The Only Bag I Need Today

I dug my trusty tote bag out of the closet yesterday.

I have other totes. Several of them, in all shapes and sizes. Most of them are fancy and professional-looking, and some even have a special place for my water bottle. Most of them aren’t stained in places, and their handles aren’t frayed.

But this is the tote I dug out of the closet yesterday, because today I’m going to need it.




I’m going to need my Caregiver Bag.

This bag has gone with me to medical visits for at least a decade. It has room for my water bottle. And tissues. And waiting-room snacks. And the book I’ll bring, but definitely won’t read, in the waiting room. And whatever papers we’re handed, with instructions and arrangements and marching orders.

(And a rosary, though there are already 3 of those in my handbag.)

It’s been a decade, and this bag and I are in it for the long haul. Maybe that’s why, every time I get a shiny new bag, I hang onto this one despite the stains and the frayed handle.

I’ve hung onto that handle on some very dark days. And I’ve held it on the days when we heard good news, when we walked out of hospitals breathing a sigh of relief, because this time we were sure we were done with this.

So today, I’ll pack up that bag again with the snacks and the water bottle and the tissues and the extra rosary and the book I won’t read. I’ll grab onto those fraying straps and walk confidently through that familiar parking garage and into those halls I’ve walked so many times before, and I’ll remember that this is not a burden I have to carry alone.

Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

girl copying off boy's paper in school

Time to Stop Looking

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29)

This pretty much sums up Instagram for me, some days.

I like some things on Instagram. One of my kids shares photos of mountains he’s climbed (though sometimes the views are a little scary for me), and another posts little videos of her silly cat. I like the graphics with encouraging phrases. I like the prayers. I like the pictures of delicious dinners (and cookies) with links in bio to recipes.

What I don’t like so much is my reaction to the other stuff on Instagram. Since Instagram has become a replacement blogging platform, it’s populated by women who fill it with their perfect homes, perfect furniture, perfect flowers, perfect perfection. Their heartfelt 800-word articles accompany these illustrations.

“So beautiful!”

“Such an inspiration!”

“So vulnerable!”

“So wise!”

The comments go on and on, and I’m over here feeling left out in all that beauty and all that sentiment.


girl cheating off a boy's paper at school


We had our house repainted in December 2019 and the pictures are still not back on the walls. I had this grand idea that I wanted to re-frame them in all the same frames (I probably saw something like that on Instagram), but was only able to find half of the sizes I need when I went shopping for those in January, and that project has simply stalled out. That pile of new frames and the pile twice as high of old pictures? There’s no beauty there.

Maybe if I spent less time on social media and more time cleaning my house, it would look like something out of a magazine too (oh, who am I kidding – it’s never going to look like that, but it would look better for sure).

Maybe if I got off the couch and used my phone to play an exercise video instead of tormenting myself with other people’s salads and waistlines, I’d find my waist once again.

And I guess I’m just not the sentimental sort, but I’m just about driven to tears here by all the moms who are weeping on Instagram about back-to-school, especially those sending children off to college. Maybe it’ll hit me after my kid actually leaves for college, since he’s my last one, but at this point I’m just glad for the prospect that he’ll get to go live at college at all – homecolleging is not the best way to go, especially when you’re a science major. But I see all the moms lamenting their babies leaving home and wonder what in the world is wrong with me.

My coping mechanism is to “keep it real” and post something self-deprecating (or – worse – something that makes someone else in my house look bad) because this way I shame myself before someone else gets the chance. I do this way too much for that to be considered a healthy strategy.

Is my right eye causing me to sin? When it’s looking at Instagram, yes, I think it is. I find myself giving in to envy about other people’s homes, stuff, appearance, and emotions. I don’t resent that they have what I don’t, but I wallow in self-pity because I don’t have what they do.

I think it’s time for me to take action in two ways.

I need to go to confession. And I need to start using the unfollow and mute functions on social media until I can have a better attitude toward the total strangers whose carefully curated lives I’m comparing to my own, and falling short every time.


sad woman looking at cell phone

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva Pro

Family First: Why I’m Not at the World Meeting of Families

family first missing wmf2015

I didn’t think, when I first heard about it, that I’d want to go. I’m not into crowded places, big cities, traffic nightmares.

It’s the company I’m missing: the fellowship; the chance to see, in person, the smile that’s attached to the author/reporter/speaker/Sister/priest I follow on Twitter. The chance to get acquainted with several writers whose work I admire–my amazing coworkers in the vineyard that is

And it’s the fact that it’s right across the river. It’s closer than the hospital where TheKid sees his endocrinologist. It’s only about as far as Middle Sister’s university, and just a little bit past Big Brother’s rented home in Fishtown.

It’s right here. And I’m not there.

When I saw tweets from my boss as she crossed that bridge that stands between me and the city, it hit me: there’s so much I’ll be missing this week.

Screen capture of tweet by Lisa Hendey.
Screen capture of tweet by Lisa Hendey.

Monday morning, while my coworkers and friends and people I’ve admired from afar for a decade tweeted about picking up their press credentials, I stood in the car line at TheKid’s school, where I was substitute teaching for the day. I opened minivan doors and helped four-year-olds gather their lunches and backpacks. I greeted fifth-graders and chatted with the principal and the PE teacher about my daughter’s rugby game. I stood next to the Paper Pope that the pastor pulled out of the church vestibule, and laughed at the little kids’ faces when they realized they weren’t looking at the real thing.

That’s as close to the Pope as I’m going to get this week, and I’m going to need to be OK with that.

This year, family circumstances do not allow me to attend the World Meeting of Families that’s happening right in my backyard. At this stage of my mothering journey, I can go hours at a time without being needed–but it’s those times when I am needed that count, and diabetes being the random disease that it is, I never know when those times will happen. Right now I don’t see my way clear to be more than 20 minutes away.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket during Mass this morning: it was the school nurse. TheKid’s been battling a stubborn high blood sugar (plus seasonal allergies) all night, and he just wasn’t feeling good at all. So I went over to school to pick him up, and he’s parked on the couch now with a fresh insulin-pump set and a huge water bottle.

That’s my reality right now. I am grateful that TheKid is doing as well as he is. But I can’t let that lull me into a false sense of security, because diabetes is a 24/7 disease.

My first job right now is to be available for my family. I can hobnob another time. And during those times when I’m not needed right this second, I can watch things unfold on TV, on Twitter, on Facebook and on CatholicMom. I can pray for the success of this week’s events and for the safety of all involved. And I can try as hard as I can to be genuinely happy for everyone who is blessed to be able to be there.

Suburban Snooze Alarm

At this time of year, if you’ve got the windows open, you’ll be awoken by the birds, who start chirping and chattering around 4:45.

And if you live on my block and you managed to fall back to sleep after the birds woke you up, you’ll hear the rhythmic crash of a Dumpster being emptied into a truck, behind the Target around the corner. At 5:15.

IMG_0642I’ll take the birds, thanks. Even if one of them did poop on a shirt I had hanging on the clothesline yesterday.

The Things We Do For Our Kids

Tonight was Middle Sister’s Women’s Rugby team fundraising event. It was a dinner with a basket raffle.La salle women's rugby

Sounds good so far, right?

Wait for it. Wait for it

At a bar. In a neighborhood of Philadelphia whose name is pretty much synonymous with “Pub Crawl.”

And it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

When we Googled the venue to get the address (which the team did not provide on the flyer we got in the mail), we were treated to this lovely picture on the bar’s website:

Strategically-placed shamrocks prove she's Irish.
Strategically-placed shamrocks prove she’s Irish.

I’m pretty sure that Hubs and I are about 25 years older than this bar’s target demographic.

The Women’s Rugby event was held in the party room, which featured TWO bars, 5 TVs showing college basketball, very loud pop hits music, 3 round tables for 8 and an empty bandstand.

I followed the sign to the restroom and discovered that there was no door for the men’s restroom, which you must pass to get to the women’s restroom.

I didn’t need to see that.

The Kid and I bought our tickets for the basket raffle, grateful that Middle Sister was selling them, rather than a shorter teammate with a smaller wingspan. We filled them in and dropped them in the bags in front of the baskets we hope to win.

The food was OK: Caesar salad, cheesesteak egg rolls (I didn’t try those), chicken parm and vodka pasta.

Once we’d eaten, we said goodbye to Middle Sister and headed toward home.

We lasted an hour.

Maybe next time we’ll just send in a donation.

Sick Day

Clearly I have pushed too hard in the past couple of weeks.

I had bronchitis over Thanksgiving, which stopped being bronchitis (I thought) after I finished the Z-pack; it turned into asthma that I couldn’t shake. My inhalers did nothing. I could sing–sometimes–but couldn’t sustain a note or phrase; I just haven’t had the air to do it.

Yesterday after school I felt so awful. So, so awful. But it was show night for the Christmas pageant and I had to babysit my homeroom before the show, release them to their parents after the show, and be there during the show to try to keep the kids on tempo during their songs. And being a substitute teacher, I wasn’t sure how I could go about missing this. So I dosed up on Advil and Dayquil, had a bowl of egg drop soup, went to school and got through the show.

Which went fantastically well, by the way. I didn’t have a huge part in this (other teachers did so much more) but I am so proud of how well the kids performed. And they couldn’t have looked sweeter in their tinsel halos and burlap shepherds’ tunics.

I brought all kinds of things that would be needed for today, including sub plans, and left them on the desk.

After the show I came home and texted the two teachers whose cell-phone numbers I have so I could find out how I could go about missing school today. (Again–this is the kind of thing substitutes just don’t know–because how often would you need it?) I reached the principal, who told me which other subs I should call, and I secured a sub for the day.

This morning I spent 2 hours at urgent care, tweeting to pass the wait time.

urgent care tweets

They gave me a nebulizer treatment right there to see how I would respond. It did help, so they prescribed that AND oral steroids AND more antibiotics and sent me on my way.

I came home and rested after all that, and Middle Sister picked up all my medicine PLUS two caffeinated Boost slushies (if you’re not local, it’s like uncarbonated Coke and it’s amazing in a slushy, but chock-full of sugar and caffeine and all the bad-for-you stuff). For lunch, I had a bowl of dry Cocoa Pebbles, one Boost slushy, two Advil, one Amoxicillin and three steroids. I’m wide awake NOW, let me tell you. I’m kind of afraid to try the nebulizer since that made me a bit jittery all by itself!

The worst part of all this is that I’ll be missing the Festival of Lessons and Carols tonight. I’ve been rehearsing since October for this and hands down it’s the highlight of Christmastime for me, musically speaking. The privilege of participating in this event with the high-caliber musicians and vocalists it attracts is a real gift to me, and it killed me to have to bow out. But I know they’ll do great and, at this point, I’m just hoping I’ll be good to sing on Christmas.

Gratitude on a Monday

And Monday is another day. Not a bad day, not a super day, just a day. I’ll take it.

Before I left the house this morning, I made a list of the Christmas Eve Cousins. In my husband’s family, every child gets a present on Christmas Eve from every family who has children. Thanks to Facebook, I had everyone’s name and age. I left the list on my desk with the intention of texting Middle Sister at lunchtime and asking her to go shopping.

That text message never happened. But I got home to find her (and the list) gone. I ran out to do some grocery shopping for the week, since this is the only night I don’t have a rehearsal or a performance. When I got home, there were bags of toys everywhere.

I am so very grateful that she got this huge chore done–and her cousins, I’m sure, will love the toys she chose for them.

Then, my answer to “what’s for dinner” was “hot dogs and fries.”

And the kids cheered.

I was feeling like a total slacker for not cooking them a proper dinner on the one night this week I don’t have to be somewhere. The kids, though, are happy for the hot dogs.

I like this article I just read at  How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure and Stay Focused This Advent.

Hot dogs and fries are OK. Happy kids, even more so. We can have Advent-wreath battles just as easily with plates of hot dogs in front of us as with chicken piccata.



Overheard, the Fashion Plate Edition

Little Brother (inspecting his T-shirt):  thats all you got“Do you think I can still wear this shirt today, even though I spilled Leaky Egg* on it?”

Me: “How about you get a wet paper towel and wipe it up and see how it looks when it dries?”

LB: “Well, I already licked it off, so…”

(*Translation:  a Leaky Egg is an egg over easy. Yes, I know all about salmonella danger. We live on the edge over here.)

The only saving grace here is that the egg seems to have spilled on the bright yellow letters…



Let me begin by saying that I don’t know how third-grade teachers do their job all day. The kids are sweet, but all day long with the same bunch of 8-year-olds who complain that their neighbor is looking at them/breathing on them/calling them names/not sitting in their proper seat/insert harmless-yet-annoying thing here–well, that can be a little relentless.

PLUS, they did not go outside at recess today, which means I had no break time.

AND their “special” was cancelled, which means I had no break time.

And I spent a chunk of the day having conversations like this:

CHILD: “Can I do this in cursive?” cursive writing

ME: “What does your teacher usually want you to do?”

OTHER CHILD WHO CAN’T MIND HER OWN BUSINESS: “She says we can do cursive or print, whichever we want.”

ME: “Just make sure it’s neat so your teacher can read it tomorrow.”

MOST OF THE CLASS: “OK.” (gets busy doing work)

CHILD WHO ASKED ORIGINAL QUESTION:  “So can I do this in cursive?”

God bless the full-time teachers of self-contained classes. They have a special kind of patience.