Monthly Archives: April 2015



Roots tie you to your genesis. They are a constant reminder of what makes you, of what sculpted your beliefs and dreams and strengths. Where you come from is why you are who you are. I am a kaleidoscope of experiences and pathways. This is MY genesis.

I come from brick rows of low-income apartments, with no grass to play on but plenty of concrete. I am 4 and squish tiny red bugs on the cement slab wall in front of our building, staring in awe at my fingers dotted with their crushed insides looking so much like blood. Ice cream truck. Walk to the Laundromat. Walk to the grocery store. No car. The big cement play area in the middle of the apartments smells like beer and trash. Moms sit out on the back steps smoking and talking. There are not many Dads and the ones that are there are usually drinking beer on the back stoop. Two bigger boys beat up a smaller boy and I am scared but I watch anyway from my back steps. Someones sneakers are tied together hanging off of the telephone wires high up. I sit in the front in the teensy patch of sun with my mom while she gets a tan in her hot pink and baby blue bikini. She slathers baby oil on her body while I practice my letters in a notebook. I go to headstart and refuse to wear anything but dresses despite the fact it is winter and the teacher sends notes home “Mrs. Brown, Tonia cannot be dressed in a dress with snow on the ground.” My mom sends a note back telling the teacher if she has a problem with it SHE can come fight with me about it. One time I accidentally shut my hand in the car door and it is locked and it takes my mom AGES to dig her keys out of her GIANT purse. Her purse carried the world and I still recall that car. It was a beast, as all cars were back then in 1984. Drug deals went down outside. A stray cat came to our door , jumped up on the railing and rang the doorbell every day. We adopted her. That was my first pet.

I was far more tomboy as a 11 year old. Told the neighborhood kids my new name was Toni. Rode my bike and jumped the ramps better than any of the boys. My mom worked in a factory making circuit boards. We went the company picnic and I won a prize for being best at limbo in my neon leopard print two piece outfit and side ponytail. My skin was darker than anything and I looked very much my fathers daughter. My father is 100% Portuegese. I have never met him. My mom is Irish and Canadian French. We don’t talk much. I walk the train tracks through town and into other towns with my friends at 13. We put pennies on the tracks. We hitch rides back home. We live in a condo. It’s nicknamed “The chicken coops ” because it looks that way. I sneak friends over . I sneak smokes. I watch MTV after school while my mom is at work and I babysit for my kid brother. He is 5 and when he gets off of the bus his backpack is down to his knees. I simultaneously adore him like a mother hen and am annoyed with his presence because I want my friends over and he gets in the way and tattles on us when we smoke. I fall in love for the first time. I know kids that young can love because he ends up being my best friend for years after, gives me away at my first wedding and now at age 35 I still love him. Not in a romantic sense, but he is a part of my soul.

I am a high school drop out. Never officially passed 10th grade so for all intents and purposes I have a ninth grade education. At our school fights go down daily. I learn not to make eye contact with anyone my first year of high school. I watch a girl get her face smashed in repeatedly into her steering wheel by a kid who grabs her through her window. I witness a girl get bloodied by brass knuckles. Drug-sniffing dogs roam the halls. I cut class and sit under the back stairs writing poetry ad listening to my Walkman. Smashing Pumpkins and Hootie and The Blowfish. I cut school and sit home watching daytime tv. I kiss boys. I dye my hair black. In my second year ol highschool I get a serious boyfriend. I decide I don’t give a shit about impressing anyone. I wear candy nacklaces and neon tights with long flowy skirt s. I carry a lunchbox for a purse and smoke more. I carry a bible. I am an intricate tornado. I am angry a lot. Melancholy sometimes. I tell my future husband to fuck off 5 years before I know he is my future husband. I yell at my mom a lot. I slam doors hard enough to make our house shake. I run away at age 16. Stay a week with my boyfriend who is 19. We do not have sex despite the fact my mom thinks we do. I am still a virgin. It is 3 more years before I finally have sex. And it won’t even be worth it. At 16 my mom puts me in a mental hospital. I am scared. They drug me. I get a new roommate who smuggles in a piece of glass and slices her arms all up with it right in front of me while I watch in horror. I listen to her screams while she is strapped down and put in the rubber room. I hear her screams in my dreams, animalistic and primal. They let me have a pencil. I write poetry and a long letter to my Gram and a longer letter to my boyfriend. I go to group therapy and am allowed the privilege to sit in the shitty cafeteria and eat the shitty food. When they tell my mom I do not need to be there any more she says she does not want me. I pack up my backpack and take with me the cardboard nameplate I made in craft class with my name on it in glitter. I go to live with family in New York that I don’t recall knowing.

I come from too many new apartments, too many guns to my mothers head and wake ups in the middle of the night to my mom screaming while my step dad drunkenly swung at her. I come from hiding with my baby brother in the crack beside the stove while my step dad stumbled after us with a knife. I am from climbing trees higher than the boys. I come from living in our car. I come from living in a tent with my 3 sons, cradlling my newborn son to my chest in the freezing night nursing him while the rain came down on the tent, putting two pairs of mittens and hats and 3 pairs of footed jammies on my sons so they don’t freeze. I come from trailer parks. From a place where the cops come through hourly, where drive-by shootings happen, where men grab their women in the front yards and shake them like rag dolls by their throats. Where women scream swear words and throw rocks at cars as they peel out. I come from dirt roads filled with rocks. I come from boiling water for baths and to wash dishes. I come from raw. From tough. From fear. From fights. From violence. From mighty. From backstabbers. From trouble. From drama From taking dollar store finds and trying to make a house into a home. Put a rug over the scratches in the floor. Hang a picture over that hole in the wall. Every wall has holes. I come from broken marriages. Plural. I come from messy crying at 2 a.m. I come from death. From burying my soul mate in the snowy Ohio ground. I come from getting hit really hard, so hard you see stars by the man you love and getting right back up to take another hit. I come from trying to hit back and getting my ass beat for it. But being proud of the fact I didn’t take it lying down. I come from spunk. I come from balls. I come from a world where it’s eat or be eaten. From dirt under nails, oil stains in the palms of hands, working hard, REALLY HARD for your money, teeth falling out, sweat glistening, broken bodies, sick but go to work anyway, 3rd unplanned pregnancy, friend asking you if you can front her money for the abortion, just gotta make it til food stamp day, go ask the neighbors if they have any bread, they bum smokes off of me, I sit on the front porch with my cat at night smoking and looking at the stars and wondering if it can ever get any better than this.

I don’t see how it could.

I come from broken homes. Latchkey kids. Broke. Struggle. Always struggle. Dog fights and eviction notices. Keep my chin up. March on. Babies under my wings. Fight to the death. CPS comes knocking, fight them. Ex husband comes calling, fight him. People talk, fight it. Fight to protect those babies. I am weary and feisty all at once. Worn out and old feeling. But those babies are my life. My heartsong. Fight to keep them by my side. Trust no one. Sleep with a knife under my pillow. Be brave. So brave. Cry when I can’t give them a Christmas. Sew them handmade pillows at night as gifts. Shoplift diapers and soap.Try to figure out how to make $150 a week stretch better. Hope. Wish. Pray. A lot. Go outside and weep to God when the babies are sleeping. Confess to him how scared you feel.

This is where I come from Who I am.

Life is different now. I am thankful.

But I will never forget where I came from, who I am, how it made me.

These scars and lines are proof.

But so is the fire in my eyes and the stomp in my step.

I am grateful just as much for my life now as I am for my roots.

Hallelujah and amen.


7 Kids, 2 Dogs, 1 Tidy Home


People make assumptions about my home the minute they hear that I have seven kids. They imagine the clutter, the chaos, the dishes piled up, the toys strewn about, the stacks of mail and books and papers. I must run myself ragged trying to keep up. Either that or I don’t keep up at all.

Here’s the truth.

Today I am allowing the kids a vacation day from their schoolwork so we can spend a family day together watchin movies, playing Jenga, reading The Secret Garden, etc… I am doing this because everything on my list is caught up and I am bored.


No housework to do. No rooms to clean.

My secret is very simple and twofold.

1) Chores. My kids do chores. Everyday. They have a chore chart. Believe it or not they enjoy checking the chart each day to see what chore they have. They often trade chores. It’s allowed. I don’t get my blood pressure up if one of them has a day where they don’t want to do their job. No yelling or bribing. I believe firmly in natural consequences. I don’t spank my kids. Think about what happens to you as an adult. If you don’t go to work, you get fired. Natural consequence. Your boss doesn’t punch you. He just fires you. So, that’s how it works. If they don’t do a chore, they don’t get the next meal coming up until it’s done. They eat it cold if they whine and fuss and take too long to do it. Or they lose a treat. If I planned on giving them all ice cream, that child misses out. There’s a little mumbling and complaining but mostly there is no fits thrown. When you speak to and treat kids with matter-of-fact respect blended with discipline, they respond accordingly.

So, they help. I teach them that family means we work together. I explain how nice it is to live in a tidy home and how we ought to have pride in our home. I teach them teamwork. This lesson stems out into the rest of their life. What begins at home continues in the world. Children taught to help one another and lend a hand grow up to be good Samaritans. “See a need, fill a need.” I remind them.

2) Organization. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place” is another mantra I chant often. And I really mean it. The kitchen cabinets are organized so if I need oatmeal I know exactly where on what shelf to reach. The fridge is organized so the dairy products are on one shelf, the condiments on another. It’s all about time saving. We don’t spend a million hours a year searching for missin shoes because we own shoe organizers and then I reminded the kids twenty times a day to put them IN the organizers until it became habit. That’s the big secret. Start when they are young and make it habit.

I also have a very firm rule: No Toys out of the bedrooms. At all. Ever. Family areas are not where toys go.

Their rooms used to be a HUGE battle. A trillion toys, half of which were broken, all dumped into one storage tub. To get to the stuff at the bottom they would dump out the WHOLE thing ad then the giant mess strewn all over would be so overwhelming they would not know what to do as far as cleaning it. You know that “Holy shit…where do I begin?” feeling you get when your kitchen looks like it exploded? That.

So I went out and bought THESE at Lowes for $50 each.


You have to assemble yourself and you MIGHT be like me and act all macho and say “I don’t need to read the dumb instructions” and then bust two of the little connector pieces and have to go all the way back to Lowes and buy new ones and then go home and realize the instructions make it SUPER simple and you then put it together in 5 minutes flat…….so maybe DON’T be like me.

I also bought THESE to go inside the shelves.


They come in all different colors and are a tough fabric with a cardboard insert for the bottom. They are not insanely durable but are instead collapsible when you remove the insert so no real worries of them being destroyed by small minions. I was nervous at first that because they were not plastic my kids would destroy them but so far they have held up phenomenally well. They run about $7 each so for about $100 you can get your kids room organized and buy some serious peace of mind.

I did one room per day. Kicked the kids out (They share two-to-a-room) of their room and went to work. Starting with throwing out every single toy that was broken, not used, etc. Then I lined up the bins and designated each one to have a purpose. Cars and trucks. Characters. Animals. Lincoln Logs. Legos. Rubber duckies. I tossed each toy into its categorized bin. Then I put all of their bigger toys that won’t fit into the bins into one medium-sized storage tub. Stuffed animals found home in a laundry basket. Then I explained to the kids where everything was and that they were only allowed to pull out two bins at a time and MUST put all of their toys back in the proper space when done playing or before meals or going outside.

It has been two weeks now.

I have not had to stress or yell at all. Not ONCE. Even the 2 and 6 year olds are keeping a beautifully organized room. I do room inspections once a day. It’s insane how simple this solution was. I wish I had done this YEARS ago. I have begged, yelled, bribed, times, threatened, cried, been stressed, taken all of their toys away and locked them in the shed, etc….. All to no avail. I had to step back and realize the key was organization. They were simply overwhelmed. It is MY job as their parent to teach them how to properly clean and tidy up. I teach them to wash silverware before pans. To sort whites from darks when doing laundry, to wipe down counters before sweeping. To have a place for every toy and every toy in that place. It’s so basic it’s ridiculous. And it will save a lot of time and stress for your family. I promise.

My kids take pride in their rooms now. They pick up without being asked. Now there is far more time for family time without all of the arguments over messes.

I call this a parenting win.

Word Prompt Blog Challenge: GRIEF


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When the news was told to me, by mine and Kens Sunday School teacher who also happened to be a police officer, I dropped to my knees. Keened outward, shattered inward. It was a kind of pain I had never felt before. So abrupt and awful that my brain shut off. My instinct was to call my mom. I needed my Mommy even more in that moment than I ever did as a child. I tried answering the questions the officers asked me but I couldn’t focus. Times, names, details…they all floated just out of my grasp. It took me a half dozen tries to dial my moms number correctly. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking and my brain was nothing. I left a message on my moms voicemail. Then my friend Joi texted me. I automatically replied. Just “Kens Dead.” The words swam surreal in my vision. I almost puked. She lived 15 minutes away but she pulled in to my road within 5. Her husband hadn’t even parked the car and she was out, car door swung open, she ran to me with a sad look of pity on her face and her arms stretched wide. I realized the pity was for me. I clung to her and wept. The ground was falling in. The cookies were burning in the oven. I asked a neighbor to take them out. Her teenage son went in to sit with my sons. I couldn’t remember how to light a cigarette. I couldn’t remember how to breathe. Everything hurt. The officer wouldn’t shut up. I had no answers. I couldn’t think.

Then it dawned on me……his mom.

Oh God, his mom.

I couldn’t let this awful phone call come from some stranger, some clinical police officer.

I found her number in my phone and dialed. She answered. Her hello broke my heart. It was the last word she would ever say before knowing her son was gone. It was the hardest phone call I ever made in my life. I asked if she was alone. She was. Fuck. I didn’t want her to go through this alone. I told her. Said the most awful vile words any human ever says to a mother. Her voice…her crying…I couldn’t forget that sound in my ear even if I tried. It burned into my soul.

I didn’t know how to function that day. Or the days after. My heart was gone. I was lost. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t eat. I wrote him a letter he would never read. Was given the engagement and wedding ring set he had bought that day before the accident. Opened the box outside of the police station, wiped the river mud off of them and cried while smiling. My heart. Oh my heart. He had messaged me saying “Someday I will get you a ring you deserve. But these were perfect. The most beautiful rings I ever saw. “You did good.” I whispered to the air. I imagined what the official proposal would have been like. I Travelled to Ohio for the funeral. I had never even seen a dead body before . My first one was my soul mate and best friend. I was first at the viewing. He looked like wax. Him but not him. His hair was parted in the wrong way, not the way he preferred. I wanted to go buy a brush and fix it. I told him I loved him. His mom came in behind me, her voice cracked when she said “Oh” as if she’d been kicked in the stomache. “I had hoped they were wrong.” she confessed aloud.

So had I.

His dad threw himself over the coffin and wept loudly over his sons body. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He sobbed out. My heart shattered.

It is all seared into my heart.

Back home. Walk into our bedroom. There was a stack of his folded sweaters and shirts on the dresser. I had washed and folded them the last day of his life. He had grabbed one off of the top to wear that day. I saw those shirts and my brain said “He’ll never wear those.” and suddenly I was crying so hard I didn’t recognize the sounds coming from me. I sounded not-human.

Life ebbed on.

I still have moments I cry.

Not one single day goes by without thinking of him. Drezdyn still calls him Daddy. The boys and I mention memories of him often. He is very much still a part of our family. He died believing he didn’t matter very much. He never knew how much he truly did matter. More than I can put into words.

And now there is Justin. The other two men that came after Ken, the ones who I thought could fill that void in some halfass way …I was stupid and wrong. Ken had told me once “If anything ever happens to me, please don’t get involved with Dave.” He knew Dave had feelings for me and he knew the hell that man would put me through.

But Justin. Justin is different.

Justin has tasted grief and swallowed it whole. His fiancé and soulmate had died unexpectedly in a car accident a few years earlier. He knew the path the kids and I had walked. He met us on that path one day, at a curve in the way. We walk it as a family now.

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God gave me a second soul mate. This fact humbles me greatly. The memories Ken and I shared was enough to fill a lifetime Now I have a second chance. At love and happiness. I feel very undeserving. I still struggle with guilt that I wasn’t there and could not help Ken that night. I struggle with guilt for moving on and loving another man. I feel guilty to his family that I am taking steps forward without Ken by my side.

These feelings mesh with my feelings of gratitude and happiness and love.

Grief is a complicated. Messy. Never ending. It ebbs and flows.

It is a part of who I am. Who we all are.

Ziggy: The Most Loved Asshole There Ever Was


100_8801Please click on the link and listen to  t he song while you read. Skip ahead to the 3rd song.

In 2011 I got a message from a FB friend asking if I would take her dog. She knew I had other little dogs, she knew I was home a lot as a SAHM and her dog needed more attention than she could give him, and she knew I was a sucker.

I didn’t need a new dog. We already had a housefull  with 2 other small dogs and 2 cats. But I said I would take him. Because back then “No” was not in my vocabulary.

We met in town to get him. He was a tiny thing with eyes that popped out, probably because he had just been informed he was going to be living with 5 young boys. I named him Ziggy Marley. After one of my favorite singers.

He came with a Lightning McQueen blankey and a small kennel. He cowered in the corner of the kennel under his blankey and anytime anyone tried to come near him he turned into a crazed Tazmanian Devil, snapping and growling and flipping his shit. To avoid being bit I would push his food into his kennel with a broom handle and talk soothingly to him through the bars. In response he bit the bars. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to keep this dog who was terrified and snappy in a home with small children.

Then one day Drezdyn, who was 2 1/2 at the time, crawled his happy little booty right into the kennel. Drezdyn had a chip on is shoulder back then. Rightfully so. His Daddy had passed away earlier that year and he was a tough shell to crack because of his loss. He kept people at a distance. So did Ziggy. Ziggy recognized a kindred soul in an instant and instead of flipping his shit he moved over and let Drezdyn join him.

From that day on  they were best buddies. Drezdyn would crawl in often to hang out with his doggy. They fell in love. Hard. When I had to wash Ziggys blankey Drezdyn would take him out of his kennel and put him up on his bed. Eventually Ziggy stopped needing the kennel altogether. He became a part of our family.

He went everywhere with us. Hiking in he woods, to the park, for random car rides witth his little face poked out a window smiling. (I swear to God he was smiling.) He was still a huge asshole. If you tried to touch him or came too close he would growl and then go nutso and attack your shoes with your feet still in them. He was a badass. He just happened to be the size of a hiccup. He was tough. Except he also was a giant mamas boy and he followed either me or Drezdyn around like a shadow. At night he would climb up in my bed or Drezdyns bed and burrow under the blankets and sleep by our feet. He had decided we were, after all, pretty darn acceptable as a family and he was here to stay.

His biggest flaw? He loved chocolate. Possibly more than I do. Once he ate an entire King Sized Hershey bar. I had been saving it as a special treat but frankly was more scared he was going to die after eating a candy bar as big as HE was and wasn’t really too upset. But he did not die. In fact, he went on to steal cupcakes, cookies, candies and more than once I walked into the room to find him with his little face buried in my coffee mug, lapping at the coffee like a serious caffeine addict on a binge.

Ziggy was a grouch. Like an old man on a front porch bitching about hooligans. The whole world was his hooligan. He was “Grumpy Dog” on my Facebook page. Long before Grumpy Cat was a trending thing. But we loved our asshole dog. He was the most loved asshole there ever was.

Today Ziggy Marley passed away.

I woke up, came out of my bedroom and there he stood breathing weird. I knew right away. Drezdyn picked him up and lay him down on his bed. He sat beside him, petting him with a look of bravery on his face. I stood there sobbing and my baby boy at only age 6 was simply stoic. No he didn’t want a hug. He wanted me to tell him when Ziggy had for sure stopped breathing and could he please dig the hole?

If you want sweetheart. Anything you want. I am so sorry for loss and heartache and for the fact that we always outlive our furbabies.  You are only six years old and already you have had to bury 2 of your dogs, your brothers dog, your other brothers cat and your Daddy. This loss comes closest to when you lost your Daddy. I’m so sorry for this.

Aidan, the 12 year old, dug a hole in the far back corner of our yard. Drezzy wrapped him in an old towel and kissed his little head. He drew a picture of Ziggy and buried it with him. Carried Ziggy outside, helped place him in the hole, and then asked to help bury him. My tiny boy took the shovel that was twice his size and started digging into the heavy soil with a look of determination on his face. Except with every scoop of dirt a grunt/sob escaped his lips. And there was Aidan, his hands on the shovel to help his little brother.

Oh my heart.

Ziggy Marley, you truly were the most loved asshole there ever was. If you were still here I would gladly share my chocolate with you. And even my coffee.

Drezdyn isn’t real great at showing his emotions. He is an awful lot like I was as a kid.No  tears. He says “I am really sad. The only thing that can make me happy is riding my bike right now.” So I let him. Because its all I can do. I can’t fix the rest but I can let him ride his bike in the middle of a school day.

You will be missed, Ziggy- Zoo. ❤

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Not A Failure


This past month has put me through the wringer.

It seems like the whole universe is plotting against me. Things breaking down in the house, the car making weird noises, Justin got into a wreck with the van which now means our family is down to just one car until insurance money comes in. And you can’t fit 9 people in a car. So I am home 24-7 with my kids these days. Justin started travelling for his job, staying gone for a week at a time every other week . This threw the kids for a loop, especially with younger ones and one with behavioral issues that rely deeply on routine. The washer quit spinning. The plumbing required a plumber to come out twice. A flash flood flooded our entire bedroom. Three of the kids were waking up all hours of the night so I was functioning on 1-3 hours of sleep a night with no breaks, no time alone or away, no family or friends to help. my acne came back full force because of stress. The list goes on and on. It was overwhelming and I was doing a lousy job of treading water.

I was failing as a mom. Failing at helping my 7 year old who has learning disabilities learn to read. Failing at finding time to spend with my teenager. Failing at getting my youngest to nurse. Failing at being more patient. Failing at multitasking like the boss I once was.

I was failing at being Justins fiancé. Neglecting sexy time because the prospect of a shower and teeth brushing was too damn exhausting to think about on only a couple of hours of sleep. Failing at listening attentively to his words. Failing at leaving little love notes in his lunches or keeping up on his laundry.

I was failing at being a good friend. Failing at keeping in touch, at returning messages, at being better involved in their life. Failing at keeping my commitments and being on time.

Mostly, I was failing me. Not taking time to nurture my own soul. No time set aside to journal or read or sing or dance. No work outs. Not eating right.Not taking my pills. I let my depression take center stage. And it started kicking my ass.

And I have been walking around for the past week, heavy with guilt because I suck.

At least I thought so.

Until I watched this video and realized my perspective is all sorts of screwed up.

I have heaps to be thankful for. Even on the shitty days, at least I have a fiancé here by my side to go through shitty days WITH. Even when I lose my temper or draw a blank on how to explain phonics to my son or feed them peanut butter and jelly for breakfast, my kids are still here. Some parents are going to bed in empty houses tonight. Their kids are elsewhere, or passed away. I have my children right here with me thank god.

I may not be perfect. I may not ever cross everything off of my list.

But I am NOT a failure.

And neither are you.

Now click on this.