By Laura Moore

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I underestimated our dog.

As an anxious ball of fluff, he scared the living daylights out of me in the weeks leading up to Z's birth. 

If anyone got within 10 yards of either me or my husband, he scowled and barked and asserted his vocal dominance (while his legs quivered beneath him like a cowering child). He went after small dogs with fury, yanked our arms out of socket when he saw scooters or bicycles, and raised his ears in high alert every time we left the house.

Inside, he was perfect. Over the course of his life, he chewed the foot of one rubber shoe....and that's it. He was house trained in a week and other than a few stomach bugs, he hasn't had any accidents since. He doesn't fish through the trash even if we accidentally leave the cupboard open or the bag against the door. He rarely jumps on us and as long as our friends pet him and acknowledge him, he's happy to open up and share his home. 

Outside, however, everything crumbles and he turns into a mound of panic. Outside, he jumps at squirrels, at other dogs, at scooters, at the sound of a puck smashing against the roller hockey walls in the park. We spent months worrying about this, nights wondering how he'd handle a baby, wondering what he'd do when we brought home a living being that cried and crawled and banged things together in ways much more aggressive than anything he had ever seen. 

To be safe, we hired a dog trainer and Finn underwent months of hard work. We tested him and directed him. We worked on walking and we established hardcore commands. We got a fake baby and we practiced extended stays. When Z was finally born, Finn was as ready as he was going to be, and the moment we came home from the hospital--the moment our family of three turned into a family of four--I swear our little dog's light started to shine.

It was a faint glow at first. He smelled him and licked him. He stared at him for hours. He held his bladder patiently until I was free enough to emerge from a feeding session and let him outside. He guarded Z's door. He didn't complain when his food bowl was filled an hour or two later than normal or when his walks were cut short. When Z was old enough to control his hands and reached out to grab Finn's tongue, Finn didn't move. I nearly had a heart attack right there, but Finn just took it, backing away slowly without lowering his jaws. 

Over the last twelve months, he's lets Z pull his fur and lay his head against him in ways he doesn't tolerate with anyone else. He doesn't get mad when the little guy sneaks off and sticks his fingers in his water bowl or plays with his food. He watches Z take his bones and his Kong and even though J and I are sure it drives him insane, Finn doesn't fight him one bit when he does it. He jumps off the ottoman when Z wants to hold on, and when our little baby first started to crawl, Finn jumped into high alert. 

The first few times he saw him approaching the step between our kitchen and family room, Finn ran out in front and blocked the way. Once he stopped Z's progress, he proceeded to cry until I acknowledged him, until I ran over and devoted my full attention to the baby as he belly scooted over the step and down to the family room floor. I was watching all along, of course, and knew that Z had about 30 seconds before I had to run from the stove to the step, but the fact my dog's instinct was to protect him made my heart smile. The fact he continued to do it, made my heart burst. 

Last week, when Z was sick, Finn surprised us yet again. While my husband and I were busy holding Z's hands and squirting medicine into his mouth, Finn vigorously licked his toes for a good 60 seconds. When he realized the toe licking wasn't quelling the tears, he got up and ran into the family room where he found the only thing he could think to give. Dislodging his grimy red Kong from the bowels of his favorite chair--the same red Kong Z had persistently tried to steal for the last three months and J and I had persistently taken away from him--Finn tucked it into his mouth, carried it into the kitchen, and dropped it down at our son's tiny feet. 

My husband and I looked at each other and I swear something inside us both melted. We couldn't even bring ourselves to take it away. We couldn't bring ourselves to return it to Finn's mouth. We couldn't even bring ourselves to wash Z's hands. Our hearts were too full to move. 

Even though it is easy to get caught up in all of the changes our one-year old is enduring, it's about time I give our dog a little credit. It's about time I own up to the very real fact that I underestimated him. 

Worried about his anxiety and imperfections, I neglected to honor his strengths. I neglected to consider his heart. I neglected to acknowledge just how beautiful of a creature he was beneath his huge bark and quivering legs. I sold him short in those first few months, but today, I'm calling him out. 

Today, I'm saying thank you. 

While much of last year belonged to little Z, today, Finn...today belongs to you and all of the others out there who have been taken for granted.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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I love birthdays.  

I'm going to throw that out on the table right now. 

For a good many years, I celebrated my birthday for no less than a week, going to dinner with my family on one night and then meeting up with friends during all of the other nights. I scheduled trips to Boston, New York and Miami for the big birthday years and on the smaller birthday years, I filled my evenings with dinners and dancing and shows.

The first year my husband and I started dating, I looked forward to my big day for an entire month. As the plans trickled in, I updated him each time we spoke.

"We're going to dinner with my parents and my brother this night," I said, "and then Megan is getting people together on this night and then Anna might come down for the weekend, but she won't be here Friday, so we don't have anything on Friday," I remember saying, baiting him, hoping he'd jump in and ask me to do something with him. But instead, he said it all sounded good and that he was looking forward to it. Then he moved on to the next thing.

That Thursday, I finally decided to flat out ask him if he wanted to go to dinner on Friday. He was happy to go, of course, but I pouted the entire evening: throughout dinner and all the way back to my patio. In an effort to fill an awkward silence that enveloped us as we sat outside and watched people hobble through the Short North, J started talking about throwing a birthday party for his best friend. The minute he uttered those words, I burst into tears, the only tears I have ever shed on account of him. 

"What's wrong?" he asked, baffled, as if he zoned out during the tragic scene in a movie and tuned back in to see an aftermath that made no sense.

Through my tears, I proceeded to explain how much I love my birthday, and how hurt I was that he was so focused on his best friend's birthday that he didn't even mention mine.  

"I was hoping we could hang out one of these nights," I said indignantly. "People kept calling to schedule things and I kept put them off as long as I could to save time for you, but you never asked. I had to ask you out for my birthday."

"You kept telling me how busy you were. You mentioned something almost every night so I figured you just wanted to go out with a group. I didn't think you wanted dinner with just me," he said, and he genuinely felt terrible. 

So did I. 

Before he explained himself, I didn't think for one minute about how my flurry of plans would sound to him. I figured that the more I told him, the more he'd feel pressure to ask, to schedule, to get something into the books before all the dates were full. But he just figured I wanted a lot of loud nights filled with festivities and cake.

For the next thirty minutes, we got it all out on the table, which--if I'm being honest--means I babbled and bubbled and managed to pour out a bucket of emotion regarding my  adoration of birthdays. "It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I remember saying, "and with each passing year, I think about all of the changes and moments that happened, and each time I meet up with the people I care about, each time I blow out those candles, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive with people I love so much." 

From that day forward, J bent over backwards to remember my birthday. And knowing how much tiny moments meant to me, he also bent over backwards for anniversaries and our engagement and for other moments, other bends of the road, that proved to me time and time again that he cared, that he would be there for the milestones, that he was and would always be present for each reminder we got that life was beautiful. 

And now, five years after my birthday meltdown, he and I will be sitting in front of a cake lit with candles that belong to neither of us and both of us all at once. In a few days, we will be sitting with our family, celebrating a milestone filled with more emotion than I know how to untangle right now. In a few days, our son will turn one, and for the first time in his entire life, he will have earned an age in years rather than days or weeks or months.

"So how are you feeling about his first birthday?" people keep asking me. "Are you sad or excited?"

"I don't know," I keep saying back, and I don't.

"Some of the girls in my mom group have talked about crying for days and I feel a little guilty because I haven't wanted to cry. I probably feel more excited that we all made it, but part of me is also in shock. I can't believe we're here, that he's actually growing and learning and becoming this awesome human being. It's kind of overwhelming when I think about it."

The person invariably smiles and asks about the decorations.

"He loves flying and his favorite color is blue," I say, explaining the details of the birthday banner my mother is stitching together, the airplane pigs in a blanket I'll be making the morning of the party, the "in flight" goodie bags my mother-in-law is putting together, and the airplane cake my mom and I will bake and ice and decorate on Thursday evening.

The conversation twirls away after that, down other roads laced with comments about the weather and the news and The Ohio State Buckeyes winning the national championship, but my mind stays fixed on airplanes, on my little guy, on my tiny bundle of energy, joy and wonder who grew inside my belly for ten months and then came roaring onto the scene by surprise. The boy who picked a date no one expected, and then owned it like a champion pressing through the finish line in record time, yelling and glowing like an angel, giving us the best surprise a year of waiting could ever produce.

My mind stays fixed on a flurry of indecipherable emotion and anticipation. I look at pictures and I can hardly recognize him in those first few days when his eyes were swollen slits tucked between two plump cheeks, and his sweet mouth pinched together into perfect little arcs across his face. As I flip through screens of pictures, and days give way to new days, his smile blossoms through the lens and I can see him there, his personality emerging, his sense of self growing like his arms and his legs and his head. With each passing picture, I see more of him: lifting up, rolling, sitting, standing, walking, shaking his hands and squealing with unbounded joy. 

One year. 

He will be one year old. 

He will have an entire twelve months behind him, 365 days of working on milestones, 525,600 minutes of becoming him

In a few short days, he will have arrived at HIS day--the day that belongs to him and only him--although for some reason, it feels like it also belongs to us. And as I stop to think of it, as I reflect back and relish his growth and take pure pleasure in all of the possibilities that await him, I realize I've been wrong about birthdays all along.

"It's the one day a year that belongs to me, just me," I said to my husband in the midst of my meltdown.

But those words weren't really true. 

Now that I have little Z, I realize that my birthday was never just my day. My birthday belonged to my parents who dreamt of me, who gave birth to me, who nourished me, who nurtured me, who guided me along. My birthday belonged to each of the people I wanted to see, each person around the table who held me up and filled me up. It belonged to the  people who mattered, the people who were there, year after year, the people who loved me even when I wasn't old enough to love them back.

And maybe that was why I loved my birthday so much. Maybe all along, it had nothing to do with the day being mine.

The moment I realized that, I felt some of the fog lift. And it didn't make me sad--it didn't make me feel like my day was any less special--it made me feel full, complete, like I was an essential cog inside a really special wheel. 

It made me feel...loved.

And so while I still don't know how to untangle my emotions about my son's first birthday, I do know one thing. When he sits in front of his cake, even if he doesn't have a clue why we're all cheering for him and kissing him and showering him with balloons and treats, I want him to feel as full as I feel right now. I want him to feel loved, to feel like he makes us complete...because he does.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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On Saturday, when I slipped my left foot through the leg hole of my favorite jeans--jeans I had declared to be My Favorite Jeans almost twelve years ago--a big fat metaphor burst through thin air (or through the surface of what was once thick jeans depending on how you want to look at it).

Before I could even process what had happened, my attempt to mindlessly dip my feet into my very favorite pair of jeans had resulted in five wiggling toes caught in a loom of threads, peaking out from broken fabric, stuck in a hole that didn't exist moments before.

Nooooooooo

I yelled in a panic.

Crap, crap, crap. Noooooooo! 

My mind raced, as I tried to figure out how to undo the last thirty seconds, but no amount of panic, no amount of wishing, no amount of anything was going to change what had just happened. After spending the last four months crawling around on the floor with my spit-fire son, my son who is here and then there in a flash of an eye, my son who is curious about anything, who notices everything, who wants to be everywhere all at once, I had worn out my very favorite jeans, jeans that had traveled to Brazil, to Mexico, to the Dominican Republic, to New York City, to Italy, to England, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Miami....to...I could go on and on and on.

Those jeans outlived heartbreak. They comforted me when I switched careers. They gave me confidence during graduate exams. They were on my body the night I met my husband, and they smoothed and shaped and jolted me with a sense of you got this when I finally buttoned them over my mommy body in the months after I had our first child.

They were my jeans. My. Freaking. Awesome. Jeans. And it didn't matter that they weren't skinny-leg-in-style sort of jeans. Or what ever the newest, latest, hottest jean brand is right now (which I couldn't even name if I wanted to). Those jeans made me feel like a million dollars because they made me feel like me. 

I steadied my breath as I dislodged my foot from the hole, as I pulled my toes from the white slivers that now covered the left knee, as I removed myself from the loose grip of fabric, as I dropped my jeans into a heap, and pulled my sleeve up to my face so I could soak up the silly, little tears that were beading up along the edge of my eyes. 

Damaged, torn, ruined.

I turned back to my closet, leaving my jeans there in a pile, spread out across the floor, and I reached up and took a less desirable pair from the shelf. These will have to do, I thought, pulling them on, knowing full well I couldn't justify spending money on a pair of form fitting designer jeans right now...not when we had a baby, not when I was taking the year off of work, not when it truly didn't matter what kind of pants I was choosing to wear each day.

Once I got dressed, I exited the closet and stepped over what was left of My Favorite Jeans, looking at them one more time before I folded them up, before I put them back on the shelf, before I forced myself to let it go. And when I looked at them that second time, I caught myself thinking about all of the moments that wore down those threads. I caught myself thinking about all of the moments I spent playing with my son. Moments filled with following him across his planet, loving him and laughing with him. Moments that made me the new me, the mommy me, the me with torn knees and messy ponytails. The me who would do anything to make that little guy laugh. 

I unbuttoned my imposter pants and cast them aside. Then I leaned down and scooped up my broken treasure. I carefully dropped my feet down each of the holes and wiggled my body into place, feeling the familiar hug of fabric wrapping around my skin. I punched the button through the hole, I pulled up the zipper and I ran my palms down the front. 

People pay a good fortune to have jeans worn like this, I thought and you got yours the old fashioned way. Sure, they look different than they did when you bought them, but the changes came because they lived, really lived, down-on-the-ground-laughing-and-chasing sort of lived.  

I turned around in the mirror and drew in a breath. They still feel so good and so snug and so comfortable, I thought. They still smooth me and shape me and jolt me. They still whisper--no matter how many bumps and bruises they've had--"You got this," loud and clear in my ear. 

I took in another breath. "You got this," they said again, and even if I doubt it sometimes, even if I, myself, feel worn and tired just like the jeans, even if I feel like I'm hanging by a thread, on that day, in those pants, I actually felt like I could nod my head. I actually felt like I could answer, and so I did. I do have it, I said right into the mirror. I really think I do.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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"Does it have to end happy?" some lady asked at a memoir workshop I attended three weeks ago at the Worthington Public Library. Writer and professor Richard Gilbert, the man who was running the workshop, paused for a moment and considered the woman's question.

"Well, it should have some silver lining," he told her quite thoughtfully, "otherwise it would be too much for people to read." 

The woman proceeded to explain, albeit vaguely, that she had this terribly juicy story that she wanted to tell--that she needed to tell--but if she did and didn't change all of the names (but changing the names would ruin the whole thing, she said), those people would get mad at her for telling the world about these terrible things they did, and...

"If you can't find the silver lining," Gilbert said to her once she stopped to take a breath, "then maybe you don't have enough distance to write it just yet."

The woman went on to explain more about her vaguely meaty story and as she went on, I paused to think about his comment, and I continued to think about that comment for weeks and weeks and weeks. 

If you can't find the silver lining then maybe you don't have enough distance to write it just yet.

It seemed so simple, and yet I hadn't thought of it before. I hadn't realized that every time I sit to write, I am in pursuit of a silver lining. I am in pursuit of some greater meaning, some lesson, some tiny inkling of hope. When I write and write and write and can't seem to find it, the story never feels complete. When I force it, my words taste sour in my mouth. When I refuse to admit it, guilt and anger and remorse and frustration taunt me and nag me and nibble holes through my gut.

Was this really a universal thing?

I scanned through the easy recall list of book titles peeking out from the shelves in my mind and realized--quite quickly--that in my very unscientific examination of every book and story I could recall, each of them had a silver lining. And most of them had many silver linings tending to show up each time the story sunk with the weight of sadness.

Every. Single. Book. 

Every single book had triumph poised to swallow defeat, wisdom ready to suffocate pain, love eager to flood an empty heart.

Every single book had hope stitched into the parchment, ready to creek out its legs and stand up tall.

For the next month, as I read blog posts, magazine articles, watched UNBROKEN, listened to an audiobook of OKAY FOR NOW in my car, and read John Green's AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, I took note of the way each storyteller deliberately bent my emotions. I took note of how they gave me enough to empathize with the travesties, and right when the pain became to much--right when I was about to throw in the towel and say: no--they turned everything. They masterfully twisted words into shimmering clouds, and gave me a bright spot, showed me sunshine peeking out from a cluster of smoke. They gave me a reason to believe it all mattered, that if I just hung on, the world would somehow be better in the end.

And so I kept going. We all do, because hope is really at the heart of everything. It's the thing that makes us push harder. The thing that pries open our eyes when they feel too heavy to grow wide. The thing that fills our lungs, enlivens our spirit and wets our palms with the itch to go on. 

And so, as this new year gets underway, I have decided to approach my days like I approach my endeavor to write stories: I have decided to search for a silver lining in everything. 

I've decided to choose to be positive, to choose to face emotions and challenges I had previously decided (albeit subconsciously) to bury beneath the surface until the pile got too high to move. 

I've decided to stare everything in the eye: turning it upside down and inside out, studying it for what it really is, looking through it to see what exists on the other side....and when I can't get there, I've decided to look up at the sun, or at the clouds, or toward my family, and trust with the fervor of some impassioned writer, that an understanding is on the horizon, that a truth is just beyond the bend, that a happy ending is smiling at me from the other side of the road. 

I just have to keep going, keep searching, keep believing, keep hoping for a sliver of sun to peek through the hazy, gray shadows of snow.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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Call me cheesy, nerdy or media-gullible, but I love everything about watching the best of _____(insert year) shows. 

I love the satisfaction of progress and the reminder of how much work we still have to do. 

I love getting the chance to re-experience the ah-ahs, the wow, I can't believe that happened THIS year moments.

I love watching highlight reels, reliving championships, and re-watching underdogs claw their way out of holes.

And I treasure the time each show gives us to reflect, to review our own lessons and to bring our own closure so each of us can find a way to move forward. 

I'm not sure why I get so sentimental for that sort of thing, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's the segmentation I love. The fact we get years to begin with, and because we have years, we have clear cut boundaries starting and stopping them, ending one game and beginning a new one, turning the page to a brand new scorecard replete with lines and lines of chances, and roads and roads waiting for our feet to tread them. 

We get to wipe the slate clean, close nagging doors, and anticipate new adventures. We get to put bad years in boxes and decide--even if it seems absurd in the long run--that what ever happened is over as of December 31, and on January 1, life will start anew, draped in crisp white, and reeking of Sugar and Roses (well, maybe that's just for people living in football country).  

Because we have years, we get built in excuses to pause, to look back, to let go and to grow up and out and in.  We get the chance to revisit our starts and stops and allow them to give us hope and meaning and the strength to move on. We get a January 1 bursting with 364 more mornings just waiting to leak out.

And so, after a week of watching the best of 2014 shows, and feeling massively nostalgic for the year that made me a mom, I am ready to take on what comes next. I'm ready to embrace a 2015 that will be narrated by my son's first sentences (okay so maybe that's a bit hopeful) and decorated by the earth flying steadily under his feet, a year where my words will fill new pages and my heart will meet new people, a year where my family will embark on new adventures and undertake new challenges, a year where I will get 364 more days to bathe my family in love.

Happy 2015, everyone!