Healing happens in a place of safety.

“Did you hear what you just said?”

I didn’t. I had been rambling about my boys. I leaned back into the chair in my therapist’s office to think. The tree branches behind me snatched at my curls.

Yes. My therapist has a tree in her office that is constantly getting stuck in my hair.

I love it.

“That your boys are physical….”

She paused like a teacher giving the pupil a moment to catch up.

“Yes?” I said with my brow furrowed.

And…you love it.” she said slowly.

My hands shot up to my face. I peered at her between two hands pressed against my cheeks. I repeated the answer.

“And I love it.”

I whispered those words in disbelief and then the tears came. I bowed deeply in my chair and beneath that listening tree with relief. Tears of joy spilled forward and then I wiped my face and said,

“I almost made it through an entire session without crying.” Laughing I continued, “You fucking ruined it.”

She laughed but her eyes were harboring quickly escaping tears too.

You may not remember but there was a time where touch felt like the enemy. Connection and intimacy felt like a cheese grater on my soul. My healing required an end to passive consent. My soul needed some time to seek out it’s true loves. My body needed to learn what is safe, safe, safe…I am safe here.

I am safe here.

The little girl I was, the little girl in need of a constant barrier between her heart and connection is leaning into connection and intimacy. She is letting go of her shield. She is slowly backing away from the tools used to fortify walls. She is coming out to play, love, gaze, connect.

I love this girl. I love how she gazes into the eyes of her children. I love how she understands that criticism doesn’t mean that she is bad, dirty or broken. I love that she listens and can lie under a pile of freshly bathed and pajama dressed boys with wild abandon.

I love that she doesn’t seem to feel trapped anymore or not as much.

I have learned that healing happens in a place of safety.

-You deserve to live in wide open fields

I feared that my trauma was stealing joy from me and my children. Honestly, it did steal joy for a time until something shifted.

The story I told my therapist:

I held one of my sons in my arms. I gazed into his eyes and I simply paused. I didn’t move. I let him bathe in my love for him. It was like a freeze ray. He couldn’t remove himself from my adoration. I felt like I might be staring at him like a creep.

“Children don’t stare. They gaze.”

My therapist interjected that tidbit. Science has proven that when you are making eye contact with an infant and you stop, there is an immediate change in their brain chemistry. That chemical reaction identifies our basic need for attachment.

I held him and gazed at him until he was ready to go. All filled up with love.

My oldest son feels no shame about kissing his mother goodbye. My middle son starts his days by leaning into me with his face tilted upwards for a kiss.

“Good morning, momma.”

My boys are physically affectionate and I love it. It has taken 3 years but I am the mother I always wanted to be.

Fearlessly affectionate, hilariously embarrassing and stingy with the ice cream.12015233_10153641036623588_5375878501296692331_o

But mostly that first one.

Healing up,

Tashmica's signature

PS – Let’s talk about this more. Join me here.

Would you like a sandwich? Talking consent with my son.

I’m not one for hiking.

I love nature and all, but I don’t go out of my way to roll in it. I typically go for meandering walks with my three boys and little dog in tow. Last Friday, we decided to go to the Ledges at Fitzgerald Park after school. Again, not because it’s something we typically do but because school is almost out for summer.

I’ve been asking the boys to contribute to a list of things we’d like to learn, places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to try while enjoying their summer break from school.

In preparation for their return home, I’m shoving things into the tiny spaces of my calendar. I’m building even bigger fences for my beautiful lines in the sand and readying my home for the storm that is three growing boys. I know they haven’t exactly been away at boarding school but for 6 blessed hours a day, they’ve been at school.

It kind of feels like I’m battening down the hatches.

I’ve got lots to say about preparing my nonprofit entrepreneur life for the challenges of summer break but today, I’m going to talk about the Duggars.

More specifically, the topic of consent.

Even more specifically, that time I had an awkward conversation with my 11 year old son while hiking the ledges about consent, sexual assault, sex and sandwiches. Not exactly in that order but all of those things were discussed. Stick with me here.

As with most problems, it all began with NPR. I’ve been really into podcasts lately. I listen to them while doing dishes, walking to the office, folding laundry, pulling weeds. You name it. If there’s a quiet span of monotonous work, I’m listening to either The Moth, Being Boss, Invisible Office Hours, On Being…you get it.

At around the time that the past crimes of Josh Duggar were being splashed across the web, I had just listened to an episode of This American Life called Birds & Bees.

The byline had read:

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.

Okay. Sure. Let’s give that a listen.

It was thought-provoking and the individuals interviewed brought insights that made me consider my own language regarding these topics.

Especially the segment that detailed the experience of a facilitator teaching consent on a college campus. There were many moments where male students were very vocal about their confusion about what consent means. Honestly, it sounded to me like one of my kids looking for away around following the rules.

It’s cool. That’s often how developing minds expand.

You can listen to the podcast (highly recommended) but basically, they wanted answers to questions like;

What if she said yes earlier in the day?

Wouldn’t checking in ruin the mood?

What if we’ve both been drinking?

Scary stuff. As universities across the country work to educate men on how not to rape rather than teaching women to prevent rapes from happening to them, these questions were indicative of just how much more work there is to do.

Fast forward to Friday morning. Josh Duggar sexually abused children in his own home as a teenager. Some of the girls he victimized were his own sisters.

You’ve probably read the headlines. Unless you’ve decided you’ve had enough terrible news about teens sexually assaulting other teens or children and adults covering it up and/or blaming the victim. I know I’m pretty tired of this story.

Exhausted in my bones.

Here’s where this story hit me.

The Duggars practice a faith that I disagree with but they are clearly parents who are trying to raise Godly people. Does their definition of Godly and my definition of Godly align?

Girl. Nah.giphy

But they love their children and they have invested their entire lives into homeschooling their children and separating them from the immoral, sinful world chocked full of people like me. People that dance, drink, get tattoos, accidentally swears, works outside of the home, don’t have a particular church called home and allow children to watch superhero movies that are rated PG13.

If there’s a slippery slope, I’m surfing that bitch with wild abandon.

As I’m reading the stories, I’m getting scared. I’m thinking if these people can’t raise a son that can honor the bodies of little girls in his home, including his beloved sisters, than how the hell am I going to raise 3 sons to be good men?

This is where my mind was at as we stepped onto the trail at Fitzgerald Park. I’m not saying this was a correct mindset. I’m just being completely honest and letting you into my mildly over-reactive brain.

My oldest son held my hand as I turned to him and began to tell him about Josh Duggar.

Yes, I have a tween that will still hold my hand. BOSS.

I explained what Josh Duggar did in language I decided was appropriate. I expressed how saddened I was by the story. I used the word sex but I didn’t giggle or blush.

I was a total adult. Then I asked him,

Do you know what consent is?

He said he didn’t know that word.

Well, let me give you an example. If we were home right now and I asked you if you wanted a sandwich, what would you say?

He shrugged and said, “I’d say yes.”

You just consented to a sandwich. You could have withheld consent by saying no and you can withdraw consent at anytime if you change your mind.

He understood. Phew. Now on to the tricky stuff. I explained the podcast I’d heard and the questions the college students had asked. I said,

Some people think that if someone gives consent they can’t change their mind later. They can’t withdraw it after it’s been given. So if a girl says she wants to have sex and then changes her mind….

And then my son interrupted me to say,

Well, that’s silly. What she says now trumps what she said before.

YAHTZEE!

Collect yourselves. It’s too early to celebrate. I had follow up questions and concerns.

I’m so glad you feel that way. I just worry. You know? I do the best I can to make sure that you and your brothers understand things like this. I try to have the important conversations with you but if people like the Duggars with all of their focus on holiness can muck it up, what can I say to make sure you guys understand.

Mom, I don’t know. I mean, you’re the parent.

Damn. That’s true. A point that makes the reaction of the Duggar parents all the more maddening. As parents, your job is to not only teach the lessons. Your job is to hold your children accountable when they break them. It’s not easy but it is necessary.

Also, can we just agree that modesty cannot be the scale by which we measure how much our children deserve to be sexually assaulted? Instead, let’s send the message that your judgement of an individual’s morality is not grounds to associate their being with a lesser value.

Let’s agree that even if you think someone is behaving immodestly – totally using Duggar language here – you still don’t get to sexually assault them and blame them for your disgusting, criminal behavior.

No one deserves to be sexually abused or assaulted. Ever.

WORLD, WHY CAN’T WE AGREE ON THESE SIMPLE IDEAS?

There’s so much more about this that bothers me but I thought I’d focus on a conversation that can benefit our families and our communities.

Consent. Teach it. Add it to the list of things you plan to teach your children about this summer. Use metaphors like sandwiches.

Or the next time a little girl says she doesn’t want to be photographed, don’t. Show her you deleted the image and thank her for telling you how she feels. Recognize that she owns her body and the right to opt out of you taking pictures of it.

Or the next time a teen cringes at being hugged, step off. Better yet, start by offering a high five or a hug. Give options. Not everyone wants a hug from you. It’s true!

The next time you witness your child stepping into a friend’s space without consent, teach them to check in while the stakes are just Legos and unwanted squirts from a water gun.

It is so very important.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – I really enjoyed this post about teaching consent to children. Check it out and then share one of your favorites in the comments.

Happy to help!

I want my children to grow up to live a life that fills their spirit with bliss. I want them to walk with purpose and offer compassion in their own unique way. I want them to wake up every morning with a fire in their belly for social justice.

I’m not going to lie to you. I want my children to be activists.

You wanna be a lawyer? Oooh, how about immigration law or The Innocence Project.

You wanna be a doctor? I hear there are kids with cleft palates who could use someone like you. Have you ever heard of Patch Adams?

You wanna be a fireman? Do it. Saving lives, protecting families is an honorable gig. Be safe. Bring me stories.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. It shouldn’t. Conversations in our home revolve around the celebration of their interests and guidance towards how they might use their day job to serve others.

I will admit that I’ve also told them to make it so mommy doesn’t have to work. I recognize that these are conflicting instructions but I figure either way, I CAN’T LOSE!

Real talk. Nobody saving the world is rolling in bank but they are rolling deep in the good.

My kids watch me. As they all do. They 11136651_10152893200734022_8788192720637140555_ncome to the events, they sit through the meetings, they help their momma empty the car after the latest event. They know my elation and exhaustion. They know my successes and my frustrations. They get to witness it all.

Should make for a great book someday.

Lord, help me.

I often worry that it’s all too much. That I do too much. I worry, like mothers do.

And then, I get an email like this:

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Have any brochures coming up that I can help with? If so, let me know.

He ends his email in the same way I do.

Happy to help!

It’s never too early to learn grassroots organizing. #amiright

As a side note: that’s my best friend’s face making a cameo appearance. Hey girl, hey!

So, my son is sitting on the Teen Yoga Committee for my foundation. He is the brother of the founder of the Dog Olympics. I’m thinking, he will be learning some communications this summer. And the best part?

It’s all because he’s happy to help.

My children will be who they are meant to be. I enjoy watching them change, grow and become more and more independent of me. Different than each other and bringing their own brand of amazing into my life and the lives of others. It is a remarkable privilege to give my children the room they need to be who they are and then watch the magic happen.

Wouldn’t you agree?

May the life I give my sons now, lead them towards their own bliss. Amen.

Love,

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Herd of Turtles

As a family, we are getting pretty good at getting out of Dodge.

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Off like a herd of turtles!

This weekend was no exception. This 4th of July we packed up the 1963 Holiday Rambler we stumbled upon on Craigslist and headed to the Whispering Waters Campground in Hastings.

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Even the coolest cats have to get that booger sometimes.

While Paul spent time troubleshooting leaks and figuring out how to use the camper, we relaxed poolside. All of the manuals are from the 60s and therefore they mostly recommend you figure it out your damn self.

To each his own. Paul prefers tools and tinkering. I prefer sunshine and bad tan lines.

But seriously, aren’t all tan lines good?

The boys spent hours in the pool this weekend perfecting my panic response to their underwater swimming.

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Of course, Isaac continued his exploration of Michigan’s insect population with the help of Momma’s Google.

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The Leaf-legged Beetle

We also went hiking on the Paul Henry Thornapple trail. My boys encouraged my hopes for a future of sibling best friendship with their hand holding and walking way ahead of us deeply involved in their own conversation. I knew that they were creating their own personal memories of each other just out of earshot.

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Levi found and named a little frog, ‘Crickety’. He also discovered the happiness that comes with finding wild berries growing right were you happen to be in need of a sweet snack.

We also removed Levi’s training wheels right before we biked nearly 8 miles over the course of two and a half hours.

Truth be told, he’s been biking for awhile with them teetering just off the ground. I’ve even had a few bikers comment on it and I was all…

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF US!

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It was NOT easy for him. It involved mosquitos and falling again and again. He even rolled off the trail and into some brambles one time. After a few squeezes and tons of encouragement from his whole family – well, look at that photo – he was our hero for finishing stronger than he started.

The weekend included a few of my favorite, most beautiful purple sparklers in the hands of some happy little boys.

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And other kid friendly explosives.

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I also settled into that space in my head that I find in the woods. I didn’t write much but I did take notice. Mindfulness is so much easier to find in the woods.

It reminds me of my smallness in comparison to the universe.

I set an intention to give my boys and amazing last summer before they are all in school fulltime this fall. I’ve done my best to work less, spend more time creating good memories and focusing on important lessons.

It’s been as delightful as you can imagine.

It’s also been hella frustrating because I love my work. I’ve had to say no more often and it’s causing my inner over achiever some serious anxiety.

That’s the truth. It’s hard for me to slow down. I wish it came more naturally but it doesn’t.

I’m like Isaac in that way. I have two speeds: sprinting and sitting.

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This isn’t really a stop. It’s more of a change in direction. A tuning in to a different, more playful channel where the house is cleaner, the meals are healthier and the children are better behaved.

Hopefully.

I could definitely have worse intentions.

I love this family.

I love watching my husband working to make our newish camper a home away from home. I love seeing my oldest gain independence and test it in stepping outside of our little circle. I love seeing Isaac wonder at the science of the woods in cocoons, insects and water. I love watching Levi learn to be more lionhearted as he tests his own strength.

Time is frail and we only get one chance to give our children all we can before they’re ready to leave us for the world.

I’m so deeply grateful for this time

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – Speaking of a herd of turtles, I found one. About 26 of them on a log, to be exact.

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Open & Emptied Out

Today I draw my knees into my chest and protect my heart.

I recognize that my normal posture is one of an open heart. I stretch my arms behind me and lift my chest, sharing that space with the world. A Care Bear stare, if you will.

Today, my heart needs to be encased and covered.

The weight it has been bearing through the creation of The Firecracker Calendar Project was great and beautiful. I have the names of survivors written on my heart like tattoos. I can see the letters scribbled along the walls beating my blood.

Their stories were heartbreaking and their bravery overwhelmingly courageous.

My breath was stolen, tears came often and I found it difficult to speak.

I am making this sound so terrible. It was not. It was truth cracking open and spinning through the rooms we shared. It was acceptance of the horrific and a moving into the brilliant.

I am probably not making any sense.

All I know is that although in reality the Creole Gallery was a perfectly appropriate space for our gallery showing, it was not large enough for the emotions in the room.

There wasn’t room enough for Chelsea’s spoken word piece. There wasn’t room enough for the moment a survivor’s foster parent thanked me for what I had done.

I replied, “Thank you for loving her.”

He said, “Loving her was easy. What you did for her was hard.”

Is there a room big enough for those words?

There wasn’t space enough for the youngest survivor in the room to smile under the crook of my arm and to be so loved by the other participants helping her down her own path towards healing.

The ceiling should have broken open and the walls should have fallen down to mirror all of the growth that was inspired by the experience.

Even in the midst of all of that incredible hope, light and empowerment, my heart ached. I still want to burn down the house and keep the foundation. For all that I am capable of changing; I cannot change the past for the beautiful men and women featured in Soulfire 2014.

I cannot change our past.

That hurts a little.

Okay.

It hurts a lot.

I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.

I have been side swiped. That car came out of nowhere. I didn’t really expect to love them so.

And now I do.

So of course, because I love them, my heart breaks for them and the things I want for myself, I want for them too.

I wish to honor their bravery but more than that, I wish I didn’t have to. I want to go back in time and rescue them. I want to barricade the entry to the path they were set on by force because none of them deserve to be here. None of us ever do.

I look at their intelligent, compassionate, determined, strong, brave, beautiful faces and I cannot accept that they were hurt.

It has been lovely to be the only survivor I know. It has allowed me to live in a quiet place where my wounds never brushed up against anyone else’s. It has afforded me a space where I only had to be intimate with my own injuries.

Isn’t that the strangest thing? I was completely caught off guard – heart open – and in they walked.

To know them, is to love them. Isn’t that a saying?

So my knees are pulled into my chest today. I am coaxing my heart back like turning egg whites into a fluffy, white puff.

Fear not.

It’s always better to know and by my calculations, that means it is always better to love.

Open and emptied out,

Tashmica

Soulfire Photoshoot
Photo Credit: McShane Photography

 

10 Years of Motherhood: Evading Death by Lego

July will mark a wonderful anniversary for me.

No, I’m not talking about my birthday. Although, I know you know how important that day is for me.

I told my husband in December that we better start planning. My birthday is in May.

As of July, I will have been a mother for 10 years.

Isaiah, our sweetest mistake, will be 10-years-old. A completely unplanned, bundle of mysteries and lessons that I decided to accept into my life, has survived 10 years with me as his mother.

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There’s your proof that angels do exist.

I cannot imagine a world where my children do not exist. I feel like I’ve always had them. When I close my eyes and think of my life before kids, I still feel their presence in those memories.

I recently learned that – crazy as it seems – It’s scientifically proven.

I have a super geeky teammate named Vicious Velma. She mentioned to me that at birth women have every egg already inside them waiting for their chance at this thing we call life.

Science says I have never lived a day without these boys which explains why I am so crazy about them.

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Anyway, 10 years is a long time and affords you many lessons. In a couple of months, I am sure I will be focused on the sentimental. Today I’m feelin’ snarky.

1. No matter how loud you call them, they will pretend that they can’t hear you.

2. If you tell your children to put their shoes on, they will put on sandals in the winter and snow boots in the summer.

3. Your fridge may be stocked to the gills with delicious and healthy food. They’re not interested.

4. You will get a skull to the nose, an elbow to the lip, trip over shoes and step on Legos that feel like their number one ingredient is razor blades….

5…..and when that makes you curse, you will be judged.

6. They will try one of the following if not all of these ways to kill themselves: get lost, swim in water that is too deep, run into the street/parking lot, fall or jump off of something high, etc….

7. If you have concrete and impossible plans to change, they will get sick or try an item from #6 that will require a visit to the E.R.

8. If there is heavy snow or a down pour, your child will struggle as if in the throes of death to avoid being buckled into their carseat.

9. Your hands can never be full enough to not be asked to carry one more thing.

10. They want what you have. Always and forever, amen.

The final thing is less of a lesson and more of a law of nature.

Despite it all, you will love them and want them to live their lives guarded from pain and injury.

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The fake pout. Vito is good.

But seriously, how is it no one has ever died from a Lego injury?

Happy parenting,

Tashmica

Finding Your Thing: Lessons from the Voluntold

I make my kids do a lot of things.

Most of it is for their benefit. I make them eat healthy foods, brush their teeth, hold hands in the parking lot and generally do things that will prolong their life.

Some things I do purely for myself. Why have children if you cannot ask them to shovel the drive, clear the table or take out the trash? It would just be wasted free labor if I didn’t.

There is too much work to be done in our home to have little idle hands hanging around.

In addition to domestic duties, my children have been subject to my insistence that we are a family of volunteers. They have passed out flyers for my roller derby league*, “worked” in a Habitat for Humanity home and placed stamps on appeals for Nyaka.

Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka while Kinzer and Gwenny volunteer.
Isaiah and Isaac being volunTOLD at Nyaka with Kinzer and Gwenny.

My husband and I are the captains of the volunteer ship and rarely even ask if anyone wants to come along. We just place it on the calendar and make sure there are tasks safe for little hands.

As we say on the Vixens, my children are voluntold for tasks not volunteered.

I usually do explain the cause and why we are helping in the car on the way over.

Nothing dramatic.

We support mommy’s roller derby team. We believe everyone should have a home. We believe that all children deserve to be loved and protected.

They usually listen for about three seconds, ask a question or two, sulk if they’d rather be playing video games and eventually realize resistance is futile before pitching in.

It’s not always pretty. Their attention span – especially Vito’s *sigh* – does not permit the dramatic shifting of mountains.

I give my time because I am passionate about service. I believe that it is important to give of your resources but you cannot truly love something if you are not willing to invest sweat equity.

The family that sweats together, loves together?

I don’t know but it seems like if I want my children to love the world around them like I do, then they have to not only see me living by my own words but they need to participate.

Isaiah is now 9-years-old and has been subjected to this lifestyle since I could tie his warm little body onto my chest so my hands could be free. He is starting to ponder deeper questions about the world around him.

He got all googly-eyed when I mentioned liking girls the other day.

I. DIE. It was so cute!

I have always given priority to organizations that serve women and children. Next in line are issues that effect families and then the environment. I’m not huge into fighting for cures or animals. I just never have been.

We all have causes that appeal to us. We have our things. Those are mine.

But what are Isaiah’s things? Does he care about roller derby? Does he want to build homes? Does he care about orphans in Uganda?

I didn’t know because I have never asked.

So one day I asked him a question.

If you could choose one thing to volunteer for, what would it be?

He looked at me kind of funny and needed a little more information before he could answer. So I broke it down for him. Forgive me if some of these terms are not P.C. but I was talking to a child.

Would you want to serve blind people, old people, animals, the environment or….?

I took some time to talk about a few different types of organizations with different beneficiaries and gave him some time to think.

After a moment of deliberation, Isaiah said that if he could choose, he would serve animals and the environment.

Those would be his things.

I was blown away by the fact that his interests were last on my own list. My son loves nature and wants to protect it.

He did not get that from me. I mean, I’m glad for nature and glad for people who keep it together. I’m just not the girl for the job.536964_10151375560588588_911503900_n

As a Christmas gift, I signed Isaiah up to volunteer at the Capital Area Humane Society.

We both attended a short orientation where we were given the rules of how to handle the animals in the shelter.

Isaiah impressed me with his care and attention to details that keep the animals safe from harm.

When he completed his orientation, he changed into his volunteer shirt before going into the grocery store. He could hardly wait to put it on.

Isaiah is the captain of this volunteer ship. We have a set date on the calendar for us to make our monthly visit and we go more often when we have time. As soon as we walk in, Isaiah runs the show. I am only there to chaperone. We visit the animals that he wants to visit and in the order he wants to visit them.

I have learned that he gets overwhelmed if an animal is too hyper or too strong. He remembers their names and asks if they have been adopted when we return. He is incredibly gentle and uses a kind voice with all of the animals. He tries to understand what they want and acts accordingly.

We leave every animal saying,”We hope we never see you again”. Isaiah understands his role is to give comfort to the animals while they wait to be adopted by others.

Watching my son doing his thing has taught me more about who he is inside.

Isaiah volunteeringWhat an incredible gift.

Following him into those kennels has given me a new love for animals and the peace that comes from being their friend.

And this whole time I thought I was the one who was supposed to be handing out lessons. :)

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – Click here for more information on snuggling up on some sweet dogs, cats and bunnies with your kiddos.

PSS – As I was writing this post I remembered that Isaiah kisses our dog Charlie goodnight every night and I still never guessed his thing. :)

* Shameless promotion: Come watch the Lansing Derby Vixens take on South Bend on April 20th at the Lansing Center! Tickets are just $12 in advance and kids 12 and under are FREE!