I Visited A Cult

Oh, yes, I did.

I visited the international training center of a cult, and on the surface, everything looked great.

But I’m going to try to refer to it as a “community” instead of a “cult.” I won’t say which “community” it was, but my 21-year-old nephew came into town with a friend over the weekend, and on Friday night, he announced to me that they wanted to visit a cult (he used the word “cult”) on Saturday…and he wanted me to go with them. I had questions, of course. “You don’t want to join the cult, right?” “Why do you want to go?” “How far away is it?” “Is it scary?”

He showed me the group’s website. It looked pretty benign, And it said they welcome visitors, so I agreed to go, and we made plans to leave the next day. I should mention my husband thinks we are all nuts.

Early Saturday afternoon, we got into the SUV and drove over an hour to the address listed on the website. We were excited to see what we would find! Upon arrival, we drove into the parking lot at the front of the group of houses and got out. We walked around looking for people, but all we saw were sheep out front eating hay. One of the sheep had a penchant for magnolia leaves, so we watched them for a while and discussed what we should do.

Ultimately, we decided to go to another road and approach from the back. When we drove into a back parking lot, we saw a woman stick her head around a fence. I asked my nephew’s friend to put down her passenger-side window, and in my best sweet southern voice, I said, “Hey! We read on your website that y’all welcome visitors! We’re just curious and would like to find out what y’all are all about!” Once she decided we were friendly, she offered to show us around. She explained we weren’t seeing many people because Saturday is the Sabbath, and most people were resting.

We followed her into the dining hall/meeting room, which was lovely…clean and nicely decorated. We ran into a couple more friendly people inside who readily introduced themselves. From there, she showed us the barn area, where they had goats and cows. And after that, we walked over to one of the community’s houses, where members of the “community” had gathered outside for music. We were offered tea, and we all took a cup. I thought it was delicious, and my nephew did too, but I noticed his friend was holding hers…not drinking it. I knew she was thinking about Jonestown, so I took the tea off her hands and drank it myself.

We were welcomed with open arms by everyone gathered outside, and we asked any questions we could think of. Are people free to come and go as they please? Yes. If someone leaves the community, are they shunned? No. Do y’all drink alcohol? No. What are your beliefs? How do you support yourselves? I wanted my nephew to ask if they used cannabis, but none of us had the nerve to ask that. I thought I smelled it wafting out of a house at one point, but I couldn’t be sure. And this group believes everyone should work together for the greater good of the community. Every person contributes by working…like bees in a hive. Children are educated onsite. We weren’t bashful…we asked questions. We didn’t ask in a threatening way…we asked in a curious way, which is exactly what we were…curious.

We left after a couple of hours thinking, “This isn’t a cult at all! They’re just a religious commune!” Everyone was so friendly. They were very reserved, but they were friendly. We had no reason to believe they were anything but good folks.

And then, after we got home, we googled the name of their “community,” and that’s when things got weird!

Unbeknownst to us, just last week, the FBI had released from their vault information from a 2013 investigation into this particular group. At the top of the report, it says, “Open investigation based on allegations that children are being sexually exploited.” And somehow, we decided to visit right after the report was released from the vault? We had no idea! In the report, there is testimony from former members of the community with allegations of child labor, sexual abuse, sexual orgies, and drug use. That led us to look at other websites, where we found allegations of community members being held against their will…and more. And honestly, it frightened us. Is any of the “testimony” true? I don’t know, but it was enough to make my hair stand on end.

And it made me a little sad. I thought of the sweet people we had met. Most of them were friendly, but some of them were looking at us wide-eyed, and one of them appeared a little unstable, but we chalked it up to dementia. But after reading everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the wide-eyed ones were desperate to leave. Were they unhappy? Were they being abused? Did they want us to take them with us? Did they want to pass us notes asking us to send help? Of course, that’s all my imagination. No one, at any time, indicated they were unhappy. In fact, most of them appeared very happy.

In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t google the community before we went, because we never would have gone. I believe there are some good people in that group. Are there bad folks? I don’t know. But I’m guessing that will be my only visit to their commune. We went unannounced, but didn’t see anything suspicious. Of course, my nephew’s friend pointed out that we were really only shown the animals and the interior of one building, which was almost unoccupied at the time, so there wasn’t much opportunity for us to see anything nefarious.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they seemed like nice people. Of course, someone else pointed out to me that “of course they were nice! They wanted y’all to join!” Yeah…they probably didn’t want me. I’m way beyond child-bearing years, and I’m sure they could take one look at me and tell I’m way too high maintenance. My nephew, on the other hand, is low maintenance, strong, hardworking, good-looking, musically talented, and artistic. Any cult would love to have him. His friend is pretty and outgoing…they’d love to have a young lady join up, I’m sure. But I would have been a total drain on their system.

And in their defense, the FBI closed the 2013 investigation. Since I never read anything about any arrests, and they didn’t invade the place like they did with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, I’m guessing they didn’t uncover enough evidence to support the allegations.

Either way, we got out unscathed. If anyone ever tries to hold me at a commune, they will run me off as soon as they figure out I don’t even know how to mop very well!

On our way home, I thought of how happy my parents would be that my nephew was hanging out with me in North Carolina. And I wished I could call them to tell them about the experience…they would have loved hearing about it.

 

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Happy Mother’s Day

To all you mothers out there…Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day has taken on a whole new meaning since my mother died in December 2017. I miss my mother, just like anyone who has lost their mom. Today, I will tell stories about her, and I will drink a toast to her at brunch, but I won’t be sad. I am happy, because I had a wonderful mother.

My little family will go to brunch, just like we always do on Mother’s Day. My husband sent me flowers yesterday, and I sent myself some Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes…any excuse for some Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes! If you’ve never tried them, you need to try them. You can see the website here. Mine arrived on Friday. I ordered 50 minis. My husband was with me when I opened the box, and he was waiting to see who sent them. When I looked at the card, it simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day.” He looked at me and asked, “Who do you think sent them?” I laughed and said, “I sent them to myself!” He wasn’t surprised; he just shook his head and walked out of the room. And when he did, I strategically hid mini cupcakes in the refrigerator, so I can have them all to myself! Here’s a picture to show you how quickly they are disappearing:

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Of course, we don’t have to get gifts to make us feel special on Mother’s Day.All I want is to share a big hug with my daughter, and I’ll give her a little gift, just like Mama used to always do. She always said she should give us gifts on Mother’s Day, because she was so happy to be our mother. That’s exactly how I feel about my daughter. I absolutely love being her mother. Is it all fun and games? No. But it’s all love, for sure.

Recently, I found a necklace of Mother’s. Somehow, I didn’t even know I had it, but I found it last Sunday as I was getting ready to go hear my friend, Linda, singing in a concert. It’s a gold chain with a little blush-colored egg, and a tiny cardinal is peeking out of the egg. I’ll wear it to brunch today. So while Mama won’t be with me in person, but she’ll be with me in spirit.

One thing I know for sure is that my mama loved me. All my life, I thought I knew how much she loved me, but I didn’t really know till I was 36 years old. When I became a mother, I realized just how much my mother had loved me my whole life. I remember telling her then, “I always knew you loved me, and I always thought I understood how much, but now that I have my own child, I really know how much you love me.”

If you still have your mother on this Mother’s Day, give her a big hug, or at least a meaningful phone call if you’re far away, and tell her you love her. If you don’t have your mother, honor her memory by telling at least one memorable story about her. And if you are a mother, give your babies (no matter how big or old they are) a big hug.

Happy Mother’s Day, you mothers!

 

 

 

 

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What’s In A Name?

What’s in a name?

Prince Harry and Megan just had a baby boy and named him Archie Harrison. And then it happened…everybody voiced their opinions. Even I voiced my opinion…not that Megan and Harry really care what I think. I’ve heard some folks say they love that it’s less formal, and I’ve heard others who think it’s not formal enough. Does it really matter? Does anyone besides that baby have to walk around with that name? To see pics of Archie, click here.

I remember when Prince Harry was born, and I remember when Prince Charles and Diana announced his given names…Henry Charles Albert David. They also announced they would call him Harry. And you know what? The reaction was similar to the reaction to Archie’s name. Lots of folks thought “Prince Harry” sounded ridiculous, and others loved it. Lots of people didn’t care. Now, though, Harry is grown, and we are all so accustomed to calling him Prince Harry that no one thinks it’s odd. I never hear anyone say anything about his name.

Our daughter was born when I was 36 years old. All my friends were already moms, and I had seen them deal with struggling to name their babies. Anytime someone told people what they planned to name a baby before it was born, people offered their unsolicited opinions. Or maybe they got the dreaded, “Is it a family name?” That question often means they think it’s an ugly name. I know people thought I was crazy when we named our baby girl Camilla, but I think it’s a pretty name. Also, there are some family connections, and we wanted to name her a traditional name that everyone didn’t use. I didn’t want to call her name on a playground and have every other little girl think I might be calling her. She goes by a shortened version of the name now. But before she was born, I told no one her name. I didn’t want to hear the unsolicited opinions, and a friend in Florida told me that if we waited till we had already named her, people would feel less inclined to say anything.

My own name is, obviously, Kelly. I was born in the late 1960s, when Kelly was quite popular. And even though there were lots of other Kellys in my generation, I have always  loved my name. To me, it sounds like a happy name. There was always another Kelly in my classes at school…boys and girls…so I often was called by my first and last names, but that’s OK. I still like my name, and I didn’t care that there were others, but I just thought, for my daughter, I wanted her to be the only one with her name in school. And even shortening it to Milly, she was the only one in her grade…until sixth grade, when another one came to her grade at school. She wasn’t happy about another one coming in, even thought she spelled it Millie, instead of Milly. She said, “Now I’m going to be called by my first and last names!” I reminded her she was there first, so it was likely the new girl would be called by both names. I said then, “You know, if you went by Camilla, you’d be the only one.” She grimaced.

No matter what someone names us, our names don’t define us. I have a lifelong friend named Eloyse who is a fabulous person. She’s funny, thoughtful, generous, bright, and a great friend, but when I considered that for our daughter and her we were considering it, she said, “No! Do not do that to your child!” I love the name…maybe because I love the person, but on her advice, I didn’t name our daughter Eloyse, but I still think it’s a beautiful name.

I do think our opinions of names are affected by people we’ve known. When my husband and I were discussing names, I would throw a name out there, and he would poo-poo it for various reasons. Maybe he dated someone with the name. Maybe he didn’t like someone with the name. Maybe he was afraid of the nicknames that could be formed with the name. Maybe he thought people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. Or he thought it sounded too old. And I did the same things when he brought up names. We eventually found a few we could agree on and picked one, but it was a process.

So, whether people name their boys Aloysius or John, or they name their girls Esmeralda or Jane, I no longer offer my opinion. I know one thing for sure: those children will shape those names more than those names shape those children. I used Aloysius as an example, because while lots of people think it’s an odd, old-sounding name, I knew someone named Aloysius, and I thought he was awesome…so I like the name.

And now, I’m off to lunch with some friends: Kelli and Kelly. No joke. Three ladies with various spellings of the same name are having lunch together today. We are all different ages too! I’m the oldest at 51 (two weeks from 52!). The next one is 47, and the youngest is 42. I was born in the 1960s, and they were born in the 1970s. Pretty amazing that we are all friends with the same name…and there is a ten year age range.

What’s in a name? I say the person makes the name instead of the name making the person. So, God bless Archie! If he’s anything like his daddy, Prince Harry, he’ll be charming and adorable.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

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She’s Our Favorite Child

Just this week, when I told someone my 15-yr-old daughter was an only child, I got that look. That “poor thing” look. I’ve seen it several times over the course of her life. I’ve even had people say weird things. “Oh, she must be so lonely.” “When you die, she’ll be alone.” “When you die, she’ll have to handle everything herself.” “When you get sick, she’ll have to take care of you.” “She’s stuck in an adult world.”

Really? 

First of all, I believe our only child is pretty well-adjusted. I spent her early years making sure she was well-socialized…and many of her peers were/are only children too. Her preschool teacher once told me, “If I didn’t know she is an only child, I’d never guess it.” If we go on vacation and she wants to take a friend, she can. She can invite people over whenever she wants. We have an open door policy at our house…all friends are welcome. Getting ready for a school dance? Come on over! Snow? Come on over! Bored? Come on over! No invitation necessary…

She has never told me she is lonely. I know people who have lots of siblings who are way more “lonely” than she is.

She has never seemed jealous of her friends who have siblings.

She plays well with others.

She is happy most of the time, but she is a teenager, so she has her moments.

She relates to girls and boys well.

And no one can convince me that having siblings would make her life any better than the life she has right now.

My mother was an only child. My husband is an only child. Mother was a happy person. My husband seems fine with it.

Did we intend for her to be an only child? I don’t know. At one point, we considered having another child. I was 38. But then my daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and I knew I would need to help Mother as his illness progressed. I decided being pregnant while helping them wouldn’t be a good idea. The first three months of pregnancy had not been easy for me…migraines, nausea…I knew I couldn’t help them if I were sick.

And honestly, I didn’t want to push my luck.

We knew we were fortunate to have her, and we said, “One and done.”

Has she ever said she wished she had siblings? When she was about four, she mentioned it. I told her, “You’ll need to share your toys.” She was OK with that. “You’ll have to share your mommy.” No dice. That was a dealbreaker for her. She said, “I don’t want a brother or sister.” Of course, we had already decided she would be an only child, so she wasn’t actually making the decision. I was 40. We were having the time of our lives!

As for her having to take care of us when we’re old and dying, well, we can “get busy living or get busy dying.” I can’t sit around all the time thinking about that. I choose to live life to its fullest. Hopefully, we will all live a long time, and hopefully, my husband and I will have the wherewithal to know if we need to go to assisted living.

But till then, we are going to enjoy her, and hopefully, she enjoys us. We know the world doesn’t revolve around her, but our little family is important to us. Providing her with the tools she needs to navigate the world is important to us. She’s growing up, and we want to enjoy our time with her. She will be off to college in three years. Three years…hard to believe. We have plans to enjoy her while she still lives with us full time. We have vacations to take. We have colleges to visit. We have people to meet with her. We have new things to experience with her. We have things to teach her. We have memories to make.

And no matter what…she always knows she’s our favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

School’s Out For the Holidays

Finally. School is out for the holidays. As a mother, I might look forward to it as much as I did when I was a kid.

Yesterday, I went to school to pick up my daughter, who is a freshman in high school. We had been told all students would be released at noon at her K-12 school. The break didn’t exactly get started on the right foot. I arrived early, so I was near the front of the carpool line, waiting for dismissal. I had texted my daughter, telling her to hurry when school got out, because I was near the front of the line. I was looking forward to getting out of there quickly, so I could meet some friends for lunch. I was listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album in my car. I was happily waiting. And then…

At noon, the security officer came over to my car near the front of the line and told me the high school students wouldn’t get out till 12:20, because their testing was taking longer than planned, and he asked me to “park over in the lot or go back around.” You know that record scratch sound? That’s what belongs here.

Well, I got out of line (without grumbling) and drove toward the lot. I didn’t get too aggravated till I realized there were no spots in the parking lot, and I couldn’t possibly go back around to get in line, because the officer who was supposed to be directing traffic outside the school wasn’t there yet. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see, and there was no way I was getting in the middle of that. No, really…there was no way I would have been able to navigate my way back into the line. Cars were bumper to bumper. I took a deep breath. I had made the effort to get there on time…there was no way I was sitting there waiting for someone in that cluster to have mercy on me and let me in.

I took matters into my own hands, and drove around to the other side of the building, where I’m not supposed to go for carpool, and after fighting a little traffic, I parked in one of the student lots…totally against the rules. Just call me a rule breaker…a maverick… a rogue parent.

While I was “going rogue,” my daughter, who had clearly been released at noon, texted me…at 12:05… “Where are you? I thought you were at the front of the line?” Fortunately, I parked in the student lot soon after her text, and I called her, telling her to walk back across campus in the pouring rain to the other side, where I was parked in the student lot. I think she knew not to give me any grief, because she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy.

My daughter and her friend eventually made it to the car…soaking wet…but they seemed happy. I guess the fact that they were getting out for the holiday break totally made up for the fact that they had to double-back in the rain to get to my car.

I still don’t know why the security officer thought the high school students were being released late. There was some sort of miscommunication…not his fault. I feel sure someone somewhere gave him incorrect information, and for about ten minutes, I was really ticked off, because it was going to mess up my lunch plans. And then I realized something…

Getting upset about a little misinformation and a traffic cluster…well, those are first world problems. I also realized I had a cell phone, so I could call my friends and tell them I would likely be late. My daughter and her friend were happy to have school behind them for a couple of weeks, and even though it was raining cats and dogs, today was a good day.

It was a good day, because we all woke up. We have plenty to eat. We have a house that’s warm and dry, and we have cars that are in good working order, so we can get around pretty easily. We have a nice break ahead of us, and we will celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, with our wonderful friends and family.

Sure, life is full of aggravations. Life is full of real problems. But getting re-routed for no reason is not one of those real problems. It was a little hiccup, and I found a way around it…and I still made it to lunch on time!

Now…let’s get this holiday break started!

 

 

 

 

Can’t You Control Your Child?!?

We’ve all been there. You’re in a store, shopping with a toddler. She isn’t behaving correctly, and you need to be firm. People are looking. You know you look like a sucker. You know they think you can’t control your child. And they’re right. You can’t control your child. And you know why? Your child is another human being who isn’t supposed to be controlled by you. Your child is supposed to learn to control herself. It’s a tough lesson for parent and child.

I was in a big box store at the beach with my daughter when she was about 2 1/2. I don’t even remember why we were there. I don’t remember if we were trying to buy groceries or what. I know she was in the seat in the grocery cart, and I was not happy with her behavior. Honestly, it has been thirteen years, so I don’t even remember what she was doing. Was she yelling? Was she throwing things? Was she crying? I just don’t remember.

I do remember my reaction.

After countless efforts to get her to behave correctly…talking with her, reasoning with her, bribing her…she was still not complying. I stopped the cart, picked her up, and carried her out of the store.

She screamed. Loudly. She thrashed wildly. People were staring. I didn’t care. I needed to get out of there with her. By the way she was acting, some folks probably wondered if I was taking someone else’s child. But mothers knew. They knew she was mine, not only because she looked just like me, but they’ve been there too. They’ve had to make a decision on how to handle a situation in front of other people, and they knew people were staring then too.

She screamed and cried and yelled all the way to the car. I even saw someone I knew as I was buckling her into her car seat. I got her buckled in and quickly closed the door…so I didn’t have to listen to the incessant wailing. I spoke briefly with the friend I hadn’t seen in seven or eight years, explaining my child was having a meltdown. This particular friend doesn’t have children, so she probably thought we both needed to be locked up.

I got into the car, and my daughter was no longer screaming. She was just sad. I didn’t even speak till we got back to the condo. When we stopped in the driveway, she was calm. She was exhausted, I’m sure, from losing control. I unbuckled her from her carseat and sat in the back seat with her, holding her in my arms and explaining that I love her, but I didn’t like the way she behaved in the store. I told her I was sad too. We cuddled for a while before going inside…and cuddled some more when we got there.

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As much as I hated that scene at the store, I loved the later result. Any time we were in a store, and she started to misbehave, all I had to do was say, “Remember that store?” She would look at me with those big brown eyes, and I could see that she remembered. She knew how to behave correctly, and she would prove it to me immediately.

Did I feel terrible about the incident? You bet…at the time. I felt like a terrible mother. Later though, I realized we both learned from it. I still hated that she had been so upset, but I was glad she remembered it, and I was really glad I never had to do it again. Yep…I never had to drag her out of a store kicking and screaming again. She remembered the lesson.

Sometimes, we have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to get to a better place. That day, my daughter and I both learned that lesson. It was a painful way to learn, but we learned.

 

 

 

 

 

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