Her dad gives me the same look.

***

What’s happening? What’d I miss? What’s going on?

Scratch that. I don’t want to know.

My little Facebook moratorium has been pretty dang successful (by my standards) and I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Once you get through the first few days and you no longer have the shakes/hallucinations, it gets much easier!  Plus, did you know there’s a whole world out there that you don’t have to even check into or take photos of when you go?!

I. Had. No. Idea.

And all this extra time I have?  So much time!  I mean, I could go on and on…

So, just let me.

Go on and on…

***

Five things you find more time for when you stay off Facebook for a month:

1/ Sexually harassing your husband.
I didn’t necessarily forget how much I love my husband, but I may have been distracted by social media enough that he wasn’t getting the true attention he deserves. Now I like to spend my days sending him suggestive texts while he’s at work and making inappropriate advances when he’s doing mundane tasks around the house. So far, I think he enjoys it. That said, I may also be one ass-slap away from a lawsuit if I don’t slow my roll.

2/ Liking people again.
I totally forgot that I actually like people. For awhile there, after seeing the 700th re-post of a (fake) photo of Osama bin Laden shaking hands with Hillary Clinton, I seriously started to lose real faith in humanity – and basic intelligence. But then… I got off Facebook. And it was magical. I would venture outside and there were wonderful real-live people walking around. They would smile and say hello – and not even one of them wanted to talk about the president, or try to spoil Game of Thrones, or even tell me five hundred ways I might die from a scented flyer left on my car at the gas station.

People are awesome in real life.  (Well, most of them…)

3/ Re-arranging and revamping your entire house.
Due to my foot injury and nothing to peruse on Facebook, I started to be more aware of my surroundings. And my surroundings started to irritate me. So, within a one week span, I re-arranged my furniture and then put all the furniture back where it was. I took down the giant buffalo photos and made a 10′ wood photo ledge. I replaced a few rugs, moved around the old rugs. And basically, I shifted everything on the first floor. All with the help, of course, of my super hot husband who I generously rewarded with some whistles and more ass-slapping.

(I swear, he really does like it. I had him sign an affidavit.)

4/ Documentary binges.
I am pretty confident that I now know more about the Roosevelt administrations than the Roosevelts knew about the Roosevelt administrations. Ask me anything about Queen Elizabeth’s entire family going back five generations and I will accept that question and raise you a House Windsor bonus round. When I found myself reciting the dialogue along with the narrator on my 14th Kennedy series, I decided to hang it up for awhile – and began watching Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.  Which, by the way, made my husband slightly nervous. Until I assured him with a pinch that I was still totally into him – and then told him to make me a turkey sandwich.

I’m totally kidding. I don’t even like turkey sandwiches.

5/ Missing everyone.
I know. It’s so sweet, right? It’s also a lie. Kind of. I’m sorry. I do miss seeing all of the sweet faces and photos – and the positive, happy posts people shoot out in the universe with the optimism of a kitten rolling in a basket full of endless yarn. You know what I don’t miss?  Everything else. I love reading and watching the news and not hearing the chatter of opinions. I love being blissfully unaware of every dissected (and usually unverified) way my child can be harmed, maimed or kidnapped.  And you know what I definitely don’t miss on Facebook?

ME on Facebook.

Seriously. I annoyed myself.

So, I think I have finally kicked the habit. I wasn’t an addict, but I was definitely an abuser. And life truly has been so much more peaceful. I’m not saying I’ll never be on there. Think of me more as a silent partner. Truth is, I’ve been on a few times and I’ve gotten quickly bored, so I logged off again. And I’ve found that if you keep the app off your phone, you kind of lose interest altogether.

Just some tips if you’re thinking of trying this (blissful) endeavor…

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to post the link to this on Facebook so you’ll see it and then I have to go hit up my husband for some extra attention.

Oh, sweet, sweet irony.

xo,

Jen

 

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***

Two posts in two days. My head must be spinning…

The truth is I’m going through a bit of manic anxiety. I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but that is how I feel right now. My moods are swinging very high and very low – more often low, and I have a pent up energy that is screaming from my stomach to throat, trying to escape the cell block of my mind.

My foot injury and inability to walk or drive has left me a lot of time to live inside my head. In these long hours, I’ve had a lot of time to think about… everything. Brian and I have had long talks – more than we’ve ever had before – about what happiness looks like to us. We both (luckily) seem to have the same idea: mindfulness.

Mindful of the moment we are in right now.

My anxiety stems from the future. The unknown. It also stems from my inability to sympathize rather than empathize, which may sound confusing, but it’s a paralyzing realization that stunts me from actually helping people, because I am so consumed with the sadness and fear of their situation.

Forums like Facebook are so complicated for me. I want to see how people are doing – or I will hop on out of boredom or a break from my day, and then I will see posts that fill me with sadness/anger/irritation.  I then go through a cycle of avoiding social media and then feel guilt that I have hurt someone by missing their birthday or a special occasion… It is so ridiculous and yet, it’s how I’m programmed.

Time for some deprogramming.

Mindfulness. Being present. Being positive. Being kind. Being of help.

These are the things that we are going to focus on here for the time being.

I will still be writing – likely, much more. Writing is actually more of a selfish release for me than for anyone else (I’m sorry…). And I will be on Instagram, because taking photos and viewing other’s are also things I genuinely enjoy without the pressure of interaction or the forced noise of Facebook. Find me here on Instagram and I’ll find you.

I won’t, however, be sharing links to blog posts on Facebook after this. My personal account and my blog page will be inactive. So, if you’d like to receive blog notifications, please sign up for the email notifications.

I have “quit” Facebook before. Unsuccessfully. I’m going to try it again.

For my own sanity.

xo,

Jen

 

***

Brian took the girls to the city for the day and night and so I have had the house to myself for over 24 hours. I had grand plans of doing all the things that a mom thinks she’ll do with such freedom, but instead I sat in front of the television the entire day and night in a saddened daze.

How is this possible?

How is it possible that in the year 2017, I am having archaic conversations with my children that my grandparents had to have 60 years ago with my parents?

How is that possible?

In the last 24 hours, I have been consumed with the sadness and fear – and realization – that we will be fighting this battle over bigotry and racism as parents until the day we die. And then our children will be fighting it with their children. Because these horrific people will always exist. And the real sadness comes in that they exist in not only large ways – groups marching down a street filled with hate – but in small ways that seep in slowly like a methodical poison.

A racist joke, an off-handed comment, a generalization… these all chip away at everything we are trying to teach our children. Brian and I can drill into our girls over and over the absolute importance of equality and love – and it will take one fucking idiot with a racist joke to plant a seed of doubt.

Do you understand that?

A friend posted yesterday, “Where is the outrage now from the many of you who very loudly [criticized and mocked] the Women’s march?” – a peaceful march of four million people.  And his question could not be more on point.  How quickly your energy for outrage has vanished. And don’t tell me it’s because you don’t feel the need to “acknowledge” a small group of white supremacists. That “small” group of hate marched down a city street and reminded us of what is still out there. That “small” group of terrorists (say it, Mr. President) proudly affirmed all the quiet hate that is still swarming in this country.

Quiet hate.

That is what this country is filled with. The people with the small, “off-color” jokes. The people who say “them” and “those people.” The people who completely miss the point of Black Lives Matter.  And sadly, just reading “Black Lives Matter” in this post will instantly either turn people off or put them on the defensive. Somehow they believe that saying “Black Lives Matter” is saying no other lives matter.  I have news for you. Your white life has always fucking mattered. It has mattered so much that there has never been a fucking question of it mattering.

How do people not understand that?!

Me writing this is not jumping on a soapbox or an exercise in self-righteousness.  I am a white suburban mom and I will never, ever understand what it must feel like to know that if my black child goes missing, she will fall into a secondary importance of a white child who has gone missing on the same day.  When is the last time you saw a Dateline episode or even the nightly news report on a missing black child?

I will never understand how it feels to know that if my child were shot walking down the street, the outrage, if any, would last a day and then be buried along with her.

I won’t truly understand the fear of a mother who watches the news and sees a parade of grown men and women proudly carrying hateful signs that tell my children they don’t belong – that this is not their country.

I don’t pretend to understand how any of this must feel.

I do know this. If my child, sister, friend or neighbor came to me with her heart in her hands and said, “It has been bruised and broken for years – and no one can help me,” I would not then pull out my perfectly beating heart and say, “Well, my heart matters, too.”

There is loud hate on the streets. There is even quieter hate slowly filling the small spaces surrounding us. In those small spaces, our children are watching and listening.

So, we will teach our kids what all sides represent.

And we will also make damned sure they know which side is filled with blatant hate.

 

***

 

When I was about four years old, I came down with a nasty bout of pneumonia. I was hospitalized for a good while. I don’t know if I remember it all happening or if I’ve heard the stories so many times that I think I’m remembering. There is always an overlapping haze with moments like this. My mom has always said she’ll never forget my dad rushing into the house from work and leaping up the stairs to get me when they knew it was bad. I remember – or I was told – there was a giant tent over me in the hospital bed.

However, there are three things I do have specific memories of regarding this event:

  1. My dad’s college friend sent me a giant purple elephant with crayons in its front pocket, and I loved that purple elephant more than anything.
  2. The nurses gave me a (very old-fashioned) bell to ring when I needed something from them.
  3. The day after receiving the bell, it was taken away from me.

Apparently, I exhibited blatant abuse of the bell.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t ring the bell because I needed anything from them. I rang the bell so that they would come and talk to me.

I just wanted to chit-chat! I mean, who doesn’t want to sit and opine about life with a four-year old who’s stuck under a plastic canopy of refreshing clean air?!  I’m sure I had plenty of riveting things to say.

Their loss.

Eventually, I did get out of the hospital (quite obviously) and I didn’t need a bell to get attention at home. My little siblings greeted me with arms outstretched and waited on me and my purple elephant for endless days and nights.

Scratch that. It is a complete lie and I just made that up as I typed. But doesn’t it sound sweet?

I’m sure my family did take care of me quite well. And if they didn’t take care of me, I know they at least listened to me chatter.

These are my people.

So, here I am again… years and years later. I’ve had quite a few hospital run-ins in the last decade and since my appendectomy was about three years ago, I was due again. This time, I’ve done quite the number on my foot, of all things. I don’t want to rehash the whole story. Cliff note version: I was standing on a stool to get a shot of the girls and I fell off in the most unique way possible – thereby tearing apart the base of what holds your whole damn foot together.

The shot that did me in.

 

I had surgery last week and I’ve got a bit of a road to recovery ahead of me – though it could always, always be worse – and so I’m learning patience (at a snail pace).  And I’m also remembering (not that I need a reason to) why I love my family so much.

To my brother Ryan: thank you for the virtual exam (over FaceTime) and determining this may be a Lisfranc injury  – after it was not healing and had been misdiagnosed at the ER (not their fault, very common misdiagnosis). Thank you also for keeping your poker face on and cheerfully telling me to call a specialist “for peace of mind” when you likely knew the whole time I was going to need surgery. You knew exactly how to handle me (for real). And thank you for answering all of my calm (read: hysterical) texts in a dignified and soothing way (so as not to spook the crazy person).

Thank you also, Ryan, for telling me that you love me dearly, but I am the worst kind of patient. I needed to hear that. I’m so glad we’re in this together!

Ryan…?

Ryan…?

(Why is he running from me?)

Wasn’t taking any chances before surgery.

 

To my sister Michelle, thank you for listening patiently while I had a psychotic break over the phone during the uncertainty and frustration. As I went from laughing to crying to saying “it could be worse” to complaining to apologizing for complaining, you handled me like a pro. And for finally yelling, “Complain! You can complain! This fricken sucks!”  

To my brother Curtis, thank you for the spontaneous and hideous SnapChat videos of you and the check-ins. I love you, chicken.

To my dad – the first doctor in the family – thank you for your completely random (yet entertaining) selfies showing me how high the corn is coming in this year. And then following that text a day later with a huge, rambling rant of what drug I need to call in for pain and how people wouldn’t even let their horses walk around like this and this is “completely unacceptable in this odeon age.”

And thank you for then following up that text with the definition of “odeon.”  (Which I have since looked up and can’t confirm anywhere, but this does not surprise me as you once referred to the Taj Mahal as the Menage A Trois.)

#dadselfies

 

To my mama: who has swooped in – once again – to save the day. I swear to God, you eat pot-brownies for breakfast. I can find no other way to explain your complete calm and constant cheeriness. You play with Ivy for hours on end and happily go about picking up and letting the dogs out and catering to your child (me) – with not a bell in sight. You are a hybrid of Mary Poppins and Florence Nightingale… on steroids. I don’t deserve you.

To my husband – who has pulled so many all-nighters in the last three weeks trying to get work done while holding this house down in between traveling – you have proven yourself tenfold. I know this is so hard for you.

To Hannah, thank you for being one of the two best kids on earth! Thank you for taking care of your sister when you’re here and for surprising me with a clean bedroom to sleep in. You amaze me over and over, kid – and I love you to the moon and back.

To all of the family and friends (who knew) and have checked in and offered help, you are AWESOME and I love and appreciate you so much.

It seems like a silly thing – maybe minor, to some. (Look up Lisfranc injuries here. I like a good challenge and since only 1 in 55k people injure their foot in this particular way, I have outdone myself once again!)  But this has already proven to be a little more daunting than I imagined. I will be off my feet for six weeks and then (hopefully) have a boot for another six weeks. I also decided to up the ante and make sure I injured my right foot – so I won’t be driving any time soon. Taking care of a four-year old and two rowdy dogs while working from home full time in the legal field has always been a bit of an obstacle course. Doing it with one working leg just changed the game in a whole new way.

And… this is not how I wanted to spend the last month or so of summer before my baby begins school. (But I’m not allowing my mind to go there.)

Although surgery recovery has been painful, it is the dependence on others that is the most challenging. I absolutely hate needing help with nearly every single thing right now. Things will be so much better when I can bear a little weight on this puppy. Until then, I’ve bought a very chic knee scooter. So, if you see me rollin’, wave!

***

They didn’t give me a bell this time when I was in the hospital. Had they, I’m sure they would have realized their mistake quickly – just as when I was four. But who needs a bell when you have this family?

They know why the caged bird sings…

She just wants to have a chat, for chrissakes!

xo,

Jen

“This too shall pass.” – Hilda Borri

 

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***

So. This is 43.

Yep.

Forty-effing-three.

Those older than me will tell me how young that is. Those younger than me will cheer me on, like I’m some sort of minor disease survivor – and then mentally push the number down to a place where it can’t touch them. It is so far away, right?

Right.

One of my favorite people called me a few weeks ago, on my birthday, to wish me a happy day. Her words were perfect: “Happy Birthday! I want you to know you’re still relevant.”

She is brilliant. And honest.

We had a long conversation about this number (she will be turning the same age in a few months) – and we are, as many before us, incredulous. Forty three. I want to slap it away from me like a mosquito, but I can’t. It’s a bite that will itch for days, maybe months, maybe perpetually until forty-four kicks it to the curb and slithers into place.

My friend and I laughed over the absurdity. We talked about the not so distant days of being “the young girls in the city.” We discussed how women before us forewarned that at a certain age, we will become invisible.

And we laughed at our arrogance in ignoring it.

“Listen,” I said, “We are intelligent women. We are fully capable and deserving of where we’ve gotten, because we’ve worked hard. But let’s be honest, there have been times, we have gotten by – when maybe we shouldn’t have – due to some sparkle.”

And then we both laughed at the honesty of it.  And, now, the impending end of it.

That party is almost over.

My little brother recently got married. He is nearly a decade younger than the rest of us siblings. The weddings on rotation in my age group are long gone and so I hadn’t been to such a celebration in a long time. It wasn’t until we arrived at the reception that I realized, “Wait. We aren’t the young people at a wedding anymore…” 

When did this happen? WHY didn’t I pay attention?!

I once read an article years ago with actress Ellen Barkin. She was discussing the  inability of so many to age gracefully, the plastic surgery that ends up erasing the proof of life imprinted on our shells. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Stop! Stop doing this! Find something else you like about yourself. This is not all you are made up of.”

Find something else you like about yourself.

I have chanted that on repeat over and over in my head whenever I see a new web of lines around my eyes or a soft spot on my body that was once defined.

Find something else you like about yourself. 

It’s so easy to say – and so hard to do – when you’ve spent years defining yourself as young and… sparkly.

Every birthday, especially in these last few years, has been a gift. I have looked at each year as pure luck that I am still here and so grateful for it. I am not defining my forties as The End.  Not by a long shot! I am saying there’s a shift happening. And I’m feeling it now more than ever.

Call me vain (I am!). Call me superficial (I can be!). Call me whatever you want (trust me, I’ve been called worse!), but this is how I’ve been feeling lately. And I know I’m not alone, because I’ve seen a few articles floating around affirming the same inner struggle.

There are other things I like about myself, Ellen Barkin. I swear there are!  But I’m just having a tough time letting go of a part of myself I enjoyed – and appreciated – that is slowly fading.

And that’s ok. I’m human. We’re all human.

Except maybe you, Gwen Stefani. Seriously, there must be a limitless tap of virgin blood in your house somewhere. HOW are you doing it?!

So. I promise to maneuver this stage as gracefully as humanly possible – and truly try to like as many other things about myself as I can.

(But I’m not above a little Botox… I ain’t going down without a fight.)

xo,

Jen

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***

The first city I moved to was Milwaukee. It was small – and manageable. It was also very likely the best decision I ever made for myself, because it was the one move that pulled me out of a spiral of self-destruction that lasted for a good decade.

I moved around a bit in the city and my third apartment, a studio in a high-rise, was a place I still think of often. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but one wall was floor to ceiling windows. At night, I would lay in my bed and look out at the skyline – a sea of lights twinkling under the heavy, dark blanket of night – and I never felt alone. There was life out there. I didn’t have to be involved in the life that moved around me, but I knew it was there. And there was something deeply satisfying in knowing that it was in reach, whenever I wanted to touch it.

Two years later, I moved to Chicago. I was in a terrible relationship and the thought of sitting idle for one more moment made me want to crawl out of my skin. I don’t even remember telling him that I was moving. We were still together. He was the type who endlessly considered the pros and cons of jumping. I was the type that jumped without thinking at all.

I couldn’t sit still any longer, stagnant. Teetering on a balance beam between settling and the freedom from settling.

Chicago proved to be everything I wanted. Even though I didn’t have a large group of friends there, as I did in Milwaukee. I once again found myself laying in bed at night… listening to the sound of cars driving, horns honking, laughter and voices… all outside my door. And it never made me feel lonely. It reminded me of life. Again. Right there. Whenever I wanted to join in.

Two years later, I moved back to Milwaukee for a job. I missed Chicago though. And one day, two years after that, an old friend – who was now a recruiter – asked me if I knew anyone who’d be interested in a “dream job” in my field in Chicago. Without even thinking about it, I blurted out, “ME.”  And I landed back in the arms of my first true love: Chicago.

This time, I left for good the relationship that tethered me to misery.

Happy. Settled. Ready to stay forever… laying in bed at night, listening to the comforting sounds of chaos.

And then two years later….

What is it with two years?!

I sat in my office… lazily looking over a photo on social media of a friend’s friend. How cute is he? I thought. Divorced… with a beautiful little girl.

Nah, I thought to myself. Don’t start anything you can’t finish. 

And then my friend walked in my office, asking me what I was doing. I told her there was this adorable guy… was thinking about messaging him… she laughed and told me to go for it.

“No way! He has a daughter and lives in St. Louis. With my luck, we’ll fall in love and I’ll have to move to St. Louis. I am not moving to St. Louis!”

Quote. Unquote.

She laughed at how absurd that statement was.

***

So, here we are.

I left my first love (Chicago) for my last love. And it has been worth every second.

When you jump sometimes, you don’t land where you intended. Sometimes it leads you to a place you never, ever expected – or ever wanted to be. Or even knew you could be!

But, can you imagine if I hadn’t jumped? Hadn’t realized that what was, wasn’t enough? 

Oh, Ivy and Hannah – I hope you always know when it isn’t enough. 

***

I often lay awake at night now, listening to the sound of…

NOTHING. I hear NOTHING.

(I hate you, suburbs.)

But I am so grateful.

I jumped. 

I hope you all know when to jump, too.

xo,

Jen

***

Haley,

You are her memory of chubby baby arms, first words and endless kisses.
You are the vessel of her dreams, the keeper of her hopes, the carrier of her heart.
You are her child with decades left unfulfilled.
You are the greatest promise of her love, broken by an unfair pain.
You are the fire running through her veins to push her to keep going.
You are the light shining through a tunnel when she wants to give up.

You are no longer here.
But, you are always here.
And we have not forgotten.
Because of you.
Because of her.

***

It’s no secret that Heroes Like Haley is close to my heart. What crushes me is that participation in Haley’s annual run is down to one hundred people – down three-hundred people from last year. When Haley left this earth, her mother, my friend, promised that she would keep helping kids fight cancer in Haley’s name. Can you imagine being Haley’s mom? Fighting in your daughter’s honor every day… only to watch the participation dwindle and then to feel forgotten?

Life moves at a lightening pace and we all fall into the trap of glorifying “busy.” Or reciting excuses that only seem to satisfy ourselves…

Please, take one moment today and consider either participating in the Heroes Like Haley 5K (you can run virtually, like me!) – or give up Starbucks for a few days and sponsor my run (click here). Ten dollars, twenty dollars… whatever.

You may be less a few lattes for a week. But you’ll also be one more person who cares.

And to someone’s mama (and me), that may mean the world.

xo,

Jen

***

Meet our newest little HERO….Savannah, the sweetest and most kind hearted little 8 year old girl from Island Lake. At 5 years old she was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor. It returned in April! In the exact words of Savannah’s mom, “We had just purchased our dream home in November to start a new life and now the tumor is back. The financial stress this is causing is very hard.”

A portion of net proceeds raised from this years race will be donated to Savannah’s family to help them pay their mortgage.

 

***

Dear Mom,

Remember that year you warned me for the hundredth time that if you caught me peeking at my Christmas presents again, I would wake up on Christmas morning and none of them would be wrapped?

Remember when I chose to peek anyway and you caught me?

Remember how I woke up Christmas morning, and as my siblings excitedly unwrapped their gifts with the element of surprise lingering over each one, I sadly gathered up my new alarm clock (exposed), my Cabbage Patch Kid horse (exposed)… my dented dignity (exposed). 

You told me that when I peeked at Christmas gifts, it hurt you. You told me that you put so much joy, time and effort into getting all of our gifts (and there were four of us, so that was no easy feat!).  You told me that I stole your reward of seeing the surprise and excitement. 

***

Remember when I was about eight years old and you had ordered a new necklace for yourself? It was a timepiece that switched plate colors and patterns.  Remember when it arrived, I couldn’t stop admiring it and, seeing how much I loved it, you told me that if I did chores around the house, you would eventually order me one, too?  I went straight to the kitchen and immediately started doing the dishes.

Remember when my matching necklace came? How excited and proud I was to have something like yours!

Do you remember how, a few weeks later, you were at the kitchen table – helping me with my homework?  I was so incredibly sad and could barely look at you. You asked me what was wrong – and I just silently shook my head. And then, after a few more minutes of silence, you asked me if I had a secret. I nodded as tears rolled down my face. You told me that secrets were terrible things to keep, especially when they made us sad. And you told me I never had to keep secrets. I burst out crying and admitted that I had accidentally broken my new necklace and I felt so terrible, because it was new and you had ordered it especially for me. 

Do you remember telling me it was just a necklace – and then hugging me and saying how sad you were that I felt so alone with a secret? 

***

Remember when I entered the teen years and I would get angry with my friends, and I would come home grumbling about so and so being so and so. Do you remember how you stayed silent? Do you remember waiting until I finished my rant and then calmly saying, “Well, what’s your part in this?”  

I quickly learned that you were my mom first and, though you were my biggest fan, you were not my peer.

***

Do you remember my horrible twenties? Do you remember watching me repeatedly struggle to find my way? The terrible mistakes I made, over and over. Do you remember them all? Do you remember the lies I would tell myself and then try to tell you? Do you remember cheering my (small) attempts at success – while quietly accepting my failures?

Do you remember watching it all – yet never giving up on me? Ever.

***

You have taught me so many lessons purely from your actions.  Consideration, compassion, personal responsibility, patience and pure love.

From the start, we should have known I’d be a bit of trouble. I came into this world ass-backwards (literally… breech). I was delivered by a nurse, because your doctor showed up drunk. I brought chaos from the start and I carried that theme for quite some time. 

I look at you and all you’ve done for me, and I hope I was worth all the pain. (And I’m not just talking about that epidural-free breech birth.) I look at my daughters now, and I don’t know how you survived me. The anxiety, the fear… the love.  I don’t know how you stepped back and let me grow – and then fall – and then grow – all on repeat. Over and over. For years.

I don’t know how you had such faith in me for all that time – when I had lost all faith in myself. 

You are good through and through. 

And you never, ever stopped being the biggest cheerleader to all of us.  You still haven’t.

You like to tell me how small my hands were when I was little – how you can still feel them holding onto yours. Whenever I grab Ivy’s hand to hold, I think of you. 

I think of your hands. 

And I can still feel them holding mine – from so many miles away. 

Love,

Jenni

***

When I was fourteen years old, I regularly babysat for a couple down the road from my house.  They were a very sweet pair and had one little girl, a toddler, and I adored her.

On one particular day I was scheduled to babysit, I arrived to find another teenaged girl quietly sitting in the living room.  I was quickly introduced and told she was their niece from out of state and would be staying with them for the week – and was it okay if she kept me company while I babysat? It seemed a little odd to me that they just didn’t have her babysit, as we appeared to be the same age, but it was fine with me and soon we were left alone.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was extremely quiet and shy. I was not – and never have been.  And anyone who knows me knows well that I hate awkward silence, and so I usually attempt to fill it (sometimes a little too enthusiastically.) I tried to make this new, shy girl feel at ease. I remember asking her lots of questions – to which I’d receive a lot of one-word responses in turn. I tried to talk to her about school, her friends… None of it seemed to be working. So, then I started to talk about my school and my friends in order to initiate conversation and fill the silence.

I was in the middle of my freshmen year of high school then and school pictures had recently been handed out. I don’t know what kids do these days, but back then we’d hand out our photos to all of our friends and write sweet, short notes on the back to one another. In my last ditch effort to get this girl talking, I pulled out my small wallet album and began to show her each photo of my friends. This seemed to spark her interest and she began to ask me questions about all of them. Finally, I thought, she’s talking!  After we went through the whole album, I returned it to my purse and the rest of the day seemed to go smoothly. The parents eventually returned. I said my goodbyes, told their niece that I was happy to meet her, and I walked home.

Later that afternoon, I went through my purse and my small photo album was missing. I searched everywhere. I specifically remembered putting it back in my purse.  A sneaking suspicion rose in me, but I squashed it.  Finally, after looking all over, I called the house where I had babysat. “I am so sorry,” I said, “but I think I may have dropped a small photo album or it fell out of my purse. Could you just look when you have a chance?

A few minutes later, the phone rang.

“Jennifer, I want you to be honest with me. Was this album in your purse?”

“Umm, yes, I think so.”

“That’s what I thought. We will be over shortly.”

Within thirty minutes, both the girl and her aunt were awkwardly standing in my kitchen.

“Do you have something to say?” her aunt prodded.

“I’m sorry I stole your photos,” the girl said quietly, as she looked to the ground.

It was so sad and pitiful and more than both my mom and I could take.  “It’s ok! It’s fine…” we both chirped simultaneously, trying to make the awkwardness of it all go away.

“No, it’s not okay,” replied the aunt sternly, “I really hope this doesn’t affect our relationship and that you will still babysit for us.”

After my mom and I assured her that I would, of course, still babysit, they quietly and quickly left.

It was only later that day that I noticed she had begun to scribble my name off the back of the photos where my friends had began their messages.

I have relayed many funny stories about my childhood and adolescence over the years, but this one has never been funny to me.  I admit that I have retold it – and I’m usually met with “How creepy!” and other not very kind words.  And yes, I’ll admit, it did seem creepy – especially to my then 14-year old self.

But mostly, it was incredibly sad.

I have thought of that girl often over the span of decades that have since passed.  How lonely she must have felt at that time. Maybe the faces of my friends represented a life she wished she was a part of?  Maybe even pretending with that album would have made her feel less alone? Or, maybe, she had planned to take that album back home with her to show others that she had made new friends?

High school was easy, socially, for me. Other than some (internal) weight insecurities, I eased right in and made friends quickly. But I know it’s not that easy for everyone. In fact, it is not easy for many.  And it terrifies me thinking of our girls entering an arena that can be so hard and harsh and miserable for so many.

And as much as it terrifies me that they could experience the pain of loneliness, ridicule or rejection aimed so often at so many, the thought of either of them being part of those who enforce such agony on others terrifies me more.

“Don’t ever be that person. Rise above it. If your friends are being cruel, be true to yourself – be better than that.” I think we’ve said this to our (nearly) 14-year old a thousand times, not for anything she has done – but more so as a warning of the impending high school atmosphere.

I want to raise strong, intelligent, independent women. But I also want to raise kind humans. Sometimes, these days, I think kind often gets associated with weak. However, in our home, I refuse to let those words dissolve into one another.

Being assertive is one thing. Being an a$$hole is another.

I don’t know what happened to that quiet girl from that day so many years ago. I hope she found her way through the twists and turns of adolescence and the awkward years of learning what ultimately matters.

I hope she found her voice in the deafening sea of noise that is high school.

And I hope she found herself – after navigating through four years that can so easily trick you into thinking that life is nothing more than pretty faces in a photo album.

xo,

Jen

***

Sometimes I get lazy and instead of steering my own path, I end up lost with a tide that carries me to places I have no business being – or ever wanted to go.

That is how I felt a few months ago. Pushed down a stream. The ride was fun for a hot minute, but I quickly realized that ride was not for me. I found myself trying to fit the mold of a theme that, on most days, I find annoying and exhausting. And, after being a public writer for nearly twenty years, I should know myself better – and in that knowing, I should recognize that when I’m boxed into a category, I will do nothing but try to break free.

So, here we go again… I’ve hit “refresh” on my inner browser. I’ve emptied my recycling bin of internal downloads, history and “cookies.”

Back to basics.

Back to me…

Honesty.  Spontaneous thoughts.  Comical stories of a past life… and present chaos.

I don’t want to be part of a parenting “shtick.”  I love being a mom more than anything else on this earth, but that is not all I am. I am not a one-dimensional voice for moms or step-moms. As a matter of fact, I’d like to remove “step-mom” from my resume altogether, if you don’t mind.

I’m a mom.

To my daughters.

The differentiation weighs on me. But I’ve found that it only weighs on me when I have to point it out. And why do I need to point it out? This is my family. And on most days, I don’t need (or want) to overanalyze, dissect or discuss it any more than it needs to be.

I just want to write. When I want to write.

About anything.

But not one thing.

I just want to write. 

And you can read… if you want to.

But I’ll be writing either way.

xo,

Jen