family Archives - Stratejoy
#

arrow

 

EranNoInstructions

By the time this post publishes, my little boy will be 18 months old.  18 months!!!

It’s like being stuck in a bizarre time warp.  On the one hand, I cannot imagine my life without him in it – it feels like he’s always been here.  On the other hand, I’m in total disbelief that it’s only been a year and a half, and we have all managed to actually survive with our sanity and all appendages intact.

When you leave the hospital with a newborn baby, no one hands you an instruction booklet on how to keep this little person alive.  Yes, the nurse sat us down with a checklist of basic, common-sense-type things that she needed to review with us before we left (don’t forget to bathe your baby, make sure you feed him, let him sleep, use a car seat, blah, blah, blah), but that was about it.

Which is odd because the last time we purchased a laptop computer, we left the store with more instructions that we knew what to do with.  And a giant, thick manual. And two extended warranties. And a 24-hour helpline. And a comprehensive return policy.

 

When we left the hospital with a TINY HUMAN BEING, we left with nothing but optimism, instincts and a shit-ton of love.

 

Sure, you can buy all the books (my stash included The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Wonder Weeks, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Parenting from the Inside Out, And Baby Makes Three, The Vaccine Book – all of which I referred to continuously and religiously for months). You can belong to all the online parenting forums, and Google the shit out of every last burp, spit-up, cry and monster-nap-marathon.  You can ask every mom-friend you have, or call your own mother (or, heaven forbid, your mother-in-law).

But I’m here to tell you, from experience, this only made me feel completely insane, relatively useless and utterly confused.

And so, for those of you with new babies, or who are considering having babies, I’m about to bestow upon you, the greatest piece of advice I can possibly give you.  The only advice you will ever really need, and I wish someone had given it to me (actually – they probably did, I just didn’t listen….so LISTEN).

The reason that babies don’t come with an instruction manual is because….

wait for it……

Every. Baby. Is. Different. 

Furthermore, every toddler is different. Every child is different.  And – surprisingly – every person  (mama, parent, human being on this planet) is also different.

I had NO idea how many decisions I would need to make when it came to bringing this child into the world.  Should I have an epidural or go drug-free? Will I breastfeed or formula feed? If I introduce a bottle too early, will he get nipple confusion? Should I vaccinate?  Is it safe to sleep train my baby?  Will crying-it-out make him feel abandoned? What daycare should I choose? Or would it be better to be a stay-at-home mom? How much TV can he watch? What about time-outs?

 OH. MY. GOD.

Yeah, no one tells you about HUNDREDS of decisions you will have to make, and continue to have to make as this little person grows up.  But everyone will tell you what they did with their own kid, and why it’s the best thing to do, and how such-and-such a study backs it up, which leaves you feeling like if you don’t do exactly what said person did with their kid, then you are somehow obviously going to completely fuck up your own kid for the rest of his or her life. ($%&^%#!!!!)

IT’S NOT TRUE.

 

Let’s all say it together – Every kid is different. Every mama is different.

(Click To Tweet)

 

So, yeah, I had an epidural. I breast-fed and formula-fed. We introduced bottles on day two and never dealt with nipple confusion. We vaccinated. We sleep trained. We cried-it-out (both me and the baby – ha!). He went to daycare. He watches Sesame Street and Jimmy Fallon’s barbershop quartet videos.  And I have used time-outs for discipline.

And 18 months later, my kid is still alive and healthy and happy. Huh.

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  Because my kid isn’t the same as your kid, or my sister’s kid, or your sister’s kid, or ANYONE’s kid.

That’s the thing – my Macbook computer is pretty much the same as every other Macbook computer of the same make and model.  I can count on that instruction manual to have all the answers because each laptop is basically identical.

Not so with a kid.

The joy of not being given an instruction manual with a newborn is that you get to write your own book.  You get to listen to your gut and your instincts.  You get to collect information and make educated decisions. Your child gets to be his- or herself, and you get to learn new things about them every single day.

 

That stuff can’t be found in a book. That stuff can only be found in the optimism, instincts and shit-ton of love that you left the hospital with. No manual required

 

Eran - Stratejoy picWITH LOVE FROM

Eran, Photographer, Risk-Taker, 2014 Elevate Sister

Upon taking a leap of faith and quitting her “grown-up” job in 2007, Eran has spent the last 7 years conquering fears, exploring options and checking off all the “to-do’s” on her life list.  A true Renaissance soul, Eran is not satisfied doing just any one thing. Photographer, singer, music-arranger, Sound of Music enthusiast, writer, micro-manager, traveller, French-speaker, dreamer, wine-drinker, risk-taker, and most recently, mama to a gorgeous and giggly little boy – these are just a few of the titles Eran wears on a regular basis. Eran can be found on Twitter @eranjayne.

 

This has been my 12th Thanksgiving ever. Almost half of my previous 11 Thanksgivings have been spent away from home in various places, including North Carolina, California, Virgina, and England. Needless to say, with the newness of the holiday to me and with so much traveling, I haven’t found myself participating in any specific Thanksgiving traditions.

However, there has been one constant: Family. Even when traveling, I’ve always found myself surrounded by family, and that is tradition enough for me.

I come from a fairly small family that had always been spread across the country (and now 3 countries – UK, USA & NZ). Even though I enjoy spending time with them all, I only saw them a few times a year growing up, and now even less.

It wasn’t until I met Chris’s family that I realized quite how much I craved a big, close family. On both his Mom’s and Dad’s sides are some of the most generous, hospitable, loving people I’ve ever met. It’s the kind of family where you can guarantee there will always be someone there to help and support you no matter what your problem is. The kind you look forward to spending holidays with. The kind where you can be utterly yourself and know you’ll be loved despite your flaws.

And, it’s the kind of family that makes me remember just how much I love my own.

And so this Thanksgiving will be unique because I’ll see everyone. By the time this post publishes, I’ll have spent time with my side of the family, Chris’s Mom’s side, and his Dad as well. Plus, Chris and I will be celebrating with the new little family of our own.

It may not be a tradition in the traditional sense, but being with family around the holidays is something I always want to experience. And it’s definitely something I want our son to experience as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image Via

My in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving this year and my parents and brother will also be coming. I love that my parents and Andy’s parents don’t just tolerate each other; they like each other enough to spend a holiday together. I know that this in itself is rare and very special.

The other day, my father-in-law (or as I affectionately call him, DIL – aka, Dad-in-law) asked me if my family has any Thanksgiving traditions. He wanted to make sure that if my family normally does something, or makes something, that it would a part of our holiday together. I thought for approximately one second…

“Hmm. Nope. No traditions.”

It sort of surprised me because I’d never thought about it before. I love a good tradition, but for some reason, not having one on Thanksgiving doesn’t bother me. As long as I’m with people that I love, it’s all good. Eating lots of food is also a bonus.

It’s funny because Andy’s family doesn’t necessarily have a Thanksgiving tradition either, but they are traditional about the food they eat. They don’t like anything “weird” or overly healthy, or as they say, “dietetic.”

I was assigned the duty of making a green bean casserole this year and when I mentioned using a recipe that wasn’t off the back of the French’s French Fried Onions canister, his dad got a little freaked out. It should definitely be interesting food-wise because as the counter to Andy’s family’s classic tastes, we have my parents who are forever on a diet and my brother who is a straight-up vegan.

Oh yeah, and I’m also on a diet, but that’s always up for debate on a holiday dedicated to food.

I guess while I don’t have a “real” Thanksgiving tradition, I can say that I am thankful every single year for what I have.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that anything and everything can be taken away from you very quickly. It’s okay to be ambitious and want more for yourself, but on Thanksgiving, stop thinking ahead for two seconds. Look around and notice everything you have to be thankful for…it might surprise you.

{picture credit: BabyBlog}

 


Registration for the Holiday Council 2012 is open!  21 days of  wrapping up 2012 and dreaming and scheming for 2013 + juicy writing challenges + kick-ass interviews with rockstar women + all the support and camaraderie that you could ever imagine. Want a piece of this? Let’s go!

I’ve noticed something since my little person started kindergarten. At first I was emotionally overwhelmed. I couldn’t stand the fact that she was going to be away from me for the better part of the day. I’m used to being with her pretty much all the time.

Once I got over the initial OHMYGOD, MY BABY IS IN KINDERGARTEN shock, I’ve settled into a more relaxed acceptance of the whole situation. I think all the time we were spending together was making us both a little crazy. {Well me, for sure!}

I have a tendency to be overly emotional, I have impossibly high standards and I know I expect too much from others. When my expectations aren’t met, I can be kind of a pain in the ass.

I work really hard to remain calm and fair with the little person, but that is exhausting! I didn’t realize how much energy it was using up to control my natural tendencies.

Now that we have less time to spend together, I’m enjoying it so much more!

I know that sounds terrible, and before you start judging me – just hear me out. I love my little person more than I could ever articulate to you. I love to see her discovering all about the world – she’s so full of pure joy and delight.

But {yes, BUT!} we had gotten to the point where we weren’t filling our days with joy and delight. I was having all these feelings about what my life was missing and how that could affect her or my parenting. I would worry and berate myself for being selfish and then spiral down into general ickiness.

Mixing an overly sensitive, anxious momma who fears she is royally screwing up her child with a little person who is opinionated, independent and learning to push the limits to the very edge can make for some really difficult days.

Add in the long, cold days of winter or the long, hot days of summer and we spent quite a bit of time in the house. Together. Alone.

We got stir crazy. We got bored, We got sick of each other. And then I felt guilty for feeling like I needed a break from her.

Aren’t moms supposed to be wonderful, nurturing caretakers who always find joy in attending to the needs of their children? I can assure you that not every day looked like that at my house.

Since we’ve settled into the school routine, we’ve rediscovered that joy and relaxed play time that we had been struggling with the past year or so. I have less anxiety about her being away from me all day and I’m less worried about making sure she knows enough to start school.

Her teacher tells me she is right on target for her grade level and I’ve noticed her language, writing and drawing have accelerated dramatically since she started school.

I can’t help but feel a little sad and sentimental when I can see my baby growing up right before my eyes, but I’m so proud of the sweet, enthusiastic little person she is.

I have to admit that I’ve felt guilty for not talking about her more in my posts. I was chosen for Season 7, at least in part, because I was transitioning from full-time momma to the next phase. Naturally, that should include talking about said little person some of the time.

But I crave things that are mine alone. I don’t want being a mom to completely define me. I want to figure myself out so I can be the focused, passionate, fun-loving momma she deserves. {Hopefully you don’t think I’m rude for making this more about me!}

When I was thinking about how much Kaitlyn has grown up in such a short time, it struck me that I’ve had a transformation of my own. I’m nowhere near done with my journey of self-discovery, but having time apart seems to have benefitted us both immensely.

I can’t even express how excited I am about all my recent discoveries. I really hope I can continue on this path because I finally feel like I’m on the right one. Such a great feeling!

I’m still working on losing the guilt. I don’t know how I got to this place where I feel guilty about the way I behave. I’m a good momma to the little person. She is well taken care of, she knows she is loved. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me or maybe I’m letting perceived societal pressure get to me – whatever the reason, I really want to stop with the guilt already.

I would much rather set an example of a strong woman who boldly chased her dreams instead of hiding my authentic self away in favor of being a stepford mom.

Image via: ME!

A couple weeks ago I crossed an item off of my life list – I traveled my happy little rear end to Chicago and ran in the Color Run  – well actually I walked because of my whole chest pain saga, but that’s just a minor detail. My color walk was still so freaking awesome!

What made it even better is that my brother flew in from Texas and my sister and her husband drove up with me to pick him up. We all stayed the night and then got up bright and early Sunday morning to join all the other color runners for the most amazing organized run I’ve ever done.

It really is the Happiest 5K on the Planet!

It had rained the entire night before the 5K, and the ground was seriously wet in the morning. But for those couple of hours we were wandering around downtown Chicago – the weather couldn’t have been much better.

Going through the color zones was just fun – you couldn’t help but smile and get caught up in the moment. We were covered in color from head to toe {even inside of our clothes and shoes we discovered!}, but we were like little kids in a sprinkler or something. So carefree and joy-filled.

Of course there were parts of the trip that didn’t go as well – like the near constant rain, the insane tsunami-like storm that hit while we were lost in downtown Chicago, my annoying chest pain and subsequent 8pm bedtime after we arrived. But those minor hiccups were offset by the many more good parts of the trip.

I can’t begin to express to you how much I love my siblings – they are awesome!

It’s amazing that we get along as well as we do, really. I’m 32 and they are 21 and 22, but somehow it works. We laugh at inappropriate things, act completely ridiculous, make fun of each other nonstop and just generally have a good time.

During the week after the trip, I got to thinking about the weekend and it hit me – these are the moments that I have been missing in my life. I don’t plan many of these trips because I inevitably feel guilty leaving the little person at home, or tell myself I shouldn’t spend too much money on selfish things.

Even though I had been trying to do more things for myself, I was still allowing myself feel guilty about them – like I didn’t deserve to have fun if she wasn’t with me. But not this time! I can honestly say that I had a fabulous time in Chicago – sans guilt!

If only you could see me right now – doing my little happy dance. Granted, it would probably look more like reckless limb flailing, but I assure you it’s dancing!

I’m so excited to discover that I’m giving myself permission to be myself. To have fun and enjoy my life for me and not solely as a momma. I make plenty of memories with my little person – exploring the world, sailing off to far-away make believe lands, and doctoring up more sick stuffed animals than I could ever count.

But the Color Run was for me. Every powdery, colorful, skin-staining minute of it!

I feel like I’ve inched ever so slightly closer to living a life I love. I hope I can continue moving in this direction!

 Image via: ME!

INTRODUCING CLARE:

“Two little pink lines brought me crashing back down to earth.”

 

One day during the summer of 2011, I excitedly emailed Molly with the subject line, “On why I won’t be applying to be a Stratejoy blogger.” Why? Because I thought I had my life figured out. A couple months worth of Joy Juice prompts, a little summer sun, and one delicious Chai tea had me feeling invincible. Quarter Life Crisis? Psh. I had it solved and tidied it away.

Two days later, two little pink lines brought me crashing back down to earth.

In utter emotional shock, I crawled into my husband’s arms and wondered how on earth nine months could be enough to prepare me for being the mother this child deserved (make that eight months – did you know the first 2 weeks of “official” pregnancy are before you’re actually pregnant? Yeah, I had no clue. Add to that the 2 weeks it takes to figure out why your boobs hurt so much, and suddenly you’re holding onto every single day for dear life).

I spent weeks and months journaling. What kind of parent was I going to be? How do I change a diaper? How do I teach a child right from wrong?

I spent many hormonal nights sobbing to my husband about how I was inevitably going to be a bad mother (he had much good advice and many kind, supportive words, but pregnancy hormones make it difficult to listen to any man, especially male obstetricians who confidently yet mistakenly try to tell you that stretch marks are nothing to worry about).

Throughout my pregnancy, I felt guilty and selfish whenever the term “quarter life crisis” crept back into my vocabulary. I couldn’t think about me! I had to figure out how to keep a newborn baby alive! I had to determine just how to raise a child into an adult who wouldn’t be totally messed up!

And then, six days before my April 12 due date, I went into labor. When I first realized I was in labor, I panicked. Holy Shit. This is it. This is real.

After about 22 hours of un-medicated labor, I hit the “transition” period – the period of time before pushing starts. The contractions came one on top of the other without giving me so much as a second to catch my breath. And let me tell you, it’s scary. I was terrified about what came next. I remember telling my husband, who held my hand the whole time, that I can’t do this, I can’t go on. Why did I ever believe I had the strength to do this?

Even if you’ve never given birth, chances are that sounds familiar, right? It sounds just like any transition period at any point in your life. The challenges won’t stop coming, each one knocking you flat on your back. It’s intense. It’s painful. You feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, and you have no idea if and how you’ll ever make it out alive.

But you know what? You push through it anyway. You lean on anyone or anything that’s there to support you, and at the end of it all, new life awaits, whether it’s the warm, blue body of a tiny crying baby, or the awakened, rejuvenated life of your own. And it’s magical.

It took 24 hours of labor and a warm, blue baby boy in my arms to make me realize two key lessons:

First, to be the person someone else needs you to be, you have to become the person you need you to be first.

Second, babies are resilient; they let you make mistakes. When you’re thrown head-first into sleepless nights, dirty diapers, strange breast pumps, and wee morning hours, you stop worrying about how to do it all. You just do it. You push through it.

No, I don’t have it all figured out. And it was ridiculously cocky to think I ever did. I’m still in the process of becoming the person I need myself to be, and my biggest goal is to be a good role model to my son while living life intentionally. I’m so excited to be blogging for Stratejoy because I know this amazing tribe of women [you!] can help hold me accountable for achieving that. No matter what kind of transition we’re all going through, I know we can help each other push through it.

I can’t wait to start connecting with you! Feel free to say hi in the comments below or on Twitter!

 

 

I loved school.  It was so easy to know I did the best.  Either I got an A, or I didn’t.  Either I set the curve, or I didn’t.  Either I did well, or I didn’t.

As a gold-star lover, school fed my desire for outside reassurance.  If I worked hard and dedicated myself to my studies, I earned that A.  Not only that, but I earned my teacher’s respect and gold star, something I clung to and used to bouy my self esteem.

I was addicted to good grades.

Every B felt like a kick in the stomach, knocking all the air out of my lungs.  A B?  Bs are so…average.  Bs mean satisfactory.  I never wanted to be satisfactory.  Where’s the accomplishment in that?

I remember my complete and total meltdown after my freshman year of high school when one solitary B+ marred my perfect A record.  I went into a funk, lying on the floor of my bedroom, listening to Matchbox 20 blare out of my stereo speakers, wondering where I went oh, so, wrong in World Civilizations 1 that resulted in a B+.

Another time I was so hellbent on showing my teacher how much I learned that instead of answering the question as posed on my history final, I proceeded to write an essay explaining and analyzing everything from that year in minute detail.  When I finished scribbling page after page of wisdom, I reveled in my academic prowess.  So when all I got back on that paper was the dreaded SEE ME, I just about died.

Why didn’t you just answer the question? my teacher – my favorite teacher – asked me.

Why?  Why did I go above and beyond?  HAVE YOU MET ME?

I don’t just do anything.  I do it big and crazy and above average.

Of all my high school memories, those two incidents stand out more than awkward dances and pointless fights with friends over stupid stuff.  And that makes me sad.

I don’t have many memories of fun, teenager times of sillness.  Because I spent all my time trying to be the best.  And it cost me nothing but heartache.

In some ways, as a toddler-mom, I feel I’m getting the chance to re-do that child part of myself that got lost in seeking As and perfection.  My boss, a three-foot-tall, animal cracker eating tyrant, doesn’t give out many sparkling reviews.  And she gives me no time to make anything perfect.  She only gives me 10 seconds to figure out what I’m going to do and act accordingly.  I make mistakes often, and I make up everything as I go along.

And we also just have fun.  Fun without an agenda.  We do stuff for the heck of it.  Not because it’s in a parenting handbook or approved by the Academy of Pediatrics.  Just about nothing in my day turns out perfectly.

I struggled as a mother when Kate was a newborn because I kept searching for someone to give me that A at the end of the day.  To prove I was the best parent.  But in parenting, there are no As.  And, really, just keeping that kid alive and living to see another day is as close to 100% as one can get.

It’s tough for me to let go of those gold stars.  Perfection.  Striving for 100%.  Staying as above average as possible.  But what’s average, anyway?  And what’s wrong with doing just enough?  Just good enough could be just perfect.

 

How do you be a mom while also being someone’s daughter?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, as Kate just turned twoMy grandma needs mothering and is no longer able to be a mother or a grandmother.  I’m growing older and so are my parents.

My parents are part of that sandwich generation, that set of people who are parents to their parents and still the parents of of their young adult/grown children.  Where does that leave them?  Caretaking and caregiving.  And also grandparents.  A weird mashup of generations.

Where does that leave me in our family dynamic?

In some ways, I’m still in need of mothering.  I don’t always know what to do about toddlers running a fever or what to do when my garbage disposal won’t run or choosing matte or eggshell finish for my walls or finding myself in a relationship dilemma only a mother can help me through.

But I’m also a mother.  I tend to the boo-boos and make daily parenting decisions and do all those adult things like pay bills and call the insurance company.

And what about my mother?  Who takes care of her?

As a child and a teenager, my relationship with my mom was mostly one-sided.  I needed her for emotional support and guidance.  She provided.  She didn’t share her struggles, her challenges.  As her child, I probably couldn’t have understood or maybe it would have been too much of a heavy burden.

But now I’m an adult, her adult child.  And our relationship has changed and needs to change.  I can take it now, the heavy stuff.  And she needs to share.

We had a conversation recently about communication, as adult child to parent, how sometimes I need her to check in with me and sometimes I need her to let me be.  And how she needs to share with me how she feels frustrated dealing with an aging parent, challenging issues at work, how she and my dad plan to go about retirement.

Part of me feels itchy and uncomfortable, seeing my mom as a person with her own struggles and challenges.  Part of me only wants to view her and my Dad as Parents.  Those People Who Know Everything.  Seeing her as someone apart from my mother is a strange realization.

It feels a little scary.  When I’m in a scrape, I always think my mom will know what to do.  But seeing her as a fellow woman and mother and wife makes me wonder what if she doesn’t?  What then?  Who will offer me advice and tell me everything’s going to work out?

But over this past year, as I’ve found myself more comfortable with motherhood and settled into accepting that the dementia taking over my grandmother’s mind isn’t going to change, I’ve morphed from my parent’s child to a companion down the road of life challenges.  When I was a child, we couldn’t really be friends.  But now, as adults, we are confidants, partners and allies in support of each other.

My Mom might not always have the magic words for me.  And I won’t always know how to help her.  But we can be there for each other.  Support each other.  And no matter what, she’ll always be my mom.

 

I’m the mother of a two-year-old.

How’d that happen?

I feel like just yesterday I was crying at breastfeeding support group and wondering when I’d ever sleep again.

Hmm…I’m still wondering about that sleep thing.

I always wanted to be a mother.  No should-I or shouldn’t-I feelings.  But what I wasn’t prepared for was how emotionally frazzled I’d feel.

I tried taking everyone else’s advice before I learned to listen to my heartLost and found myself and lost again and re-found my identity.

Parenting challenged everything I thought I knew about myself, my beliefs, how I saw my every day life.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s been the most rewarding and frightening job I’ve ever held.

So tomorrow I am the mother of a two-year-old.  An opinated, boots-wearing-in-80-degree-weather, applesauce loving, dancing enthusiast two-year-old with the fierest giggle I’ve ever heard.

The other day as I watched Kate put together a puzzle and name all the animal pieces complete with sound effects, I wondered, what have I learned this year?

Everything.  And absolutely nothing.

Kids are tricky like that.

Okay, I’ve wised up in a couple ways.  Here’s what I’ve learned about myself, parenting, and life over the past 12 months:

1.  Messes are so not a big deal.  I let Kate do all sorts of stuff in the name of fun.  I never thought I’d be that kind of mother.  Let my child paint with pudding?  Why yes, why not?  We rip up magazines, paint and douse her creations with glitter.  She refuses to wear bibs, and I don’t fight it.  Sometimes I have to change her outfit after every meal.  And I don’t care.  And sometimes I let it go and don’t care that we trapse around town with blueberry guts and ketchup smeared shirts.  She’s a kid.

2. Go with the resistance.  She wants to wear long johns and boots.  And it’s 80 degrees?  Fine.  She wants to wear purple shorts and a sparkly red shirt?  Cool.  She wants to eat applesauce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Great.  I let her wear pajamas to the park, watch The Fresh Beat Band two times in a row so I can go to the bathroom alone and shove something to eat down my throat, and let her help me put the laundry away even though it takes me twice as long.  I save my efforts for things that matter to me: holding my hand in the parking lot, getting in her carseat, saying “please” and “thank you.”  The other stuff just isn’t worth it.

3. Every day is a new day.  When I worked camp, I passed on this piece of advice to my fellow counselors.  Don’t hold a grudge against any kid.  No matter what they did the day before.  Treat each day as a new day.  Give them another chance.  And another.  And another.  Treat every day with them as a clean slate.

4. Take each day hour to hour (or minute to minute).  I’m a total planner.  My idea of a good time is sitting down with my paper planner and Google calendar/tasks and organizing my days with no room for any variations.  Toddlers barrel right through those neatly organized plans with a fistful of cheezey puffs and furry.  It’s okay to make plans.  But leave room for error.  And even more room to allow for all those unexpected things that are just part of being a member of this world.

As the mom of a two-year-old, I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously.  It can be fun to do the unexpected, be silly, and eat apple sauce for dinner.  Why not?

Radical acceptance has a best friend.  And that best friend is self compassion.

While I’m all about my newfound appreciation for radical acceptance, I’m still finding it doesn’t quite get me in the frame of mind I need to be in to accomplish my goals and feel good about myself.

This is how I think:

Ugh, Kate won’t stop fussing.

I’m getting annoyed.

It’s only 8:45 a.m.

Today is not going well.

I don’t like today.

Today makes me want to rip all my hair out and scream so loud the people in the next town hear me.

She’s still fussing.

I’m getting beyond frustrated.

Why isn’t today going right?

Wait, wasn’t yesterday kind of like this, too?

I think it was.

And now today seems worse that yesterday.

So every day is getting worse?

Yes!

Everyday is worse than the day before!

It’s because I’m the world’s most terrible and horrible mother.

That has to be why.

Not only that, but I’m a terrible person, too.

I never accomplish anything worthwhile.

Never.

That book I want to write?  That didn’t happen yesterday.  I should have written an entire book during Kate’s nap time.

But instead I went through Google Reader, cleaned up the chicken nugget debris off Kate’s high chair, and thought about replying to emails.

That proves it.  I never accomplish anything.

I am a worthless person.

And there you have it: The Sarah Dispair Cycle.

If I don’t accomplish a certain number of things I decided are worthwhile, then, therefore, I am worthless.  As one could imagine, my list of approved accomplishments are far and away more than any person could accomplish in one day.  Especially a person who cares for a toddler 12 hours a day.  And accomplishing anything with a toddler is akin to trying to operate a motor vehicle while blindfolded and one arm tied behind your back while Elmo’s World plays at peak volume.

So why am I so hard on myself’?

I think it’s because that’s all I know.

When I was a student, being hard on myself served me real well.  It made me motivated, encouraged me to do better and be better.  Set the curve.  Collect those As.  I told myself you can do better and I could because it was between me and my textbook.  That’s it.

Now, there’s miles and miles of life stuff between me and what I want to do.  There’s the toddler and the husband and the dog and the 1958 rambler.  It’s not just me.  Life’s much more complicated and messy.  My time is not my own.

But even though Logical Sarah knows this, that working within the confines of my current life stage doesn’t allow me to write a poignent memoir in a day, Emotional Sarah comes swooping in with the judgements.

Oh, how Emotional Sarah can beat herself up.  You didn’t use your time effectively today.  What’s that, you needed a mental health break after playing at the park for three hours?  Pshhh!  Please.  You don’t deserve a break.  Every minute you aren’t spending with Kate, you must devote to your writing/making something from Pinterest/all that email.  And if you don’t do it all?  Well, then you’d better be ready to accept a big fat zero for today!

That’s kind of rough, huh?

But that’s how I think!  And it’s so wearing.  It doesn’t make me want to do better.  It makes me want to hide in my bedroom under the covers and hope Emotional Sarah can’t find me.

When I told this to my mom, she asked me if I would say those things to a friend of mine.  Would I tell a good friend of mine that she wasn’t doing enough?  That she wasn’t worthwhile because she didn’t accomplish a major life goal in a day?

Absolutely not.  I’d tell my friend she’s doing the best she can.  That not everyday can be filled with major accomplishments.

And I do tell my friends just that.  Seeing as I am the Type-A type, I’ve got heaps of Type-A friends who are also judging themselves by their To Accomplish lists.  I tell them all the time: be gentle with yourself.

So maybe it’s about time I turn that self compassion inwards.

Maybe it’s time I work on some fierce love.

If being mean to myself hasn’t made me feel like a more accomplished woman, then maybe it’s not the answer.  But being kind and loving towards myself?  I think that could be just the ticket.

 

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

Such a tiny heartbeat.

Today I’m babysitting a kitten. Not just a kitten, but a baby-infant-little-pipsqueak-of-a-kitten. Apparently some person found her, dropped her off at the local liquor store, and my friend took her home and is now bottle feeding her every two hours.

It’s strange having to care for something so completely vulnerable and unable to take care of itself. It makes me feel incredibly responsible and attentive since I had to slumber in a half awake state for about ten minutes so my cat wouldn’t find it and squash it… or eat it… or play mommy to it (though this option is highly unlikely). I mean, this kitten is pocket-sized. She just topples around, her little limbs just learning how to lift up and move in coordination. This little gal will grow though and eventually she’ll be like my cat, immediately walking over to the litter box to pee instead of urinating on my lap, walking around wherever it desires without needing frequent cuddling, I guess we’re all that way though. I know I’ve been in circumstances where I would be pretty close to “useless” if I didn’t have someone watching my back or wouldn’t be able to get anything done if I didn’t have an extra hand reaching out to grab on to all the falling pieces.

That’s pretty much what my week’s been like. For 14 days straight I had to work at the coffee shop. I’ve forgotten about burnout on a job. I mean, about 5 of those days were prepping and running a giant catering order for Yale’s pre-frosh days. By the end of it I was completely exhausted and I know I would have been even more distressed and pissed off if I didn’t have coworkers to clean up some of the coffee cambros and milk containers once I brought them back after hours of brewing coffee, running the order to its location, and returning everything to the the store.

This week I also got a call from my aunt offering to help out with the wedding. I still need to figure out what I’d like for her to help with, but the fact that she offered, especially since I’ve been a tad overwhelmed with wedding-planning makes my heart radiate with smiles. I think I sometimes forget that people enjoy helping out and that people are often way more compassionate and considerate than I give them credit for. (I blame this on living on the East Coast). Living out west, I feel like I was always gladly offering assistance to my siblings and friends and they were always helping me. It felt more communal.

During my senior year in high school I took several advanced courses and wore myself out with the hours of homework I had to do every night. I spent a lot of nights crying so I could get into a good school. A good chunk of the time my mom had to tell me to slack off. I usually didn’t, but sometimes I took a personal day or two off from school. There was one particular time I remember being so stressed out with all I had to do (this is obviously a common scenario in my life) and I was sitting on the couch and I purposefully feel backwards shrieking “This isn’t life, this is death at an early age” as I pulled a blanket over my head and wept.

For all my dramatics, my mother declares it my Anne of Green Gables moment. I can be a drama queen, not usually, but if you know me really well you’ll see it. I wouldn’t have gotten by if I didn’t have my mom telling me it would be fine and I didn’t need to be so hard on myself. I would have been even more of a wreck if one of my friends, even with her own ridiculously busy schedule, didn’t offer her help at every turn, help that I gratefully accepted.

Sometimes I have trouble accepting help. I admit it. I’ll also admit the following: I take anti-depressants. I’ve had trouble with depression since I was about nine years old and when I was fourteen I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. For about a year I was dead to the world. Nothing seemed real, I cried every day, I thought frequently of dying, and I was absolutely lost.

Even thinking about it now makes me a little anxious and a little bummed since such a hefty portion of my adolescence was spent in my own personal hell. I’m glad I went through it though. I’m glad I had time to sort through a good chuck of  life’s quandaries. It was during that time that I came to many conclusions regarding my own personal values. For example, that’s when I realized that I believe that each faith has it’s own validity and each is just a different path to the same end. It’s when I realized in the importance of ceaseless compassion. It’s when I came to recognize what Sarah calls Radical Acceptence.

If I didn’t have my family to calm me down in the middle of the night, to let me cry into their lap as they just listened and tried to offer words of advice, to take me to a counselor to get me the help I so desperately needed, I might not even be alive now because of self-negligence or suicide. I was so completely vulnerable at that time and I was very much reliant on others.

We need each other. As human beings we require one another for support, for comfort, for care. Even if we think we’re absolutely independent, at one time in our lives we’ve needed another being to sustain us.

Life certainly comes full circle. I need to keep that in perspective. I need to realize that sometimes I’m in the place to properly care for other beings with my whole soul and at other times, I desperately need others to help care for me… and sometimes that’s okay.

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

 

 Me in London.  (Please note, I’m pregnant in this picture.  I did not in fact eat too many crumpets.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me in Capri.

 

 

I do lots of stuff other people tell me they’d never do.

Start my own writing business.

Become a group fitness instructor.

Take on motherhood.

I lead a group of over 400 members for my local moms group.  Spill my guts here on Stratejoy and on my own blogGo to blog conferences alone, without knowing anyone, rooming by myself and have every bad thing I thought would happen to me, happen to me.

It’s true, I get nervous and anxious about those things.  But blinded by determination, I just hold my nose and jump in the deep end.

You would think I’m sort of adventurous.

But I’m not.

I’ll strap on a mic and lead a group of 25 people through a step class and go right up and introduce myself to moms I meet at the park without thinking twice.

But I won’t travel.

I’ve never been much of a traveler.  I prefer my own bed and my own house and my own coffee maker and my own routine.  As much as I like to change things up and take on new challenges in my life, I don’t like to mess up my schedule.

Dan loves to travel.

Since he travels for work on a regular basis, nothing about traveling phases Dan.  He’s an expert packer, moves through security like he’s preforming a graceful dance, rents cars and sleeps through the night easily in any hotel room.

Not me.

After Dan and I got married, he planned this elaborate honeymoon with stops in Capri, Rome, and the South of France.  I didn’t participate in any part of the planning.  I didn’t want to know about it because I knew it would freak me out.  So I laid out my stuff and let Dan pack it all away and tried not to think about it.

Once we got to Capri, I did a little better.  I took pictures, tried to relax, eventually was able to sleep even though the bed wasn’t anything like my bed at home.

But when we arrived in Rome, I wanted to go home.  We’d been gone a couple of days, and the spontaneity of travel wore on me.  I got tired of finding places to get a reliable dinner, sick of living out of a suitcase, craving my routine.

Since I knew I couldn’t just go home – and I really should enjoy the wonder that is Italy – I stuck it out and made it through the rest of the trip.  I absolutely enjoyed myself.  But there was a part of me that felt relieved to get home.

Dan’s tried to get me to accompany him on various business trips, get me to plan weekend get aways.  But I won’t do it.  The only other time he got me to go away was two years ago when he bribed me with an iPod Touch if I agreed to go to London and Paris with him.

What kind of a girl needs a bribe to take a fun trip with her husband?

Me.  Miss Routine.

Anyway, this lack of adventurous spirit is not good for me.  While I usually subscribe to the do what’s best for you and don’t force yourself mentality, I think this issue deserves an astrisk.  There’s a difference between a genuine feeling of concern and an unwillingness to go anywhere because you prefer your own coffee.

Travel feels scary spontaneous to me.  I’m don’t do stuff on a whim.  I prefer to know how things are going to go.  With travel, planes are delayed, hotel rooms get mixed up, and for someone who is directionally challenged, not know where I am, specifically, gets to me.

So while I can’t change who I am at my core, being more adventurous is on my list of Things To Do.  I want to get away because, really, my everyday mommy routine can border on the mundane.  Everyday is starting to look the same.  Like my own personal Groundhog’s Day.

The thing about travel that I do like is the feeling of freshness.  No matter how much I dreaded the trip, I always come back feeling renewed and inspired.  But since I won’t make travel part of life, I don’t get out enough, and those feel-good feelings wash away fast.

I promised Dan I’d help him plan a weekend get away.  Like, soon.  I don’t know the when or where.  But I do know why.  Every so often I need to get away from what I know, get a new perspective, change up my view so I can come back to my every day life with renewed zeal.

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

The first eighteen years of my life were spent transversing the I-285 between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado. Tucked in a backseat with my younger brother and sister amongst blankets, snacks, novels, notebooks, sketchbooks, a tool box of colored pencils, and sometimes a puppy or two, our semi-nomadic existence was simply a part of life. On the southern side of the NM/CO border was my life of school, piano lessons, dance classes, and hanging out with friends.

On the northern side was a life of waking up with the dawn, playing rummy with my grandparents, and doing ranch work. The two lives coexisted, braiding themselves together, into my childhood, my adolescence, my youth. Who can blame me when I say that I’m from “Colorado and New Mexico”? Both places created me. This was my life.

I suppose I can credit my family’s migratory lifestyle with two things:

1) My Constant Wanderlust

and

2) Being Close to my Family.

Looking back on it, I cherish those moments spending time in the moment playing games with my parents and sibs, chatting with them, and of course… telling stories.

One of my favorite questions to ask when I was a youngster was “Mom, Dad, can you tell us a story of when  you were little?” Then, for two hours, they would deliver words into our open ears. My mom would tell us about growing up in Italy and stealing peaches from their neighbor. My dad would tell us about growing up with six siblings and running sheep through the house when he was angry with his eldest sister. Other times my father would create legends of the evil Mr. O’Malley, an evil fictional man who lived next door to him while he was growing up and ate animals and once even tried to eat him.

I come from a family of storytellers, weavers of tales, connoisseurs of living lives that breed the inspiration for magic realism. On my great-grandfather’s 90th birthday, he told of how his grandfather Felipe de Jesús was kidnapped from Monterrey, Mexico and traded for a sack of flour to the Espinosa family in southern Colorado. In 2004, 12 of my family members ventured to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse. That’s when I found out I’m Ute, went on an eventful college tour with the whole gang, and accidentally forgot my Uncle at a gas station in the middle of Wyoming.

Then there was that whole period in high school after September 11th when my parents decided to stop flying. Instead we took to the old railroad  gallivanting across the country on the Amtrak from Lamy to Los Angeles, from Lamy to Chicago to Philadelphia. We had a mission to set foot in every state before my aunt’s family and we managed to get to the 50% mark before I left to college.

It’s no wonder that I feel the need to be on the move. Up until about a year ago, I could only stay still for around 50 days before I felt the itch to go somewhere, anywhere. I was addicted to changing scenery and experiences that would abrupt my routine.

It’s been far too long since I’ve been on a good road trip involving excellent company, car-dancing to crazy music, and playing silly word games amidst the car stops at unusual locales and visiting friends.

But…… drumroll please…..

On July 18th, my fiance, kitten, and I will begin a cross country journey which will take us from our current homestead of New Haven, CT to my family’s ranch in Antonito, CO for our wedding and then finally to Portland, OR where we plan on ending up.

I couldn’t be more stoked.

This is my 7th year on the East Coast and I’m ready to bid farewell and start anew. It’ll be exciting. I know I’m the type of person that when I begin something, I like a period of meditative time to place myself in a mindset to embrace what’s coming my way. That’s my favorite way to start off on the right foot. It’s how I began college. It’s how I started off in Connecticut when I first met my fiance. At this juncture it’s exactly what I need before getting married, moving, starting a new job, and creating a new community.

I relish in the newness of it all. I savor the thought of the two of us packing up our little red car, sitting down, and taking off from East to West, leaving behind one chapter of life and slowly turning the page into another journey.

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

Here’s a bit of Life Math:
• I’m 29 years old, and my husband is 30.
• We have stable finances and we own a condo.
• We have been married for almost four years now, cohabitating for six, and annoying lovebirds for eight and a half.

Love + marriage… Yet there is something missing from the equation, per the infamous playground rhyme.

Baby.

And as if I hadn’t noticed this fact, we have had many a well-meaning relative or overly-nosy acquaintance (tomato, tomahto) inquire when we’re having kids. We’ve been told that a grandchild would make the perfect birthday/Christmas present, and one particularly prolific cousin suggested we take over the childbearing duties so she could take a rest. A few more even predicted that we will be coming home from Ireland with quite a bit more than new passport stamps.

But what people don’t see are the hidden parts of the equation. The vast majority don’t know that I have an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which comes with a host of fun symptoms including hormonal imbalances, difficulty losing weight, acne, hair growth issues, and it possibly puts me at a greater risk for heart disease, uterine cancer, and diabetes later in life. PCOS also happens to be a very common cause of infertility.

Last year, I sat in a flimsy paper gown in a cold examination room, staring at my feet while a doctor told me that my 40-50 day cycles and irregular blood panel most likely mean that I will not be able to get pregnant without medical intervention. I think you could probably hear the sound of my sinking heart in that moment. All those years I was on birth control pills? Those pills did a better job hiding my PCOS symptoms than actually preventing me from getting pregnant. And now the doctor just wanted to put me on a different pill to try and make it happen.

We don’t have enough evidence to label ourselves “infertile” yet. We’re not actively trying to have a baby right now in that ovulation-testing/temperature-taking/legs-up-the-wall-post-sex kind of way, but we’re not NOT trying. So I’ve found myself in this odd land of limbo, where I feel too much and know too little.

At this stage of life, I seem to know more people who are pregnant or have kids than that are childless/child-free. The internet only amplifies this; it seems like everyday I see a new “We’re expecting!” Facebook status or blog post. While I smile and congratulate with genuine joy and love, I do start to long for what they have. They make it seem so… easy.

It sucks to feel frustrated by your own body. I mean, we’re talking about one of life’s most basic biological functions. And I feel sort of broken. The best I can do right now is adjust my diet and exercise (or turn to hormone drugs, but I’m personally not ready to go there yet, if at all) and then wait and see if that takes care of the symptoms to give me at least a glimmer of hope. But hope is scary in itself, because it makes me vulnerable to the disappointment that might come after it.

It’s taken me a LONG time to reach this point where I know I want a family someday. I fought through baby ambivalence a few years ago, and it almost brought Mark and me to an impasse. With a little space and some serious self-exploration, I discovered that my apprehension was actually insecurity and a fear of parenting stemming from my experiences as a child of divorce and a tenuous relationship with my father.

Now, with a wonderful man beside me as we stand on the secure foundation of our partnership, I do dream of a family. Mark does as well. Every now and again, he’ll utter the most heartfelt sentiments, like when he told me that he hopes we have a daughter someday so that he can be the kind of dad to her that so many of the women in his life didn’t have. I want us to have that. I want to be able to give him that.

Deep down, I know we will have a family one day. Even if it means a less traditional route to parenting such as adoption, which is a no less worthy path to creating a family. But if we choose adoption, I know I will still go through my own grieving process for our inability to create life and experience pregnancy and childbirth firsthand.

Until very recently, I’ve been very tight-lipped about my health condition and our potential struggles– after all, it seems so personal and intimate. At first, I shrugged off our family’s prodding about babies. But the more I learn about my condition, the more their casual comments hurt me (but of course they had no idea, since I wasn’t talking about it). It’s often too easy to take pregnancy and childbirth for granted and assume that everyone wants to or is able to have a child. Once you hear a couple is expecting, you don’t think about what may have preceded that point– and for some couples (probably more than we realize), it may have meant tears, confusion, treatments, heartbreak, and pain.

I’d like to be a part of the dialog of people who opens up about the fertility struggle as we face it– and I don’t just mean anonymously on PCOS or infertility message boards. If this is going to be a part of my life journey, then I don’t want to hide it. I don’t plan on over-sharing, but I think there would be a lot of value in saying, “I’m going through this hard thing, and I could use your support.” I’ve been so inspired by the openness of other women in similar positions (even some that are a part of the Stratejoy community), and I hope that my own honesty will help make others feel less alone and help with awareness of fertility issues among those who haven’t experienced it.

I suppose it’s appropriate that I’m thinking about this issue as we approach Mother’s Day. I not only think about all the wonderful mothers out there in the world, but also acknowledge and honor all the women who dream of having a child someday. I think about all the ways we nurture each other as women, regardless of offspring.

So I say, Happy Mother’s Day to ALL the women who have mothered, mentored, nurtured, consoled, and supported another person, regardless of whether they themselves are mamas or not. You all inspire me to remain open and loving as I face the journey ahead.

{Images via joshfassbind.com and DazT}

I never pictured myself the entreprenurial type.  The idea of striking out and doing anything on my own felt painfully uncomfortable.  I don’t know anything about running a business.  How could any take me seriously?

I’m a super rule follower.  That’s probably why I ended up with a government major and a government job.  The government provides tons of manuals and rules and requirements.  You don’t have to come up with anything yourself.  In fact, it would best if you didn’t.

But it turns out I wasn’t so well suited to cubicle work.

After Kate was born and Dan and I decided I’d stay home with her, I not-so-secretly found myself gleeful over getting to leave the workforce.  Not that motherhood doesn’t offer it’s own set of challenges.  Really, it should come with combat pay.  But motherhood wouldn’t require me to input data into spreadsheets that I didn’t understand or care about.

So I quit my job and made motherhood my full time job.  But that didn’t feel that great either.  I needed something else, something more to get back to my identity and the Sarah I knew before she was a wife and a mother.

In the height of the loneliness and identityless feelings, I looked back on all my previous jobs.  Did I want to go back to work full time?  Where?  Back to a job like all the other jobs I left?

When I thought back to my employment history, it read like a textbook case of a misplaced girl with a liberal arts BA and public policy Masters.  And nothing about those jobs said “Sarah.”  They only said “traditional path.”

Since I’m a rule follower, I assumed that traditional path was the only path.  The only right path.  There could be no other way.  You don’t just make your own way!  That would break about 565,598,716,894 rules in my Good Girl Playbook.

But I finally saw what all those jobs didn’t have in common.  Anything I loved doing.

It was all rote, paperworking stuff, Excel-filled, jammed printer trauma drama.  Nothing I did felt important or meaningful.  I’m pretty sure no one was interested in my thoughts and ideas.

Writing, sharing, storytelling.  That’s the stuff I love.  I started my blog because work crushed my soul.  So after I left the traditional work force, I wanted to more with my writing.

But I was scared.

I didn’t get a degree in writing.  Or blogging.  Or social media.  Or creative endeavors.

Who was I to call myself a writer?

But I knew I didn’t want to go back to anything I’ve done before.  So maybe it was time to do my own thing.

Coming up with something I loved to do while still being Kate’s mom presented a challenge.  I still wanted to stay home with her.  But I needed something outside motherhood that made me feel good about myself.

So I started toying with the idea of freelancing.  Freelancing is a tough road.  One just doesn’t decide to be a freelancer and sit back while publications vie for one’s writing.  It would require putting myself out there and selling myself, two things I don’t find particularly comfortable.

I almost quit when I realized I would need to write pitches and send them to editors.  Unsolicited.  And say I’m the best writer to take on that pitch.

Oftentimes I find myself falling back into these old constructs where I decide I can’t fully embrace this newer, stronger version of myself because that’s not how I’ve always seen myself.  I’ve fallen all over the less-than-confident spectrum throughout my life.  I’ve told myself, oh I could never do that, for no reason other than I just decided I could never be good enough.

Owning my talents and skills is not my best thing.  And telling other people about my skills and talents?  No, thanks.

But after becomming part of the Stratejoy community, I saw these other young women who admitted, yes, it’s scary to put yourself out there and do new things, but what they have to give is meaningful and valueable and so worth celebrating.

So I decided to take a risk and pursue freelancing with everything I had.  I made a website.  Contacted publications.  Pitched articles.

Sometimes I heard a thanks, but no thanks.  Sometimes the editors didn’t email me back at all.  But one time I got back a yes.  And that one yes was all I needed to start owning my new path.

My first article came out in Washington Parent Magazine this month.  Seeing my name in print just about blows my mind.

When people used to ask me what I did, I used to mumble and fumble around for words and say oh, I’m just a stay at home mom.  But now when people ask me about myself, I say with confidence, I’m a writer.  I blog.  I freelance.  And I’m a mom, too.

Setting up my own rule book?  Yeah, it feels pretty good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandma, me, and Kate at three months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister, Megan, Kate at twelve months, and my Grandma.

For the third time that evening she asked me where I live.

You know where I live, Grandma.  Same place I’ve lived for a long time now.  With Dan and Kate.  The house with the black shutters?  Remember how my daffodils are coming up?  We talked about that.

My family moved to Virginia the summer before my 8th grade year.  We picked a house five minutes down the road from my Grandma.  She’d been a widower for a while by then, still living in a house much too big for one person.  But she kept herself busy, worked a couple of hours a week.

Middle school was a rough time for me.  I was the new girl with a mouth full of braces and curvier than my narrow-hipped friends.  And my parents and I got into it with the usual teenage angst stuff that ended with me slamming my door and it coming off the hinges as punishment.

But I had an ally.

My Grandma Rosemary, my mom’s mom, and for whom I get the Rosemary in Sarah Rosemary, became my confidant.

I’d call her up when my mom refused to buy me the latest and greatest jeans, and she’d drive on over in her white Subaru and take me shopping and out to lunch.

After school I’d walk over and she’d pour me a diet Coke and offer me her signature, baked-to-a-crisp, chocolate oatmeal cookies while I whinned about mean middle school girls and how my parents didn’t understand me.

When I got my driver’s license, she let me drive her all over town.  Whenever my parents said no because they were in a hurry, I knew I could count on my Grandma.  She’d hand over her keys without me asking and away we’d go.  She never cared where we went, hasseled me over my following distance, or braced herself when approaching a stop sign.

One time my parents were out of town, so my sister and I spent the night at my Grandma’s.  I needed to get up early for my morning shift at the vet, so I jumped into my parent’s van at the top of my Grandma’s curvy driveway.

It was dark.  I was a new driver.  Backing up was not my best thing.

Misjudging the path down the driveway, I veered too far to the left, smashing into a fire hydrant.

I slammed the van into park and got out to assess the damage.  I broke the tail light.  Bits and pieces of reflective red plastic littered the grass.

My Grandma padded down the driveway in her dog-chewed slippers and picked up the largest piece of tail light.  Maybe we can glue it back together she said.

She told me she’d take care of it, just to get back in the car and go onto work.  I spent the day in knots, wondering just how my parents planned to kill me.  When I got back to my Grandma’s house she said she had a plan.

This is how it’s going to go she said.  I’m going to call your dad and say I did it.

I was pretty sure letting my Grandma take the fall for me would rank me up there as one of the Worst Grandchildren in History, so I told her thanks, but no thanks, to let me face my parent’s wrath myself.

She nodded and started dialing my Dad’s number.  When he answered she put on her best gruff voice and said now Michael, Sarah has something to tell you, and you better not yell at her.  It’s not her fault.  She’s only 16.

I got in pretty big trouble for that broken tail light.  And I shelled $80 for the repair.  But my Grandma softened the blow.

But now, when I look into her eyes, I see symptons of the disease taking over her mind, her thoughts.  I repeat the same answers over and over again.  Calmly explain remember, we had to sell your car when she calls me up and asks what happened to her Subaru.  Print out a list of family members and friend’s names, phone numbers, and birthdays in size 100 font to tape up on her fridge.

My Grandmother’s 85.  But it feels like she left me years ago.  She gets frustrated and angry.  Upset with herself, my mother, me, the cashier at CVS.  Doesn’t understand this world we live in.

When I suffered through my mini-teenage crisis, my Grandma came to my rescue.  Now, at this quarterlife crisis stage, I can’t call her up to moan about feeling lonely in motherhood or complain about Dan’s travel schedule because I’d have to remind her who Dan is.

It’s almost as if we’re both moving through a life crisis, her at the end of her life and me, in so many ways, just beginning.  When I brace her for a hug, I wish her mind would come back and she’d be my confidant, help me through my QLC with her sage-y grandma-isms.  But I know she won’t.  So I’ll help her.  I’ll keep reminding her, repeating answers, filling those gaps in her memory to keep her spirit alive.

 

Some days I do well.

I take care of the house.  Put away all the laundry.  Plan dinner.  Keep Kate happy.  Take time to blog.  Write.  Think about me and my path.

And some days I don’t do well.

I’m fed up with motherhood by 10:00 a.m.  Don’t go to the grocery or plan a dinner for several nights in a row.  I can’t keep up with the house, my wood floors speckled with goldfish cracker crumbs, crayon wrappers, sippy cups.  There’s no time for me.  No thinking space.  No self-care.  No writing, socializing, centering.

Those days are my dark days.  When I enter the what-am-I-doing and I’m-a-terrible-mother-wife-dog owner-person spiral.

But I know I can do better.  It’s just going to require a lot of putting myself out there, a good deal of faith in the process, and a whole lot of self love.

I’m taking small steps here and there to get back to the Sarah I knew before marriage and motherhood and grown up responsibilities that came on fast and furious.

I thought back to what I love to do, pre-everything.

Write.

Share.

Teach.

And how I could put all those parts together into something that was workable for me as a mother, me as a wife, and me, as, well, me.

So I started putting a little plan into motion that got me back to my writing roots.  In January I started pitching publications with story ideas.  I started taking my writing craft seriously.  Got deeper into blogging.  Went to my first blogging conference.

I also want to work on this part of me that longs to connect, share with others.  Motherhood, while a lot of things, is a lonely enterprise.  So I thought about what else I loved, and realized it was right in front of me.  I’ve been taking group fitness classes for years.  But I never thought about actually teaching group fitness.  When the thought first crept into my mind, I thought, no way, no way could I get up in front of a group of people and lead a class.

But then I thought, why not me?  So without giving myself time to think too hard, I signed up for a step aerobics training, spent a weekend stepping my heart out, and received the highest score possible, advancing myself onto the next round in the process.

All these things are wins.  The writing.  The conferences.  The training.  The tiny plan I had that snowballed into more than I thought I could ever acheive at this phase in my life.

But even when I feel I’m making strides, that crisis feeling pervades my thoughts.

Is this path finally the right path?

How will I know?

I think I am figuring things out…but am I really?

What if things don’t work out?

What if all this is a big mistake?

What if I fail?

What if, what if, what if?

Even though I’ve created a plan and set the wheels in motion to get back to my identity and myself, I still feel cautious, timid about where I’m headed.  I’m not completely confident in myself and what I need to do.  And I struggle to even share and rejoice in what I’ve accomplished so far.  I barely manged to squeak out this post because I hesitate to put my big goals and acheivements out there for fear I’ll end up on my face the next day.

But then I thought, hey, isn’t that why I’m here, at Stratejoy?  To share and learn and be supported through this quarterlife crisis?  So I can share all those good things I’m working on and get support when I’m feeling stuck and low on confidence.

Over the next five months, I’ll share those good things and those not-so-good things.  How I’m managing to take care of myself admist motherhood and marriage.  My progress on my writing goals.  And my process of becoming a group fitness instructor.  But above all, I hope to find that confidence I lost when all my major life transitions landed me in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory.

I’m really into fresh starts.  And I believe we can all have a fresh start anytime we want it.  So I’m declaring a fresh start.  And I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

sarah bagley

I started my career in county government as a camp counselor.  Charged with a dozen five-year-olds, I spent my summer leading sing-a-longs, helping chubby fingers hold paint brushes, and making sure no one drowned at the local pool.

I loved everything about that job.  The kids ate me up, vying to sit in my lap, wanting to know if I could move in with them and their families.  After that summer I knew I had to get serious about a profession, so I lapped in all that goodness and tried to hold onto the fun and responsibility of my summer camp career.

Soon enough I found myself on the verge of graduating and an uncertain future.  So I did what any good undergrad from U.Va. did.   I entered a Masters program.  I powered my way through my Masters in Public Policy while balancing my second job with the county: working at a teen and community center.

I adored working with the teens.  Sure, they were surly and kind of rude.  And forever making trouble.  (Here’s a tip: when you see a group of teenage boys walk into a bathroom with pool balls from a billiard table, call a plumber right away.)  But they were also full of energy and spunk and challenged me to constantly think of new ways to entertain them.

As I wrapped up my Masters degree, I knew it was time to move on.  Obviously I couldn’t stay.  I got my Masters in Public Policy to, well, write and analyze policy.  Not run a teen center and help 8th graders with math homework.  So I applied for a job at the county’s budget office.

And I got that job.  I looked just like every one of those analysts in the office.  A BA in government and a MA in public policy/administration.  I could write, analyze, and use Excel.  It would seem I fit right in.

Right away I felt underwater.  Everything was complicated.  I tried and tried and tried but nothing clicked.  And the more it felt like I didn’t get what was going on, the worse I felt about myself.  I clunked around the budgeting computer system, trying to find the missing hundreds of thousands of dollars I mis-entered.  The agency budgets read like Chinese.

I felt defeated.  Wasn’t I supposed to be good at this?  This office was the next logical step.  It was in the plan.  Why am I so bad at this?

Tears stung behind my eyes most days.  I wanted to do a good job.  And I so wasn’t.  I tried my best, always giving everything I had.  But each day felt like I was jamming myself in a hole that didn’t fit.

About a year into my job, I found out I was pregnant.  I assumed I’d go back to work after my daughter was born.  I never thought I’d be stay-at-home-mom.  But as her due date approached and still no child care on the horizon, my husband and I decided to tighten our budget and for me to stay home.

Since I knew I wasn’t the world’s best budget analyst, I didn’t feel sad about leaving my job.  I assumed it was for the best.  But a couple months into my stay-at-home gig, I realized I wasn’t all that good at this staying at home thing either.

Then everything started to blow up.  I felt alone, isolated, like I was the only one in the world feeling all misshapen and out of place.  Clearly, I wasn’t built to be a budget analyst.  But I wasn’t doing so great at mothering all day either.  This signaled to me that I’d never be good at anything.

Around this time, I happened to find the Stratejoy blog.  I’m not exactly sure how I got here.  I think amongst the Twitter and Facebook and blogging rabbit hole, I found the Stratejoy community and thought to myself these people are my people.  I think they get me.

It seemed I wasn’t the only one struggling.  Whether it was motherhood or marriage or being a single girl or divorced or whatever, there was a lot of struggling going on.  But also a lot of earnest.  A sense of grasping for joy, a happier life.

That resonated with me.  Yes, I am struggling.  True, I am feeling identity-less.  No, I’m not sure where I’m going.  But, absolutely yes, do I want to live my best life.  My blog is called Sunny Side Up.  Because no matter how down and out I’ve been (or will be), I am certain there’s a path to a better way.

So here I am at Stratejoy, sharing my story in the hopes that something will resonate with you.  So you won’t feel alone.  And I won’t feel alone.  And together we can come to terms with struggle and instead of letting it eat us up, we can work through it to live a life on our terms.

 

Introducing: Sarah

“Here I am, 27, married for almost four years, mother of a toddler, home owner.  All these quick transitions broke me down.”

I dreamed of attending the University of Virginia.  It was the University.  The brass ring.  The arbiter of good, better, and best.  The day I received my acceptance letter will forever live in my mind.  Finally, a release.  Finally, I am good enough.  I made it.

Soon, though, I learned I’d never be good enough.

My first year at U.Va. broke me down.  Everyone was better than me.  Smarter than me.  Prettier than me.  Wealthier than me.  Funnier than me.  I was a nothing.  And each C, D, F I received that first year reminded me.

I never struggled in school.  I was the best.  The curve setter, the straight A student.  Who was this girl who botched tests, received back papers with more red marks than printed words?  Who was this failure?

College felt lonely and disappointing.  The biggest lesson I learned was I would never again be the best.

I graduated in three years and moved onto graduate school and my first job, eager to escape from those less-than feelings.  I hoped I’d find some worthiness in graduate school and in the working world.  But instead of feeling better about myself and my life, I felt more lost, worried I chose the wrong path, decided it’s too late to change directions.

At the same time, I was a newly-engaged young woman, navigating this idea of what it means to be married.  I barely focused on my wedding with work and school and life getting in the way.  I completely checked out of the process, refusing to go try on dresses, having my mom order me dresses online, decide on flowers, colors.  Everything felt like too much.

After the wedding, our house hunt began.  In between, I changed jobs, Dan changed jobs.  We spent weekends looking at open houses and week days prowling the listings online.  Got preapproved, got more serious about finding a place.  We decided on a house the first weekend out with our realtor, sent in our offer, closed 30 days later.

It wasn’t more than two months into our new house that I found out I was pregnant.  Good thing we sprang for the three bedrooms.  That nine months blasted by, and we welcomed Kate into our lives June 4, 2010, a couple of weeks before our third wedding anniversary.

We weighed all the options – full time work, part time work, quitting my job – and decided it would be best for our family for me to leave my job and stay home with Kate.  So I quit my job and began my life as a stay-at-home mom, both the most rewarding and most frightening job I’ve ever had.

Here I am, 27, married for almost four years, mother of a toddler, home owner.  All these quick transitions broke me down.  I tumbled around, feeling misplaced and identity-less, wondering how I got here.

Yet my life is everything I’ve always wanted, and yet so completely overwhelming and scary.  I’m still feeling the aftershocks of all these transitions, like I’m not fully caught up to what’s happening.  I question who I am, my identity, how I got here.  And, more scary than all that, why am I supposed to do now?

Processing all these major life transitions added up to a whopping quarterlife crisis.  As if life smacked me in the face all at once, and I’m still processing the wreckage.  But even amidst the emotional seesaw of past few years, I see the my gifts and my tenacity and my hope that I will find the answers – my answers – and the courage to live life on my terms.

I don’t know what’s next.  It’s uncertain.  And uncertainty is not something I do well.  I prefer to function in a world where I know not only my next move, but my move after that and after that, the path nicely paved and ready for me.  But since that path does not exist, I need to make it for myself.  And while I’m not sure where I’m going, I’m ready to find out.

And I know I’m not alone.  I know there are other girls out there, struggling in the same ways.  I want to share my story, be that support, let them know I totally get you.  It’s okay to say you’re struggling.  Let’s make our way through together.

 

I didn’t think this would be as hard as it is.

I’ve drafted countless posts about why I decided to spend the holidays in Europe, about not sticking with my plan to arrive in Australia in time to spend Christmas with my cousins there, about my family’s holiday traditions. I’ve been trying to slap a smile on my face about spending my first Christmas away from my parents and my brother. Everything that I’ve written so far felt false, and that’s not why I’m here.

So in the interest of speaking my truth, I’m here to tell you: it’s one week before Christmas, and I’ve been growing increasingly sad as December 25 draws nearer.

I didn’t think I would be. Christmas, though I have many fond memories and associated traditions, isn’t my favorite holiday. (In case you were wondering, that title goes to Thanksgiving, the day of eating all of the food and spending time with people you love.) I’ve grown accustomed to only seeing my parents once – or maybe twice – a year, and I saw them in May, shortly after I gave notice at my job. Also, I’m spending the holiday season in the best place in the world to do so: Central Europe. Lordy, do the people of this region love their Christmas markets, and I am all for that. Give me glühwein (mulled wine), cinnamon-crusted bread tubes, and glittering lights in cobblestoned squares. It’s magical, truly.

And yet, here I am, choking back tears as I think about how I won’t be baking cookies with my mom this year. (In fact, she was doing that while we were skyping yesterday.) I won’t be watching bits and pieces of A Christmas Story throughout the day, while it plays for 24 hours on TBS. (Does anyone actually sit and watch that movie the whole way through anymore?) I won’t be decorating a tree or carefully wrapping gifts for my family, including our labrador retriever, Max. (After you give him a new toy, he insists on taking it out into the back yard immediately.) I won’t be eating my parents’ homemade pierogi (the Polish equivalent of ravioli, stuffed with potato and cheese), my mom’s delicious Christmas Eve and Day feasts, or fried catfish and hushpuppies from Fred’s Fish House. (I love my mom’s cooking, but I’ve also got to take advantage of the fact that they live in the south now.)

Don’t get me wrong: I know that there are going to be awesome things about this Christmas. But right now, I want to acknowledge the sad parts. The missing-my-family parts. The things-changing-as-you-grow-up-kind-of-really-sucks-sometimes parts.

* * * * * * * * * *

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with my friends in Graz. I suspect baked goods and tasty drinks will be involved, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ll skype with my parents and grandparents, and send holiday wishes to friends who are far away. I hope that some of today’s sadness will have passed as I create new traditions with friends and enjoy my adventure.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you enjoy the day, however you celebrate. And if it’s just another Sunday, let it be a good one!

[photo credit: me!]

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I saw the new Muppet Movie with my parents and brother. It was a fun family outing not just because as a family we love the Muppets, but also because it was the first time in over a decade the four of us went to a movie together (we think that last one was Disney’s Tarzan, which was in 1999).

I’ll reserve my thoughts on the movie for another forum (though I will say while I love Kermit the Frog with much affinity, that my other favorite Rolf, the dog, was not featured as much as I would have liked), but I will say it was great fun to go out with my immediate family.

I am so incredibly blessed that I have an amazingly awesome family– not just my parents and brother, but my grandmother, aunts and uncle, and a tight group of family friends that are closer to me than any of my extended blood family. I love spending time with these people- some of my best memories are hours that were spent playing games, going on vacations, and having awesome conversations with these people. I have some really remarkable human beings in my life.

The immediate Costa clan is filled with such a fierce love and concern for each other that for some outsiders, I can see it could be construed as overbearing and that we are all in each other’s business. And I will admit that at times, we are. And I can also admit that as much as I love my parents and have an immense closeness with them, that there are times when I’d like for them to back off too. But it’s a learning process for everyone about where the boundaries are as life changes and we grow up.

But if there is anything the Costa Family is, it is amazingly loving and loyal.

Family time was a sacred thing growing up, an example set by our weekly Sunday dinners with my parents, brother, and my paternal grandparents. It was a time for us to take out of the week to be together and talk about all that was going on, laugh and tell stories, and often reminiscence about favorite memories.

My brother, parents, and I ate dinner together every single night of the week when my brother and I lived at home, with maybe only Friday or Saturday night being exceptions as we got older and went out with friends. It didn’t matter what time band practice was or Little League started, my parents made the active effort every single day for us to have that time together. It was abnormal to a lot of my peers and I think sometimes how crazy the scheduling must have been for my mother to get us all fed at the same time ( thank goodness for mac and cheese!), but those nightly dinners together made our family a powerhouse.

The summer in between my sophomore and junior years of college I was working at my first museum internship in Newport and I was paid a stipend for the position, but not until the end of the summer. I spent a good deal of my free time that summer with my parents because of my lack of available funds and it was the first time that I really got to know and enjoy them as adults, as Patricia and Dave, not just Mom and Dad. If it wasn’t for that summer at home with them, I do not think I would have been able to live with them for five years after graduating from college. All through grad school, they were immensely supportive in many ways and I am so proud to call them my best friends.

As I think about my life and what I want moving forward, I think a lot about family. I spend some time on future thinking and what I want out of life next- job, love, and living situation wiseI often think about moving away and going somewhere new.I think about moving close to my aunt in California too because of my great relationship with her.

To move anywhere would have to be driven by a really awesome career or life opportunity at this point, but I’m open to the idea. It is hard to think about not having Sunday dinners with my parents, brother, and grandmother, random games of Scrabble with my brother and parents, or summer nights on my parents’ back porch with family friends, wine, and laughter.

Those moments have become really important aspects of my life and what I would miss the most if I left the immediate area. I know my family will visit me gladly anywhere I might go ( my mother once told me she didn’t care where I went as long as it was reasonably accessible via airport), but it’s the random moments of laughter and fun that would be the biggest void to fill.

I think a lot about a family of my own- and I don’t know exactly what that means yet. There are days I cannot wait to have my own family and coo over precocious toddlers in little man suits. Then there are days that the thought of caring for a child seems incredibly daunting—I’m just learning to take care of myself; however could I take on an infant at this stage? Needless to say, I’m not sure yet what my fate is with babies. And I am fully aware that my family unit may resemble something very different than what my reality growing up was- that I could have a partnership with a man that isn’t marriage, or that includes only children of the furry variety and the two of us. I know that families are not made by blood alone- my close knit group of family friends who we spend holidays, frequent weekends, and go on vacation with are evidence of that.

Whatever my future family looks like, if it’s just me and future man, or a brood of kids, I know my awesome people will be there supporting me.

[Photo Credit: I could not find a decent family photo to save my life! So the Muppets it is via here]

My family likes to ruin holidays. No really. They create drama of epic proportions.

This time last year, my bigot of an uncle had a real gem to share. Over pumpkin pie, he was discussing how he and his Army buddies used to beat gay kids with socks full of padlocks – because soap only left bruises and didn’t break bones.

Yeah. Can you tell my family is a generation out of the trailer park? Of course, he wasn’t aware his niece, *ahem* moi, was open about her bisexuality. I’ll leave the falling out of the evening to your imagination.

This year, I am boycotting my family and their tradition of drama-making in the name of gratitude for the freedom to choose.

In almost everything we do, we have a choice. We choose how we respond to what’s around us. We choose tomorrow based on actions we make today. We can choose to stay the same or change. We can choose happiness or apathy.

They say you can’t choose your family, but I disagree. Family is who you spend your time with. They are the wonderful community of people who you can trust. They are who you don’t mind sharing the last piece of apple pie with.

For me, that’s my sweet little girl – who is with her dad this Thanksgiving – and that handsome guy I live with. No turkey for us – we’re making something delicious and simple, because I’d rather spend the extra time making pies. (I make seriously gorgeous pies, and I’ve got limited energy to expend. Best to put it where it counts.)

I’m going to take some time and reassess my choices this year. How have I chosen well, and how could I choose better? Could I be in better alignment with my values? It’s all on the table. The idea is to give thanks I can choose.

And, I’ve got a feeling this Thanksgiving will have amazeballs written all over it when it’s over.

I’m not sure if there are other countries with similar traditions, but I think it’s pretty cool we have a holiday based on gratitude.

Could you ask for a better reason to stop what you are doing – and thank the universe for this moment, this breath? How beautiful that we have an opportunity to step back from our daily lives and just be grateful we have the right to choose who we are and how we live?

Happy Thanksgiving, Stratejoy Tribe. May your holiday be full of joy and chock full of love. (And pie. Good lord, enjoy lots of pie – and don’t feel guilty for any of it! You can choose better tomorrow.)

When I turned 29, disaster struck. Suddenly, I wanted to have a baby.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me, it was entirely unexpected. Prior to August 5, 2010, I didn’t care whether or not I had children. I adamantly declared that fact for years – just ask my mom. Friends would tell me that my biological clock would kick in someday; I was convinced that I didn’t possess one.

My brother has always wanted to have a family, so I figured that he could have kids, and I would be the awesome aunt who got them cool gifts as she traveled around the world. It was going to be great.

It’s unclear to me why my biological clock decided to make its grand appearance as I was in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad breakup. Apparently my body didn’t get the memo that I wanted nothing to do with those of the XY chromosomes. I can’t recall exactly how it started, whether I woke up and went, “Ohmylord I want a baby!” or if it was my sudden, overwhelming desire to coo over photos of friends’ children. It was there, and it wasn’t going away.

It took some time, but I thought I’d tamed the beast. Sure, I still ooo and ahh over my friends’ kids. I love hanging out with my two-year-old pals, even when they want me to read the same book to them 27 times in a row. It melts my cold heart when I see attractive dads with their kids, and I wonder if I’ll ever find an awesome partner to co-parent with me. Still, I find that my biological clock, while it makes me a little sappier, is overall manageable.

Or at least, I did. And then I spent two weeks in England with my OddDaughter, B. She just turned one, and she. is. amazing.

You see those stacking cups in the photo above? I can’t tell you how many times I rebuilt that tower to see the great joy in her face when she knocked it down again. I read the same five or so books – her favorites – over, and over, and over again. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even finish them before she’d want me to start from the beginning. (One-year-olds, goodness. Talk about a crazy short attention span.) When her parents brought her downstairs in the morning, she’d come into the living room, beaming – especially the day that she put her toy train that plays music next to my head to wake me up.

I knew I was in trouble when I was willing to sing at least 20 verses of “Old MacDonald” to get her to stop crying in the car ride home one evening. For the love, that farm had a seal and a tyrannosaurus rex on it! I can’t describe the sheer joy of tiny hugs when I would pick her up, or glee over high fives. The day that I saw a photo that my friend had taken of the two of us about to go down a slide, I actually had to look away because it made my heart ache so much.

Apparently, my biological clock is actually a biological time bomb.

There are a lot of ways in which I’m not on the same track as many of my peers. I don’t own a home, nor do I want to. I quit a good job to travel around the world and settle in another country. I’m single and don’t have any marriage prospects. And you know what? I’m okay with all of those things.

This one, though – my desire to be a mother – gets to me. I think about the fact that I only have about ten good child-bearing years left in me. When will I be ready for this? (Yes, no one is every fully prepared, but as someone who’s traveling indefinitely at the moment, I want to be sure I can create a stable home.) With no long-term partners on the horizon, at what point do I need to consider asking a friend to co-parent with me? (I know that I don’t want to raise a child alone.) Even more difficult to ponder, what if I can’t conceive? Is adoption an option I’m willing to entertain?

I don’t know whether I’ll ever know the answers to any of those questions. What I do know is that these freaking hormones are no joke.

Tick…tick…tick…

[photo credit: me!]

It might be that I have a terrible memory, or it might be that I’ve blocked out a lot of my high school years. Whatever it is, I don’t recall much of 1995-1999. Bits here and there, yes, but nothing particularly consistent.

One thing that I do remember is a quote from one of my teachers. Maybe it’s because it was particularly poignant, or maybe it’s because he gave several homilies based on that quote over the years. (I attended a Catholic high school, and we had weekly Mass on Wednesday mornings.) All I know is that to this day, I’ve got this line ingrained in my mind:

“You can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.”

I grew up believing that I could do anything. At age six, the list of careers I thought I might have ranged from fashion designer to the first female president of the United States. From reading, to painting and drawing, to Girl Scouts, my parents encouraged my hobbies. By age 10 or 11, my grandfather had me reading and discussing the business section of The New York Times on Sundays. Most distinctly, I remember winning my local spelling bee at age 13, and my dad asked me what was next. I responded that I would win regionals and compete in the National Spelling Bee that year.

And you know what? I did. And my parents were behind me 100% of the way.

I’m a little hard on my parents sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to choose a creative career/degree. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I would have been able to put together a portfolio that would have gotten me into an art school, and I don’t know that it would have been the best thing for me in the long run. I can give you a list of reasons why I feel like college made me dumber–though the more I think about it, what I really mean is that my undergraduate degree in business and the accompanying classes killed my creativity. It’s taken me years of slowly building my creative confidence again to do what I’m doing now: traveling, teaching, and building writing and photography portfolios.

Here’s the thing, though: you can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.

I forget that I was able to read at age three, and that my parents enrolled me in some accelerated classes in elementary school. Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries aren’t in school at all according to the Girl Effect, and I had the chance to go above and beyond basic schooling with those classes and extracurriculars.

I ignore the fact that college was a given for me, and even though I didn’t exactly choose the right degree, I learned a lot about myself when I was there, met interesting people and made some long-term connections, and was able to study and live in another culture for four months. According to the Girl Effect, an extra year of secondary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 15 to 25 percent.

I’m fortunate that I am 30, single, and have enough money saved to travel for three months and move to another country. It’s easy to forget that when you’re living in a culture like the one in New York City, where you can’t keep up with people who are making two or more times your income, where rents are high, and where the first question anyone asks is what you do for work.

I’m lucky that I grew up with a family that pushed me to excel in and out of school. I’m fortunate that I was able to get a degree that helped me obtain a job that increased my earnings so that I could save the money to live life on my terms now. Without the foundation that I had, all of the work I’ve done over the past ten years probably wouldn’t have gotten me here.

On my photo blog, one of our recent themes was gratitude. Ending the New York chapter of my life and beginning the next part of my journey has had me thinking about my family, friends, and life in new ways.

It’s time to give thanks.

[photo credit: me!]

I imagine we all have a memory of our childhood where we remember someone breaking a promise to us.

My childhood was a history of tattered promises from my mother. Promising things would be better. Promising she would be there.

In middle school, I had a wonderful counselor who wanted more for me than what he saw in the town I was growing up in. There was an arts magnet school in Portland, and he thought he could help me get a scholarship to pay for it. I was so excited. What new opportunities would I have? Half the day spent in music and arts classes? Could there be anything better?

At the time, I couldn’t have understood the full implications of what going to that school would have meant for my future. But it didn’t matter. My mother told me no. It wasn’t even up for discussion. It would mean too much extra work for her driving me back and forth, and taking the bus was “not an option.” She told I already thought I was better than my family and I didn’t need to go to some fancy school to reinforce that.

That was the day I knew I was more mature and made better decisions than my mom. Pretend you’re 12 for a second, and let that sink in. How does that make you feel?

If anyone looked into my home life and saw what was happening, they wouldn’t have let me stay. Or any of my siblings. My mom was in a bad relationship with someone who treated us like an inconvenience, bartending, and blowing any extra money she had on drugs. Most of the time, she would guilt me out of my babysitting money so she could make rent.

Don’t stay quiet. If you suspect neglect or abuse of any kind, tell the authorities. Be a mentor for that girl. Show her there are good people in the world. Step up and say something for people who can’t say it themselves.

This week, The Girl Effect is championing girls everywhere with their efforts to educate and empower girls, so they can help their families bootstrap out of poverty. It’s a fantastic cause.

But don’t just look to the developing world. Girls in developed countries face many of the same debilitating realities, and they get overlooked. They slip through the cracks. They drop out. They get pregnant too soon. They don’t have access to decent healthcare. They struggle to feed their families. In the midst of so much abundance, they suffer.

I watched hispanic girls in my high school every year coming to school pregnant. 14 and 15 year old girls. The ones determined enough to finish school brought their babies into the childcare class the school had, which we all knew was solely for girls like them. The lucky ones had the support of their families – they were the ones married or getting married, often to boys who were older than them.

The ones who weren’t so lucky did it alone. Their families disowned them. They went to school during the day, and they worked at night. And they watched their peers apply for colleges and receive first cars and enjoy school for the experience it could be.

Girls deserve better.

You have a chance to make this stop. It all starts with one girl.

“How do your parents feel about it?”

is a question that I get asked frequently when I tell a new friend about my journey around the world or my relationship with an Australian man.

I mean, I don’t blame them for asking.  How are they supposed to know – or even suspect – that my parents are deceased?  Hell, even some of my friends back home still don’t know about my parents.

It still stings though.  Actually, it feels like a sharp dagger plunging into my heart.

I don’t talk about my family much because to be honest, I don’t have much of it left.  Both of my parents and all four of my grandparents are deceased and I have a bad relationship with my only Uncle.  So that leaves my two brothers, my Godparents, and a few cousins whom I still talk to.

I’ve met a lot of people since being abroad.  Some were bat-shit crazy (like the Canadian I roomed with in South Korea who spent four months doing cocaine) and some were awesome (like the Frenchman I met who had spent four years living in Nepal). Some I consider acquaintances (meaning we shared beers once or twice and then parted ways) and some I consider friends (meaning we hung out frequently and took our friendship to the email or Facebook-level).

Answering the question about my parents is always tricky.  I struggle with being brutally honest, withholding certain pieces of information, or just flat out lying.  The key to answering that question depends on the likelihood of seeing the acquaintances or friends again after we part ways.  Of the many people I’ve met so far on this journey, only a handful are considered friends, and even then, only a few of those friends I’ll actually make an effort to see again.

Since being abroad, I’ve become more protective of what – and how much – I share.  Meaning, I only share certain pieces of information with certain people.  Many people have asked me about my parents, but I’ve only shared the full story with two people.  Others have gotten a couple details and I’ve flat-out lied to the rest.

(I know.  But in my defense, they were people I know I’ll never see or talk to again.)

It’s not that I don’t want to tell everyone my story, it’s just that I don’t believe everyone I meet deserves to know about my parents. Not everyone can handle that kind of information in a mature way, and the last thing I want is sympathy from a stranger.

As devastating as it was to be an orphan by age 20, I’ve worked really, really hard at turning my life around and getting to where I am today.  Not everyone is strong enough to endure the emotional aftermath of losing your parents at such a young age. Truthfully, I don’t even know how I did it.  Alcohol helped.  A lot.  But I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come over the last eight years and if there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s to never let anyone take away the things you’ve worked hard at.

I have to be completely honest though.  There’s a reason why I am where I am right now.  There’s a reason why I was able to finish college after my mother died, why I was able to move to Philadelphia, and why I’m able to travel abroad.  And there’s a reason why I want to open up my own Bed & Breakfast or restaurant in the next five years.

I owe these last eight years of my life to my older brother, Matthew.  When our mother died, he put his entire life on hold so that I could finish school.  He took over our mother’s estate, he took our parents house, and he sacrificed his professional career so that I could have one of my own.  He keeps our family together on Christmas and Thanksgiving.  His personal sacrifices have allowed me to travel the world, teach English, and discover happiness in Australia.  And it’s his generosity, creativity, and passion that makes me want to open a restaurant with him soon (and the fact that we’d make awesome business partners because no one would think we’re siblings and I could tell everyone that he was adopted.  Ha!).

I don’t know how I’ll ever repay him, but I am incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful older brother who continues to support my decisions, even if it flies me further away from him.  My brother’s approval of my life decisions mean more to me than anything in this world.

As for how my parents would feel about my travels?  Probably the same way my brothers felt.  Not necessarily happy about it in the beginning, but supportive and accepting of it as I continue to live abroad.

As part of working my way through Molly’s Joy Equation, I spent some time thinking about my values. This seriously challenged my assumptions and got me thinking.

I’m pretty reflective and try to be in tune with my desires and instincts. In fact, I’ve been trying to do this more and more for the past 18 months. But when faced with having to choose no more than eight values from an infinite number of possibilities, I really had to pause.

I thought I knew what my values were. But then I realized, I can value the presence of pretty much anything – people, experiences, emotions, objects – but My Values should be like beacons of light guiding me and informing my choices.

They are a critical part of who I am as a person. And when I was forced to really think about it, it was a really refreshing and revealing activity. All a sudden, thinking of something as one of My Values gave it a lot more weight and importance.

It’s like, there’s a difference between your heart appreciating something and your soul needing it, you know?

I’m happy to share with you where I landed, for no other reason than I hope it gets your wheels turning about your own values, and brings them to the forefront of your mind today.

1.) Courage – This was a bit of a shocker, I’m not gonna lie. All of my time spent being assertive, bold and decisive now makes So.Much.More.Sense! What’s even more exciting is the realization that, to me, courage encompasses a lot of things. It’s about taking risks, absolutely, but it’s also about having an open mind, inner strength and trust in myself and the universe. It’s about being compassionate and empathetic. And mostly, it’s about having a willingness. It’s about not being motivated by fear. Seriously, now that I’ve pinpointed it, I really can’t imagine living in the absence of courage.

2.) Creativity – I don’t necessarily need to be an artist in order to honour creativity. I just need to write, ideate, brainstorm, and make stuff – from crafts to cookies. I need to have fun with colour. Whether by wearing a bright scarf or writing a business plan in markers. Colour feeds my soul. Honouring creativity also means pushing boundaries, keeping perspective, and listening to my intuition. Those are important ways of nurturing creativity from the inside out.

3.) Exploration – Ahhh, yes! This is all about my inquisitive, curious little mind! It’s about my thirst for new experiences and challenges, and for learning, trying, and doing. It’s why I love reading, and movies, and travelling. It’s why I love action and it’s why I get impatient. Not because I’m anxious to produce and accomplish. I’m just hungry to dig, see, listen, and EXPLORE.

4.) Family – This one is on many of your lists, I’m sure. What was important for me to realize is that family, as a Value, isn’t just about the people and pets in it. It’s about intimacy, compromise, consideration, loyalty, connection, and commitment. It’s the feelings and comfort that being part of a family brings. Those are the things I need to respect and create space and time for.

5.) Laughter – A bit of a no brainer, for me, anyway. All of the things that lead me to laughter, like playfulness, interactions with others, adventure and a relentlessly positive outlook, are things I simply wouldn’t want to live without. When I stop having any fun, I’m doing something way, way wrong.

6.) Originality – From the time I was a little girl, I’ve loved doing things my way. I was blow drying my own hair before I was even out of a crib…seriously. Maybe that was because I was stubborn and a bit controlling, even then. But I’d like to think it was also because I love expressing myself, and feeling confident and self assured. Now, as an adult, I adore dreaming, doing things differently, and working on ways to be more me. Losing my sense of originality would be a fast track to misery.

7.) Freedom – This is a funny value to have when I live in a completely free country, with a completely supportive network of family and friends. What about my life isn’t free? That’s why I left it out at first. But words like freedom and flexibility were calling to me from the page. And then I realized, part of the reason I’m so, so grateful for where I live and who I live here with is that I absolutely adore being free to make choices and seek out variety. I love the growth, possibility and independence that a sense of freedom affords me. And so, it made the cut.

8.) Vitality – My obsession with exercise, nutrition and health? And my intense disappointment when I’m not incorporating those things into my day to day (like recently)? Yeeeaaah, it totally comes back to the fact that I really, truly value vitality. And I can’t even tell you how much I love “vitality” as the word of choice. I get to wrap the concepts of energy, physical fitness, conscious eating, clarity of mind, inspiration, solitude, rest, peace, balance, and presence in the moment into one beautiful package! Vitality! Hell yes! Put a bow on that one!

Values are subject to change, as life evolves and priorities shift, I know. But I’m feeling so good about  having gone through this process, and really enlightened by it. If you haven’t spent time doing this type of exercise in a while – or ever! – I highly recommend it.

And of course, I’d love to hear what some of your values are in the comments below!


[Yes, that’s me, circa 1987.  Don’t mind the bowl cut (which I rocked for the majority of my childhood. Be jealous.), the uneven bangs (which my mother cut herself), or the frilly red and white dress.

Now that you’ve all had a good chuckle at my baby picture…]

I never really fully understood racism until I got to Junior High School and my classmates slung derogatory names at me.

Chink.  Gook.

They would stretch the corner of their eyes or talk to me in broken English.

Kids can be so cruel.

I cried every day after school for nearly a year.  I cried myself to sleep at night, praying my classmates would stop torturing me.  I prayed I would wake up and look ‘normal’ like all of my other classmates.  I even secretly despised my parents for adopting me.

In my school district, you were either Caucasian or African American.  Any other race, and you were a prime target for bullying.  It eventually got easier to be accepted as Asian, but sometimes I would wish I didn’t look different from my family.

Over the years, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin.  People make racist comments and sling racist jokes at me, laughing hysterically, like it’s nothing.  Boys date me because they’ve never been with an Asian girl.  Or boys won’t date me because they don’t date outside their own race. All I’ve ever wanted was to fit in. 

Since when did it become so hard to be accepted and treated equally?

I was born in South Korea, abandoned by my birth mother who put me in a basket and left me at a bus stop.  An elderly gentleman found me and dropped me at an orphanage where I spent the first six months of my life.  I have no record of my birth parents and I have no way of tracing them.  Rejected.  Not even my own birth parents wanted me. Now I know where my abandonment issues stem from.

I grew up in a white family (fine, Caucasian, if we’re getting technical here), in a predominantly white neighborhood.  I’m Korean by decent, but I’m American in every other way.

I feel incredibly blessed to be given a second chance at life, and I owe it all to that elderly gentleman and my adopted parents.  I believe I am living a much better life now, than in South Korea.  But I still wonder what my life would have been like, had I stayed.  I wonder who my birth parents are, what they look like (do I resemble more my mother or my father?!), and if I have any siblings.  I wonder if I’ll ever get diagnosed with a genetic disease and not take the necessary precautions because I don’t know my family’s medical history.  And of course, there’s that one question every adoptee thinks about: why did my birth parents really give me up?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have the desire to return to my homeland.  My parents gave me up for a reason, I would convince myself.  But as I got older, and as I opened myself up to the different cultures and their rituals, my desire to return to South Korea grew stronger.  However, one there’s one thing that’s really held me back about not returning: I’m not emotionally prepared to return.

Come to think of it, are we ever really emotionally prepared for anything in our lives?

Last week, I booked a ticket to South Korea.  Two days ago, I boarded that flight.  As you read this now, I’m wandering the streets of Seoul. 

I finally made it back to my birth place.

I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this trip, but I took a chance, because something deep in my heart told me to get here.    Sometimes you just have to throw out that rule book and follow your heart.

 

I’ve been doing some thinking about love lately.

I’m in the midst of planning my wedding, first of all. But then, I’m also supporting a friend through a break up; the death of a love once cherished.

I’m one of the few people who didn’t set my alarm way early on April 29 to witness the most anticipated and obsessed-over wedding to happen in my lifetime. We all just celebrated Mother’s Day – in whatever way that looks like for us – the one day dedicated to the most primal kind of love there is: that between a mother and her offspring. And to top it off, I’m reading Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfection, a book about loving yourself (and therefore, others) with your whole heart.

Yes, there’s alotta fuss about love happening in my life these days. Embracing it, celebrating it, honouring it, resenting it, learning from it, discovering it.

Love is one of the most complex, magical, subjective, and indescribable human conditions. It has the potential to bring us the most joy and the most grief we will ever experience in our lives. It’s presence, or its absence, can leave us speechless.

What is love? What does it feel like, look like, sound like?

Tough questions, right? Here’s my take. I’d be honoured if you’d share yours.

“Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.”
– Gordon B Hinckley

Love is a verb, not an adjective. Love is being attentive. Love is listening and looking – into eyes, into souls, into possibilities, and into unspoken words. Love is choosing your battles. Love is having the clarity to decipher things that deserve discussion from those that ought to be brushed off. Love is forgiveness. Love is cutting yourself some slack. Love is having perspective. Love is looking inward. Love is taking care of yourself first, so you can better take care of others. Love is being, rather than striving. Love is trusting, rather than wondering.

“You may only be someone in the world, but to someone else, you may be the world.”
-Unknown

Love is cooking dinner, even if its only Kraft Dinner. Love is getting me a drink of water. Love is passing the Kleenex. Love is tucking me in at night. Love is a kiss on the forehead. Love is going to pharmacy, for something that will fix what ails me. Love is not taking it personal. Love is letting it go. Love is coming along to the vet, because going to the vet sucks the big one. Love is cleaning up the cat puke, this time. Love is middle-of-the-night cuddles. Love is offering suggestions, even when criticisms might be more obvious. Love is smiling or shutting up, even when scowling or scoffing are easy options.

“Do you love me because I am beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?”
– Cinderella

Love is seeing beauty over flaws. Love is celebrating the good and accepting the not-so-good. Love is allowing for differences. Love is finding comfort, even in the gray areas. Sometimes, love is biting your tongue. Other times, it’s speaking up and holding your ground. Love is compromising. Love is remembering. It is also forgetting. Love is commitment. It is also flexibility. Love is co-dependence. It is also independence. Love is about teaching some things, while learning others. Love is being vulnerable, rather than defensive.

“All you need is love.”
– John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Love is kindness, generosity, and compassion. Love is touch. Love is laughter. Love is admiration. Love is saying thank you. Love is asking for help. Love is dancing. Love is being silly. Love lacks judgment. Love is believing you’re worthy. Love is sharing. Love is small gestures. Love is a bouquet of flowers. Love is surprises. Love is humouring. Love is returning the favour. Love lacks ego. Love is respect. Love is worth making sacrifices for and investing in.

Love is whatever you need it to be. What is love for you?

{Photo credit}

Dear Momma,

For the last seven years, I’ve always hated Mother’s Day because it’s a painful reminder of losing you in 2003.  I thought by now my wounds would heal and the pain would diminish, but each year it seems to get harder and harder to cope.

This year has been exceptionally difficult for me emotionally.  I’ve struggled with the loneliness of living abroad, and I’ve been fighting my depression off and on recently.  I thought I could do this alone and be fine with it, but the truth is, I really need you right now, more than ever.

I just want one more day.  To see you smile.  To share conversation over a cup of coffee.  To hear you laugh.  To enjoy your home-cooked meals one last time.  To know that you’re still proud of me, even if I haven’t been the best daughter to you.

It’s been a tough eight years, but I’m trying to stay strong.  I’m trying to stand on my own two feet without breaking down in tears, and I’m trying to put on a brave face on holidays like Mother’s Day.

My heart aches constantly, but sometimes it’s a good kind of pain because it reminds me to continue living my life with strength, intention, and passion, and to never take anything – or anyone – for granted.

I’m stronger for living my life with such courage and grace after you’re gone.  I’m wiser after learning the hard way about how important parents are in a daughter’s life.

Thank you for giving me a second chance at life.  Thank you for providing me with a wonderful, caring childhood.  Thank you for showing me how to find the strength to continue living each day without you.

I’m grateful for all of the things you gave me and all of the things you taught me over the years.  On this Mother’s Day 2011, I just want to say thank you for being the best mother I could have ever had.  I know you’re shining down on me, and I hope you’re smiling at what you see.

A pink balloon for you last year; another pink balloon for you this year.

Loving you always, missing you more,

Your Loving Daughter

Rest in Peace, Momma
July 8, 1949 – June 4, 2003

{photo credit: Chris Moseley}

How’s your heart today?

There is a cardiologist in California who asks this question to his patients at every appointment.  It appears to be a pretty standard question, but it is actually a super personal question if you think about it.  In a cardiologist’s office this question gets to diet, stress level, exercise, and amount of sleep.  However, if you’ve ever watched an epidsode of House, you know that people aren’t always the most honest in the doctors office.  To really get at the true status of a patients heart, a cardiologist runs a stress test.  The way your heart responds under pressure is the most accurate picture of your heart’s health.

Stress brings out the truth about your heart’s status; but not just our physical heart.

It’s so easy in daily life to put on the facade of being great.  When everything is easy and peaceful, we can convince ourselves and others that the state of our hearts are double-rainbows and unicorn happiness.  But what happens when your life gets hard, complicated, and messy?  How do you respond?  And what does that say about the state of your heart.

I’ve always considered myself to be super open; to a fault perhaps.  My best friend once said that one of my weaknessess was not protecting my heart well enough.  I didn’t mind though, I wore my heart on my sleeve with pride.  Convinced that anyone in my life deserved privleges to all of me.

Then my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer last year.

Last July/August, when I was waiting for test results from my mom’s colon cancer diagnosis… I shut down in a lot of ways; and I wonder now how much that says about the state of my heart.  I was definitely not open to people; I did everything in my power to avoid talking about it.  I waited weeks to tell my best friend, because she was a friend who KNEW my mother; she wouldn’t let me get away with not talking.   Maybe my heart isn’t as open as I thought it was.

So, here’s what I decided: there is a part of me heart that is deeply afraid to rely on most people to understand the complexity of the pain that I carry with me.  The “stress test” I went through last year told me that my heart has grown to be protective and selective, but that doesn’t mean I am avoiding everything all the time.  If the issue with my mom’s cancer was JUST cancer?

I would have been fine; but it wasn’t.  The diagnosis required a quick and magnified focus on the relationship I have with my mom.  The painful parts.  The parts I don’t talk about 99% of the time, because talking about them hurts like hell.  This is a part of me that is not meant to be shared with everyone.  However, there is no part about the pain I carry that isn’t known by someone else.  Everything about me does not need to be known by everyone, but everything about me needs to be known by somebody.  Sharing everything with everyone is probably a good thing to grow out of.  I told my best friend eventually and we talked about all of it and I made sure to find someone here to talk to also.

So, the status of my heart?  Still working.  A little less open perhaps, but still known and hopeful.  Definitely hopeful.  There are some new walls up, and it might take Mr. A and other new people to get past them all, but I 100% trust that the right people will have NO problem getting through them at all.  Status of my optimism and faith?  Fully operational.
How’s your heart today?
{photo credit}

My little ZomBaby,

I’ve had mixed feelings about becoming mama, to be honest. Straight outta high school, there were girls that I knew that were churning out babies and getting married and settling down before I could say, “Hooray graduation!” In truth, many of them seemed pretty damn happy. It made me anxious to feel that although I was married, if I didn’t have babies I wasn’t considered to be a “grown-up”.

Being a grown-up is fallacious, little dude. When you hear me telling you to act your damn age at some point during your life, I expect you to call me on it. There’s plenty of time to act your age when you’re good and ready. Heck, there’s plenty of time period. I’m not rushing you.

I like that you haven’t rushed me either. We had a bit of a rocky start, you and I. I had a horrible cold for the majority of our first month together, followed by bouts of nasty nausea.

I wasn’t even sure if I was ready to be your mama. I didn’t know what to do. I found out about you when you were about the size of a sea monkey, sometime between preparing dinner and almost passing out in the kitchen. By the time I got to my first prenatal doctor’s appointment with your proud papa in tow, I loved you.

I loved you so much that it terrified me.

Your mama’s no stranger to love. I’ve loved hard. I’ve loved oh-so-wrongly and oh-so-rightly. I’ve had my heart trashed. I’ve done my fair share of trashing.

But when I loved you, it was just… there. I didn’t ask myself if this love was right or wrong or whatever the hell else that I’d ask whenever I knew I was slipping in the direction of soul-sucking, oh-sweet-mother-of-muffins, full on el oh vee ee. I just knew. I felt you and I knew.

And as terrifying and earth-shattering as it was to have that swirling bit of crazy wrapping itself around my heart, it was good.

I’m sitting here during my fifth month — you’re about the size of a squash — and smiling, thinking about what you’re going to look like or act like.

Will you be blonde, fair, and shy like your dad? Will you be dark and exuberant like me? Will you be a creator? An artist? A scientist? A great thinker? A great doer?

Whatever you look like and whomever you are when you seek and destroy your own quarter-life crisis (like any good twentysomething does), I will be proud of you. I will love you unconditionally; it will scare me and I will fight you at some point along the way, I’m sure, but I will love you.

I will delight in your accomplishments. I will comfort you in sorrow. I will be there to give you a bandage, a kiss, and words of encouragement when you fall down. I will watch you grow (and I will try my best not to get in your way).

I will read you Tolkien and Chekov and Munsch. I’ll play Pink Floyd, Fleet Foxes, and Great Big Sea for you so you can learn to dance; we’ll all dance together.

And when your dad throws you up in the air, in a pretty park in Kerrisdale, Vancouver, I just know that you’ll love us too.

I can’t wait to meet you.

All my love,
Mama

Delicious Side Note: The 1st Annual Stratejoy Scholarship is up and ready for your consumption. Molly is offering six (!!) coaching sessions for the amazing price of… ZERO MUTHAEFFING DOLLAHS. So if you’ve been aching for some of that sweet, sweet Stratejoy coaching but lack cash money, this is your opportunity to get it fo’ free.

I have mad love of scholarships. violetminded Design’s scholarship is also in full swing so if you wanted to pick up my web design services fo’ free as well, head there to fill out the app. Because what’s better than one scholarship? TWO.

Image by Darrel Birkett

In a few days, I’m leaving for Prague and I can’t stop thinking about what kind of foundation I’ve built for myself.  About the people who have helped inspire, motivate and challenge me in my life along the way. About all of the life decisions I made, and life lessons I learned over these last five years that have played a part to get to where I am right now.

Sam Davidson, author of 50 Things Your Life Doesn’t Need and co-founder of Cool People Care, wrote about how no one does it alone.

“None of us get where we’re going alone.  There are certainly times of solitude and loneliness on the entrepreneurial, creative, artistic, professional and personal pathways, but we’re not really all by ourselves.  There is a crowd of people cheering you on, opening doors, and working behind the scenes.  The quicker that you recognize this the more motivated you’ll be to keep fighting to make all of your dreams come true.”

At the end of his post, Sam says:  “Say thanks to the people who get you where you’re going.”

It’s my last weekend in the States and I can’t think of a better time to say ‘thank you’ than right now.

To my oldest brother: thank you for being part of my foundation.  For all of the advice and wise words you’ve provided me over the last several years and all of the incredible strength you’ve forced me to see in myself.  I know that I am stronger and I am capable to do anything I set my heart to.

To my older brother: thank you for being another huge part in my foundation.  For being the one who keeps this family together at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Thank you for being my rock when I needed it the most and for supporting me through every decision I made.  But most of all, thank you for sacrificing three years of your own life right after Mom died so I could finish college, move to Philadelphia and build a life here.  I am forever grateful for that.

To my cousin Bob: thank you for taking care of me after Mom died.  For paying for my college books.  For letting me and my friends spend weekends at your lake house each summer.  For making sure I never lost track of my hopes and dreams and for making sure I fought for every single thing I ever wanted in life.

To my extended family: While I don’t see you as often as I would like, I want you to know that I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without your wonderful support and confidence in me.  You’ve provided me with a sense of strength and resiliency that very few could ever carry as well as I have.

To the man who couldn’t commit: thank you for those three years.  And while it wasn’t exactly the kind of relationship I desired, you showed me what love truly feels like. You allowed me to open up to someone and feel comfortable with exposing my true colors.  Oh, and thank you for introducing me to dek hockey because if it weren’t for you, I never would have played the sport.

To all of my hockey friends:  Thank you for allowing me to be part of the game.  Whether we’ve played together or against each other, it’s been an incredible experience and I never thought I could fall in love with a sport as much as I have with dek hockey.

To all of my ‘survivor sisters’: Thank you for being a part of my life.  For sharing your stories with me, and allowing me to share mine with you.  For joining forces and advocating for such an important cause.  For being able to just listen when I needed it. Every single one of you has a special place in my heart and I promise to continue advocating while I’m abroad.  Early detection and prevention saves lives.

To all of my one-night stands, late night flings, and the like: Thank you for those thirty seconds five minutes of pleasure.  It’s made for some great blog fodder.

To all of my former co-workers and managers: Thank you for the opportunity to be part of your law firm/company.  I’m grateful for the professional growth and challenges that have enriched my legal career.

To the Stratejoy tribe, my Season 4 sisters, and Molly: Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderfulness.  Thank you for letting me be vulnerable about sharing my dark and damaged past,  and for leaving such wonderful, heartfelt comments.  Thank you for your support in my journey abroad.

To my two best girl friends:  Thank you for these last two years.  For all of the unforgettable memories, jokes, and one-liners.  For being so incredibly supportive of my decision to move to Prague (even though you’re in denial) and pushing me to make this life changing decision.  Thank you for wine and cheese nights, potluck dinners, and Sunday Funday brunches at Sabrina’s Cafe.  Thank you for being two of the most amazing women I know.

Last, but certainly not least, to my therapist:  Thank you (times a million) for helping me get to where I am right now.  Therapy saved my life.  And I promise to write that book one day.

So many people have helped me fight for the things I want in life and to make me realize that life is worth living and dreams can come true.  I’m going to keep fighting, keep living, and keep dreaming.

How many people have helped build your foundation?  Who would you like to thank?  Share it with me in the comments!

Until next week, when I finally land in Prague, I bid you all farewell from the States.

[Note from Coach Molly: What can I say?  I love that you took time to thank all those that have helped you along your journey.  And I’m so proud and privileged to have your here on Stratejoy!  Thank YOU for being you: brave and beautiful and vulnerable and strong. So excited to tag along on your next journey!]

{photo credit: woodleywonderworks}

When folks find out they’re going to be having a baby, it’s time to set up shop in an appropriate dwelling somewhere in the suburbs, far away from the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolis. After all, isn’t that the ideal place to raise a baby?

I’d been dreaming of a life in the city since I was little, and considering I’d been waiting out the last three years in the suburbs, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a baby stop me from achieving that luscious goal. And so, instead of running away from city life, I decided to run towards it.

It’s immeasurably difficult to determine the needs of a growing family before the family has, well, grown. As is, the best Mike and I can do is plan around finances and more visceral, immediate needs. The most immediate being that I needed a maternity doctor that I could trust and breathe easier knowing that she (or her team) would be in the delivery room with me for the birth of my first baby. ‘Cause, y’know, I’m terrified of that whole bit.

I couldn’t do that while stuck in the suburbs as bureaucratic red tape threatened to strangle our little family before it even got started.

With that in mind, we started looking for a two bedroom dwelling that was in a good neighbourhood and had room to grow a bit. Real estate prices in the City of Glass are the highest in Canada (yes, even including the sprawling cities of Ottawa and Toronto) so purchasing was out. Even renting was going to be a doozy with those kinds of prices.

We looked.

We looked and we looked and we looked.

By the time the middle of January hit, we despaired. The deadline to get our information into the hospital I wanted to deliver at was fast approaching and we had nadda to show for it.

Panic ensued.

I had problems sleeping.

What in the hell was I going to do if I didn’t have a baby doctor? Get a midwife and deliver the baby at home? Truth telling, although that option works for some women, I sure as shit knew it wasn’t going to work for me. Something about being firmly entrenched in science and having a deep and profound respect for highly-trained professionals? Nah, more like it makes me nervous not to know all the details.

So, as I sat up at night, afraid of all the x’s and y’s in my baby birthing equation, I contemplated and, some would say, brooded (lends credence to my claims of being Batman). Part of me craved — no, needed — answers. The other part of me was so paralyzed with fear that inaction became my middle name. I wanted to embrace this anxiety of unknown variables and, if it was a problem that would only affect me, I would’ve been more inclined to take a deep breath and plunge.

But this… tiny creature needed to be protected, which meant that I needed to be proactive instead of reactive. It also meant that I had a lot of undue panicking under my belt while Mike picked up the pieces and, y’know, found a place for us to live. Panic stopped choking me. I could sit back and sort out some of these things called priorities. Well, in theory.

I’ve let a lot slip through my fingers over the last four months while I adjusted to this whole pregnancy bit: projects (both personal and work-related), people (did I mention that I became a temporary hermit?), and places (for the love of cupcakes, will you look at the state of this apartment?). I’m in the midst of rectifying the plethora of screw-ups that went about masquerading as pregnancy haze.

New dwelling. Clean slate. Tally-ho and sally-forth, Jeeves. Onward.

Photo Credit: Pope Jon

I remember the moment like it happened yesterday.

It was a Tuesday morning in March and I was laying on my bathroom floor in the fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably.  My entire body felt numb, I couldn’t stop crying, and all I thought was, “I just want to stop feeling this way.” I had spiraled into my second bout of depression, this one much uglier than the first.  I knew why I was crying, why I felt numb, and why – for a split second – I was contemplating suicide, but I didn’t want to admit it.  Because when you admit something and put it out there, it becomes real.

It’s scary admitting I have contemplated suicide once in my life, but I know I would never go through with it.  My father killed himself when I was 12 years old and I was the one who found him.  At the time, I didn’t understand suicide or the kind of impact it would have on a child.

Even at 27 I still don’t understand it, but I know how emotionally damaging and soul-crushing it is to lose a father at such a young age.  The image has scarred me permanently.

I’ve been fighting depression on and off for the last eight years.  My first battle occurred in June 2003.  I was a Sophomore in college, trying to get out of an abusive relationship, and my mother had just passed away.  My world shattered instantly. I lost my mother, I had no father, I left my boyfriend, and I nearly failed school because I was too depressed to get out of bed, let alone go to class.

As I was laying on the bathroom floor that morning in March, images of my parents flashed through my head.  Moments of happiness.  Scenes from my childhood.  Memories of us laughing together.  Seven years of not grieving properly for my mother, and 15 years of not properly grieving for my father had finally caught up to me.

It takes courage to seek professional help.

“I need help,” I whispered.  I had finally said it out loud.  Even if I was the only one who heard it, I put it out there and it became real. I knew right then and there that it was time for me to work through my pain of loneliness and depression.

Two days later, I had an appointment with a therapist.

I wasn’t going to apply for a Season 4 Blogger position because I thought I had already conquered my Quarterlife Crisis. At the age of 25, I beat my battle with cervical cancer and was in remission, my nonprofit organization was successful and making strong profits, and I had survived the loss of both of my parents.  I had my life on track, a solid career path, and I knew what I wanted.

Looking back on all of it, and seeing where I am right now, I realize that I wasn’t dealing with a Quarterlife Crisis; I was dealing with a series of unfortunate life events.  Losing my parents.  Getting cancer.  It can happen to anyone, at any point in their lives.

Why did it happen to me at such a young age?  I’m still trying to figure that out.

I thought my run of bad luck was over, but then my law firm announced dissolution in December.  Two weeks before Christmas, the Managing Partner took me into his office and told me not to come back after the holiday.  I was devastated.  I took for granted the comfort and security that comes with having a full-time job that provides health insurance, a retirement fund, and free coffee every day (hey, it’s the little things).

If that wasn’t enough, my nonprofit was suffering from the terrible economy, clients decided they weren’t going to support us for 2011 because they didn’t have the funds, and my volunteers resigned.  When it rains, it pours.  Once again, my world shattered instantly and I felt like a complete failure.

Winston Churchill said:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I joke with my friends about how I feel like I’m 45 trapped in a 27 year old body.  I feel like I’ve been through hell and back, and you know what?  It sucks.  I’m in the midst of my Quarterlife Crisis, but I’m determined to come out on top.

For the first time in my life, I have no commitments, no deadlines, and nothing holding me back from living life on my own terms. So, I’m going to make the most of this tragic situation and turn it into an incredible opportunity. Im going to spend as much time as I want teaching English and traveling the world, and the most exciting thing is that I get to share this journey with you over the next six months.

New experiences, fresh opportunities, beautiful sights, amazing discoveries, and lots of soul-searching.

My goals for these six months:

1. Get certified to teach English. The 4-week program is going to be very intense and rigorous, and from what alums have said, it’s very bootcamp-like.

2. Embrace my fears, doubts, and insecurities as I spend the next six months living abroad on my own. I don’t like emotions and I’m very good at pushing negative feelings away, so I really want to work on this.

So, here I am, calling on you – my readers, my friends, my Season 4 ‘sisters,’ and Molly – to keep me accountable.  With a huge life-changing event such as this one, comes tons of emotions, insecurities, fear, and doubt. I’m trying to brace myself for what comes next, but I’m hoping you can support and push me as I work to complete these goals by the end of my Stratejoy adventure.

It’s going to be one hell of a journey, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

[Note from Coach Molly: Damn, Kate.  I knew all of this, but to watch it come out in one big massive post, tears me up and my heart wells at what a rough go it’s been for you.  But I know you are strong, and even more importantly, you are open to hope.  And new opportunity.  And grace.  You are facing your life and this next adventure with courage I can only hope to have.  I will so be here beside you (or across the ocean from you!) to support you through your goals.  Especially that lovely embrace of your hard stuff.  We are all going to be here for you.]

[photo credit: Leonard John Matthews]

INTRODUCING AMANDA

It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.


I sat down in the passenger-side seat of my silver Toyota, desperately fighting back tears and failing miserably. I clutched at the box that held my officely possessions and just… stared. My then-fiancé placed a comforting hand on mine. In 2008, at twenty-two and twenty-six, we’d both been terminated from our positions as programmers for our rather boisterous opinions regarding unpaid overtime and the slave-labour hours we felt that we were working.

“We hated working there anyway,” he said, turning the engine on and gently pulling out of the parking lot. “It’s better this way. Now we can move to Vancouver, just like you wanted.”

I didn’t have the courage to say that I had no idea what it was that I wanted; all I knew was that it was no longer an option to stay. Our hometown had gotten too small. Our career options as programmers were limited to three major arteries within the city. It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.

Fast-forward to a year later, just before my twenty-third birthday.

I glanced down at the wedding rings on my left hand but my resolve didn’t waver. If he was determined to find himself then so was I. I packed the final load into the $600 Honda Accord that I’d bought from some dude in North Vancouver before hugging my husband goodbye. He was on the path to becoming a police officer. I wasn’t really on a path at that point but I didn’t have the courage to tell him that the last eight months had been a waste. I’d been toying with the option of becoming a Real Designer, possibly of the Industrial variety; I’d always been interested in how products are designed. Sadly, the “education” left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

And so, I was returning to the city that had reared me in the first place.

I’d taken a job in a career centre. It paid well, I liked my work, and I enjoyed the people I worked with. As I worked with clients, I found my entrepreneurial spirit to be alive and ass-kicking; I began to daydream about opening up a business and actually doing web design for money. By the time July 2009 had hit, the husband had put his police quest aside so that I could come back home. By January 2010, I had established myself as a WordPress designer and developer with a party-time demeanour and a “sure can” attitude. People from all around the globe were asking for my services and I was flying high.

For a time, anyway.

Transitioning in and out of love with my business, I decided to dive head-first into a moonlighting career as a game journalist. I attended conventions, conducted interviews with developers and designers, and wrote my little heart out. Life was the best it could have been for the fleeting months when I was able to focus my fire on writing. When the money stopped rolling in for my business, I rolled over and attempted to reconnect.

Burn out hit me. Rock-bottom came next. I fumbled around, looking for signs of the end of this intellectual and emotional purgatory. The little stick – yes that little stick – said a mouthful when I found out that rock-bottom had actually just been a kink in the cycle. Mine, to be precise.

As I claw my way out of a Quarter-Life Crisis, I’m also grappling with the implications of “mama-to-be” without letting on that I’m just as panicked as excited. Weaving my way through the intertwining (and seemingly disparate) paths of “entrepreneur” meets “mama” meets “twentysomething” is a journey that I’m looking forward to sharing with all of you.

Last week I finally realized that I am worthy of good things in my life.  In light of  this new realization I have dreamed up some goals for 2011.  I hesistate to use the word “resolution.”  Resolutions sound so absolute and are hard to keep-in fact I think they almost set you up for failure.  But goals, goals are measurable.  I can do goals.  Goals motivate and inspire me.  Here is what I am working on in 2011:

Real Life

Work It

Lovers and Friends

With Sprinkles on Top

So bring it on, 2011.  I have a feeling this is going to be my year.

My family had a fake Christmas tree that we were experts at constructing. “Bend the branches upwards, like they are reaching for the sun!” my mother would instruct my brother and I as we assembled the prickly, metal and plastic tree. Then my dad would string the lights. And we’d all hang the ornaments – familiar ones, used each year. My dad always played music – everything from the Sesame Street Christmas album to orchestral renditions of Silent Night.

In college, I missed the annual tree assembly but always returned home to the same tree, in the same corner, with the same ornaments I had grown up with.

My first year spending Christmas alone was last year. I worked at a hotel, and I was recruited to decorate the tree. My boss gave me a huge box of lights for this little tiny tree with instructions to use all the lights. I had never strung Christmas lights before! I spent my entire shift wrestling with the fragile-but-still-lit-lights, tying them in knots around the trunk of the tree, and working outwards. They remained brightly lit for all of five minutes before – sizzle! – out they went and along with them, my Christmas spirit that movies always glorify.

I spent my next shift with my head buried in richly scented pine needles, seeking out the 2 or 3 broken lights amongst the thousands, grumbling bah-humbug to everyone in my wake.

I worked the hotel on Christmas, too. A strange experience, besides a quick call with my family, I spent the day mostly alone at my desk, reflecting. It marked a year since I had left home. A lot had changed. A lot was going to change.

This year, I’m even farther from my family. I don’t have to string lights on a stupid hotel Christmas tree, but I’ve found my fair share of trees. I attended the holiday boat parade in Jacksonville, Florida and stood under a towering tree while cheesy pop holiday music played. In Miami, I ended up at a fancy party with another big tree, bedazzled in the lobby. Now I’m in the Bahamas and there are no pine trees to be found. We left the Christmas lights back in Florida, which I don’t mind, because something tells me I’d be the one dangling from the mast of our sailboat, stringing lights. Who knows what Christmas will be like this year. There will probably be some lit up sailboats and maybe even a fake tree in whatever port-of-call we anchor in on the 25th.

I don’t put much meaning into the actual date anymore. My life doesn’t really allow it now, but I don’t mind. The holidays stress me out more than anything – PRESENTS PRESENTS PRESENTS – outside of familiy time that’s all this time of year seems to be about. And movies that make it seem like not being with family on Christmas is the worst thing to happen in the history of EVER. I get my family time when I can make it home. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 25th of December or the 4th of July… it happens when I can make it happen.

But I know that back in my hometown, for the whole month of December, that same fake tree will be in the same corner of my living room. The same ornaments will be hung there. The same Sesame Street album will get broken out, despite the complete lack of children. And every tree I meet along the way, I will compare it to the one standing in Michigan, and think: “Those branches are TOTALLY not reaching for the sun!”

I can’t remember ever being pee-in-my-pants excited about Christmas.  In our home, there was no decorating except for the tree.  There were no stockings hung over the fireplace.  We didn’t bake Christmas cookies or send Christmas cards.  And after the 7th grade, Christmas became this seemingly obligatory gift of money with which my brother and I used to purchase our gifts during the weeks after Christmas.  This was mostly a result of my mother’s conversion to a Jehovah Witness.  Jehovah Witnesses do not celebrate holidays because they believe that they originated from Pagan rituals, not fundamental Christian beliefs.  I actually happened to agree with them, but that didn’t stop me from begging for a Christmas tree each year.

Though winter is my least favorite season, Christmas is magical for me.  I drink hot chocolate and chai while watching the flames dance in the fireplace.  Apple and cinnamon candles burn, extra blankets cover the couches and my Clay Aiken Christmas album plays in the background.  (Yes, that’s right.  Clay Aiken.  Don’t hate.)  Christmas time means warm socks, flannel pajamas, hearty breakfasts and sugar cookies.  What’s not to love about that?

And maybe it is because during this one time of year, my faith in humanity is restored.  People hold open doors and say “Merry Christmas” to strangers on the street.  They dig around for spare change in their pockets and drop a few coins into the Salvation Army cans.  They collect cans of food for the hungry and serve warm meals to the homeless.  We see through the Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, crowded malls and maxed out credit cards, and remember that this time of the year is really all about Love.

As a mother, my challenge now is to figure out to marry the whimsy and magic of the Christmases I never had with the values and morals that I wish to cultivate in my children.  But it is hard when I don’t really know exactly what to do.  I could always ask my mother-in-law.  So this week I will be scrambling to find holiday craft projects; learning how to make my own Advent Calendar; reading about St. Nicholas; and attempting to buy presents.  (As a result of my childhood, I am a horrible gift-giver.  Not to mention I have serious issues with the wasteful, consumerist and materialist elements of the holiday season so I abhor shopping for presents.) Oh, and I am supposed to make “Christmas Pants” for my husband and son.

This should be an exciting and joyous time for me.  But it’s not.  So far, this year’s holiday season has agitated my insecurities.  I have walked into Target about 35 times in the past 2 weeks determined to deck my halls.  Yet each trip ended with my head down, dejected, embarrassed and upset that I lack the skills to create my Christmas fantasy.  Ok, I did manage to buy some stockings for myself and the kids, but that was all.

I know it sounds a little silly.  I shouldn’t let this bother me so much.  But you know, deep down, it’s not really just about Christmas.  It’s about me trying to give my children the childhood I wish I had.  And maybe that’s what bothers me: I can’t give them what I never had.  That won’t keep me from trying though.  I have time on my side, right?  And my kids will still love me, even if I pick sucky stocking stuffers and forget to bake cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.  Because, like I said: this season is really just about Love.  Life is about Love.  I don’t have to save it all for Christmas.

(photo credit)

I am 10 years old and it’s 4am.  After hours spent imagining my Christmas tree’s bounty, laying with eyes wide open straining for the sound of reindeer on the roof  to prove classmates wrong (please, please let it be real!), I finally giggled myself to sleep and now wake with a start.  It’s Christmas.  The air is cold and my anticipation is electric, buzzing in my chest.  My bare feet smack the wood floor and then calm themselves and pad quietly to the door, around the corner.  I must be the first one up; I am afraid to breathe, nervous that someone else will be awake & ruin the magic, worried Santa might’ve forgotten us & the tree will be depressingly bare.  My heart pounds.

I silently, stealthily turn the corner, and there it is, our tree in all her glory, filling the room with her warm glow, presents spilling out from under her like candy from a too-full bag, doubled in the window and the dark early morning sky.  My eyes widen and I slowly inhale as if trying to drink it all in – this beauty, this stillness, this moment that is all mine.  I am reverent, awed by the childhood sacredness of the lights, branches, brightly-patterned paper and half-eaten cookies.

Then the excitement hits.  I quench a rising laugh and slide manically over the floorboards to my brother’s room.  I whisper, “Alex, Alex, wake up,” I get my face right next to the pillow and his 4 year old chubby cheeks, “it’s Christmas.”  Immediately he’s awake.

“He came?”  His little blue eyes are filled with wonder and trust, reflecting my joy.

“He came.”  Alex shrieks as he disentangles himself from the sheets and crawls out of bed.  We giggle unchecked to the presents, where we can’t help but pause, drawn to inspect every one – which ones are mine? – but are overwhelmed by their giddy promises and have to move on for fear we’ll rip them all open in a delicious frenzy.  We burst into my parent’s room, a cannon of screaming confetti, and clamber up on top of their no-longer-sleeping forms; they groan but smile.

The most wonderful day of the year has begun.

Last year was the first time in my life I wasn’t with family for Christmas.  I can’t really complain; I was in Australia, eating pig roasted on a spit, drinking in the sunshine, swinging in a hammock, swimming under the stars.  But it didn’t feel like the holidays; I just felt like it was some summer party, a fourth of July maybe, until I skyped with my family and realized what I was missing.  My cousins lovely in holiday sweaters, my aunt & uncle’s festive house, my grandma, who cried at the shock of seeing me, knowing I was half the world away.  My heart broke a little.

But it’s inevitable.  One Christmas had to be the first on my own.  Things change as you get older; there was a first Christmas my brother woke up before me, a first Christmas our parents had to wake us both up, and a first Christmas we started opening presents after getting coffee.  This year, my brother’s girlfriend will probably be there & my dad probably won’t.  Things change.  It’s bittersweet.

My family will never again be what it was when I was 10 and awestruck by the beauty of the Christmas tree.  It makes me sad (there are actually tears as I write this), but I know this is just the nature of life.  There are no endings, just an ebb and flow of people growing and circumstances changing.  I know my family is tied together by the strong bond of love, no matter where each of is us.  And I know I carry that love with me, every day, not just on Christmas.

Last year, as I made our family’s traditional Christmas Eve pierogies for the first time on my own & from scratch, in a hot Aussie hostel kitchen, surrounded by strangers & 2-week old friendship, I felt a new kind of Christmas spirit.  Not the childhood magic, not the teenage celebration or the adult anxiety, but a personal sense of Christmas.  Much like standing in the stillness of the lit tree’s early morning glory, I felt a light calmness that was mine.

There will come a first Christmas where my brother stays with his new family and a first Christmas I stay with mine.  There will be first Christmases in new cities and first Christmases without loved ones.  That’s life.  Through it all, I will carry my calmness and my joy; I will carry my family’s love and my childhood wonder.

And the little girl inside me, still believing, wide-eyed, in magic, will always seek out those early Christmas morning moments in life, to stand awed by something beautiful.

[photo source]

The day this post goes live I’ll be 30,000 feet in the air en route to New Zealand.

Could someone please tell me how the hell that happened? Because I could have sworn I was just posting about my decision to move to England. Then there was 5 months in London, a 3 week pit-stop at the family home in Connecticut, and then New Zealand. Is it totally lame if I say something like, “Boy! Does time fly!” Seeing as, you know, it really really does.

For now though, I write this at home. I’m sitting in (one of) the local Starbucks, working away. Outside are fall leaves and Greenwich lives shopping for Thanksgiving dinner at the way-too-expensive grocery store. Everyone who walks into this Starbucks is wearing some variation of the jogging pants and pearls uniform of the Greenwich housewife (as I write this there’s a girl my age in this outfit. Perhaps she is a Mrs-in-training?).

This, my friends, is Greenwich, Connecticut.

I’ve always hated it here. Everyone is white, rich and a little pretentious. I hated my high school. Mostly because I was a hermit with an asshat boyfriend so people tended to not like me, but I also thought the people I went to school with cared about the wrong things. Alcohol and an ivy league education being the main two.

Yes, I have always hated this place, but during that last month in London I found myself missing it like nobody’s business.

Now that I’m back, I’m revealing in the colors of autumn and taking long walks at Tod’s Point, the local (and of course, private) beach. I’m playing with my dog and going on dates with my mom. I’m enjoying my childhood room with a huge wicker bed I painted myself the year I moved into my first apartment.

I’m taking full advantage of the huge kitchen, functional washer and dryer, heating, back yard and and full refrigerator.

I also forgot, after having lived in both Manhattan and London during this past year, that people are actually nice to each other here. Sure, it’s the cliche of a small town, and Old Greenwich is by no means the home of Southern Hospitality, but people do occasionally say hi to you on the street. And I do know the guys by name at various shops on our little Main Street (actually called Sound Beach Ave, but whatever).

My point is, I didn’t appreciate the community I grew up in until I really and truly left it. College didn’t count. I hated coming home during summers only to be under my parents thumb again, where none of my real friends were in the area.

This time though, it’s different. I’m here with my favorite person on earth, spending time with my family before I jet off for God knows how long. I get to visit with my closest friends and, because I’m here with a non-American, I can to treat home like a tourist. I take him to Tod’s Point (image above) and see it with new eyes. I get to show him the face my dog makes when you try to take her toy away from her. It’s hilarious. But also sad. Mostly hilarious.

Basically, being home for Thanksgiving is the perfect time because I realize how lucky I am to have had a childhood here. I am grateful for my family and my big ramshackle house and the woods in our back yard.

I’m from a small community outside of New York and of course the week I leave is the week I appreciate it the most.

[photo credit: Vin Crosbie]

I gotta tell ya, these happy pills have been pretty amazing.  My body no longer aches.  I laugh.  I talk.  I smile.  Hell, even on those rainy Chicago days that I used to groan about so much, I walk on clouds.  It is amazing!  Now that the fog of depression has lifted, I am able to see just how wonderful my life is.  It isn’t perfect, but wow.  I can not believe how much of the good I could not see.

Even if you are not depressed, I think you can agree that it’s really easy to throw yourself pity parties.  Like, life sucks because you have to buy beer in the cans instead of beer in the bottles.  Or you think you might as well just stop leaving the house because all of the shirts you own are unravelling.  Or maybe you would rather get fat and sick eating off the McDonald’s dollar menu because shopping at Whole Foods is not an option right now.  Perhaps all of your best friends are married and you still spend Saturday nights cuddling your cats.  But that’s all petty shit, ya know?  You probably have about a zillion amazing little things to be grateful for in this life.

And life is as much about the little things as it is about the big things.

Take this cup of coffee.  To the plain old person, it’s just a plain old cup o’ joe (Kirkland’s Columbian Roast) in a plain ol’ mug.  But for me it’s something bigger.

We moved here almost two years ago.  We thought it would be a good opportunity: a chance to travel on a different career path and be near family.  It was a huge sacrifice.  We gave up a lot of money, a lot of stuff, a lot of security to make this leap.  We had no idea that my side of the family would move–taking their free daycare offer with them.  We had no idea that the job we thought would be so great would be so bad; that my father-in-law would be attacked (and finally killed) by that damn cancer; that the winters would be so long, so gray and so lonely.  We didn’t know that money would be so tight that I would have to spend last spring, summer and fall selling my clothes, my purses, my shoes, my children’s toys to make ends meet.  And that when they still didn’t meet, we would go to the food pantry.

Despite how depressing many of those months were, I am happy for the life lessons I learned along the way.  I learned how to use a sewing machine.  (I made some pretty awesome pillows and pants.)  I learned how to bake bread and cook dry beans.  (My chili kicks ass!)  I learned that appearances are decieving.  (The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?) I learned that it actually takes very little to survive.  (VERY little.)  I learned how to dissociate my self-worth from my possessions.  (This was a hard one.  But I finally got it.  I am NOT my things.)  And this led to me being even more appreciative and grateful for all the little stuff.

Like this cup of coffee.

I am so grateful and so happy that I can sit here at my desk and drink this cup of coffee.

(photo credit)

What do you think of when you hear the word “family”?

For most of you, you think of your own family. But which one? Your husband and kids? Your mom, dad, and siblings? Your aunts, uncles, and grandparents?

Do you have a big, boisterous family? Are holidays loud and overwhelming? Or is your unit in the lower digits? Is the time spent with them full of quiet conversation?

The word “family” is loaded for me. It holds multiple definitions. I am an only child. My parents divorced when I was 12. For a long time, it was just me and my mom. When someone would ask, “What’s your family like?” my only answer was, “Well, my mom’s cool.” Was I supposed to tell them about my aunts, uncles, and cousins? Did they want to know about the step-family I rarely see? Should I make up siblings or just talk about my cats?

Last week, my husband made a big decision. When we talked about, he pressed the importance of what is best for our family. And he didn’t mean his parents or my parents. He said, “My family is more important to me,” and he meant me (okay, and probably our cat). Even though it’s just the two of us, we are a unit. This was the first time I had though of our marriage this way. I don’t know why I had been unconsciously thinking, “When we have kids, we’ll be a family.” Why? I had been a two-person family for half of my life.

The truth is, I don’t understand the word “family.” I try to fit it into the box that defines it as a mommy, daddy, 2.5 kids, a dog, a cat and a yard with a picket fence.

…But it’s never been that way. And I don’t think I ever want it to look that way. My point is that no matter what your unit might be, as long as there are people in your life who support you, who include you in Big Decisions, who you care about, who cultivate love in your life… it doesn’t need to fit a definition. Family just is. And that’s what’s important.

{photo via Tomi Tapio}

I am the MacGyver of travel.

I have cobbled together the last 6 weeks from one spider-legged plane ticket, reinforced steel beams of friendship, and found-just-in-the-nick-of-time trust, all tied together with a string of selfless giving by amazing people.

I spent two weeks in Alexandria, Virginia and DC with some of my family, reconnecting with who I came from, appreciating with new eyes places that I long ago stopped actually seeing.

I stepped into my best friend’s life in Denver, Colorado as comfortably as though we hadn’t lived in different states for the past 11 years.  She got married & graduated med school just over a year ago, and it was strange to see her all grown up with a husband and a house and a dog, as a doctor with life-and-death responsibilities.  This is the same skinny girl I met at 13, the same girl I double-dated to prom with, the same girl who held my hair back at college parties; this is the girl that is just as oddball cheesy and silly as I am, still.  She shopped apartments for me, hoping to convince me to move to Denver, and just to live close to her again makes that a very lucrative thought.

I dropped in on Boston, Massachusetts last-minute.  A friend I don’t know very well came through for me; she got my Facebook message on her way home from work and detoured to meet me on the T, taking me to dinner and letting me stay at her house.  Just the first of so many people that amazed me on this trip with their unexpected hospitality.

Portland, Oregon cleaned up all nice & pretty for me.  Out of the four days I was there, three were uncharacteristically sunny and warm.  It was gorgeous.  Once again, someone I don’t know very well went above and beyond for me; a friend of a friend who I’d literally hung out with for about 3 hours a year ago, not only let me stay with her, but took me out and showed me her favorite spots.  We got along like we’d known each other for years, convincing me that we were meant to be friends and will be, for a long time.

An LA friend and New York local went exuberantly out of his way to meet me in NYC and fill my 24 hours there with the entire island of Manhattan.  As he played tourist in his own town, I got to try my first street dog, first NYC pizza & bagel, hail my first yellow cab, and scurry through my first NYC rain day.  We went to the top of the Empire State Building and got lost in Central Park; we buzzed around Times Square, tipsy, and gazed at the Brooklyn Bridge lights like stars in the dark sky.

I slept in JFK airport one night, reeling and teary with exhausted frustration from cancelled and delayed flights.  Not fun, but I survived, of course.  Yet another affirmation that no matter how bad things seem at the time, they will always turn out OK and what is now a terrible experience will, very soon, simply be a good story.

Because of those delays, I spent less than a day with some college girl friends in Charlotte, North Carolina, drinking sweet tea and having a pajama pizza-making party.  True to form in their constant good-natured acceptance and generosity, they picked me up from the airport, took me back to the airport, and in-between, blew up an air mattress in their living room to giggle at silly movies and drift into much-needed naps.

My best college guy friend showed me Houston, Texas nightlife, his musician’s schedule rendering me incapable of going to bed before 4am for the rest of the trip.  We wandered museums and parks, enjoying our shared stupid sense of humor and the just-cooled-down lovely weather.  I watched his show at the dueling piano bar he works at – the first time I’ve seen him play live in 7 years! – and he was just incredible.

He and I drove to Austin, Texas late one night after his show; we left at 3am, not knowing where we’d stay when we got there, crashing at his buddy’s house at 7am and sleeping till 2.  We have the same by-the-seat-of-our-pants travel attitude.  Austin’s natural beauty surprised me.  We spent two absolutely perfect days outside; one in City Park practicing cartwheels and spinning till we were dizzy, laying in the grass people-watching, and the other kayaking the lake, swinging on found rope & tire swings, swimming out beyond tree roots like fingers in the water, and drifting with the current in the sun.  I met up with a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in 11 years (!!) and enjoyed every drink with a live blues soundtrack.

My trip was bookended by two weddings, both in Raleigh, North Carolina and both beautiful examples of people who’ve found their match.  Also both kick-ass parties.  I drank, I danced, I cheered and I didn’t sleep much.  Again, people were just so kind, offering rides and sharing food.  When I was there for the second wedding, the couple from the first wedding let me stay with them two nights, even inviting me to dinner at their family’s house (which was SO fun – amiable family bickering and hula hoop competitions!) and driving me to the airport at 4:30am.

As I write this, I’m on the plane back to LA, not sure what’s next for me, returning to a new home, a borrowed bed and a temporary job.  I feel a little disappointed, not only because this amazing adventure is now just a memory, but because I (subconsciously) was hoping for some realizations from this trip and none have really come.  I keep expecting a lightning bolt – Bam! I know what I want to do & where I want to live!  Bam! – to electrify me into action, but maybe this is just the stage of my life to trust and be patient.  And enjoy.

One thing I have learned from this month and a half is how truly selfless and wonderful my friends and acquaintances are; I am such a lucky girl.  I hope that I can be as giving to them as they have been to me.  The more I experience this love, the more important I realize it is; I want to surround myself with it and give it out in fistfuls.  I know the world is a pretty small place – when I can fly all these spots in a month and Skype with those I missed – but still, I hope that someday soon I can be simply a car ride from all the people I love the most.

Maybe that’s enough of a lesson to learn; maybe that IS the realization I needed.

I can’t even express to y’all how grateful I am for this experience.  To all of you who gave me your time, love, friendship, and hospitality: thank you.  Thank you bucketfuls.  I hope to see you all again soon.

Ok, Los Angeles, I’m coming back to you refreshed and bolstered.  Whatever you’ve got in store for me, I’m ready and I know I have the support I need to take it or leave it, and I have the strength and presence of mind to tell which is best for me.  Bring it on.

*title is paraphrased from a MacGyver Season 1 quote (haha!): “The bag’s not for what I take, Colson, it’s for what I find along the way.”


[photo: me at Lake Travis, just outside Austin, TX]


I am the MacGyver of travel.

I have cobbled together the last 6 weeks from one spider-legged plane ticket, reinforced steel beams of friendship, and found-just-in-the-nick-of-time trust, all tied together with a string of selfless giving by amazing people.

I spent two weeks in Alexandria, Virginia and DC with some of my family, reconnecting with who I came from, appreciating with new eyes places that I long ago stopped actually seeing.

I stepped into my best friend’s life in Denver, Colorado as comfortably as though we hadn’t lived in different states for the past 11 years.  She got married & graduated med school just over a year ago, and it was strange to see her all grown up with a husband and a house and a dog, as a doctor with life-and-death responsibilities.  This is the same skinny girl I met at 13, the same girl I double-dated to prom with, the same girl who held my hair back at college parties; this is the girl that is just as oddball cheesy and silly as I am, still.  She shopped apartments for me, hoping to convince me to move to Denver, and just to live close to her again makes that a very lucrative thought.

I dropped in on Boston, Massachusetts last-minute.  A friend I don’t know very well came through for me; she got my Facebook message on her way home from work and detoured to meet me on the T, taking me to dinner and letting me stay at her house.  Just the first of so many people that amazed me on this trip with their unexpected hospitality.

Portland, Oregon cleaned up all nice & pretty for me.  Out of the four days I was there, three were uncharacteristically sunny and warm.  It was gorgeous.  Once again, someone I don’t know very well went above and beyond for me; a friend of a friend who I’d literally hung out with for about 3 hours a year ago, not only let me stay with her, but took me out and showed me her favorite spots.  We got along like we’d known each other for years, convincing me that we were meant to be friends and will be, for a long time.

An LA friend and New York local went exuberantly out of his way to meet me in NYC and fill my 24 hours there with the entire island of Manhattan.  As he played tourist in his own town, I got to try my first street dog, first NYC pizza & bagel, hail my first yellow cab, and scurry through my first NYC rain day.  We went to the top of the Empire State Building and got lost in Central Park; we buzzed around Times Square, tipsy, and gazed at the Brooklyn Bridge lights like stars in the dark sky.

I slept in JFK airport one night, reeling and teary with exhausted frustration from cancelled and delayed flights.  Not fun, but I survived, of course.  Yet another affirmation that no matter how bad things seem at the time, they will always turn out OK and what is now a terrible experience will, very soon, simply be a good story.

Because of those delays, I spent less than a day with some college girl friends in Charlotte, North Carolina, drinking sweet tea and having a pajama pizza-making party.  True to form in their constant good-natured acceptance and generosity, they picked me up from the airport, took me back to the airport, and in-between, blew up an air mattress in their living room to giggle at silly movies and drift into much-needed naps.

My best college guy friend showed me Houston, Texas nightlife, his musician’s schedule rendering me incapable of going to bed before 4am for the rest of the trip.  We wandered museums and parks, enjoying our shared stupid sense of humor and the just-cooled-down lovely weather.  I watched his show at the dueling piano bar he works at – the first time I’ve seen him play live in 7 years! – and he was just incredible.

He and I drove to Austin, Texas late one night after his show; we left at 3am, not knowing where we’d stay when we got there, crashing at his buddy’s house at 7am and sleeping till 2.  We have the same by-the-seat-of-our-pants travel attitude.  Austin’s natural beauty surprised me.  We spent two absolutely perfect days outside; one in City Park practicing cartwheels and spinning till we were dizzy, laying in the grass people-watching, and the other kayaking the lake, swinging on found rope & tire swings, swimming out beyond tree roots like fingers in the water, and drifting with the current in the sun.  I met up with a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in 11 years (!!) and enjoyed every drink with a live blues soundtrack.

My trip was bookended by two weddings, both in Raleigh, North Carolina and both beautiful examples of people who’ve found their match.  Also both kick-ass parties.  I drank, I danced, I cheered and I didn’t sleep much.  Again, people were just so kind, offering rides and sharing food.  When I was there for the second wedding, the couple from the first wedding let me stay with them two nights, even inviting me to dinner at their family’s house (which was SO fun – amiable family bickering and hula hoop competitions!) and driving me to the airport at 4:30am.

As I write this, I’m on the plane back to LA, not sure what’s next for me, returning to a new home, a borrowed bed and a temporary job.  I feel a little disappointed, not only because this amazing adventure is now just a memory, but because I (subconsciously) was hoping for some realizations from this trip and none have really come.  I keep expecting a lightning bolt – Bam! I know what I want to do & where I want to live!  Bam! – to electrify me into action, but maybe this is just the stage of my life to trust and be patient.  And enjoy.

One thing I have learned from this month and a half is how truly selfless and wonderful my friends and acquaintances are; I am such a lucky girl.  I hope that I can be as giving to them as they have been to me.  The more I experience this love, the more important I realize it is; I want to surround myself with it and give it out in fistfuls.  I know the world is a pretty small place – when I can fly all these spots in a month and Skype with those I missed – but still, I hope that someday soon I can be simply a car ride from all the people I love the most.

Maybe that’s enough of a lesson to learn; maybe that IS the realization I needed.

I can’t even express to y’all how grateful I am for this experience.  To all of you who gave me your time, love, friendship, and hospitality: thank you.  Thank you bucketfuls.  I hope to see you all again soon.

Ok, Los Angeles, I’m coming back to you refreshed and bolstered.  Whatever you’ve got in store for me, I’m ready and I know I have the support I need to take it or leave it, and I have the strength and presence of mind to tell which is best for me.  Bring it on.

*title is paraphrased from a MacGyver Season 1 quote (haha!): “The bag’s not for what I take, Colson, it’s for what I find along the way.”


[photo: me at Lake Travis, just outside Austin, TX]


I spent most of my childhood feeling distant from my mother.  Though we look a lot a like (A LOT), our personalities could not be more different.  My mother is from Jersey; one in a family of nine; She is loud and she has a laugh that can fill a room.  She’s never afraid to say whatever is on her mind–whether it be good or bad.  (This is usually prolematic when it comes to dining at restaurants.)  She lacks what my father and I call a “filter.”  Thoughts just flow straight from the brain and out of her mouth.  It’s a personality that you either love for its honest (sometimes brutal) truth, or hate.  I remember lowering my head in embarassment on more than one occassion.  I kinda hated it.

Middle school and high school were strange times for me.  (They are strange for everyone though, right?)  We didn’t talk about boys.  We never had a sex talk.  We didn’t talk about what it is like to become a woman.  In fact, I could barely stomach the idea of asking her to help me buy a pad when I got my period.  We did however do the usual mother-daughter stuff: shopping for formal dresses, shoes and getting manicures and pedicures.  Somehow that open and honest person had difficulty communicating with me.  I just figured that she didn’t “get” me…that our personalities were too different for us to ever become best friends.

That began to change after the start of my quarter life crisis.  Our conversations became more open.  We talked about money, men and meaning.  We discussed religion, race and romance.  I started to realize that we were not so different after all. I saw her in a new light.

Her lack of a “filter” simply means that she always lives her truth because she is never afraid to speak it.  Wow.  I wish it had not taken me 20-something years to appreciate that.

Now, as I continue on this journey through my quarter life crisis, that trait of her’s that use to cause me to lower my head in shame?  I covet it.  The people pleaser inside of me often bites her tongue.  She is afraid to ask for her own needs to be met.  She lets others dictate how she is to live her life.

I do not think that I will ever get rid of my own filter.  It is a part of me, and it is actually useful at times.  But I do want to be a little more like Mom.

I want to be comfortable enough with myself that I can walk out of the front door each morning and say, “Hello World.  This is me.  Love me, or hate me.  This. is. me.”

(photo: my family and me standing outside our house a few days before my son was due…I think I went to the hospital that day.)

Tonight, I will be driving over to have dinner with my Grandma.  This has been an impossibility, the casualness of it, the just-stop-in-for-dinner-ness of it, for my entire life.  As a kid living in Maryland and later South Carolina, I remember road trips into Virginia and how, just like I thought Ronald Reagan looked suspiciously like my Pop-Pop, I noticed the signs all along the George Washington Parkway to Mt. Vernon had little profiles on them, and logically thought they were pictures of my Gammie, since that was the way to her house and the outline was of a person with a ponytail.

My cousins were partially raised by my grandparents, and it always made me a little bit jealous that when we visited, my brother and I had to explain our lives and our friends; we didn’t speak the language of everyday like my cousins did.  I tried to connect with my Gammie over photos and stories of friends & school, with my Pop-pop through hesitant conversations in French and later, surprisingly, my account of skydiving; he’d been a paratrooper in WWII and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him perk up as much as he did when he finally had someone to share that experience with.

I have a small family: mom, dad, me, my younger brother.  On my mom’s side it’s her sister, brother and his wife, two cousins, and I grew up with both my grandparents.  My dad was an only child and his father died before I was born.  Going to see his mom in New Jersey was a longer trip but her house was full of smoky laughter and homemade pies.  She always wore sparkly sweaters and shorts with ankle socks, with soft tan skin and perfectly sprayed red hair.  Looking back, I think I inherited some of her big personality.  She passed away when I was in college and sometimes I still feel like she’s standing right next to me; I can hear her trademark laugh and I crave a reuben sandwich or peanut butter pie.

I’m the oldest of the three grandchildren, by six years.  My brother and our cousins are much closer in age.  Of course I love them very much but I’ve never experienced the friendship some people have with their siblings and cousins.  I’ve always had to be the responsible one.  The one that sets out on her own first, the one that sets a good example, the one that sets the table for dinner.

My parents separated two years ago, right on cue with my Quarterlife Crisis.  They never fought, my family has never been one that talks about uncomfortable things, but I knew they weren’t happy for a long time.  Just about from puberty until I left home for college, my mom was stressed out, tense, my dad was on the computer or in a book, disconnected, and my little brother, who suffered from depression, was asleep or watching movies.  I was always busy, the perfect AP student, immersed in extracurriculars and a social life, coming home only for dinner or to sleep.

I’ve never really spent any alone time, since I was five, with any of my extended family.  I don’t have dinner with my aunt and uncle or shop with my cousins, without there being other family members around.  The only exception to this was when my cousin, 10 years my junior, visited me in LA; I was amazed at how similar we are & how well we got along.  This was a new connection for me.  Usually, I’m with them for the holidays and then I’m gone.  I’ve never thought much about it, but when I Skype’d my family from Australia last Christmas day, my Gammie cried.

Just like when I was a child, flipping through desperately to find the page the rest of the family is on, I am an outsider.  When my Pop-pop had alzheimer’s, I was stunned to see the 80 pound stranger he’d become and thankful that I could fly away, pretend it wasn’t happening.  But I missed his final days; the night he died, almost everyone else was there, sitting around the kitchen table, crying and telling stories.  I found out the next day.

I love my independence but I’m nostalgic for a connection I’ve never had.  Don’t get me wrong, my family is very loving and I don’t think any of them would consider me “out of the loop,” but I haven’t lived on the same coast or sometimes the same continent as them for the past 7 years.  When we talk, it’s formalities; I’m jealous of friends with big loud families who tease each other over games of volleyball or have weekly dinners in crowded kitchens; their love is obvious, obnoxious.

I’m the protagonist in the sappy holiday movie who needs to find the meaning of family.

I realize that from my family, I learned to love from a distance.  I learned the ability to shut down, close off or leave when things get rough.  I learned tight smiles, changes of topic and closed doors on an uncomfortable subject.  It’s easy for me to say goodbye and set out on my own; it’s a lot harder for me to accept a person daily, with all their flaws and fears.

But they also taught me loyalty and what it means to unconditionally love & support someone, and to selflessly give.  My parents raised my brother and me to be honest, caring, kind, intelligent people.  We had dinner as a family every night.  They taught me strength and that we never stop learning and growing, and that just because there is a distance doesn’t mean there isn’t love.  Through the lack of it growing up and through the recent development of it, I learned the importance of real, open communication.  They have always been, and will always be there for me with accepting love, no matter what.  I know this.

When I hit my QLC, my mom was the first person I called.  I felt like a failure and she assured me I wasn’t.  I felt like a wreck and she put me back together.  I felt completely alone and her voice was like a hug.  It was the lowest point of my life, and never once did it occur to me that she was going through a divorce & it was probably the lowest point of hers, too.  She was just there for me, any time of day or night.  Thank you, momma.

Our families make us who we are, crooked smiles, too-loud laughs, bruised hearts and all.  Knowing who they’ve made us is our beginning; building on that is our journey.  Family are the people to whom, no matter how far away you run, you can always come home.

So here I am.

Tonight, I will be driving over to have dinner with my Grandma.  This has been an impossibility, the casualness of it, the just-stop-in-for-dinner-ness of it, for my entire life.  As a kid living in Maryland and later South Carolina, I remember road trips into Virginia and how, just like I thought Ronald Reagan looked suspiciously like my Pop-Pop, I noticed the signs all along the George Washington Parkway to Mt. Vernon had little profiles on them, and logically thought they were pictures of my Gammie, since that was the way to her house and the outline was of a person with a ponytail.

My cousins were partially raised by my grandparents, and it always made me a little bit jealous that when we visited, my brother and I had to explain our lives and our friends; we didn’t speak the language of everyday like my cousins did.  I tried to connect with my Gammie over photos and stories of friends & school, with my Pop-pop through hesitant conversations in French and later, surprisingly, my account of skydiving; he’d been a paratrooper in WWII and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him perk up as much as he did when he finally had someone to share that experience with.

I have a small family: mom, dad, me, my younger brother.  On my mom’s side it’s her sister, brother and his wife, two cousins, and I grew up with both my grandparents.  My dad was an only child and his father died before I was born.  Going to see his mom in New Jersey was a longer trip but her house was full of smoky laughter and homemade pies.  She always wore sparkly sweaters and shorts with ankle socks, with soft tan skin and perfectly sprayed red hair.  Looking back, I think I inherited some of her big personality.  She passed away when I was in college and sometimes I still feel like she’s standing right next to me; I can hear her trademark laugh and I crave a reuben sandwich or peanut butter pie.

I’m the oldest of the three grandchildren, by six years.  My brother and our cousins are much closer in age.  Of course I love them very much but I’ve never experienced the friendship some people have with their siblings and cousins.  I’ve always had to be the responsible one.  The one that sets out on her own first, the one that sets a good example, the one that sets the table for dinner.

My parents separated two years ago, right on cue with my Quarterlife Crisis.  They never fought, my family has never been one that talks about uncomfortable things, but I knew they weren’t happy for a long time.  Just about from puberty until I left home for college, my mom was stressed out, tense, my dad was on the computer or in a book, disconnected, and my little brother, who suffered from depression, was asleep or watching movies.  I was always busy, the perfect AP student, immersed in extracurriculars and a social life, coming home only for dinner or to sleep.

I’ve never really spent any alone time, since I was five, with any of my extended family.  I don’t have dinner with my aunt and uncle or shop with my cousins, without there being other family members around.  The only exception to this was when my cousin, 10 years my junior, visited me in LA; I was amazed at how similar we are & how well we got along.  This was a new connection for me.  Usually, I’m with them for the holidays and then I’m gone.  I’ve never thought much about it, but when I Skype’d my family from Australia last Christmas day, my Gammie cried.

Just like when I was a child, flipping through desperately to find the page the rest of the family is on, I am an outsider.  When my Pop-pop had alzheimer’s, I was stunned to see the 80 pound stranger he’d become and thankful that I could fly away, pretend it wasn’t happening.  But I missed his final days; the night he died, almost everyone else was there, sitting around the kitchen table, crying and telling stories.  I found out the next day.

I love my independence but I’m nostalgic for a connection I’ve never had.  Don’t get me wrong, my family is very loving and I don’t think any of them would consider me “out of the loop,” but I haven’t lived on the same coast or sometimes the same continent as them for the past 7 years.  When we talk, it’s formalities; I’m jealous of friends with big loud families who tease each other over games of volleyball or have weekly dinners in crowded kitchens; their love is obvious, obnoxious.

I’m the protagonist in the sappy holiday movie who needs to find the meaning of family.

I realize that from my family, I learned to love from a distance.  I learned the ability to shut down, close off or leave when things get rough.  I learned tight smiles, changes of topic and closed doors on an uncomfortable subject.  It’s easy for me to say goodbye and set out on my own; it’s a lot harder for me to accept a person daily, with all their flaws and fears.

But they also taught me loyalty and what it means to unconditionally love & support someone, and to selflessly give.  My parents raised my brother and me to be honest, caring, kind, intelligent people.  We had dinner as a family every night.  They taught me strength and that we never stop learning and growing, and that just because there is a distance doesn’t mean there isn’t love.  Through the lack of it growing up and through the recent development of it, I learned the importance of real, open communication.  They have always been, and will always be there for me with accepting love, no matter what.  I know this.

When I hit my QLC, my mom was the first person I called.  I felt like a failure and she assured me I wasn’t.  I felt like a wreck and she put me back together.  I felt completely alone and her voice was like a hug.  It was the lowest point of my life, and never once did it occur to me that she was going through a divorce & it was probably the lowest point of hers, too.  She was just there for me, any time of day or night.  Thank you, momma.

Our families make us who we are, crooked smiles, too-loud laughs, bruised hearts and all.  Knowing who they’ve made us is our beginning; building on that is our journey.  Family are the people to whom, no matter how far away you run, you can always come home.

So here I am.

I went to Colorado to get away–to vacate.  I went to breathe the fresh air, worship the mountains, drink in the sunsets.  I went to love.  I went to share.  I went to be inspired.  I went to be still.

Instead, my days were filled with tension.  My Blackberry wasn’t on my hip, but I could hear it buzzing in my purse.  Each morning I woke up well before dawn, unable to sleep, anxious about work.

About three months ago I was propositioned by a friend to work with her on a new retail e-commerce business.  She emailed me the role and its responsibilities.  It all seemed so overwhelming so I asked her for a few days to think it over.  My gut told me to say “no”.  Intuition told me that my day-job as a stay-at-home mom was just too intense at the moment to take on another time-consuming project.  However, my mind wanted to reason with me.  It promised to deliver big in the money department; I saw the potential and the money-hungry part of me responded.  It gently coaxed me into accepting the position.  I ignored my gut–my intuition–and I have paid dearly for it.

Though I am proud of what I have accomplished in my role (contract negotiations, copywriting, hiring interns, accounting), it came with great sacrifice.  I let it hijack my life.  The time I used to spend on my morning pages was replaced with reconciling emails.  I have not written in my blog in almost three weeks and I have not read any of them either.  Time spent at the park was instead spent indoors writing copy.  Playdates were shortened or eliminated; dry-cleaning was forgotten; loads of laundry sat in corners and in closets unfolded.  If I was sleep deprived before, I was even more so now.  Coffee intake increased in order to compensate for the late-night hours I spent researching,writing, emailing.

I kept telling myself that this was only temporary; that I just needed to put in this time now in order for the reward later.   But my kids weren’t happy.  My husband wasn’t happy.  I wasn’t happy.   Around the time I started to finally accept this, was about the same time I finished up Week 1 of The Joy Equation.  As I sat there and looked at my core values (Authenticity, Abundance, Connection, Family, Freedom, Integrity, Spirituality, Trust) I realized that the way I was living my life at the moment was not in accordance with those values.  I didn’t want to quit; I had made a committment after all.

But finally, after tossing and turning for the first 4 nights of my 6-night vacation, I sent a letter to my friend requesting a decrease in responsibilities.  It was granted.  The last two nights I slept like a baby.

There was something about those mountains…. Their beauty, their strength, the stories they tell.  In a way, they reminded me of myself–of what I hope to be: a story-teller, strong, majestic, inspiring.  In those mountains I found some strength to set a boundary, to acknowledge what does and does not work in my life, and the courage to change it.  Let this be a recurring theme.

I was homeschooled through most of middle school.

Specifically, I was homeschooled for five and a half years during third, fifth, sixth, seventh, half of eighth, and ninth grade. I used to really enjoy telling people this because I felt as though my family busted right through the stereotype that was homeschooling, particularly the ‘how’d you have a social life?‘ and ‘didn’t that shelter you?‘ questions that typically followed.  However, I don’t think that stereotype exists really anymore, so now when I talk about those five and a half years, I tout what I felt were the really strong contributors to my work ethic and relationships today.

So, this is my homeschooling story.

Why we did it

Here’s the short story: My parents decided to homeschool my sister and I after my second grade year and her first grade year. They’d run into a bit of a disagreement with the school administration over what kind of information they could and wouldn’t share with parents about what the students were being taught and tested on. Feeling as though they should get to have some idea about what their six and seven year old were being taught, they pulled us out of public school after that year and took matters into their own hands – using an approved national cirruculum from a private school based in Florida.  That was that.

Lessons Learned

Being homeschooled from essentially late elementary school through middle school was pretty formative, and in retrospect, one of the best things to have happened to me. I appreciate the development that happened in those years and feel that there are three things in particular that have shaped me and have influenced my work ethic, professional direction in life, and ultimately the handling of my own quarter-life crisis.

I’m grateful for the years my parents taught us at home because:

I learned how to self-teach. Perhaps one of the best things to come out of being homeschooled from 3rd-9th grade is the ability I developed to teach myself information.  We had cirriculum and my parents were great teachers, but ultimately I was responsible for reading, understanding, and presenting the information I learned about each of the topics we studied.  This came in handy especially in college when professors weren’t spoon-feeding us everything anymore, and expected students to take responsibility for their own futures.  Today, as a self-employed blogger, consultant, and aspiring yoga teacher, the ability to keep myself motivated and constantly learning is as much a crucial part of my personal growth as it is my professional life.

It changed the way I believed work time should and could be structured. I remember starting our “school day” at 8AM (yes, we had to be “on time”) and being done by or shortly after lunch.  What took middle schools 7 hours to teach and accomplish between hallway time, lunch hours, etc., we nailed in 4-5 hours.  Since I’ve left the “traditional” work force again this fall, I’m back to working from home for a few different clients.  Knowing that it’s possible to “work smarter, not longer hours” keeps me focused in the mornings so I have my afternoons to work on my own projects, take yoga, and spend time with my friends – for the most part.  The golden nugget of this set-up is that it reinforces balance, something that remains a massive priority in my life.

The things I’ve learned from my family are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my life. From teacher-student lessons to parent-daughter lessons, I’ve learned more than how to manipulate a curfew and how to diagram a sentence.  Thanks to Ma, Pops, Mir, and Jeff, I’ve learned:  Alabama history, how to sauté mushrooms, what to cook cornbread in, how important the first grade is, what a laminating machine could be used for, how to pronounce “Gewurztraminer,” how to play Canasta, what an ERA is, the Caray family lineage (Harry, Skip, and Chip), some inner workings of today’s school system, how to cook with wine, and the importance of down time, alone time, and family time.

A Balance of Learning

Miranda and I went back to public school for high school, and I have to be honest – I loved it.  I know a ton of people who hated their middle and high school years, but I look back on middle school and I see a time in my life where foundations were set, where habits and work ethics were developed, and relationships with my mom, dad, and sister were strengthened.  I look back on high school and see a time when all of those previous years enabled me to self-teach and stay far on top of assignments and classwork in high school, enabled me to keep my head on straight and only get into a little bit of trouble, and ultimately appreciate the balance that was spending a few focused years learning at home so that I could spend the last years of my pre-secondary education rounding out academics with relationships and getting a better idea about what I wanted to do after that.

Role models and support systems

Family plays a huge role in who we are, and how I’ve landed where I’m at today.  I’m eternally grateful for having a support system of parents, a sister, and in the last few years, a brother-in-law that stayed supportive as I hammered out all of my big dreams.  Big dreams that have included from the very start writing, travel, self-managing, and constant learning and now into my late twenties really haven’t changed that much, but through their counseling, teaching, and unconditional love have been better defined and pursued than ever.

{Image credit: I swiped it from my sister’s Facebook page.}

I was homeschooled through most of middle school.

Specifically, I was homeschooled for five and a half years during third, fifth, sixth, seventh, half of eighth, and ninth grade. I used to really enjoy telling people this because I felt as though my family busted right through the stereotype that was homeschooling, particularly the ‘how’d you have a social life?‘ and ‘didn’t that shelter you?‘ questions that typically followed.  However, I don’t think that stereotype exists really anymore, so now when I talk about those five and a half years, I tout what I felt were the really strong contributors to my work ethic and relationships today.

So, this is my homeschooling story.

Why we did it

Here’s the short story: My parents decided to homeschool my sister and I after my second grade year and her first grade year. They’d run into a bit of a disagreement with the school administration over what kind of information they could and wouldn’t share with parents about what the students were being taught and tested on. Feeling as though they should get to have some idea about what their six and seven year old were being taught, they pulled us out of public school after that year and took matters into their own hands – using an approved national cirruculum from a private school based in Florida.  That was that.

Lessons Learned

Being homeschooled from essentially late elementary school through middle school was pretty formative, and in retrospect, one of the best things to have happened to me. I appreciate the development that happened in those years and feel that there are three things in particular that have shaped me and have influenced my work ethic, professional direction in life, and ultimately the handling of my own quarter-life crisis.

I’m grateful for the years my parents taught us at home because:

I learned how to self-teach. Perhaps one of the best things to come out of being homeschooled from 3rd-9th grade is the ability I developed to teach myself information.  We had cirriculum and my parents were great teachers, but ultimately I was responsible for reading, understanding, and presenting the information I learned about each of the topics we studied.  This came in handy especially in college when professors weren’t spoon-feeding us everything anymore, and expected students to take responsibility for their own futures.  Today, as a self-employed blogger, consultant, and aspiring yoga teacher, the ability to keep myself motivated and constantly learning is as much a crucial part of my personal growth as it is my professional life.

It changed the way I believed work time should and could be structured. I remember starting our “school day” at 8AM (yes, we had to be “on time”) and being done by or shortly after lunch.  What took middle schools 7 hours to teach and accomplish between hallway time, lunch hours, etc., we nailed in 4-5 hours.  Since I’ve left the “traditional” work force again this fall, I’m back to working from home for a few different clients.  Knowing that it’s possible to “work smarter, not longer hours” keeps me focused in the mornings so I have my afternoons to work on my own projects, take yoga, and spend time with my friends – for the most part.  The golden nugget of this set-up is that it reinforces balance, something that remains a massive priority in my life.

The things I’ve learned from my family are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my life. From teacher-student lessons to parent-daughter lessons, I’ve learned more than how to manipulate a curfew and how to diagram a sentence.  Thanks to Ma, Pops, Mir, and Jeff, I’ve learned:  Alabama history, how to sauté mushrooms, what to cook cornbread in, how important the first grade is, what a laminating machine could be used for, how to pronounce “Gewurztraminer,” how to play Canasta, what an ERA is, the Caray family lineage (Harry, Skip, and Chip), some inner workings of today’s school system, how to cook with wine, and the importance of down time, alone time, and family time.

A Balance of Learning

Miranda and I went back to public school for high school, and I have to be honest – I loved it.  I know a ton of people who hated their middle and high school years, but I look back on middle school and I see a time in my life where foundations were set, where habits and work ethics were developed, and relationships with my mom, dad, and sister were strengthened.  I look back on high school and see a time when all of those previous years enabled me to self-teach and stay far on top of assignments and classwork in high school, enabled me to keep my head on straight and only get into a little bit of trouble, and ultimately appreciate the balance that was spending a few focused years learning at home so that I could spend the last years of my pre-secondary education rounding out academics with relationships and getting a better idea about what I wanted to do after that.

Role models and support systems

Family plays a huge role in who we are, and how I’ve landed where I’m at today.  I’m eternally grateful for having a support system of parents, a sister, and in the last few years, a brother-in-law that stayed supportive as I hammered out all of my big dreams.  Big dreams that have included from the very start writing, travel, self-managing, and constant learning and now into my late twenties really haven’t changed that much, but through their counseling, teaching, and unconditional love have been better defined and pursued than ever.

{Image credit: I swiped it from my sister’s Facebook page.}