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How We Quarantined: Week #1

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by Melissa Face

For starters, I am acknowledging that I am in one of the more fortunate situations during this pandemic. I am a teacher, so I do not have to go out in public, and I don’t have the worry of not being paid. I also am able to be at home with my children and help them navigate this unusual time in our lives while providing a little instruction and a lot of love.

Our first week of quarantine wasn’t perfect, but there were many perfect moments. And like most things that go well, the week started with a plan. We made charts for both kids last weekend and gave them goals to achieve in the categories of household chores, academics, and a few others. We also allowed them to make a wishlist of a couple of items they would like to have once the quarantine is over. We hung up their charts and wishlists where they can see them every day. It has helped them stay motivated and focused on something positive. 

Here are a few other things that went well in our first week that we will definitely continue:

 

1. Gratitude Walk – Each day we have taken a walk. On the way down the drive, we talk about all of our stressors and worries. We get them out, and I give them both a chance to vent and share. My six-year-old, Delaney, was worried that Pusheen might get stung by a bee because she left him outside. Stress is relative, right? The point is that they get a chance to talk and be heard. Then, on the way home, we talk about things we are grateful for. We haven’t repeated anything yet, and all three of us are excited to continue this part of our routine next week.

 

2. Support Others From Home – We are staying at home for the foreseeable future unless we absolutely have to go out. We have also felt compelled to help our favorite local businesses who are not receiving the patronage they are used to. So, we have ordered from a few of the small businesses who are out delivering. And we share posts of other online businesses we care about. It’s a really easy way to help people who are working hard get through this time.

 

3. Creative Learning – We have used the websites that my children’s teachers have recommended (IXL and Reading Eggs), but we have also done more learning activities on our own. Evan (3rd grade) is currently reading a novel and a nonfiction book about natural disasters. He does a lot of independent study and vocabulary lessons with topics he finds interesting. Delaney (kindergarten) has practiced writing sight words with sidewalk chalk and baking supplies. There were also several times this week when we put the academics aside and just played. And I feel really good about that because life is so weird right now.

 

4. Get Moving – While we haven’t stuck to a strict schedule this week, there were a few things that were always part of our day, and exercise was one of them. We played basketball, soccer, and went for walks. If we had to stay inside, we did Wii dance. It’s so much fun, and it never hurts to learn a few new moves. (There may be a video on Evan’s YouTube channel, but I’m not including a link. You’ll have to dig for it:)

 

5. Letter Writing – We reached out to several classmates and asked for mailing addresses so the kids could write letters and keep in touch with their friends. (And they’re writing, so they’re learning.) Walking to the mailbox is another part of our routine and something we all look forward to. And today was fantastic because the kids had a new letter. Thank you, Janice! You are so good to us!

 

6. Social Media – There are times when I’ve found social media to be overly negative and a major time suck. But this week it has been a welcomed source of comic relief. Posts and memes have provided distractions and many laughs. (Tell us what your kids and pets are doing, but refer to them as your coworkers.) Plus, social media has allowed the kids to connect with their classmates, see their teachers’ faces, and watch the animals at the Cincinnati Zoo (3:00 pm each day). 

 

I have read a lot of “how-to” books over the years, but How To Homeschool Elementary Students While Providing Remote Instruction to High School Sophomores and Preparing for a Book Launch in the Midst of a Pandemic was not one of them. There are a few things that we wish we had done differently during our first week of quarantine, but we can iron out some kinks next week. 

Delaney is looking forward to wearing her dance costume to “class” next week, and Evan wants to wear a sports jersey. And I don’t have to tell them that it’s not appropriate for school. 

Good luck in week #2, everyone. Be kind and patient with your children and especially with yourselves.

Five Tips for Book Events

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Cookies by Shirley Dietz

 

By Melissa Face

While I am still about a month away from the retail release day of my essay collection on parenting, I Love You More Than Coffee, I have had copies in hand since December. And because I couldn’t wait to get my feet wet (and take advantage of Valentine’s Day shopping opportunities), I have been holding pre-launch events since early February. So far I have been having a blast and learning more about the process than I ever imagined. For anyone who is preparing for a book launch or who is already hosting readings and signings, here are a few things that have worked well for me:

1. Celebrate It! – I treated my first couple of events with the same celebratory attitude as I do my children’s birthday parties. They are pretty similar, after all. From its conception, my book has been a great source of pride (and hard work), and now that it is out in the world, I want to throw it a party! There are so many ways to do this, but some things include making goody bags with treats and bookmarks, and serving cookies or other snacks at an event. This works especially well if the food item fits your book theme. Celebrating and advertising look a lot alike, but celebrating has a much more positive connotation. Remember, though, that the most important thing to convey is genuine excitement about your book. If you aren’t excited about your “baby”, you cannot expect anyone else to be.

2. Host at Popular Venues – While book events are no longer confined to bookstores, it is helpful to choose a location that is popular in the community. This way, when the author and the venue co-host on social media, there is a draw from regular supporters of the venue, even if they don’t know the author. Plus, co-hosts can find fun, creative ways to promote each other’s products. I held my first event at a local coffee shop (perfection!) because coffee is in the title of my book. They created a special drink menu (for the day), themed to several essays in my collection. This made my event more personal with guests able to purchase drinks like the “Mommy van Gogh” and “Sleepless Nights”, and it created no extra cost for my co-host or me. 

3. Have Fun With Themes – Play off the themes in your book when selecting giveaway items and venue locations. I am fortunate to have “love” and “coffee” in my book title, which makes theming pretty easy. I have taken advantage of Valentine’s Day and numerous gift items related to love and coffee. If your book’s themes are less conducive to marketing, consider working something around a main character or even the book’s setting. Check out nationaldaycalendar.com for some inspiration. People love posting and commenting about days like National Coffee Day, which happens to be Tuesday, September 29, in case you were wondering. Take advantage of it!

4. Read for Your Specific Audience – Considering one’s audience is one of the first lessons a writer learns, and it is vital when preparing for a reading. My book is a collection of essays on parenthood, and I have a variety of themes and topics from which to choose. So far I have read something different at each event. When I was invited to speak at a local Rotary Club meeting, for example, I knew that would not be the best place to read, “…this morning I have wiped poop off two different butts, and neither was my own. How is your day?” They may have laughed, and they likely would have understood, but I took the time to find something geared to an older, more reserved crowd. I was glad I did.

5. Anticipate Questions – Expect all types of questions from guests at your event – from the interesting to the intrusive. Prepare some responses in advance that are honest yet upbeat. If someone asks how many books you have sold (this is rude, by the way), simply tell them that you aren’t sure. And in that moment, how could you be? Someone could be adding your book to their online shopping cart right that instant, so there is no way you could possibly know how many copies you have sold. At one of my events, a lady asked me how I planned to compete with websites she could visit to read about parenting topics for free. I told her that my book was marketed as a gift book for parents, and it’s hard to wrap up a website for Mother’s Day. She did not buy my book at that event, and that is okay. Expect strange questions, and have a few responses prepared so you can remain positive on your day of celebration.

Holding my book for the first time this past December was one of the best moments of my life. At that point, my dream had already come true, so everything that happens from now on with sales and publicity will only be a bonus. Of course I want to sell books, but that isn’t the only measure of my success with this project. I’m having an amazing time, and I hope this is the first of many publications.

Best of luck to you and your “baby”!

 

 

Something Unicorn

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By Melissa Face

I read the best meme the other day. “Motherhood means I’m willing to die for you, but don’t ask me to make you dinner,” it said.

I felt that deep in my core.

Want me to rub your back for an hour because you were up coughing last night?

No problem.

Need to sit in my lap and watch the same animal video over and over until my phone battery dies?

You got it.

Want me to wear matching JoJo Siwa bows with you when we go out for ice cream?

I’m your girl.

I’m up for most of the challenges of motherhood, but mealtime is the one event that makes me want to throw up that white flag and surrender to the unreasonable culinary requests of my children.

Having a child with a nut allergy already presented a big challenge. Evan can’t have anything that contains tree nuts or is manufactured in a facility where they are processed. Then, this same child decided to become a vegetarian about a year ago, so he began obtaining his protein from eggs, beans, and peanut butter.

Our weekly dinners of grilled chicken and fish morphed into black bean burgers and vegetarian nuggets. My husband and I have adjusted well to this switch, though; veggie burgers are pretty tasty.

While the three of us are often on the same page of the dinner menu, there’s one more family member to consider: six-year-old Delaney. She has no true allergies or dietary restrictions, yet she swears off a new food every week.

“Oh no. I don’t eat green beans anymore,” she said the other day.

Green beans. Delaney has eaten green beans since I spooned them out of Gerber jars. But now, five years later, they simply don’t suit her.

Then there’s the issue with pasta.

“Remember the old days when I used to eat red sauce on my pasta?” Delaney smiled up at her dad as he prepared a special butter sauce just for her.

“That was last week, Delaney. Last week you ate red sauce on your pasta,” he responded.

How quickly things change around here, especially with Delaney. She is always putting a kink in the meal plan.

Throughout the holiday season, her interest in unicorns mushroomed into a full-fledged obsession. She would only wear unicorn clothing, and she would only eat what she described as “unicorn food.”

“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked her one day during winter break.

“Uhm…something unicorn!”

“What does that even mean, Delaney?”

“It’s easy! Something sparkly or rainbow!”

Rainbow?  What can I make with rainbows that my child will eat? Sprinkles? They are pure sugar. How about rainbow sprinkles mixed into Greek yogurt? That’s a semi-nutritious breakfast option. 

Delaney ate her unicorn yogurt in record time, and it really wasn’t the worst meal she’s ever had. But we needed to figure out another way to meet the unicorn requirement and get our daughter to eat something healthy.

My husband had a brilliant plan. He arranged all of Delaney’s favorite fruits and vegetables in a rainbow display on her plate. She had rows of beets, corn, carrots, grapes, and avocado. It was gorgeous. 

But she wouldn’t eat it. She turned her nose up at it and refused to take a bite.

“The things are touching,” she complained. “All of the foods are touching!”

I realize that we should be stricter with her at times, perhaps make her sit at the table until she has eaten something substantial, or limit her options at meal times. But we have tried these tactics. I have sat at the table with Delaney for over an hour before. My husband has, too. I have watched her gag on food we insisted she try, and I’ve lost sleep because she was willing to go to bed without dinner one night when we didn’t cater to her picky ways. My child went to bed hungry, and I felt awful.

Dinner time, what should be a pleasant opportunity for catching up and discussing our days, is more of a battle of wills in my house. It’s an exercise of mental strength and stamina, a guessing game of “what is my child going to eat tonight?”, a vicious cycle of heating up food and allowing it to cool off again. And again. And again.

Early in parenthood, I swore I would never let my children dictate our dinner menu. We wouldn’t allow that. I imagined smiling, grateful children who happily tried the food that we placed in front of them. But I’m starting to think that children who are agreeable at meal times are mythical creatures. They are the real unicorns.

Motherscope Magazine – Issue 2

 

Motherscope magazine came up in a Google search when I was looking for places to submit my essays. The founder and editor was looking for submissions on motherhood and choice. I had the perfect piece in mind. I polished it up a bit, sent it in, and…it was accepted!

I have not been able to put this publication down since I received it a few days ago. It’s gorgeous, real, moving, inspirational, and everything else that is reflected in motherhood. Order your own copy of Issue 2 at http://www.motherscope.com. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, check out my essay below:

 

Having It All: Another Myth of Motherhood

 

by Melissa Face

When my daughter’s kindergarten teacher called me at 10:00 in the morning, I stepped outside my own classroom and took her call. Delaney had woken up with a cough and hoarse voice, and though I was hoping she would get through the school day, I was also expecting she might not.

“Delaney is asking to go home,” her teacher said. “She’s upset and saying she just wants her mama.”

“Tell her I will be there in a few minutes. I need to write down some sub plans,” I told Delaney’s teacher.

I could have checked with my husband to see if he was free; we’ve split our work day in the past in order to take sick kids to the doctor. But I didn’t. Delaney asked for me, so I made arrangements to go get her. I notified the office that I would need coverage, organized my plans for my students, then filled out a leave slip and left.

While I was driving to my daughter’s school, I thought about an interview I watched recently on The Today Show about moms “having it all.” The guest, a local author and entrepreneur stated that moms can have it all, but can’t necessarily do it all themselves, meaning there are times when we must delegate certain tasks and responsibilities. 

I thought about whether or not I agreed with her. I wondered what I could possibly delegate to someone else.

But for starters, what does “having it all” even mean?

When this phrase is used, it is often in the context of a mom who has a fulfilling, rewarding career and is also fully involved in raising her children. I am not using “fully involved” by accident, either. Working full time and parenting feel a lot like being on fire and not in the casual, upbeat meaning of having a string of successes.

So do I “have it all”?

I get to spend each workday with talented, artistic sophomores. We discuss classic literature, modern novels, and important worldly issues. We practice grammar, complete journal entries, study vocabulary, and improve our writing. 

I am fortunate that my days are never boring or repetitive. Even the same lesson will solicit different discussion topics each class period. Plus, I always have the option to instruct in a slightly different manner, learn from the mistakes of a previous class period, and improve my delivery the next time around. 

Another great part of my job is the schedule. I am able to pick up my children from aftercare at a reasonable time in the afternoon and help them get started with homework before my husband gets out for the evening. And then there are the breaks. I am fortunate to spend ten weeks with them in the summer, in addition to spring break, winter break, major holidays, and snow days. I am “fully involved” in every aspect of their lives, and I love it. 

But do I “have it all”? Sometimes I think I do. 

But then there are days like last Thursday, when I sat in a monthly faculty meeting, listening to coworkers receive accolades for their hard work and commitment levels. In that moment, I realized I definitely do not “have it all.” And the main reason for that is a big part of “having it all”, for me, means feeling appreciated for what I do and the sacrifices I make.

One of the employees praised at the meeting had recently taken on coaching the volleyball team as the season was about to begin. That was an honorable thing for him to do; the team needed a coach. Another teacher received accolades for agreeing to take on sponsorship of the junior class, an important and time-consuming responsibility. And though these extra tasks come with stipends, that monetary amount never compensates for the time and work individuals put in.

Taking on more responsibility at work is not an option for me right now. I will never be interested in a coaching position, and it will be years before I can dedicate the time required to serve as a class sponsor. At that meeting, I felt like if these are the things that bring the most value to the school and constitute a “great” employee, then I may never be one. I left work that afternoon feeling depressed about my job and disappointed in the myth of “having it all.”

I felt like giving it my all in my classroom isn’t enough anymore. Brainstorming lessons in my time off and right before I fall asleep isn’t enough. Correcting student papers in the car, while leaving for a weekend trip with my family isn’t enough. Working while worrying about a feverish child isn’t enough. And finding the mental energy to type up lesson plans at 5:00 in the morning, after cleaning vomit off my five-year-old daughter isn’t enough.

 It isn’t enough anymore. And was it ever enough?

The really sad thing is that there are few careers with schedules more conducive to parenting than a teaching job. And though I have never had my sick leave or time off questioned in my current position, I was reminded of my days missed on a summative evaluation at a previous school. I had to sign off on a document that stated I had missed 25 days during that contract year, the year I gave birth to my first child. Never mind the fact that I had to use my own sick leave for some days; some were unpaid, and I purchased a short-term disability policy to cover the difference. Purchased it. Out of my monthly, pre-tax income.

“It doesn’t count against you,” the assistant principal told me, when she asked me to sign. But I felt it was unfair for them to type my maternity leave on my end of year evaluation in the first place. My husband didn’t have to sign anything about his paternity leave at his job. It served as another reminder of never being able to give enough as a working mother.

So do I “have it all”?

I definitely do not. But I do have what is important. I have a husband who believes I can do anything I want and who helps me every step of the way. I have two children who are curious, interesting and kind and who appreciate everything they have and everything I do for them.

 I have a job that makes a difference, coworkers who are supportive, and students who try their best to make up for the areas in which our government has fallen short.

Teaching, though I do love it, is not my sole identity. I won’t burn my candle to the end for this job or any other. And I shouldn’t be asked to in order to feel valued.

At this stage of life, no one needs me more than my two children do. So if choosing them means that my name is never called for employee of the month at a faculty meeting, I can live with that. 

I don’t need to “have it all.” I just need what matters. 

 

Look for the Good

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By Melissa Face

“Don’t make fun of me on Christmas morning,” five-year-old Delaney said to her dad. She climbed into his lap and buried her face deep into his shirt.

“Make fun of you? Why would I make fun of you?” he asked her.

“Don’t make fun of me if I don’t have much presents on Christmas morning,” she explained. “I know I haven’t been that good this year.”

My husband and I tried to stifle our laughter. We didn’t want to further upset Delaney when she was genuinely worried about Santa not bringing her gifts. But to be completely honest, our daughter does have a few reasons for concern.

For starters, Delaney has a sassy mouth. She often offers a quick retort when she’s not fond of the question being asked. Just the other day, we were on our way home from a holiday event, and Delaney was eating her dinner in the backseat. She asked for a cookie, but we weren’t sure if she had eaten all her dinner.

“Have you finished your cheeseburger?” my husband asked her.

There was a long pause.

“Can Jesus see inside my Happy Meal box?” she asked.

Again, my husband and I tried to hold back laughter. Delaney had unknowingly given herself away.

“Finish your cheeseburger,” my husband said.

Delaney has a sweet tooth and a weakness for candy of just about every variety. She also has a history of sneaking pieces up to her room. She makes earnest attempts at hiding the wrappers, but they often turn up when we do laundry or check behind furniture.

About a month before Christmas, I bought some candy and stashed it away for her birthday goody bags. I didn’t think she was aware that the bags of lollipops, licorice, and fruit chews were even in the house.

When I moved some things around in the cabinet, I noticed the bag was slit and half empty. We questioned both children about the missing candy, and both of them promised they had not taken it. Then we told them we were going to check the (nonexistent) video footage from the dining room.

“But, Mom,” Delaney said, her face wrinkled with worry. “I don’t know if I’m lying or not!” 

Once again, Delaney had given herself away. And once again, my husband and I were nearly choking on laughter.

Later that night, we had a serious conversation about sneaking candy, telling the truth, and behaving properly, regardless of who might be watching your Happy Meal box. She listened as attentively as a five-year-old can and said she would try to do better, especially since Christmas was coming and Santa was watching.

About two weeks before Christmas, we took the children to see Santa. Delaney, who is typically pretty bubbly, sat quietly on Santa’s lap until he spoke first. I could tell she was nervous. After the photographer took the picture and we overpaid for an image of our daughter grimacing instead of smiling, I asked her how it went.

“Pretty good,” she said. “Santa didn’t say anything about my behavior.”

In the days leading up to Christmas, Delaney busied herself with making and wrapping presents for each member of her family. She drew portraits, saved coveted pieces of candy, and wrapped them in paper decorated with stickers, glitter, and bows. She worked tirelessly to make sure she had something to give to everyone.

On Christmas morning, Delaney admired her gifts from Santa then passed out presents to us. She was proud and happy, and it was a beautiful Christmas morning.

Later that evening, Delaney told me that Santa must have seen some of the good things she had done.

“I’m sure he did,” I agreed. I think he looks for the good things.”

“Well, I’m going to do even better next year,” she promised.

I think that Santa appreciates a child who can recognize and admit her own shortcomings and who has the desire to improve. I know her father and I do.

Real Moms Share Their Successes

By Melissa Face

While it’s unlikely that any of us will ever completely avoid guilty feelings, we can create a better balance and a healthier mindset. One way to begin is by acknowledging what we are doing well in motherhood (and in life) and focusing on those positive moments.  I spoke with a few local mothers about their experiences and asked them to “toot their own horns” of motherhood. Here is what they had to say:

I am a good mom when I pick my children up from school and we have conversations about their day, including their friends, and I know who each friend is and something previously shared about them. I believe it shows my children I care enough to truly listen to them and that I am present and active in our conversations.”

-Michelle Newby

Williamsburg

 

I wanted to work and have a family, and while it is not easy and the concept of work- life balance is more like work-life Tetris, they see the juggling and prioritization and sometimes the sacrifice it takes to have financial independence and maintain a family (and occasionally a social life!) and I believe they can use that in their own lives no matter what their dreams or goals may be. I believe my children know they are important to me, but by no means do they think the world revolves around them because they know I play multiple roles. Sometimes I have to take that call or go to that meeting, and they see that hard work and commitment are what it takes to continue to be successful. They have to be second sometimes so they can be first more often.”

-Carrie Long

Virginia Beach
I know I’m a good mom when those sweet little arms wrap around my neck, and he gives me a hug, and tells me he loves me no matter how the day has been. It’s the little comments: thanks for playing with me; I liked reading that book with you; or thanks for holding me, that make me feel like a good mom. My baby girl makes me feel like a good mom when she cries in everyone else’s arms because she’s so attached to me. Haha!

-Samantha Graham

Suffolk 

 

I feel guilty as a mom when I think about the different activities I didn’t get my kids in due to work schedules or because we didn’t have time. A positive aspect of being a working mom is being able to contribute to our household financially, and my kids really seem to understand and genuinely appreciate why I go to work (to provide for them).”

-Crystal Adkins

Virginia Beach

 

I feel like a good mom when I am able to be truly present with my children. Those 15 minutes driving to school in the morning are precious and an opportunity to really have an intentional conversation with the kids, even though my mind is often running through which meetings I have coming up and if I have everything prepared. I realize how little time I have to pour into my four children and how much I treasure when I can be present in the conversations, the stories, and the moment.

-Kelly Durick

Suffolk

Don’t Eat My Apple Bites

 

IMG_1973***Published in Sasee Magazine, December 2019

by Melissa Face

“Don’t you eat my apple bites!, Mammie hollered, referring to her most favorite treat sold in stores. For years, apple bites have been a staple on her grocery list. She enjoyed one per day with her morning coffee, and sometimes she shared.

I joked that I was going to eat them all. We both laughed, I hugged her, told her I loved her, and headed out the door. 

That was my last conversation with my grandmother. She passed away one week later, suddenly but peacefully. And though we were all deeply saddened, Mammie’s children and grandchildren came together to remember her in a way that was authentic and true to her life.

Several of my cousins sang beautiful hymns she had requested months earlier, and many of us shared stories. Although there were many heartfelt and touching moments, it wasn’t a typical funeral service. But Mammie wasn’t exactly a “typical” grandmother.

Mammie had four children, ten grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. Somehow, she managed to maintain unique relationships with all of us, which was not an easy feat. She knew our likes and dislikes, frequently prepared our favorite foods, and shared private jokes with us. 

Naturally, many of those stories were shared at her service. We talked about how much we would miss her fudge, her chicken rice soup, and her homemade meatloaf. We shared stories about her favorite sports teams, beach and mountain vacations, and her favorite tv shows.

Nearly everyone’s story had an element of humor in it. And while it certainly was not meant to be a comedy show, it would have been unfair to not address that part of Mammie’s life. She had a hilarious personality, and she loved to laugh.

My cousin, Brandon, approached the pulpit for his turn to honor Mammie. He cleared his throat and began reading from his phone.

“By now you have probably heard about how much Mammie loved her doll babies,” he said. (Mammie referred to all of her grands and great grands as doll babies.) “What you may not know is how diverse her doll babies are. There are doll babies who inspire through writing, through teaching, and through singing.”

Brandon took a long pause.

“I am none of those doll babies, which is why I was not asked to sing today,” 

Everyone chuckled.

“There are doll babies who are kind and gentle to animals and there are doll babies who are skilled in hunting and fishing,” he continued.  Again, I am not any of those doll babies.”

The congregation laughed a bit louder.

“I am, however, the doll baby with a unique nickname Mammie gave me that has stuck throughout the years and will continue for generations. There are so many things I will miss about you: your laugh, your smile, waking up to thirty facebook notifications, and your ability to bring the family together. But most of all, I will miss your inappropriate advice…which I cannot share in church.”

Then, to illustrate Mammie’s nickname for him, Brandon leaned toward the microphone and made a raspberry sound with his mouth that echoed throughout the sanctuary. 

The entire congregation erupted into laughter. The preacher wore a shocked expression, and I’m pretty sure that church will never be the same again.

In the end, we honored her in a way that we felt would truly have made her proud. We could have kept the service somber, but it wouldn’t have felt right for Mammie.

Since her death, I have thought a lot about my last visit with her and replayed our conversation in my mind. At first I wished we had talked about something more meaningful that day. I could have told her again how much I loved her. I could have thanked her for supporting me throughout the years and for always encouraging me and helping me feel better about myself. We had said all of that before, though. I knew she loved me, and she knew how much she was loved by every single member of her family.

And though I will always long for one more conversation, our last one was representative of our relationship: one of laughter and love. What more could a person ask for? Aside from another apple bite, of course.