Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Is A Sticky Mess At The Bottom Of My Purse

While I'm not exactly a fashionista, I do have to admit I've always been a big fan of purses. There's something about an elegant bag on your shoulder or a chic little clutch in your hand that just feels good, especially when compared to an utterly unchic diaper bag which just feels, well, like poop. And given the amount of time I spend in Sherpa Mom mode, carting other people's backpacks, swim bags, dance gear, rock collections and assorted arts and crap around, it feels downright zen to hoist something all my own, something not sold at Target, something completely untouched by the Disney marketing team, on my shoulder.

So that should partly explain why, as I reached into one of my favorite bags (the kind of Coach that has never been pulled by a talking train) to grab my ringing phone and instead found my fingers diving into a puddle of warm, sticky goo, I felt my blood begin to boil.

Given my many years of forensic fieldwork under the auspices of CSI: Toddler, I immediately determined the source of the goo to be orange marmalade. More specifically, it was clear that at least one of those little rectangular diner packets of marmalade had ruptured, forming a jam pool in which my wallet, phone, and keys were now taking a dip.

"I HATE ORANGE MARMALADE!!!" I screamed, to no one in particular, throwing the condiment-laden accessory across the room. "I HATE IT, HATE IT, HATE IT!!"

This may seem like an overreaction to a condiment, and let me assure you orange marmalade did not deserve it. While I may not be a huge fan of the stuff and prefer to throw away the peel as opposed to spreading it on my toast, orange marmalade is not exactly out to ruin my life.

"But Gido loves it," my 3-year-old reminded me, as he toddled upon the scene of my temper jam-trum.

Which is exactly how, as you may have wondered, the offensive spread ended up in my purse in the first place. You see, every week we take all 3 kids to church, and afterwards we reward ourselves for surviving the experience without committing any major sins by going out for brunch. And every week we sit at the same booth, in the same diner. And every time the kids see the packets of jam on the table they recall that I once told them that my dad (aka, Gido) loves orange marmalade. And every week, because they are sweet, thoughtful beings, they would each take a packet of marmalade to bring to Gido in the hospital. And every week, because they are children and I am their Sherpa, they eventually stick these packets of jam in my purse. And because my brain is, well, jammed full, we often forget to deliver the stuff so it accumulates in my bag. And apparently, my purse has a certain marmalade tolerance level, which was exceeded on this fateful day, resulting in the jamboree at the bottom of my bag.

"I help you clean it up?" the little voice asked.

I looked at him with my hand still covered in orange goo, unable to move. Tears started to roll down my face and for a long time, I just held him and cried. Not for the purse, or the jam, or the eventual dry cleaning bill. I cried for the messes that can't be cleaned, the problems I don't know how to solve, the loved ones who are ill, the sweet gestures of children, the innocence that eventually will be shattered. I cried for a long time.

And then I smiled.

Because this is our life.

It's sweet and it's sticky.

Sometimes it makes a big mess all over our favorite things.

But somehow we always manage to clean it up.

And along the way, we realize what our favorite things really are.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back-to-School Organization

You know what will kick your back-to-school organizing into high gear? Invite a TV crew into your house to talk back-to-school organizing! (And on that note, maybe I should convince them to come do a segment about toilet cleaning, since goodness knows I have a few that could use a good scrub...) Big thanks to Karen Drew and the WDIV crew for forcing me to get on the ball a little early this year so I could share some tips with you. 

We started our adventure in the kitchen, talking about one of many parents' most dreaded chores: packing lunches. I can't take the "chore" part out of it, but I have found a few products to help ease the pain. 

First, I love these lunchbox inserts from Easy Lunchboxes

They're dishwasher safe, durable, and easy to use...probably because they were designed by a mom! Be sure to follow them on Facebook, as there are some great recipes and ideas there. 

I also showed Karen how we use silicone muffin liners for snack holders inside the Easy Lunchboxes. 

Again, they're machine washable and more "green" (even the pink and purple ones!) than plastic baggies. I found these on Amazon, but you will also find them at most home stores. 

If you want your kids to eat their veggies, you'd better include some dip, and these little condiment holders, also found on Amazon do the trick for us. 

I try to keep all my lunch "gear" in one cabinet, and to also keep all the main lunch-making foods in one bin in the fridge. And I usually make lunches while I'm making dinner- you're already in the food-prep mode, so why not? Plus, the kids are usually roaming around and I can get them involved. After all, if you're always packing the lunches after they go to bed, it gives the impression that the Lunch Fairy is doing the work. If you happen to have a Lunch Fairy, great. If not, and you'd like the kids to be able to take over this task one day, you need to show them how to do it while they're awake. 

Outside of the kitchen, we talked a lot about routines, and how I like to post picture-based signs to remind the kids of what we do in the morning, when they come home from school, and before bed. It makes me less of a nag (I hope!) and (again) starts to transfer the responsibility to them. I found printable morning and evening routine charts on The Benson Street blog. There are some other great ones on I Heart Organizing. I just print them out, stick them in an inexpensive frame, and mount them on the kids' doors. They can use a dry erase marker to check off the items as they do them. 

My best advice for back-to-school organizing is to do as much as possible the night before. I'm sure you've heard it before, but it really does work when it comes to taming morning mayhem. I often have to work evenings, so getting the kids up and ready in the morning can be the bulk of my "quality time" with them and I've made a commitment- I'm not going to waste it or spend it yelling about lost sneakers. 

It's going to be a great year- I hope you're ready for it!! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Challenge You To Stop Dumping Ice On Your Head

In recent days, my Facebook feed has been all wet. Wet with the sight of my friends, neighbors, former colleagues, and even a relative or two dumping buckets of ice water on their heads.

I've watched as you've dumped ice water on your own head. I've watched your children and spouses dump ice water on your head. I've even watched (though I'll admit- I probably stopped watching halfway through) as your family has "snuck" up on you in a poorly veiled and badly staged routine, before dumping ice water on your head.

All this is part of what has been called the "Ice Bucket Challenge," a social media-fueled campaign to raise money and awareness for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Here's how it works- you either "accept" the challenge and agree to dump a bucket of ice on your head (AND record it... AND share the recording online, because if you dump a bucket of ice water on your head in the forest and no one is around to see it, does it really raise awareness for ALS?), or donate $100 towards ALS research. From everyday folks to celebrities, everyone seems to be taking the challenge.

So after sitting back and watching all of this unfold, I'd like to issue a challenge of my own:


Stop with the buckets of water. Stop with the ice. Stop with the recording, the sharing, the watching, and the "liking." Stop with what in many cases has become no more than a gratuitous party game with some vague connection to some charity.

It was cute and somewhat entertaining at first, but something has bothered me about this from the beginning.

Ostensibly, the Ice Bucket Challenge is meant to bring attention to ALS, which on the surface, sounds like a great idea. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a horrible, debilitating degenerative neuromuscular disorder for which there currently is no cure. I can still remember writing a report about the disease in 5th grade, tearfully asking my physician father why doctors couldn't just "fix" the people who have it. Author Mitch Albom poignantly described what it was like to watch one of his cherished professors succumb to the disease in his acclaimed book Tuesdays with Morrie. Certainly, we would all do well to be more aware of what those who suffer from ALS go through, what their caregivers endure, what treatments show promise, the state of clinical trials, and where the research stands.

And yet, in watching these Ice Bucket Challenge videos, I am yet to see anyone actually talk much ABOUT the disease. Yes, a few have mentioned having known someone who battled ALS, but no one describes the symptoms, talks about the pain of watching someone's life sucked away by the horrors of this illness, or shares their hopes for what can be done to help. In fact, many people who take the Ice Bucket Challenge, including Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, fail to even MENTION the specific charity in their video. Not once. But the crowd sure did "Oooh!" when Lauer removed his suit coat. And in a pre icing interview, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when co-host Savannah Guthrie posed the tough question to golfer Greg Norman, who had nominated Lauer: Would this be very painful for Matt? Because that's what's important here.

Let's also keep in mind that the majority of the people dumping ice water on their heads have done so to AVOID giving money to the charity. And what's going to happen if you don't take the challenge? Is this like those old chain emails where if you don't pass it along to 12 people in the next 30 seconds, something very bad will happen? Do you think the president of the ALS Association is monitoring all this, taking down the names of those who were nominated, and will send you an invoice if you don't go through with it?

Yes, the challenge has raised money for ALS, which again, on the surface, is a wonderful thing. It's a particularly wonderful thing for the roughly 5,600 newly diagnosed Americans and their friends and families whose lives are destroyed by this disease each year. But we can do better.

We can do better than this glorified wet t-shirt contest. The Ice Bucket Challenge is narcissism masquerading as altruism. It's like the love child of an illicit affair between two of social media's biggest class clowns: the selfie and "hashtag activism." It makes us feel good about all the awareness raising we're doing without actually having to DO much of anything. When the summer ends and the Ice Bucket Challenge stops trending, how many of our chilled friends will still remember ALS? I'm pretty certain for many, they'll tuck this particular charity away with their yellow Livestrong bracelets, red equal signs, and "Bring Back Our Girls" signs. At some point, awareness needs to turn to action, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but dumping a bucket of ice on your head does not an activist or a philanthropist make. Just ask any high school football coach who has been treated to a Gatorade shower after winning the championship.

My parents, the most generous people I know, have always lived by the Biblical example of charity: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret." Today, before our right hand can even do anything, our left hand has already Tweeted it, blogged it, and uploaded it to Instagram.

Many of us today, myself included, are guilty of over-sharing and under-doing. The line has blurred between documenting our lives and living them. We are so wrapped up in garnering approval and the "likes" of our social networks that we'll do anything, including dumping a bucket of ice on our heads for pretty much any reason. And can I just point out that it is just a bucket of ice water, folks. probably about the same temperature as Lake Michigan, where many of us have vacationed and gone swimming this summer. It's not like this is the Great White Shark Challenge, or even the Festivus Feats of Strength Challenge.

But you know what takes real strength? Having the courage to do something because it's the right thing to do and not tell a darn soul about it.

Perhaps the REAL challenge lies in looking within ourselves and the way we conduct our lives to figure out why this silly challenge has gone viral, and what it says about us. If you still want to dump a bucket of ice on your head when you're done, be my guest.

I nominate YOU.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Oh, The Things People Say When Your Child Looks Nothing Like You

My oldest son joined the swim team this summer, which has made for daily back-and-forth trips to the pool, countless loads of towels in the laundry, and the faint smell of chlorine permeating our house, cars, and general lives.

With so much time in the sun and the water, his skin has turned a deep golden brown (aside from the parts covered by his suit and swim top), and his sun kissed hair now has the kind of radiant blond highlights women rip out of magazines and pay big bucks for their hairdressers to reproduce.

That's right, my son is blond. BLOND. While blond hair is certainly not an oddity in my lovely neighborhood of manicured lawns and pedicured toes, located in a city which according to the latest census data is 94 percent Caucasian, let me assure you this is extremely odd in a half-Egyptian child. 

As you might expect from someone with a full set of Middle Eastern DNA, I have olive skin and an overabundance of dark, coarse, thick, curly hair (and believe me, I wish I was just referring to the stuff on my head). It requires a significant investment of time, money, styling products, and raw upper body strength to be tamed into submission, and God forbid the humidity rises or an unexpected rain shower moves through, as it could easily double in size, horizontally speaking. 

For better or for worse, I always assumed my children would inherit my coloring and hair type due to the obvious dominance of our genetic pool. After all, my peeps have several gazillion years of history going for us. We built the pyramids. We carved a half-man, half-cat out of rock. We staged the largest protest in the history of mankind to overthrow a ruthless dictator, and then staged an even bigger one to overthrow the jerk who came after him. We are EGYPT.

When I married my sweet, pale, Caucasian mutt of a husband, it honestly never occurred to me that our children would look anything but Egyptian. Sure, maybe their skin would be a bit more fair, or their eyes on the lighter side of brown, but that's it. I just assumed that in the genetic World Cup, Egypt would kick the pants off of Team Scotland-Ireland-Germany-Maybe Sweden But We're Not Quite Sure About Great Grandma's Side.

And then came baby, who of course looked like every baby out there: squishy and wrinkled, kind of like a diminutive Yasser Arafat after  a clean shave. Score one for the brown folk!

But within a matter of days he began to lose that dark (familiar) hair and it was quickly replaced with (what the WHAT?) fine blond strands. The slate grey eyes I was certain were going to turn brown instead became huge baby blues (and have since morphed into baby greens).

By his first birthday, he was officially the Golden Child.

During the course of that first year, I began to field some interesting questions when we were out in public together. Turns out people say a lot of funny things when your child doesn't look anything like you. The first time I recall my maternity being called into question, I was at the park pushing Blondie on the swing, when a little girl sidled over and asked, "So where'd that baby come from?"

In my confused state, I stifled my first impulse, which was to blurt out a sarcastic " uterus?" and wondered briefly if I needed to launch into "Well, when a man loves a woman...," but finally settled on "What do you mean?"

"Well, he's not your baby because you're all brown and he's not," she explained, "Are you the babysitter?" 

And that's what many people, even today, take me to be: The Hired Help. "So how long have you been taking care of him?" they'll ask. 

"Let's see, he just turned seven in July, then add in the 40 gestational weeks.. no, make that 42 because he was so stubborn, so that brings us to..." 

Occasionally, people tap dance around the idea that he might have been adopted (without actually daring to say the word, because somehow that would be uncouth), and because I find it so entertaining, I just stare blankly at them and let it all unfold. 

"Sooooo.... how was the whole, you" 
"Was it... difficult? Expensive?"
"Do you have an"

One woman at a local coffee shop praised my generous spirit and offered to connect me with her niece who had "also rescued a child from poverty." I didn't have the heart to tell her that economic conditions in Royal Oak, Michigan, his birthplace, were actually quite stable. 

Oddly enough, we receive no such inquiries when my husband, he of the Mighty DNA who will henceforth be known as The Gene-ius, is around, since our oldest is his virtual clone. 
Mark Shand, age 2
Noah Shand, age 2

But it doesn't bother me a bit. Though we might not look a bit alike, each morning when I watch those big green eyes flutter open, I can see what others might easily miss: the best pieces of myself reflected back. 

I see it in his quest for knowledge, his sweet, almost too sensitive demeanor, his goofy and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. His love for animals, the water, and music. The way he gets lost in his favorite books. The temper tantrums he uses to cover up hurt feelings. 

Trust me- that boy is mine. 

That's why every night, I run my fingers through that fluffy blond hair and count my blessings.  

Because I've been lucky enough to discover that sometimes, if you take the rough, coarse parts of yourself and mix them with a whole lot of love and way more luck than any one person deserves, they come out soft, fine, and smooth. 

Like they've been kissed by the sun. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Picking Up The Pieces When Life Feels Like A Game of Dominoes

It's Celebration Season at our house: 5 weeks containing 4 birthdays, 1 anniversary, dozens of cupcakes, gallons of frosting, oodles of cheer, and presents everywhere you look. By the end of it all, we are stumbling around in a sugar-induced fugue state, reflexively singing the birthday song with every flick of the light switch, unsure of who or what we are celebrating, salivating like Pavlov's dogs each time the oven reaches 350 degrees. The adults in the house have raw fingers from the wrapping paper rolls, the recycling bin runneth over, and the toys.... oh, the toys.

There are toys that beep and toys that buzz. Toys that glitter and toys that shine. Learning toys, cuddly toys, active toys, e-toys, gender neutral toys, dress-up toys. Toys from friends, and toys from family. Toys made in China and toys made in...other parts of China.

And in order to make room for the semi-annual influx of new toys, we set aside a few hours to go through the current stash of toys for those no longer working and no longer wanted. And in addition to those our birthday tradition states that each child is required to find the same number of toys as his/her age to give away.

In the midst of this process, we typically uncover some treasures of birthdays/Christmases past buried in the bins or relegated to the far reaches of the toy chest (aka The Island of Banned Toys):

"Ooh, Mommy! Remember this dollie that really pees and poops when you feed her??? I wonder how she got stuffed in the bottom of this box!"

"Mom- remember how you said you'd help me put together this 4000 piece 3-D light-up, musical mosaic tile puzzle?"


But occasionally, as my just turned five-year-old daughter and I discovered on a rainy day while eating someone's leftover birthday cake, there are some pleasant surprises.

That was the day she came across a box of dominoes. Good, old fashioned, low-tech, dominoes. I'm not sure whose gift it once was, but the unassuming box hadn't even been opened. And so we happily passed the afternoon together, carefully constructing squiggly lines all across the playroom floor, until that inevitable moment when one slip of her hand set off the familiar clink-clink-clink-clink chain reaction and one by one, end-to-end, they all tumbled over.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! She wailed. "They can't FALL DOWN!!!! Everything is RUINED!!!!!!!!"

"But it isn't," I assured her with a comforting hug as we surveyed the damage. "Just look: nothing is ruined, and all the pieces are still there. It's different, but it's still beautiful."

She walked away, turning her attention to another one of the Ghosts of Birthdays Past, and I was left holding one lone domino in my hand, trying to convince myself that what I told her really was true.

Because lately I've found myself feeling like I'm trying to hold everything up and it's all falling down around me. Piece by piece, one little clink at a time. Because when a loved one is ill, and when you can't fix it, it's hard to make any of the pieces stand up. It's hard to enjoy the the things you once loved when you know that something...or someone... is missing.

But something about that domino in my hand helped me realize that there is beauty in change, even the most difficult kind. There is peace to be found in shared memories, and there is joy in passing them on.

So I put that domino in my pocket, scooped up my little girl and took her over to the couch. I pulled out a weathered, dog-eared copy of a much beloved book my dad must have read to me at least 200 times. I showed her where he'd helped me write my name in the inside cover, a crooked, five-year-old's scrawl using 3 lower case letters and one upper case.

We got out a crayon, and right below it, almost close enough to touch, I helped her write her own.

It was a lot of sweet and a little bit sad all at once: the spot where past and present stood side-by-side. End-to-end.

And so it seems that's the way life will be. A lot of sweet and little bit sad all at once.

So instead of dwelling on what isn't, and on what has been lost, I will do my best to focus on what still is, and what will never end.

And I will take my memories in one hand and my future in the other and place them next to each other.

There they will stand together, almost touching, end-to-end.

And if it starts to feel like everything is falling down, I'll remember: all the pieces are still there.

It may be different, but it's still beautiful.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Mother's Day Role Model For All Moms


Stop what you're doing immediately (all 10,000 things at once) and have a seat. There is something I need to tell you.

I have made an amazing discovery. I found her: the perfect mom. The one we can all learn from, the one who can give us all hope, the one who is the whole package. The real deal. She has got it going on.

And here's the best part: you're going to absolutely love her. I promise, she's not going to make you feel insecure about your house, your wardrobe, or the size of your thighs. She's not going to preach to you, criticize you, or look down on you.

I'm telling you, she is incredible. It's like someone took the best parts of all the amazing moms you've ever met and rolled them into one.

I've only known her a few weeks but she's had such a profound impact on me that I had to introduce you to her. She's really quite camera shy, so that means you don't have to worry about her clogging up your news feed with selfies. While she's not anti-social by any means, she is going through a really hectic time in her life so I don't think she's even ON Facebook. Twitter is probably closer her genre anyway.

So who is this Mystery Mom? The one who has it all together, the one who is that perfect blend of patience, perseverance, energy, discipline, and love?

It's definitely not THIS mom. She's the first one to admit she is pretty much just fumbling her way through.

Believe it or not, I'm not even talking about this Mother.

 And while this mom has many of those attributes...

 And this one has others...

The mother I'm actually referring to is....well, a bird of a different feather. She has 13 children (yes, 13. As in a baker's dozen) with no nanny, no visiting grandparents, no extra hands on deck that I'm aware of. The kids are all well fed, well groomed, and polite. You'd think a household that large would be total chaos, but quite to the contrary. This mom has things totally under control. She is calm and relaxed. The whole bunch- they're not just surviving, they're thriving.

Look closely (like I said, she's camera shy and always on the go) and you just might be able to spot her.

Look again and you might catch a glimpse of a few of her newborn children.

I'm told there are 13 of them, but they move quickly and bear a strong resemblance to each other so I might have counted a few of them more than once.

Yes, the perfect mom is, in fact, a duck.

Now before you stop reading and assume there's nothing you could possibly learn from something so...fowl... and that I must be a... quack...let me just remind you that we are talking about a mom to THIRTEEN children. Just take a moment and let that sink in. Do a quick inventory of your own children, and then consider that Mama D just might be able to teach us something. Did I mention that those babies were just born three days ago? Does she look amazing, or what?

For weeks I've watched her sit on her nest in the courtyard of my daughter's preschool. Day after day, we'd come stomping into the building, me and my 3 little ducklings, usually running late, still tucking in shirts and zipping up backpacks, often times with remnants of breakfast smeared across one...ok, two... ok, fine- three of their faces.

And there she was- right outside the window, just camped out on her nest, day after day. In the midst of the noise and confusion as hundreds of children and their parents paraded past and ogled her, she never batted an eye. I don't know when she ate, or slept, or had any kind of "me duck" time, but she never complained. I don't know much about her background, but I think it's safe to assume she made some major sacrifices to be there for her babies. You'd never know it from her demeanor.

I don't think she was waging any kind of internal battle over her identity, nor do I think she was consumed with decisions about "opting out" or "leaning in." I have no doubt that before she was Mama D she was a duck with a very her own dreams, aspirations, and goals. But there was no bitterness or regret in her eyes, she was simply doing what she knew needed to be done with grace and poise, what she knew only she could do. Through rain, fog, sleet, and even late Spring snow, she sat there contently, just taking care of business. I'm sure that somewhere inside Mama D knew that as difficult as some of those moments were, they were not forever. You might say that in the moment, she was just...well, ducky.

Never once in the time that I've known her have I seen or has she mentioned the babies'  father (and I can't bring myself to ask- aside from the language barrier, it would feel rude) so I think it's safe to say she's raising these kids on her own. They are not even one week old and she has already whipped them into shape: she says "We're going for a walk," and they line up and get moving. She says "Swim!" and they start paddling. Set the bar high and your kids will jump (or at least waddle) for it- Mama D is proof of that.

Maybe if we were all just a little more like Mama Duck we would swim through motherhood a little more easily. Maybe we would just focus on what needs to be done we'd be able to let the rest roll away... like water off Mama Duck's back. Maybe if we followed her lead, we wouldn't let our feathers get so ruffled.

So the next time you start feeling overwhelmed and start feeling like motherhood is too much, just take a deep breath, think of Mama D and her 13 babies, and ask yourself:

"What the duck am I so worried about?"

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hanging Up On Fear

YI don't have very many pictures from my childhood. Unlike my own kids whose every waking (and the occasional sleeping) moment has been documented, uploaded to Facebook, and permanently entered in the digital records, I'm not sure my parents even owned a camera when I was born. They do have a drawer in the basement crammed with various snapshots from birthday parties and some painfully posed formal pics with the Olan Mills script stamped in gold across the bottom, but that's about it. And among those random snippets of childhood, crammed in between the family trip to Niagara Falls and the creepy late 1970s Easter Bunny was this shot.

Apparently, I liked to play with the phone as a toddler, a fact I find very odd since I later developed a a major aversion to the device. You see, I'm not exactly a phone person today. While you're all comparing apps and gigs and waiting in line for the new leopard print iPhone 87Q Titanium, I am perfectly content to hang with my trusty old not-so-smartphone.

It makes calls and sends texts… and that's only when I can find it… which is usually not when it is ringing or receiving a text.

I've had a smartphone when I was forced to for work, and I didn't like it. Too much of an electronic ball and chain, too much temptation to be Instagramming my life instead of living it. So it's bare bones phone for me. But even still, I have phone issues.

In the past few years, I've grown increasingly fearful of the phone. It seems like in today's text-heavy world of instant communication, the only time anyone ever calls is to deliver bad news, and lately I've had my share. So I started taking my anger out on an easy target- the phone. The mere sound of its ring (and there's only one on my outdated version) was enough to make my heart race. And instead of answering it, I'd glare at it, and then glare some more at the voicemail icon, sometimes taking days to work up the courage to listen to it. Upon entering the house, I'd obsessively check the home landline for both messages and missed calls, convinced that the bad news was just waiting for me to leave the house before it showed up.

But the worst times came overnight, when I would wake to see the phone on the bedside and instantly brace myself for what I assumed was to come. Many nights I stayed up for hours in a silent stare down with the phone, certain that the only way to keep it from ringing was to keep one eye trained on it at all times. I was locked in a tense standoff with myself, living in constant fear of the arrival of bad news… and the phone.

Then last month we took a family vacation- a Caribbean cruise. My biggest fear was not contracting some stomach virus, losing a child overboard, or running into trouble on the high seas (although I do question the cruise line's decision to air the movie Captain Phillips in an endless loop), but being out of phone's reach. You'd think this would be bliss for me, but the thought of being out of range in the event of the bad news I always anticipated, was terrifying.

With no telecommunications to monitor, I found myself with some time to read, and appropriately enough, the first book I turned to was all about phones. Mitch Albom's "The First Phone Call From Heaven" had sat idle on my Kindle since Christmas, but was quickly devoured as we sailed along.

It's a simple story with a powerful message: there are messages we need to hear- messages of hope, pain, love, grief, and forgiveness- and the phone is just one way we receive them, but what we choose to do with them comes down to faith. "What we give to fear, we take away from faith," Albom writes. I read that line over and over, repeating it to myself like a mantra throughout the trip. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of peace and calm, confident that what was inside of me was strong enough to handle whatever  the phone might potentially bring.

As we pulled into port early on the final day of the cruise, I slipped out of our cabin before dawn and took my phone with me on my morning run around the deck, knowing we were finally back in cell service range. With trembling hands and a pounding heart, I turned it on and saw the voicemail symbol spring to life.

I dialed it up, entered my password, and waited.

And then there was nothing. Nothing but a few work messages, a reminder from my dentist about an upcoming appointment, and an offer to lower my credit card payments. Tearfully, I hung up the phone and resisted the overwhelming urge to throw it overboard.

A few days after we returned, I received the call I'd been so dreading. A loved one was very ill, in critical condition. It was a horrible, awful phone call and an even more horrible, awful situation.

As I hung up the phone, it hit me- all those months of dreading the phone, all those sleepless nights, all that wasted energy will never come back. Dreading the calls doesn't allow you to avoid the truth. Being angry at the phone when you should be making peace with reality doesn't serve any purpose. Putting your life on hold for a call that may or may not come is no way to live.

Albom is right- "What we give to fear we take away from faith," and I'm not ready to be on the losing end of that equation.

So I think it's time to say goodbye to my phone-o-phobia and to work harder at muting my fears. When the phone rings, I will answer it. When it doesn't, I won't question it. Most of all, I won't center my life around it. Faith will win out over fear, because if it doesn't, then it isn't really faith.

But I'm still not upgrading my phone.