the fashion of a stereotypical daughter, I found myself at odds with my father’s one wish. I didn’t do it as an intentional act of rebellion, but I started dating a hockey player.

So began my love stories with Kevin in particular and the sport of hockey in general. Falling in love with one was quicker and easier than falling in love with the other. One had wit and charm, blue eyes, and a cute South Boston accent. The other had lots of rules I didn’t understand, a cold venue, and an NHL network that always interfered with my reality TV viewing schedule.

When I started watching Kevin play, I didn’t know much about what I was seeing. The whole experience stressed me out. I’d sit there in the Whittemore Center Arena, clapping nervously when other Wildcats clapped, and just hoping the puck wouldn’t go in the net.

As time went on, however, Kevin’s passion started to rub off on me. Without meaning to, I learned about the game. I soon found myself reading plays as they developed, analyzing the quality of shots made on net, and actually enjoying hockey highlights over breakfast. I knew what systems should look like, and when ref’s made iffy calls. I could match NHL-ers to their teams, recognize different styles of goaltending, and appreciate a good, high-intensity hockey game.

Just when I was starting to think Hockey wasn’t so bad after all, it really upped its game and sent us on all sorts of wonderful adventures. It brought us to Providence where Kev and I spent our engagement in an adorable East Side apartment. Just a few weeks after our honeymoon, it sent us to la bella Italia for two seasons. Next it landed our newly expanded family in Wichita, the land of Sunny Decembers and smoky barbecues. And then, with a second baby on the way, it flew us to beautiful Scotland where we’ve been ever since.

It hasn’t always been perfect, nor would I have expected it to be. Hockey comes with a lot of baggage, literally and figuratively speaking. There is a lot of pressure and very little stability in such a performance-driven career. There are challenges to living away from our families. There is packing. (A LOT of packing.) There are everyday stressors magnified by being in foreign surroundings. But even in the hardships, there are positives. As I watched Kevin rehab from potentially career-ending injuries, I admired his resilience and work ethic. When we needed support we would have found in our families back home, we found it in our Hockey communities. When we struggled to balance his schedule with our graduate programs, parenthood, and marriage… when all we had was each other, we learned how strong we are together.

Maybe it’s just me getting sentimental as the season winds down, but somewhere over the past eleven seasons I fell in love Hockey. I love it for showing me places I never would have seen, introducing me to people I never would have met. For bringing out of Kevin some of his best qualities, the ones I fall in love with every day. For teaching me to be more flexible, inspiring my wanderlust. And for challenging us as a couple in the best possible way.

Now, all that said…. as much as I love Hockey, I will likely be a bit of a stress-case in the stands this weekend, feeling the pressure of a do-or-die playoff series. I’ll be cursing the clock for going too slow if we are ahead and too fast if we are behind. I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat, cursing my Hockey affection for driving me on the verge of crazy…

love can do that sometimes. 


Lessons of a Tummy Bug

You know it’s going to be a long night when you wake up to your husband asking you to help him determine whether your one-year-old is covered (COVERED!!) in puke or poop. Puke or Poop? Sounds like an awful gameshow category. Baby looks completely exhausted (and rightfully so seeing as its 3am). You check his diaper and, since it’s clear, you know it’s the other end that’s responsible for producing the vile-smelling substance that’s filled his bed and he’s apparently rolled in. You’re weirdly relieved. Is it better to be cleaning vomit than shit from your baby’s neck folds and hair? Probably. The Would-You-Rather game takes on a whole new level when you have kids.

And so the night progressed with more of the same, big brother, joining in the fun shortly after. It was the first time, and likely not the last, that BOTH babies in our house were hit with a tummy bug in the same night. And here were some things I learned from the enlightening experience, one that serves as yet another rite of passage in parenthood…

1.     Do not under any circumstances give your baby a glass of milk following a vomiting episode. Even if it appears to have been an isolated incident. Even if he’s begging you for it “milk. Milk. MILK, MILK!!!”. It WILL come back up. Almost immediately. But not before you’ve cleaned his bed, changed the sheets, and dressed him in a fresh pair of pajamas.

2.     Vomit smells absolutely, positively, repulsive. I had hoped there was some sort of maternal odor immunity that comes with having children, but that is not the case. I am always surprised by how disgusting it is, irrespective of who it comes from. And how that phantom smell persists long after it’s been Lysol-ed away.

3.     You have approximately one hour and twenty-seven minutes before another child in your household is up with the same bug that tormented the first one earlier. You have approximately thirty-two seconds after that “mommmmmmyyyyy” wake-up call has been issued to get that child to the toilet.

4.     It is in these moments that you are most strongly reminded of how single parents are truly the most kick-ass people out there. How do they do THIS?? ALONE?! And so follows my incredible gratitude to my husband for being all-in even when the going gets rough. I see him climbing up the stairs with a third batch of cleaning supplies, comic sound effects bouncing off him, “KAPOW” “KABOOM” “BOING”, like a handsome Calvin-Klein-boxer-brief-wearing superhero. Maybe it’s the fumes from the cleaning products, but I swear he’s as handsome as ever. Mommy goggles I guess. I am such a sucker for seeing my guy being such a good daddy to our boys.

5.     The cuddles you get the next day almost make you forget about the fact that you were up all night scrubbing puke off the floors and rubbing your toddler’s back while he stood over the toilet. You all snuggle on the couch watching Frozen for the millionth time and life isn’t bad at all. This will be the light at the end of the tunnel that I’ll hold onto the next time a stomach virus rolls around.


Don't Laugh, Sarah.

You think your day was hard? Try NOT laughing at some of the shit a toddler says. This be-the-responsible-adult-and-don’t-laugh thing is really difficult. Especially when you are chronically sleep-deprived because things are always funnier when you are tired. The problem with laughing at something your toddler does is that it encourages them to do it again. This is not a secret to toddler parenting, but a fact of human nature: It’s fun being funny. And toddlers are often funniest when their innocent curiosity crosses the line with inappropriateness. They are candid comedians, but, if you're trying to raise conduct-appropriate citizens, you must represent a stone-faced audience. Here are a few instances where it’s been the most difficult and simultaneously most important that I NOT laugh.

1. Toddler is being irrational.
This happens a lot. Take, for instance, when I unwrap a granola bar that’s split in half and Brayden absolutely refuses to eat it because it’s “broken”. Screaming fit ensues because he’s starving. Starving!! And yet, he can’t imagine eating a perfectly good, albeit broken, snack. Or, here's another example: he’s throwing a tantrum because I simply cannot do anything right. I push his seat in too close to the table, then pull it out too far. He wants the yellow cup with blue lid not the red cup with green lid (obviously). He wants his pancakes cut up smaller, but not THAT small (clearly I’m an idiot). And on and on it goes until he ultimately decides he doesn’t want pancakes and eggs at all. Instead he wants the slice of pumpkin bread that I’d offered him at the start of this whole debacle and he’d refused. It’s funny because it’s all so absurd. Is this little person really THIS irrational? Yes. He is. But he's also clearly distraught so laughing would be a cruel response. Look away from that ridiculous but equally adorable pouty face. Leave the room. Give him a hug. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at him. 

2. Toddler reacts unfavorably to having to share his mother.
I want my sons to know I love them both. Equally. And that, though they have to share their mommy and daddy, they get a brother out of the bargain. So, I like to use their bouts of jealousy as learning opportunities. I can’t do that, however, if I’m laughing. Picture this: I am making lunch and a cranky/hungry/i-don’t-know-why-I’m-crying Tyler is gripping to my leg like a spider monkey. Meanwhile, his older brother is having a fit of his own across the kitchen. When I ask him what's wrong, he screams, “that’s MYYYYYYYY leg”. In other words, my right leg, the one Tyler is clinging to, actually belongs to Brayden. Maybe it's the chaos of the minute, but his claiming possession over one of my limbs triggers a giggle. I quickly rein it in. “Actually, Brayden, that is my leg. But if you really must borrow a leg of mine to cry on like your brother, you can use my other one. I have two boys I love and I have two legs.” Learning opportunity seized! Christ help me if I have a third child.

3. Toddler discusses his private parts.
Ugh. The innate fascination a boy has with his penis is truly remarkable. My 14-month old can’t find his nose but he can easily say “pee-pee” and locate what he obviously identifies as a more important body part. I’ve read enough about this to know that it is normal. For the sake of preserving what is a natural and healthy curiosity, it’s best not to scorn their behavior. But you don’t want them running around in public yelling “Look, mommy! There’s a ball in my penis” either. So you just have to develop some matter-of-fact responses. “Yes. I see that.” and “No. You shouldn’t play with them in public”. Or, you might need to practice non-reaction. This is probably a more difficult alternative because when I hear my two-year-old say “Look, mommy! My penis is getting bigger” it’s really hard not to cringe.

4. Toddler uses the potty in a public place. 
There’s a lot of descriptive dialogue that my little guy uses on the toilet. When we are in the privacy of our own home, I am generally unfazed by the exclamatory remarks about the bubbles in his pee or the size, smell, and consistency of his “poopies”. It’s when he’s pooping in public restrooms, something he’s actually quite keen on doing, where my maturity is really put to the test. It’s hard not to laugh knowing there are strangers listening to the whole thing… his grunting, followed closely by a, “That was a BIIIIGGGG splash, mommy!” I can’t fault the kid for anything more than stating a fact. I mean, it WAS a big splash. Should something so big come out of someone so small? I make a mental note to google that later. “That was a stinky poopy, mommy.” Another truth. That woman waiting for the bathroom picked a really bad time for a pee break. I really don’t want to encourage potty-talk so I swallow the yes-this-is-the-story-of-my-life-now laugh that’s stuck in my throat. And it’s not easy because I’m also trying not to breathe.

5. Toddler premeditates assaulting his younger brother with a vegetable. 
You always know when Brayden is up to no good. Just ask, and he will tell you. The other day, I spotted him walking towards the kitchen with a large cucumber in hand. Why he had a cucumber at all, let alone outside of the kitchen is irrelevant, but I'm guessing it has something to do with Tyler helping me "unpack" groceries earlier in the afternoon. The part that really got me was his very matter-of-fact response when I asked him what he was up to. "I'm going to hit Tyler in the head with a cucumber". What did you just say? “I’m going to hit Tyler in the head with a cucumber.” Oh. Ok. Just wanted to make sure I heard you correctly. 

Don’t laugh, Sarah, don’t laugh. 


A Toddler's Lesson on Accountability

No one holds me as accountable for anything as my two-year old does for everything.  

The other day I was getting Brayden ready to go to school. We took one last trip to the bathroom before heading out the door. As he was doing his business, he commented that I needed to clean the toilet. Oh, really, little man. You can eat food off the floor without flinching but can’t pee into a toilet that is a bit less sparkly than it could be. I laughed at his very high standard of bathroom cleanliness and ushered him to the sink to wash his hands. “Please clean the toilet for me, mommy” he pleaded in that sweet little voice he usually reserves for requesting an extra book at bedtime or five more minutes of hockey before dinner. 

“I’ll clean it while you are at school”, I said to appease his concern, as silly and ironic as it seemed. And there it was. An empty promise. In my defense, it was a completely unintentional one. I typically use Brayden-free Friday mornings to do these types of chores because it’s easier to clean toilets and resurface hockey rinks mop floors while only having to keep the potentially dangerous cleaning supplies away from ONE toddler. It just so happens that on this particular Friday, that one toddler took a random morning nap. And this chronically sleep-deprived mother took one too.

Fast forward a couple of hours and it was time for pick-up. Feeling refreshed from a nap and a shower, I applauded myself for successful time management during the morning. Little did I know, I wasn’t deserving of this self-praise. Because the very first thing my darling Brayden asked when he spotted me at the door to his classroom was, “Mommy! Did you clean the toilet?” While his teachers found this hilarious, I was a bit humiliated. I mean, what would my kid’s excitement over a clean toilet imply of my housekeeping? Of this poor child’s living conditions? Not to mention that fact that I hadn’t actually cleaned the toilet… so I was both a keeper of dirty washrooms AND a liar. Ugh. Mommy fail.

On the ride home, I fessed up that I hadn’t gotten around to cleaning the toilet. Fortunately, Brayden was very forgiving. But the whole situation made me think about how loosely I sometimes say I’m going to do things. How the other day, he’d nearly cried when Tyler ripped a page of one of his books and I’d yet to tape it like I promised. How I’d forgotten to get strawberries elsewhere after we saw they were sold out on our last grocery shop. They are harmless things really. But that’s not the point. The point is that follow-through is so incredibly important. I don’t know that I will forever doom my child to issues with accountability if I fail to do those little things I say that I’ll do now. But, what if? I shuddered to think.

I knew what had to be done. The toilet didn’t really need to be cleaned, but I needed to model follow-through. So that’s what I did when Brayden was napping. And guess what happened later that afternoon when he used the sparkly, fresh bathroom…

Did I see flashes of his future, a future full of follow-through… a seven-year old teaching Tyler to tie his shoes to make good on a promise, a teenager replacing the toilet roll like I made him swear he would, a new father taking his own babies to the park like he said he would? Ok, not really. But I did get a very adorable smile and a gracious “Thank you mommy for cleaning the toilet for me!” And that’s more than I need to keep me doing those little things… taping the ripped page of his favorite book, remembering strawberries at the grocery store, cleaning the bathroom... Because those small, seemingly insignificant things actually matter. To one of the people that matters most. 


I married a good one.

Marry someone who can make you laugh. It doesn’t need to be constant fits of rolling on the floor laughter. Little laughs when you need them most are just as important, and maybe even more so. In other words, comedic timing often trumps the intensity of hilarity.

It was one of those days where the boys were being especially difficult. They each wanted different things at different times, and seemed intent on annoying/physically harming one another. I spent the majority of the morning moving from one failed activity to another, wrangling the boys in and out of their carseats, and putting together food that was ultimately getting tossed on the floor. My patience was thinner than I care to admit, I was tired, and I felt defeated. Thankfully, Kevin had just walked in the door. He assessed the situation with a pair of fresh eyes, and must have instantly gauged my distress. He took over the babies and ushered me out the door to run the errands that had been mounting up over the previous few hectic days. I quickly briefed him on what exactly he was walking into, feeling somewhat guilty to be walking out.

All of this transitioning happened routinely, a quick and efficient communication about the afternoon’s division of responsibility. We were a team and this was our plan of attack. I felt relieved just knowing I wasn’t alone. And then to be given a much-needed break too! (Funny how running errands without children in tow qualifies as a break, isn’t it?)

I loved my husband in that moment, as he turned bravely towards the battlefield cries in the kitchen. But I loved him even more when I explained how Tyler had dropped my phone in such a way that the battery was lost under the washer. That was when he handed me his own phone to borrow. And with a playful smile, he said “If any of my girlfriends call, just take a message”. That was all it took. I felt muscles in my face relax that I hadn’t even realized were tense. I took a breath, and I laughed. And it was just what I needed. Humor in the height of chaos, a quick-witted line that reminded me it was all going to be okay, that I had the best possible partner for all this craziness. I think this a lot for a lot of different reasons, but it won’t ever stop being true: I married a good one.


"The Happiness Project"

Last year, Theresa gave me a beautiful journal that reminded her of Stephanie. For a long time, it sat blank on my nightstand. Journaling in the way I imagined it involved writing lengthy, reflective  passages. And that seemed like too much work, too much of a commitment. I wanted to use the journal for something meaningful, but I was feeling uninspired.

A few months later, browsing the shelves of a gift shop bookcase at the Cape, I noticed a journal that went along with a book by the same name: "The Happiness Project". The premise for the journal was simple: Write one sentence a day, every day, for five years. The author suggests developing this habit to compensate for the reality that time goes too fast. And, as much as we think we will remember the little intricacies of each passing day, we won't. Well, not without something that will trigger our memories... a photograph, a souvenir, or, in this case, a sentence.*

I thought about how true her words were. How, since losing my sister, I've struggled to recall specific memories. I know that we shared in so many seemingly trivial interactions and countless little adventures, but the details I long for are lost.  I also thought about how my babies are growing so fast that it's hard to keep up. I know that my days are full of silly little moments, but, by the end of every sleep-deprived week, those moments have blurred together into a general sense of wonderful chaos.

It's ironic, but the small fleeting moments that are hardest to remember are actually the ones that life is about. They're the ones that you enjoy most without realizing it, the ones that you miss most once they are gone.

It was there in that gift shop that I found a purpose for my journal. I couldn't fathom writing nightly essays, but, a sentence? Even at the end of a really long day, I figured that I could manage that!

It's been 8 months since I turned my colorful peacock feather-painted journal into a makeshift "Happiness Project" journal. I don't write every night. And I usually find myself writing a few sentences as opposed to one. But it's worked! Tonight, I flipped back and smiled as little sentences triggered memories of moments that I may have forgotten otherwise. And those moments were gateways to other moments from the same day or the days surrounding it.

I know that I can't go back in time. And I know I can't record my life as it's happening so that I can rewind it ten years down the road. But I CAN write a few sentences here and there so that I can find my memories when I need them. So that I can capture as many of the fleeting moments as possible, and treasure them. Forever.

* If you're interested, here's a link to a blog entry by the author about her one-sentence journaling: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2007/03/one_of_my_succe/



I knew that life would never be the same when I lost my sister. But I didn’t realize that, in losing her, I’d also lose so much of myself. The weight of my sadness challenged the inner workings of my mind, body, and spirit in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. As the months passed, I allowed myself the freedom to experience any and all emotions as they came. I didn’t want to pressure myself into feeling one way or another. So I let myself fall into the fog. The world was turning, and I was wandering aimlessly within the passing days. I often noticed that I was going through the motions while my mind was elsewhere. I was very anxious, and I felt helplessly controlled by my racing thoughts. Other times, I felt like an observer to my own life. I felt like I was living outside of my body. My life was a story, and I was watching it unfold.

As the year anniversary approached, I was tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally… I knew that I needed the fog to rise. I couldn’t live in it forever. I was always living in my head or outside of my body, when I really needed to be living in the moment. I also knew that I needed to start taking care of myself. Between caring for two young children, and coping with losing Stephanie, I’d lost the diligence I formerly had with eating well and exercising. Factor in my lack of sleep and it was a trifecta of poor self-care. Between my need to be present and my goal to get healthy, my challenge was a mind and body makeover. 

I decided it would require a very conscious effort on my part to accomplish such a lofty transformation. And, judging by my energy (or lack thereof), I knew that I needed to keep my expectations realistic. So, in the spirit of New Years Resolutioning, I made a little list. And I figured I would share it here to increase my accountability.  
  •       Start running again. Nothing crazy. Two times a week. Just me, doing what I used to do all the time to find my head. Twenty minutes of fresh Scottish air in my lungs and sweet Stephanie-approved music in my ears.
  •       Eat three meals a day plus snacks. Munching on the boys’ leftovers might appease my appetite, but it won’t gain back the weight I lost last year. Weight that my naturally small frame couldn’t afford to lose. 
  •       Practice mindfulness. Whether through yoga, meditation, or simply forcing my thoughts into the present moment, I have to get myself out of the fog.

And there it is. A little happiness project for 2015. For me. For my sister. Bring it on.  

Peace and love, Sarah


A Year Later

January 5th came and went. The anticipation that preceded the day was actually worse than the day itself. As we hung a dreamcatcher in her memory and watched footage from her memorial in New Hampshire, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sadness I’d expected, but by a far more gentle feeling. In the days since then, that feeling has grown in substance, making it more tangible and definable. It’s love, yes. But it’s also something else… It’s pride.

As Facebook lit up with countless stories from countless of her friends, I kept thinking about what a good person my sister was. How she befriended everyone she met. How she could look past anyone’s weaknesses and find their gifts. How she was as genuine a person as you could ever hope to find. And how she had the biggest heart. As I read post after post, I was filled with an enormous sense of missing her and knowing that so many of us lost a wonderful friend. But the pride was there, stronger than the sorrow.

The pride also came when I reflected on her spontaneity. She may not have been the most financially responsible 23-year old, but she didn’t need to be. She lived simply. She didn’t get caught up in the materialistic culture of our society, and spent what little money she had on things that mattered… On music festivals where she danced and laughed uninhibitedly, surrounded by like-minded souls that loved her. On gas so she could visit her hometown friends, attend her nephew’s baptism or be a part of her family’s Christmas. On rent payments so that she could continue to live in Burlington, a place she loved and her spirit felt free. She invested her money in the same place she invested her time and energy… in living in the moment, chasing her passions, and developing meaningful relationships with people she met along the way.

I think sometimes people measure themselves against a very narrow definition of success, one based on diplomas, professions, and net worths. But if this year has proven anything, it’s that my sister leaves behind an incredible legacy all her own. And her successes are more commendable than any degree or career accolade. She lived life in the way that it is meant to be lived: vibrantly, uniquely, compassionately, spontaneously.

Not many people can be the person that everyone turns to for judgment-free love and support. She could. Not many people are brave enough to take their own path. She was. Not many people make such a lasting impression on the people they meet. She did.

Stephanie really and truly made a beautiful little life for herself. And she made so many lives more beautiful just by being a part of them. There is nothing else she could have done to make me more proud. Of all the emotions I’ve experienced over this awful year without her, this pride is one that I will embrace for the rest of my life.

I LOVE you, Stephanie. And I am incredibly, yell-it-on-top-of-a-mountain-so-it-echoes-across-eternity, PROUD of you. 


The Day Before

This picture was taken a year ago today. January 4, 2014. I was tired and overwhelmed, caught in the blissful whirlwind of having a newborn and a toddler. I look at it now and I think of how innocent I was. How unaware I was that my world was about to come falling down.

There are days in your life that you want to remember forever. You want to re-live them a million times over. These are the days that you cling to desperately but somehow the details manage to fade away. 

There are other days that you wish you could forget. And these are the days that stay with you, playing over in your mind more times than you’d ever imagine. I couldn’t have known when this picture was taken that my tomorrow would be one of those days…

January 5, 2014. Kevin was on a roadtrip and I was driving my friend to the Edinburgh airport. It was a gray day, but for the first time in what seemed like weeks it wasn’t raining. Which was perfectly inconvenient given the fact that we ran out of windshield wiper fluid on the motorway. We then encountered several obstacles as we tried to replace it. We eventually made it to the airport on time, though just barely. The ride home would have been uneventful if I hadn’t missed the exit and extended the trip by twenty minutes. Twenty minutes that felt like a lot more because Tyler cried for at least nineteen of them. By the time we got home, all I wanted was a nap to give the day a much-needed restart. But the boys had different plans. And they were just as cranky as me. In the exact moment that Ty finally fell asleep, I heard Brayden waking up in the other room. I will never forget how I felt right then. So close to the nap that I desperately wanted but very clearly wasn’t going to get. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. And alone. I wanted to cry. It’s hard to look back at this moment where I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself because, little did I know, at that very moment, my sister was thousands of miles away… dying.  

I know that, no matter what kind of day I was having, it would be painful to think back to that moment. And, no matter how I’d been feeling, it would be impossible to forget it. The same goes for every other detail from the day Stephanie died. I can’t un-hear my mom’s broken voice on the phone later that night when she called to tell me about the accident. I can’t un-feel the knot in my stomach and ache in my heart as I cried, shook, and screamed out in agony. I can’t un-feel the trembling in my knees before I crumpled to the floor. I can’t un-see Tyler’s sweet face as he continued to sleep soundly in my arms while I rocked myself back and forth. These details are etched in my memory as permanently as my sister’s fate is written in history. They are a part of me now. And they will be forever.

I imagine tomorrow all of this will come flooding back. As will the thoughts that have haunted me at different times at different intensities this past year...

The questions about her final moments: Before her car started to skid, what had she been thinking about? What song was playing on the radio? When she lost control of the car, was she consumed with fear? What did she think about in the final seconds as her car slid over the embankment? Did she feel pain as she broke through the windshield? The thought of my beautiful baby sister lying broken beside a frozen pond is as unbearable now as it was the day it happened.

I’ll think about the people that lived by the scene of her accident. How they’d raced across the street only to find there was nothing that could be done to save her. How traumatizing it must have been for them, but how comforting it has been to my family to know she wasn’t alone.

I'll cry at the thought of my parents driving up to Vermont to see the body of their youngest daughter. Nobody should have to endure such a nightmare and I feel so deeply for parents that have. As much as I mourn the loss of my sister, I also mourn that my parents have lost their baby girl. Even now, their heartache shows behind their smiles. It hurts to know the depths of their love for me as it's the same love they have for Stephanie. And feeling this love gives a glimpse into the depths of their pain.

I’ll reflect again, for the millionth time, on my relationship with my sister. And how, as much as we loved each other, I’ll always wish for more. One more chance to say “I love you”. To see her hoop on the back deck, dancing in the sunshine. To watch her hold my babies, covering their cheeks in kisses. I’ll wish for one more hug. One more shared laugh. One more outrageous story. One more. Always one more.

I’ll remember the seemingly instantaneous and incredibly widespread flow of support in the hours after I heard the devastating news. All the love Steph had shared with the world was being gifted back to my family. It's a year later and I am still humbled. I’ll be forever thankful to the people that took care of my mom, dad, and sister in the days before I got home. And to all the people involved in getting me, Kev, and the boys back home to join them. There was so much support and it’s continued all the way up to the conclusion of this first year.

These are the thoughts that will likely race through my mind as the day passes. They are things we will inevitably talk about as we spend the day missing Steph. Like the 364 days before it, I imagine it won’t be easy. But the day will go on. As days always do. And if we are lucky, the end of it will come and we will feel a small bit of relief. The details of the day Stephanie died won't ever fade. I might not ever be the same person seen in the picture above. But the first year will be over.