Tag: motherhood

How many directions can a mom stretch before she breaks?

Originally published on Today.com Parent Contributors


The 4-year old wants to have a tea party and a play date, but the oldest needs to have his lessons given to him and lunch needs to be cooked.

The dog just had surgery so she needs extra attention.

The cat is out of food and lets me know.

The oldest is now hungry and is asking for dinner

The husband is home and needs to share about his day and I want to hear about it.

I want to be everything to everyone all at once.

I’m trying to listen to the podcast of a psychologist who is trying to advise me on how to manage a mental crisis and she’s yammering on about a box – some box that you have to place your thoughts in to get through a moment or put people in a box or I don’t even know what the bloody hell she is saying about the box because all I can hear is the emotional blackmail of a 4-year old asking me why I’m not playing with her while I hold a piece of raw chicken and a knife in my hand and am standing by the stove.

Gasp.

Breathe.

“Slow your breathing. Freak out in the love zone.”

The South African accent of the neuroscientist, the psychologist, whatever she is, is supposed to be soothing but all I want to do is fling the knife at her and tell her to freak out in her own love zone, whatever a love zone is.

There are days I simply can’t keep up. It’s all moving so fast but at the same time going nowhere.

I thought I’d be so much further in life by now. But at the same time, I’m shocked with all I have. I am a twisted mess of contradiction.

Some days I am completely contented where I am in life – a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother who rambles on her blog and take photographs of her life.

Other days I mourn what I thought I’d be – a well-known writer or photojournalist traveling the world.

With the hours my husband works, I rarely find guilt-free time to write or take photos. When I’d rather be writing I should be folding laundry, or loading a dishwasher or cooking a meal. When I’d like to go to a park or travel somewhere to use my camera to interpret what I see, I should, instead, be planning my son’s assignments for the week or playing with my preschooler.

It isn’t that my husband makes me feel this way. It isn’t that my children make me feel this way. It isn’t that I resent them for my own feelings. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an extreme feminist hit piece. It’s just where my feelings are some days.

I feel stretched thin, some days.

I feel pulled ten different directions, some days.

I feel splayed apart like a dead frog in a science experiment (if they even do such things anymore), some days. But, I also feel complete, some days.

Complete and whole. Whole in that my family is whole, mostly healthy and held in the hands of an all-seeing, all-knowing, always loving God.  We all get stretched too thin, pulled too much, pressed down and poured out.

I’m stubborn and weak and whiny and I don’t always do what I know I should; let Him pour back in, stretch gently for growth, pull softly in the right directions and press down only for our own good and progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just because you battle depression, doesn’t mean you are a bad mom

The mother in an online support group for moms with anxiety and depression asked all us faceless mothers on the other side of the screen: “Why can’t I get it together?”

She asked because she felt alone

Many of us let her know she was not alone, we were right there with her.

We all had felt less than. We all had felt not enough.

We all had wondered why we couldn’t seem to “get it together.”

We moms look for anything that proves we are a bad mother. We do it without even realizing we are. We may not say it, but we think it, dwell on it, speak it over ourselves.

At night, in the dark, we whisper lies to our soul.

“I’m a horrible mother.”

“What was God thinking making me their mother?”

All moms overthink motherhood at some point in their journey.

We overthink about what others think we should be doing.

We overthink about an article that listed what shouldn’t be doing and mentally check off those things we have done.

We overthink mistakes we think will ruin our children.

We overthink and overthink until our thoughts spin so far out we can’t remember where they started.

“Did I hug him enough today?”

“Did I play with her enough today?”

“Was I too easy on him when he made that mistake?”

“Should I have told her she couldn’t play that long on the phone today?”

“Is that stomachache something worse?”

And when you throw in depression? The overthinking happens even more. Thoughts spin even more, spiral us down into dispair and the inability to move forward.

Depression clouds thoughts. It stifles truth.

It tells us we are bad mothers because we deal with depression.

The reality is, all moms are flying by the seat of their pants. We trust our motherly instincts and doubt them at the same time. We are a mess of contradictions.

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_DSC5801.jpgAll moms struggle. All moms wonder why we don’t have “it” together, why we can’t just GET it together.

So often I wonder, ‘what does it mean to “get it together” anyhow?’ What are we getting together? Whose standards do we think we need to meet before we have it “all together?” Does anyone really have it, whatever it is, together?

I don’t know any human being who is perfect. They may look perfect, but we know they’re not because we’re not.

Maybe one mom doesn’t have anxiety or depression, but she has a physical limitation.

Maybe one mom looks beautiful on the outside but inside she holds on to ugly secrets.

Maybe one mom feels like slowing down and letting go of looking perfect will show she is unworthy of what she thinks she has to earn.

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Anxiety strangles me most days.

Depression whispers in my ear that I’m never going to be worth anything and I’m never going to be a good mother, writer, photographer, friend, wife, child of God.

Those are the moments I have to fight, even when I’m too tired to fight. I have to learn to expect that all things will work together for His good and His glory – even anxiety and depression.

Sometimes anxiety slows me down. Sometimes slowing down is a gift.

Sometimes slowing down makes me focus on what I have.

Sometimes slowing down reminds me what others may, or may not, be thinking about me doesn’t even matter.

Depression doesn’t make you weak.

Depression doesn’t make you wrong.

Depression doesn’t make you unworthy, unloveable.

Depression doesn’t make you a bad person.

Battling depression and anxiety doesn’t make you a bad mother.

The battle will make you stronger even when you feel weaker.

 

 

 

 

Why I have gray hair – reason no. 30

I heard it before I saw it and knew at that moment I’d made a mistake letting my 4-year old jump from the couch to the metal barstool we’d never actually used at a bar since we didn’t have one. I saw her hanging over the bottom rungs of the chair, now on its’ side, like a limp rag doll, and yelled for my son to help because I figured that in his youth he could move faster. He wasn’t there, though, and by the time I got to her she had lifted herself up and was standing with her hair in her face and her mouth open while she tried to scream, but no sound would come out.

A bright red river of blood was streaming a path from her nose to her mouth and I wasn’t sure if she had ripped her nose or her lip open.

Always cool under pressure, I started to scream “Help me! Help me!” over and over, yelling for my son to call his dad at work. He, having been upstairs for what he’d hoped to be a relaxing visit to the bathroom, was a frazzled mess and stumbled to find one of our phones.

“Grace. Face bleeding.” He shouted into the phone and hung up.

Somehow I had mentally slapped myself out of my hysteria and asked for a box of tissues, snatched one and held it against my daughter’s nose, noting I had smeared blood above her eyebrow as I’d pulled her close for a hug and examination.

knew that in order for her to calm down that I had to calm down and suddenly I went into robot mode. Wipe face. Hold nose, ask what hurt and what she had hit. She said her nose and her ear so I examined both appendages and saw blood caked along the edge of the nose and the tip of it swelled some, but otherwise it seemed fine. The ear didn’t have the gash I worried I would see. 

My husband burst through the door a few minutes later and we checked her out together while she cried. A popsicle and a cartoon helped her calm down.

A half an hour later she was in the kitchen twirling in circles next to the counter, an inch from smashing her face in again.

“Excuse me. We’ve already had one bloody nose. Are you trying to get another one?” I asked.

And that’s when I felt it – another gray hair pop up on top of my head.

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Spring has finally sprung in Pennsylvania but it’s always possible another snow storm will come

“There are robins on the hill,” my dad said and we rushed to the windows and “ooohed” and “aahed” because in Pennsylvania we know that the sight of the robins in our yards means spring has sprung. Sure, the grass may still be brown and yellow, the trees may still be naked, and the flowers aren’t yet budding, but when the robins appear, back from their trip South, we know it won’t be long.

Soon there will be flowers (and for our family sneezing), warm days spent at the playground (though we already squeezed a playground visit in this week),

I have to be honest, during our first warm day this spring, I found myself briefly wishing for cold again. After months of waiting for weather warm enough to get the children out of the house, I felt a rush of anxiety at having to talk to people again while walking the dog and pushing my daughter up the hills on her bicycle. I’m anti-social at heart (which is weird, considering the 13 years I worked in newspapers) and find the older I’ve become the more I prefer sitting at home, reading a book, writing nonsense on here, or watching another episode of “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Not having to wear a coat to walk to the car or around the block was welcome for those three warm days, before cold weather set back in, though. I walked to the local diner on the second warmer day, after a family friend invited me for lunch. I was fed what was possibly grass with some dried cranberries, the smallest sunflower seeds I’ve ever seen and a pile of oregano. Apparently, I’m not as “natural” as I like to think and found myself wishing the black beans sprinkled on as my source of protein was a huge steak.

Showing that I’m not yet prepared for the normal warm weather walking of five paces behind my daughter on her bike while trying not to let the dog yank me onto my face on the sidewalk on her short leash, I decided to try to cut corners and let the dog pull my daughter on her bike. I wasn’t really going to leave the leash hooked there long, but truly thought the dog might pull her forward a few inches instead of yanking the bike onto its side and leaving my preschooler laying under it at the exact moment a local police officer drove by.

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The officer’s SUV slowed down and he looked through the tinted window at me as I lifted her off the sidewalk and checked her skinned elbow and grabbed the dog’s leash to keep her from running away. He gave me a thumbs up as if to ask “You okay?” and I gave one back to let him know I was and then waved a ‘thank you’.  One thing that is nice about small-town life is the local police presence.

He drove away and I looked closer at the mark on her arm was about the size of the top of a pin, but you would have thought she had almost lost her arm the way her lower lip was pushed out and she started making demands we turn around and go home. In the past two weeks, she’s become very attached to bandaids and seems to think she needs them on even the smallest scratches.

Even her animals are receiving their own bandages, especially if the dog happens to grab on to one of them and run off with it. Also in the past two weeks, she has become much more stressed about – well, everything. I had a feeling what she needed more than a bandaid was a nap after a couple of hours at the playground earlier with her dad and even more running through the house chasing the dog, before our walk.

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By Friday night the warm air had faded and I was receiving texts from my husband, who was at work, reminding me to turn on the heat. I refused, telling him it was still warm out and I wouldn’t close the windows and turn the heat on until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. This resolved faded shortly after that declaration and I found myself craving a warm cup of tea and the shawl that used to be my aunts. 

For now I’m happy to sink back into a little bit of introvert isolation, content with the excuse that it’s simply too cold to go outside and interact with others. And who knows, maybe we will have a March blizzard like last year and I’ll have even more of an excuse to stay inside.

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Four is the new terrible twos

“I’M NOT DOING ANY MORE SCHOOL WORK UNTIL MY BROTHER SITS NEXT TO ME AT THE TABLE!!”

Her little voice pierced my eardrums and grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Papers, pencils, and crayons scattered across the floor with a swift move of her fierce little hand. Next, she took aim at the battery for my camera and the charger it was connected to sent that to the floor with a bang.

DSC_3479For the last week, I had been laying my hand against her forehead to see if she was coming down with something, anything, looking for any reason for her Horrid Henry-like behavior. Since no fever was detected next on the list was to call the local Catholic Church to see if they still perform exorcisms in between press conferences to defend their innocence in abuse cases.

She was sitting with her head down on the table, her little feet dangling off the bench, kicking them back and forth as she revved up for her tantrum.

She was wearing the same outfit she’d had on for three days – a long sleeved dress and long pants with a brown leopard pattern. On Saturday she’d fallen asleep before I could negotiate a peaceful ending to the outfit change. On Sunday I knew we’d never make it to church if we stopped to let her pick the ten outfits she normally does before she gets dressed.  I promised myself I’d begin a peaceful settlement when we returned. Negotiations failed and I somehow let it go an extra day. So there she sat, her clothes probably caked to her now, while she started her new tactic of whining instead of verbalizing.

“Your brother is in the bathroom, I can’t make him sit next to you,” I told her, throwing up my hands in exasperation.

“I won’t do work ever, ever again if he doesn’t sit with me!”

I ignored her and went to the kitchen to start cleaning the pan for lunch.

Her brother came down and I asked him to sit with her but now she had worked herself up to a wail, the same wail she’d been sounding for almost a week now – anytime she didn’t get what she wanted, when she wanted, even though half the time she never said what she wanted, but simply cried and whined and kicked her feet.

I burned my hand in the hot water trying to clean out the cast iron pan to make lunch. It made me even grumpier.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!” my screams were now matching her own and for good measure, I tossed a fork, which bounced off the counter and shattered the McDonald’s collection Garfield class I’d bought for my husband to replace the one he’d had as a child.

Now I was mad at her and myself. It was a standoff of uncontrolled emotions and suddenly I realized I had dropped my emotional maturity to the level of a 4-year old. A 4-year old who was still trying to figure out how to navigate her emotions, while I was 41 and supposed to already have it all figured out. I shouldn’t have a fuse as short as a preschooler and I knew it.

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“Let me hold you,” I told her finally, no longer caring what her original breakdown had been about. She climbed into my lap and leaned into me her little body warm and heavy against me. Tears were still rolling down her cheeks as I rubbed her back and absentmindedly patted her bottom as  I rocked her.

It grew quiet and she sniffed.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Are you patting my butt?”

“Hmm….um..yeah, I guess I was. I thought it was your lower back.”

She pulled away and looked sideways at me.

“Okay. That was disturbing.”

She climbed off my lap with her finger in her nose and shook her head.

She’s been skipping naps of late so when she passed out against my chest early in the afternoon, an hour or so after this. I texted my husband and said, with much relief, though a bit of regret, “she’s asleep and I have to pee.”

I held that pee in until my bladder almost burst because I had a plan to enjoy the last chapter of my book in blissful silence.  That hour free of preschool manipulation was certainly welcome.

And then my preteen began to extol the virtues of his latest video game discovery and the silence was broken, but, hey, that’s life.

 

Keep singing me that song, sweet girl

dsc_0620“Mama, I have something to show you,” you said while I was trying to cook dinner one night.

“Um..not now, honey. I have to cook dinner,” I told you.

“But moooom…” you sighed and rolled your eyes with your head tilted back like you had been doing a lot lately.

I sighed myself, without the eye roll and set the chicken aside so I could sit in the kitchen floor with you.

“Today is a special day to tell you how to feel, in my own way,” you sang with the song on the app and slid into my lap. Your voice was tiny and sweet.”I really want to tell you Mom, I love you so. I love you so. You take care of me and help me grow. When I am sad you always know. When you teach me things I feel so proud. You pick me up when I fall down. You pick me up and keep me safe. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, than wrapped up in a hug from you, ’cause I love you and you love me.”

You leaned against me and looked up at my face as you sang and somehow I think you knew what would come next. Tears. From me. Not simple little …. tears but big, full-on ugly cry tears.

You continued to sing and sway a little in my arms. Supper was later than usual that night but it was worth it. It was even more worth it when your dad came home for supper and you sang him his version of the song. Apparently I’m not the only one who ugly cries.

Every once in awhile, at least once a week you come into the kitchen with the phone and you hold it up to me and push play. Each time we sit next to each other and I hold you close and you sing the song to me.

Sweet girl, please never stop coming to me with that song.

Never stop asking me to let you sing it to me.

Never stop looking at my face to see if I’m crying again.

Never stop waiting for those kisses on the cheek and the gentle squeeze as I pull you against me.

I know I can say it, can ask you to always sing this sweet little song to me and love me when you’re older as much as you do now, but I also know one day you won’t sing to me anymore.

One day you’ll rush off to play with your friends, go shopping, or rush to practice and simply wave at me over your shoulder on your way out the door.

You may one day very well forget how much you wanted your mama to know you loved her, but your mama will never forget it and I will also never forget the feeling of being the center of your world.

May I never take for granted these days that can sometimes seem so long but are rushing by so quickly and may I never take for granted your love for me.

And may you always know the love I have for you.

 

 

Mama guilt is real and ridiculous

I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.

How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?

Of course, I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.

Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.

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My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day – supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school, I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burdens but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.

Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son,  overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn’t know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and – and – the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.

But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.

And today both he and his sister are worth it all.DSC_0540

DSC_0535What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.

I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.

My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.

One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.

I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.

Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don’t know, but what I do know is we don’t have to listen to all those voices.

Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we’ve stretched ourselves thin enough and it’s OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even – gasp! – a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.

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Faithfully thinking: I may not think, speak or do things like you but God can still use me

“To be honest, I don’t know why I even write anymore,” I thought to myself one morning. “I don’t know much about anything and I’m full of very little wisdom. I’m a mom and a wife and I take photos for myself and that’s about it. I’ve never written a book, I don’t have a thriving business and last school year I was called a bad parent and it makes me try too hard at this blasted homeschooling thing.”

Cleaning the house? Don’t get me started. Actually, if you did get me started I would be completely overwhelmed and would end up in a fetal position crying and still nothing would get cleaned.

Cooking? I try my best but I often find myself imagining that cardboard with salt would taste better than my dinners.

Parenting? Last week my daughter bit her brother in the shoulder because he was sitting in the chair she wanted and my son is addicted to Minecraft. I have a huge “Fear of Missing Out ” (FOMO) problem but it’s mainly focused on my children because I already know I’m missing out and I’m so tired every single day of my life I don’t even care.

In other words, I’m a mess, or so I feel most days.

My one comfort is knowing I’m not alone, that I may be a train wreck but somewhere in this world there is another mom in another house feeling as inadequate as me.

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And despite how we feel, the truth is we are loved, we are worthy and we can be used by God even when others have written us off. I express doubts often and recently, after three weeks of trials stacked one on top of another on top of our family, I tossed out a few words of doubt on Facebook about whether or not God even cares for us.

I received an admonishment from a fellow Christian who told me: “Repent of your thinking” because nothing comforts a person dealing with trials by telling them they’re falling short in their Christian walk.

Those scolding comments are something that tends to make me pause and decide I’m not worthy to talk about faith or Christ, wonder why I even thought I should, and lead me to withdrawal within myself and vow to keep my inferior opinions to myself. The truth is, though, we are all on our own journey and on that journey we are going to stumble more than once.

DSC_5409Maybe God can use me even if I have doubts and I express them and I say things that don’t fit your idea of what a “good Christian girl” should say or should be. Maybe I show my weak moments when you hide yours but that does not exclude me from being used by God.

Maybe I show my weak moments when you hide yours but that does not exclude me from being used by God.

Those comments that don’t sound “Biblical” to you or don’t fit your personal narrative, those comments I throw out there in a moment of frustration or under the heavy burden of trial after trial after trial in a short amount of time, don’t dismiss me from God’s list of people who can be used for His Kingdom.

As I heard Pastor Steven Furtick say in a recent sermon: “There is nothing wrong with you that isn’t right with God.”

If you’re like me and feel your imperfect attitude disqualifies you from speaking your feelings about faith and God, let’s remind each other God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called and maybe what some of us are called to do is let our messy moments show so others know they’re not alone.

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Frank. And only Frank. Thanks, Kid. I’m now sick of Frank.

Every night and every nap for the last two years my daughter has had to listen to Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours” album while she’s falling asleep.

I’ve tried to change the music without her knowing but as young as two she would look at me and say “no. I want frank.” In the beginning she called him “Frank Satra,” but as she grew she knew how to pronounce his name clearly and she let me know no one else would do – no Nat King Cole or Diana Krall or even a different album by Frank.

I finally slipped in some Dean Martin from his “Sleep Warm” album, skipping over the slightly faster songs thrown in the middle of the more gentle and melodic tunes, and she accepted it.

Last night I decided to try some Sarah Vaughn, who I’ve never actually listened to that much, but we only got two songs in before I heard an exasperated sigh in the dark.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, hoping to God she did not ask me for the snack she’d tried to tell me she needed a few moments earlier, even though it was way past her bedtime.

“It’s the music,” she said with exasperation dripping off each word. “It’s just not working.”

Now it was my turn for a sigh. I switched the Apple Music on my phone to the playlist of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

She relaxed in the darkness, obviously content, and in less than five minutes she was fast asleep to the smooth, soothing baritone of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Someday we’ll find another artist who lulls her into a state of pure relaxation but for now Dean and Frank remain our close and repetitive friends.