“Hi! I’m Jenny!”

I often wonder what growing up will be like for Baby P.  Most of us look back on our childhood years and smile, thinking to ourselves, “Man, what a time to be alive.”  We were wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of wonder, carelessness and fun.  Even going to school when we were young was enjoyable.  We didn’t go for the learning, we went for our friends.

When I was seven, my parents were building a new house in Willoughby, so I transferred schools in the 2nd grade.  Not quite a formative year where I would look back and be traumatized leaving my friends at St. Felicitas, so to me, switching schools at that age was totally nbd.   I was a confident kid and didn’t really think much of it.

I still remember this day like it was yesterday.  Walking into Immaculate Conception School, in my light purple wind breaker with a little rainbow in the front corner, I stood proudly in front of the class as Mrs. Schweikert introduced me: “Class, this is our new student, Nicole.  Everyone say hello.” <<class says hello>> “Nicole, you can have a seat right here, next to Jenny.  She’ll help show you around the school and make you feel comfortable.” Me, with a smile and a wave, “Hi!  I’m Nicole.”  Jenny, with a smile and a wave, “Hi!  I’m Jenny!”  The rest is history.  We hit it off right away, as well as any seven-year-olds do, and I’m pretty sure I spent the night at her house that following weekend, a night full of playing Super Nintendo Mario Art and eating Pizza Hut (a Carlson family favorite).  From grades two all the way through high school, we were inseparable.  Two of only a handful of students that transitioned from a parochial school straight to the city’s public high school, not knowing anyone other than our little group, we maintained our bond.  Through the college years both going down separate paths, when often times friendships become strained or disappear altogether, all throughout our 20’s with me living in another state, and now into our 30’s, me about to meet her in the parenting journey where she’s solidly been for the last several years, this friendship has been impeccably hard to break.

Jenny was the youngest child of three.  She lived in Willoughby Hills in a house at the bottom of a hill, surrounded by trees and lots of green space (which my mom absolutely dreaded driving out to drop me off – “It’s sooo far!  Is Bonnie going to be out this way?  By any chance can she pick you up?”), had pets, loud siblings, and fun, bickering parents; the atmosphere was always raucous.  I loved this family.  I lived on a somewhat quiet cul-de-sac.  Nothing was wrong with my house at all, but I always longed for the environment Jenny had: constant entertainment, always something going on.  I craved sleepovers at Jenny’s house.  It was the best part of my week.

“You put a lot of weight into that friendship, don’t you, babe?” my husband said.  The thought came out of love, I knew that, but (pregnancy hormones in full gear) I still got teary-eyed.  “Yea, yea I do” I said.  He loves Jenny.  He’ll never know her or understand her like I do, but he loves her.  He’s got his own Jenny.  And I can’t even begin to think I’d even remotely understand that friendship either.  I think a lot of us have that one friend, a single friendship that seems to defy the odds in a way, the one who always gets a “free pass” no matter what happens.  Where your lives can go a thousand different directions but you find solace, safety and warmth in that friendship.  It’s a friendship no one seems to understand, and still (even when you try) you can’t find the words to quite explain it either.  Its intricacies expand years, even decades, if you’re lucky.  Ours has been going strong for 28 years (Gasp!  Are we that old!?).  It’s the person you call with really personal shit.  The only one you won’t have to save face for: they get you, because they are you.  It’s like a sibling relationship, maybe even better.  Your lives may not always parallel one another, but the formidable bond you’ve created at a young age dispels any differences, because sometimes it’s those slight differences that make you most appealing to the other person.  Jenny has been my person all these years.  Will Baby P find his/her person?  I actually worry about this a lot.

I told my husband a couple months ago that I wanted to write a blog about my fears of raising kids in a “new era,” one where there’s rampant bullying, immense social media pressure, and down right mean kids.  We grew up in the glory days of the 90’s.  Seriously, I mean it when I say WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.  I wasn’t a mean kid.  Neither was Jenny.  In fact, neither was any kid in our grade school or our high school.  Don’t believe me about the “no HS drama?”  Ask anyone from our graduating class.  We were incredibly lucky.  What has happened to this world?  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of my trepidation in even having children was this very real fear of either raising a bully or my kid being bullied.  It terrified me and still does.  I was short, wore braces for years, didn’t hit puberty till I was at least 16, and was also extremely self-conscious.  I had a lot of insecurities.  So, it begs the question: do Jennys still exist?  Are there still these kind, sweet, wide-eyed kids who openly welcome new students to class, invite the new kid over for a sleepover, take them under their wing?  How many friendships do I have now where I don’t even know if I can trust them?  I mean, what a concept!  Trusting a friend.  But hey, these are new times we’re living in.  Being burned a couple of times with some deep friendships going awry, never fully recovering from that hurt, I hope that Baby P finds a Jenny, someone who always has their back, is forgiving, loving and kind.

I remember my therapist asking me during a session, “Do you know what the purpose is of having children?”  I didn’t even flutter.  “Yes.  It’s to raise good humans whose actions and intentions help make this world a better place.”  She kind of laughed.  “No, we procreate to avoid human extinction.”  Yikes.  That’s harsh.  But she was right.  It’s totally true, but I still raised my brow a bit.  I thought of Jenny, and I thought of her parents.  I thought of me.  And I thought of my parents.  Our parents did a really good job raising us.  Procreating is great, obviously, but there are a lot of really shitty humans out there, and I don’t want Baby P to be one.  If I’m going to procreate, I’m going to make damn sure that my kids add value to every situation they are in, and that they invite the new kid over for a sleepover and help show them to the “lavatory” on the first day of school (right, Jenny?).  Get involved in all the harmless mischief you want, Baby P.  But just know that even from a young age, you set a standard for yourself, and your first impression goes a long, long way on others.  Who knows where I’d be without Jenny.  A simple “hi” and a forced seating assignment based solely on the proximity of the first letter of our last names created a lifelong friendship.  She’s the epitome of kindness and acceptance (and most of all, laughter that stretches for miles) in a world where I wonder if this type of person still exists.  Be a Jenny, Baby P.  I’m counting on you.

*My goal was to scour through old photos and post some embarrassing pictures of the two of us, but I ran out of time to get to Debs’ house to go through the albums!  A recent one from July is all I’ve got at the moment 🙂

Wisdom From Our Families

I recently finished reaching a book called “Wisdom of Our Fathers” by the late Tim Russert.  He actually wrote a book prior to this called “Big Russ & Me” about the life lessons he learned from his blue collar, Irish Catholic father.  To this day, even having read it 10+ years ago, “Big Russ & Me” is still one of my all-time favorite books.  I highly, highly recommend it.

With parenthood looming, I knew that I wanted to read his second book in hopes that it would help shed more light on what Pat & I are about to walk into.  I have always been a huge fan of Tim Russert.  A hard-working, middle class man born & raised in midwestern Buffalo; a devout Catholic, he attended college in our area at John Carroll University.  A TV journalist and lawyer, he was the longtime moderator of NBC’s “Meet The Press.”  Most of our country was completely shocked when he died suddenly of a heart attack at only 58-years-old.  To me, he just seemed like an all-around nice guy, rather avuncular; a guy you’d want to share a beer with and sit in front of a TV watching the NFL all Sunday.

Pat & I listened to the audiobook “Wisdom of Our Fathers” on our way back from a trip to Baltimore a few months ago.  Boy, was it a tearjerker.  Yes, I know I’ve got the pregnancy hormones and I can cry at the drop of a dime, but this book was hard-hitting.  And upon finishing, I thought to myself that maybe I should write a post about all the lessons I have learned from my family, something concrete that I can show Baby P when he/she is old enough and can reminisce over.  I want to use my own life lessons as fuel for Baby P, along with hopefully helping me to become the best “mom version” of myself.  So here goes.

Mom aka “Debs”

Some parents are “hard-hitting” parents.  They teach you a lot of life’s big lessons.  Screamed at you through a megaphone in the heat of the moment, or subtly slipped in during a casual grocery shopping trip, or just while doing homework at the kitchen table, you knew these conversations meant business.  I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say this, but my mom wasn’t one of those ultra hard-hitting parents.  I think I learned life’s bigger lessons in college (and Chicago, for that matter) from friends, roommates, a past love; overall from experiencing life directly through my own experiences.  That’s probably the reason I am such a fiercely independent person.  I feel as though I traversed adulthood alone, learning & growing on my own path to give me my own perspective, not wanting to “just” listen to someone else.

But don’t let out an audible gasp just yet.  Not having hard-hitting parents doesn’t mean there weren’t hard-hitting lessons.  These lessons just came in smaller packages, less transparent.  They seemed to peek out at the exact point they needed me to find them.

Though there are many, here are a handful of some of Debs’ most memorable quotes:

“The second you get a job out of college, save into your 401k.” (Working for a financial company straight out of college definitely helped a lot in this area as well.  I also had  whole life insurance & disability insurance as a 23-year-old.  SCORE.)

“Always pay your credit card bill in full.  Don’t ever miss a payment.  This is your money so treat it that way.  Only spend what you own.” (Humble brag alert: I have paid my credit card in full since the day I took out my first card in 2006.  I am proud of this, and it’s all thanks to her.)

“On road trips, don’t ever stop off a highway unless the golden arches are visible.  If you can’t see them, it’s not a safe exit!” (Definitely used this example en route to Baltimore.  Pat had never heard me tell him this story, and he loved it.  Pat: “Oh Debs.  She’s really something!”  Pat, one week later: “You know that line really resonated with me!  I’ll never look at rest stops the same way again!”)

“Why pay for something full price when you can get it on sale?”  (She grimaced at the thought of how much I paid for full-price Abercrombie jeans once I got my first McDonald’s paycheck at age fifteen.  And yes, I see the irony of the above quote.  My mom taught me frugality.  I can’t say I followed this whole-heartedly as I got older, but her advice has hit me hardest now as I explode my budget on maternity clothing and baby items.)

“Don’t let me be that mom who says ‘why haven’t you called me?!’  The phone works both ways.  We both have to want it.” (My mom was always hurt by her mom and mother-in-law who constantly said that to her.  With two little kids in tow – cordless phones not yet invented – she always felt a little slighted in that area.  I know she could talk for hours with her mother-in-law, part of why it was so hard as she had to carve out ample time in her day!  You have to want it, and that goes for a lot of things in life.  I always think of this bit of advice from Debs, and I take it to heart.)

“Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank you note.”  (Yea, that one is pretty simple.  But want to know how much time I spent writing thank you notes after our wedding?  A lot.  And I don’t regret it one bit.  They took me weeks to finish, and I made sure that every single person knew the significance and importance of their gifts.  Same goes for job interviews, a kind gesture, etc.  I take handwritten thank you notes very seriously!)

My mom was full of one-liners that somehow fit into my life at just the right time.  Some were comical, some were serious, and some were lighthearted.  But at their roots, they all held deep meaning and value in their own right.

My mom is also the “fun mom.”  She’s the mom that everyone wants to come hang out with us, just another member of the group.  She was invited to many of my friends’ weddings.  She knows the significance of that, as do I.  People just love her.  Debs is a fun-loving, caring, life-of-the-party kind of person.  She may only have a few key dance moves she breaks out, but that’s why we love her.  She is always the person you want to have around.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the greatest gift I’ve ever received from my mother was that of my Catholic faith. This was a lesson that was audible, visible, and stuck.  It was certainly hard-hitting.  The lesson was clear: go to Mass every week, even at times you “don’t want to.”  You’ll still be happy you went.  Trust in God that He has a plan for you.  Give thanks.  Keep the faith.  I am proud to say that I have never strayed, and I owe that all to her.  Our faith sets a standard in our family right now, even being just Pat & me.  We can’t wait to see Baby P grow into the church as we both have.

I know that dropping me off at college was the hardest thing my mom ever had to do.  That image of her pulling out of West Green at Ohio University, eyes full of tears, has stuck with me many years later.  (Sadly enough she had to do the same thing four years later when I packed up all my belongings and moved to Chicago, then stayed put there for 5 1/2 years.  Those feelings of abandonment were strong.  Sorry, mom!  But hey, I came back!!!) I’m not sure if my mom had a feeling that college would be the most life-changing experience of my adulthood, or if maybe she was scared of the unknown and what college would bring me, questioning whether she taught me how to be a good human and to make good choices.  But whether or not she realized it, she set the groundwork.  She set the groundwork for the human I am today, and I think I’m a pretty good one thanks to her.

I could go on and on singing the praises of my mother, but you get the idea.  Invite her out to a party or a bar or any sort of gathering and you’ll get the idea yourself.  I hope Baby P gets Debs’ fun-loving, religious, sensitive spirit.  I always joke that I got my mom’s genes when it came to sensitivity.  Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s wonderful.  Baby P will be a better person because of her influence on me.

Dad

My dad is super talented in a lot of ways.  Gifted singer, radio host, polka dancer extraordinaire.  Just like my mom, my dad wasn’t a hard-hitting parent.  But some of the smaller lessons he taught me are lessons that have carried more weight in my life than others, and I hope these carry on as we raise Baby P.

Independence.  My dad valued his independence.  I always appreciated that my dad valued his hobbies, and there is certainly merit in that.  Bookworm.  Movie-goer.  Music junkie.  My mom won’t take offense to this when I say that she couldn’t even keep her eyes open ten minutes before falling asleep on the opening page of a novel, or during the intro of a movie.  While she used these as opportunities to “rest her eyes” (as motherhood looms, I’m sure I will soon come to understand this), my dad used these as opportunities to take him to places unknown, and to give him tiny bits of solitude to maintain his independence and not forget his own identity.

I’m pretty sure Debs only took us to the library as kids on the reg due to my insatiable need to finish every single book in “The Baby-Sitters Club.”  In fact, I can speak with certainty that I don’t think she ever took out a book of her own.  Our library card was maxed out solely because of me.  Key example: at barely seven-years-old, my dad let me borrow his copy of “Jurassic Park.”  Err… well, I may have stolen it from our upstairs bookshelf.  Yup, this 400-page novel was one of the first books I ever read.  I’m not sure Debs ever found that out.  Not quite the most sensible choice at that young of an age, Jurassic Park was just the right book to prove me hungry for more.  I devoured books.  Just couldn’t get enough.  Books were fuel for me.  I’m sure this love of the written word is what led me to study English in college.  And still to this day, my love for reading is undeniable.  I hope Baby P also inherits this love of books.  He/she will have his grandpa to thank.

I didn’t inherit one ounce of musical talent from my father.  I can’t hold a tune, read music, or define what “crescendo” means (seriously, I’m not kidding).  And don’t think you can count my Disney-singing, Macklemore-rapping karaoke skillz.  That’s not talent, my friends.  That’s just me looking like an idiot on a microphone after one too many PBR’s.  Pure entertainment.  But I did inherit a deep, soul-searching love for music from my dad, and that is no surprise.  I remember being a kid and making fun of his huuuuge bookcase full of CD’s.  Literally.  It was massive.  “Why do you need all these?  No way you listen to all of these.”  Fast forward to adulthood, and I am my father He did listen to every single one of those CD’s.  And guess what?  So do I.  He knew every artist and every record in that damn bookcase.  He knew every song on every album.  I as well have more CD’s than I can count (laugh it up) and my deep appreciation & love for music is unmatched.  While we do not share the same interest in genres or artists (I have Athens, OH, to thank for my Americana, folk, and bluegrass loyalties), it is no secret that my relationship with music comes solely from my dad.  I am grateful beyond words for this deep connection to music that stemmed from him.  Baby P will be an Avett-loving, banjo-rocking, concert-going soul just like his mama, who has her own dad to thank.

Grandma Emma (paternal grandma)

Ugh, I hope I can get through this part without crying…

My grandma left this earth too early.  She was too young, and had so many years left on this earth to give.  But what my grandma taught me most were three simple things: never stop being silly, appreciate the little things in life, and to always keep your self and your marriage at the heart of it all.

The best memories I have of my grandma were being silly in the simplest, most un-profound ways.  Trips to the bank where she got me a lollipop.  Lunches at Burger King.  Building forts that just destroyed her living room each and every time (Debs: “Mom!  You can tell them to stop!  Look at this mess!”  Emma: “Oh who cares!  They’re just kids!  Look how much fun they’re having!”).  Sleepovers at her house to which she snored the whole night and I never got an ounce of sleep (spoiler alert: I didn’t care.  What I would give for another sleepless night just sharing a couch with her, laughing at her snores).  Trick-or-treating on Halloween.  Her visits to my 7th grade volleyball practices, knee deep in chemotherapy, barely able to walk, but never wanting to miss a beat.  I was her favorite grandkid.  Both Nathan & my cousin Brad knew it.  Our bond was special.  It was and still is incomparable.  I miss her profoundly every single day.

Emma valued us grandkids, treating us like her best friends and not just grandkids she felt obligated to take care of.  She cherished her marriage with Eddie, and was ridiculously true to her friends.  But she never let family get in the way of her own interests.  And for that, I feel I am turning more into my grandma than I would have originally thought.  Her best friend, Rozz, and her sister, Catherine, played integral parts in her life.  With Rozz passing away just a few months ago, I felt like I lost another part of my grandma that was still hanging on with Rozz being alive.  So many of my childhood memories wrapped around my grandma’s relationships with others, especially Rozz.  It’s no lie that still to this day, my grandma’s funeral was the largest funeral I’ve ever seen, even at thirteen-years-old.  The line wrapped around the funeral home for hours.  I am not exaggerating.  She was a well-loved woman whose love stretched well beyond her years (and the physical space of a funeral home).

Uncle Phil aka “FU” (“Favorite Uncle,” Debs’ brother)

My uncle Phil is the silliest, funnest, most religious, loyal, loving human being there is on the face of the earth.  My uncle didn’t have his own child until I was thirteen-years-old.  So for most of my childhood years, FU treated my brother and me like the kids he never had.  Trips to Toledo were a regular occurrence.  We went everywhere with him.  Running errands to Menards, Meijer, the mall, the hardware store, the car wash, the gas station.  Helping with more notable “chores” that never seemed like chores, but they most certainly were: raking leaves, mowing the grass, cleaning the gutters, laying new mulch.  It didn’t matter where he was going, he was taking us with him.  And it didn’t matter what we were doing, as long as we were around him.  We loved every second.  He made every minute we spent with him fun, even if the tasks at hand were mundane.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that my uncle is a force to be reckoned with at work.  He’s a mechanical engineer with lots of people under him, a true workaholic.  But to us, he’s just “FU,” the silly uncle who got even sillier when he was around his sister, their silliness more certainly “unhinged” once together.  I like to think that’s how Nathan & I are.  That love for being silly comes out when we watch stupid 90’s movies (Happy Gilmore, Heavyweights, Joe Dirt), and it always brings us closer together.  My mom & FU set an example that Nathan & I have surely adopted.

My uncle also visited me at college, helped move me in and out of Chicago, lent his truck when we needed it, and never, ever batted an eye.  I honestly don’t think he minded one bit.  He read a poem at my wedding, to which the only reason he read a poem is because he said he would’ve cried the whole time if he wrote some sort of letter (those Cesen sensitivity genes run strong!).  And seeing as his wife, Kathi, is the far superior writer in the relationship, she took that task from him and instead just made him go up and read what she wrote.  They both nailed it. 🙂

Selfless.  This is the biggest thing I will take most from FU, and hope to carry into my parenting style.  I am, by nature, a somewhat selfish person who appreciates and loves her independence.  But my uncle is a constant reminder to be selfless.  To be selfless in your marriage and in your relationships with others.  To be a servant of God and know that to give unto others is the greatest gift you can give.  Directly from Pat and FU, I hope that this characteristic falls right onto Baby P.  Those two are the most selfless humans I know, and these qualities demand being passed down.

Here’s a non-family member that’s sure to lift your brow.  But hang on and hear me out.  Sometimes life’s lessons are found in the least likely of places.

I’m cringing as I type this, but, here goes… my ex-boyfriend of 7 years.

At the ripe young age of 19, this person taught me what butterflies in your stomach feel like.  I never knew that feeling.  I was the high school student who, while friends with everyone, didn’t have a boyfriend till senior year. Seven-year-ex taught me what it was like to feel you were a true part of someone else’s family, like they were your own.  A few of those relationships carried on past our relationship, and I very much still cherish them to this day.  He taught me a lot about love: the joy it brings, but also how it feels when love comes to an end.  But for how much joy the feeling of first love brought me, he mostly taught me what love is not.

Love is not blame.  Love is not lying or the mistreatment of someone else’s feelings.  Love is not confusing comfort with confidence: the confidence to assert yourself, know your worth, and move on.  There were so many wrongs in this relationship that I was blind to see, so for that, I am thankful for what I know now because of him.  This love taught me maturity and independence.  I grew a lot as a person all through college and well into my 20’s, in large part because and in spite of this relationship.  I am a better person for having experienced this relationship, and for having grown from it.  I don’t harbor any hate.

The love I have given to and received from my husband is truly the deepest love I’ve ever felt.  It redefined what the word love meant and still means to me.  There is no disrespect, no dishonor, no blame game.  The word love evolved a lot from age 19 to 34.  And I think that’s ok for your interpretation and definition of words, particularly this one, to change over an amass of time and experience.  But over the past 5+ years, love has stayed love: deep, satisfying, emotionally fulfilling, trustworthy, action-based commitment.  Love with 7-year-ex was fleeting.  It was what I needed at the time to learn and grow, and that version of love no longer carries any weight with me.

Baby P will know what love is because of my marriage with Pat.  Baby P will know what respect & honor are.  Baby P will know what true love is, and will know what not to settle on or for.  Baby P will learn self-worth and self-appreciation through love: the love Pat & I will place on a platform for he/she to see on a daily, minute-by-minute basis.  Our baby will be a better person because of the wrongs that I have righted in myself.

There are a lot of significant family and friends in my life that I truly cherish and will take their life lessons into our raising of Baby P.  I would bore you all with the life lessons I’ve learned, so I kept it brief.  The greatest hope of each generation is that we raise future generations to be even better versions of ourselves.  Most of us try to right our wrongs and hopefully write a stronger story than the ones we’ve written for ourselves.  I pray that Baby P will be someone with a strong moral compass, convicted in his/her beliefs, and treat everyone with kindness and respect.  From the looks of it, 29+ weeks in, it looks like Baby P is on the right track, even while chillin’ in the womb.  Keep on kickin’, little one.  We can’t wait to meet you and see the person you’ll soon become.

 

maternity shoot

Lessons of 2019

I remember a friend of mine sharing a quote on social media right at the time I was knee deep in yoga teacher training.  At the time the quote popped into my head, I was about to turn 33 and mentally, I was going through a lot.

My teacher training experience wasn’t what I envisioned it to be.

I was struggling with the whole “baby discussion.”

I felt very lost all the time.

The quote was from Joan Rivers, and she said, “I wish I could tell you it gets better.  It doesn’t get better.  You get better.”

I didn’t understand the gravity of these words till much later.  I went back to that quote a lot, especially after I graduated from YTT and started teaching.  In a very, very small nutshell, I did get better.  Nothing in itself “got better,” but through a series of events both big and small, I rose to the occasion and proved my worth.  I got better. 

I’m always hesitant to write up that cliched social media post talking about my “yearly takeaways.”  We traveled the world!  I got a new job!  I became a yoga teacher!  I became an aunt!  Whatever your great year held for you, that same calendar year often didn’t carry the same greatness to many other people.  Instead of having an overall happy year, there’s suffering, depression, loss, grieving, hopelessness.  I felt a lot of that in 2018, but my year ended on such a great note (i.e. “traveling the world!”) that after many undos and backspaces on my totally cliched draft of a social media post, to which I so badly wanted to write everything I ended up pouring out in my March 2019 blog, I ended up deleting the whole thing entirely and simply opted for: “What a year!  We went to Hawaii and Europe!  I became a yoga teacher!”  Both of those didn’t come without struggles.  And there was a lot of distress hidden behind those words.  As I mentioned earlier, my yoga teacher training experience wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, at least for me.  I cried a lot.  And our “great worldly travels!” was prefaced with 4+ years of planning and a shit ton of money saving to do so.  The post was tinged with jealously over my friends who loved their YTT experience, crying when it was over, or the friends who were capable of traveling overseas each and every year, with the financial capacity and ample vacation time to do so.  That wasn’t me.  See?  There’s a pattern here.  Though this isn’t the intention of my post, it just goes to show that you never know what someone is going through, and often the words they present to the world are just words.  Take a look behind the words and you’ll see many posts are laced with sadness, jealousy, regret.  Statements maybe that wanted to be said, but there’s this façade you have to put up on social media to make the world know that you are truly, truly happy.  So you delete, and you backspace, and you settle on some positive statement that gets you a lot of likes and comments, because that’s what apparently constitutes happiness this day is age: “awe so good for you!” “always rooting for you!” “you are SUCH a badass!”  I didn’t at all feel like that in 2018.

But alas, I decided to post something this year so I could expand on what started as the 2019 year from hell, yet has turned into one of my most positive years on record.  There was certainly defeat, but there was also triumph; there was depression, but also elation.  Here’s the story of what 2019 came to be.

WE’RE EXPECTING A BABY!  Crazy, right?  The impetus for a lot of my depression and anxiety stemmed from this little tiny thing I now have kicking & grooving in my belly.  And for this alone, I can truly say, I got better.  Lately I’ve been having on and off anxiety about Baby P’s arrival.  I’ve read that this is completely normal, but the excitement is starting to subside a little and I’m starting to feel worry & doubt.  Worry for being a good parent, worry for the unknown, and that dreaded, biggest worry of all: losing my independence.  It’s all so scary.  I anticipate needing to call my old therapist again, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  Overall, I’m still better.  Baby P has made me a better person already, and I’m hoping through all my nervousness and worry, Baby P will continue to make me a better person once he/she makes its arrival in April.

I’ve become a better yoga teacher.  This is huge.  It probably doesn’t seem like much to those of you who don’t practice yoga or teach at the front of a room, but I have truly grown leaps and bounds.  After my YTT letdown, I got really down on myself for a while.  I didn’t think I was capable of becoming the teacher I thought I was going to be at the start of this process.  There were a lot of hard days.  No one comes to your classes.  You’re afraid of assisting students.  You’re demo’ing too much.  You constantly worry about pleasing every single student – an impossible task, mind you.  You’re not transferring the right energy or making students feel welcome enough.  I had a million thoughts go through my head the first several months of teaching.  Hell, probably the first full year or more of teaching.  But I started that tried & true Nicole Perkins method of self-study and self-foraging my own way to find a solution and started to seek help from many different places.

First off, I went on a yoga retreat.  It was the start of me learning how to un-complicate my teaching practice.  Less is more.  Slow it down.  Teach from the heart.  There is a time and a place for every complicated and uncomplicated sequence, I firmly believe that, but I needed to calm the F down and slow both my mind and my body.  I still use my notes here and there, and I’m still learning how to eventually graduate away from that, but everyone grows at different rates, and I am proud of the progress I’ve made in that area.  More studying, yet also more impulsivity.  There’s a balance of both a decent amount of structure with a decent amount of surprise.  It feels really, really good to be at a place where I am finally the most comfortable in front of the room that I’ve ever been.  I feel strong, capable, appreciated by students.  I feel their love for my teaching, and I see a lot of repeat students.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  I also credit this to dropping forced learnings, a lot at the expense of my teaching training.  I have started to learn on my own what works for me and what doesn’t.  YTT gave me a strong base, but sprinkling in weekend workshops and other certifications has helped me see the value of diversity and the inclusion of many different practices & studies.  It’s probably the one thing that truly keeps me going in my teaching practice.  What more can I learn?  Who else can I learn from?  Get me OUT of the box my YTT left me in and get me IN to the rest of the yoga world that has so much more to offer.  I got better.

I ran my 20th and final (only for the time being) full marathon.  A temporary retirement was not easy, and my 20th marathon was one of the most horrible on record, but I did it.  And I feel accomplished each and every day for conquering this feat.  I remember living in Chicago, my first job out of college at Northwestern Mutual, and our receptionist, Mimi, was an avid marathoner.  Middle-aged and had run ten marathons.  I couldn’t believe it.  TEN?!  “Mimi!  You’re incredible!  How do you do it!”  She was so modest, so humble.  She just loved practicing her craft.  It was that simple.  I admired that so much in her.  And here I am, 10+ years later, still thinking of Mimi, silently thanking her for that little gift of admiration.  I admired her so much.  I still do.  It’s not a contest by any means – marathoning NEVER is – but I surpassed a goal that I thought was completely unachievable.  Mimi ran ten marathons.  I ran twenty.  I have been able to help coach and transform people into the runners that they are today, and for so long, I never gave myself credit for that.  But it’s people like Mimi (among others) who paved the way for me to conquer marathoning both mentally and physically.  I’m not done.  I can’t wait for more.  Marathoning has been a dream for both my mental and physical sanity.  Hitting that #20 milestone holds more weight than I thought it did.  I am grateful.

I got a tattoo.  Yea, man!  I sure did!  It was tiny and dainty but that shit is permanent!  It ain’t going away.  And I’ve said it before but I’ll repeat it again, as soon as this baby pops out, I’m getting another one.  I already have two more in mind, and I can’t wait.  Judge away.  I don’t care.  I’m so Jessie Spano excited that I can’t even hide it.  I have a newfound respect for inking up your body, no matter how big or small.  Does it mean something to you?  Do you look at it every single day and smile, or pray, or laugh, or find joy?  Then GOOD.FOR.YOU.  That’s how I feel when I look at “sanguine.”  It’s meaningful: one word encompassing so many feelings and emotions.  I still promised my husband I’d never get sleeves, or ever get anything to embarrass him or me (c’mon, like seriously?) but I’m not stopping with sanguine.  More to come in 2020.

I TOUCHED SCOTT AVETT.  And not just a touch.  A GRAB.  A HOLD-MY-HAND-LIKE-OMGGGG-I-THINK-I-MAY-DIE, type of hold (sorry, Pat).  That’s it.  I don’t really have anything else to expand on that.  I’m just ridiculously excited to share that little part of this past summer yet again.  And it’s a fabulous way to close out this blog post.  I’ve still got another Avett to meet, and that one would mean the absolute world to me (well, either one would/did, but Seth is like my total spirit animal man crush of all man crushes of all time).  I’ve met Joe Thomas, my other man crush, but I know that nothing would ever compare to meeting Seth.  2020, are you finally the year?!

I hope all of you can look back at your year, no matter if it was depressing as f&$%, and find some sort of solace in some minutia of growth or joy that you had.  As you can see above, not all of my grateful moments of 2019 may seem monumental to any of you.  But they were monumental to me.  And that’s the introspection and appreciation I tried so hard to achieve this year.  Even in moments of trial and tribulation, there is always something to learn from and find gratitude in.  There is SO much I am thankful for this year.  So, so, so much.  I start off each day thanking God for my health, happiness, financial security, job security, and safety, and I thank Him for the protection and good health of all my friends and family.  Prayer has become more meaningful in 2019.  Another expression of gratitude.  Praying  with gratitude is a great way to start out the day.  It sets me off on the right foot.  I’m moving into 2020 with gratitude as opposed to sadness, the opposite of what the flip of the calendar brought me in 2019.  I kept so much of that sadness private throughout all of 2018, that this blog has helped me immensely in sharing my own trials, followed by the joys that 2019 eventually brought me.  And if this apparent trajectory is right, 2020 is looking to be a year of even more confidence, growth, love, and learning.  I’m genuinely and honestly excited to see was this next year has in store for me.

 

For what it’s worth, here are my 2020 goals:

Teach more from yogic philosophy and incorporate more Sanskrit in my teaching.

Get a few more Avett concerts under my belt.  We already have a couple trips planned that include taking Baby P.  I don’t want my life or my interests to dwindle because of our newest family addition.  If anything, Baby P will only add more joy to the interests Pat & I share.  I am committed to taking Baby P everywhere with us and letting him/her experience the world alongside us.  But that baby WILL LOVE FOLK MUSIC.  Make no mistake.  It’s like a rite of passage in our family, just like being a cradle Browns fan.

Learn how to better incorporate the Holy Spirit and the Saints into my prayer life.  Because the Saints are f’ing awesome.  (St. Polycarp, I see you bro. <<fist pump>>)

Always keep my marriage at the forefront of what I’m doing.  Raising a child is going to be hard, but it will be even harder without constant love and devotion to the one person I love more than anything or anyone in this world.  We’re a team, and I plan on staying a unified, loving, loyal front for the rest of our lives.

Simplify, appreciate, and unplan.  If there’s anything I hear from other parents, it’s unplan whatever you have planned and go with the flow.  I think this can be applicable to many areas of my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this new lifestyle change affects me for the better.

 

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Surprises Don’t Only Arrive When You Spot the Two Lines

I vividly remember standing in the kitchen, arriving home from a really solid yoga practice, nearly screaming at my husband.  It was one of those “manic moments.” Thoughts were firing off in my brain from a thousand directions.  I pictured a little worker bee up there running back & forth, picking up thought boxes on shelves then feverishly placing them down; repeatedly pivoting, jostling, nearly falling over in overexertion.

“I don’t want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard for!!!”

“No more marathoning!  No more running!  Do you even KNOW what that feels like?!”

“And what about my yoga practice?  I have worked for years to get where I’m at, and now it’s just going to be over!!!  You will never understand!!!”

“I’ll have to say goodbye to the Monkey, to Hotz, to drinking.  Easy for you to say ‘it’s only temporary’ when I’ll be the one sidelined on the couch forced to be idle for nine f’ing months.”

“I won’t be able to do things I want to do anymore.  How will I still maintain my independence?  Maintain who I am?”

“And what about sleep?  Don’t you love to sleep?  Say goodbye to that once we have kids.”

“What will happen to us?  I love us.  I don’t want to lose what we have for this ‘expectation’ to have a baby.  Don’t you think our lives could be fulfilling without a child?  We’re so happy!”

“What if something goes wrong and we deliver a baby with the world’s worst disorder or disease?  I don’t think I have the stamina to handle something like that.  I know myself.”

There were other rants.  Many other rants.  They all seemed completely valid and warranted at the time, and I’m not going to lie, at times they still do.  Pat just took itHe took all of it.  And by the end, after I mildly calmed down and silenced myself (worker bee up there still running on E), but still not able to fully catch my breath, I saw what looked like tears in Pat’s eyes yet he calmly stated, “You’re right.  I’m not arguing with you.  I don’t understand what you’re going through nor what you would go through.  I will never understand.  But I am here for you, regardless of what you are thinking right now.  I am a man of honor and a husband who will support you through anything and everything.  Not a lot of husbands are like me.  I’ve seen it.  But this is a team decision.  And we will not make any decision without the other one being fully on board.  I need you to understand that. … But also, at this point, there is absolutely nothing else I can do or say to ease your worries or help you through this.  At this point, I need to step aside.  I am here to listen and help you through anything, but I have to honestly tell you that I have exhausted my efforts and I don’t know how else to help you.”  That was the end of the long, emotionally draining, manic “fights” that finally culminated in seeking professional help.

Therapy didn’t surprise me.  I knew it would help me and hopefully “save” me.  The timing just had to be right.  Pregnancy, on the other hand, has continued to be the biggest surprise of my life.

To those of you who are currently pregnant or who are already mothers, you’ll most likely agree that the biggest surprise isn’t when you first spot those two pink lines on a stick.  There is a lot after that surprises you.  In my own personal experience, over four months in, I have been dealt so many surprises that at this point I can’t even keep track of what hasn’t surprised me.

What’s the biggest surprise thus far?  I have loved being pregnant.

There, I said it.  Like the recoiling that happened when I trepidatiously (did I just invent a word?) told Pat I was ready to have kids, I unleashed a huge sigh of relief when those words calmly came to my mind’s forefront.  I pictured the overworking, exhausted worker bee finally taking a much needed break and letting out a sigh of relief; maybe wiping the sweat from his brow, sitting on one of the many unshelved, disorganized thought boxes.  Maybe he finally muttered, “We made it.”  Or maybe, he smiled coyly (like that little half smile emoji we all love to use that essentially means “I’m smiling because I’m up to something”) because he always knew that if he worked hard and followed the uncharted course of my manic brain, that indeed, all that is well would end well.  And in reality, maybe I was well after all, but I needed to circle the depths of a personal hell to finally realize this when worker bee knew it all along.  He was intuitive, smart, stayed the course.  He knew there was a better ending set for me than what I allowed myself to think I was doomed for in becoming pregnant.  Pregnancy has been a tremendous gift.  And I have not taken that for granted.  I know not everyone has the same pleasant experience, so I do not take this blessing for granted.

Surprise #2: I can still run!  And do yoga!  And spin! 

Can you even believe it!  I run four miles on average three times a week.  I attend spin class three to four mornings a week.  I am still practicing and teaching yoga, including being an active participant in my deep backbends and challenging inversions (just no twists, because duh).  I was terrified that this would all stop.  But instead, I have read countless articles about how exercise during pregnancy is good for both the baby and for mama.  It would be worse to stop exercising now as opposed to keeping up with what I’m used to.  In fact, some of my favorite conversations with Baby P are during our workouts.  I rub my belly and say, “c’mon Baby!  One more mile!” or “the sprint is coming, Baby P, get ready!”, or “you doin’ ok in there?”  I picture Baby P smiling, hands clasped behind its little head, loving the secure womb I have created for him/her and appreciating the time I put in to strengthening my body so that Baby P in turn is healthy & strong when it’s time to come out.  Workout buddies for life!

Surprise #3: I have more confidence in my body and in my appearance than I ever thought I would. 

I thought I would despise my body changing.  This was a very big sticking point with me.  And one I did not take lightly.  Maternity clothes?  Gross.  Looking “fat?”  No thanks.  I knew I would despise my bump and the weight it made me gain.  Oddly enough, I love this bump.  I have so much more respect and admiration for what a woman’s body can do and what it can achieve.  And I haven’t even made it to labor & delivery yet!  I don’t look at my body and feel sadness for the weight it’s put on (trust me, I know there’s still much more to come), or for the widening of my hips.  I look at it and think, “Holy shit.  This.  Is.  Awesome.”  I am a more confident person carrying around this baby.  I may still be a vessel, but I am a strong, fit, belly-bump loving vessel, who has taken so much pride in simply allowing my body to grow and change.  This process is jaw-dropping amazing.  There is no other word for it.  I also plan on wearing maternity jeggings for life because THAT SHIT IS AMAZING as well.

Surprise #4: People constantly talking about how I am pregnant has now become my identity (for the most part), and I actually don’t mind it.

I was an open book on telling people how little I looked forward to them recognizing my pregnant belly and wanting to make it the focal point of conversation. Am I no longer Nicole?  Now I’m just “pregnant?”  I truly felt that this was all people saw in pregnant people.  We had no eyes, no face, no identity, just a belly.  And that’s all we were.  It is kind of still true.  However, I have come to have more compassion for being in this new arena.  Yes, some people suck and are just awkward and consistently want to talk about your pregnant belly.  But you know what?  I believe most people are good.  I feel the majority of the people who ask how you’re feeling, or ask to touch your belly (sensitive topic, I know), or ask any question whatsoever about your growing baby are truly, truly excited for you and are asking questions that stem from genuine places in their hearts.  In fact, some people have surprised me in the most positive of ways.  One man I work with, who at times can be a hard ass, when I told him in a meeting that I was pregnant, his entire face melted and he was glowing.  He looked at me, grinning from ear to ear and said, “Being a parent is the best job in the world.  You are going to love it.  I am so, so happy for you.  It is the BEST JOB.”  I don’t think I have lost my identity thus far.  In fact, I think I have grown even more as a person as I continue to grow this little human.  I have more compassion for people.  I am less judgmental.  I am more empathetic.  I now have perspective.

Sure, pregnancy has its downsides.  I can’t drink, and I am a social butterfly.  Making up lies as to why I hadn’t been to the Monkey in well over a month really sucked.  Yea, and being sober for an ENTIRE BROWNS SEASON is certainly cry-worthy.  I had to empty a PBR can down the drain and refill it with water to bring to the home opener.  Do you know how depressing that action was for me!?  Yes, both the PBR-wasting and managing the herds of energetic, hopeful Cleveland drunks walking en mass to the Muni.  It all sucked.  Tapering my running has been a bigger emotional battle than I originally thought.  Yes, as I mentioned above, I am still running.  But it’s not the same.  I crave the long runs, the 1000+ calorie burning runs, the Camelbak strapped on as I laced up for a long morning spent in the Rocky River Reservation.  That has been very, very hard for me.  I am a work in progress as I still try to manage these emotions.  I miss marathoning with my whole heart.  I cannot wait for a comeback.

Ahh, but the upsides.  A baby.  A BABYYYY.  The biggest and most profound excitement I have had throughout this entire process thus far has been seeing happiness just radiate from my husband.  I have mentioned time and time again that Patrick Perkins was meant to be a dad.  So much of my mental hardship stemmed from this longing to want to give my partner something I wasn’t sure I could give him.  I recently texted with a friend who told me that she often felt the same way as me: unsure of whether she wanted to be a mom, confusion over whether this was the right decision or the right time.  She said she also never had that maternal feeling, but her husband was a Patrick Perkins.  He wanted children and knew he was meant to be a dad.  But that maternal, loving feeling came once her baby was born, and seeing her husband light up around the baby sometimes brought her to tears of insurmountable happiness for this gift she was able to give them.  I felt her fear, and I feel her newfound excitement, even before little Baby P has arrived.  Seeing Pat smile when he looks at my growing belly, listening to him talk to Baby P to make sure “it knows my voice!”, feeling him rub my belly and say “I love you so much!!!” then leaning in even closer (basically yelling to make sure Baby P hears) “DID YOU HEAR ME, BABY P!?  THIS IS DADDY!!!  I JUST LOVE YOU SO SO SO SO MUCH!!!”  (I have to keep reminding him that the ear canals aren’t fully formed yet but he doesn’t care.  Update: at the time of publication, the ear canals have now formed.  There has been a significant decrease in shouting at the womb.  Mommy is pleased by this recent change in decibel level.)  You simply can’t make up this level of cuteness.  His excitement alone has changed my entire outlook of carrying this baby and becoming a mother.  Any downside is wiped away by the sheer excitement of bringing a new miniature version of Pat into this world.  It can have my skin and my eyes (blue-eyed babies for life!), but I want this baby to be exactly like my husband.

Pat & I joke with each other that God must look down and smile coyly at us, just like the worker bee or that sly looking emoji.  After months and months of praying for an answer, literally begging God to give us a clear, distinct sign in front of our faces as to whether we were meant to be parents, that if only I had listened and kept an open ear, He would have given us what we were destined to have.  Pregnancy came quick for us.  The decision as to whether or not we wanted to even go that route did not.  We joke that God gives us an “smh” from above, saying to Himself, “Guys.  I told you I would help you.  I told you that I would give you an answer.  When you were finally receptive, I answered your prayers.”

Pregnancy is absolutely amazing.  And I have loved every second of it thus far.  (Shout out to Debs for the great genes because I had zero nausea throughout the first trimester.  No sickness here, b#tches!)  I look forward to not only my growing belly, but growing into new surprises, and growing out of any fears I once carried.  This process has changed my outlook on so many things.  I can’t wait to see what else Baby P changes in me.

 


 

APPENDIX:

I wasn’t going to add this in here initially, but it has been weighing on me heavily, especially since a viable pregnancy (so far) came so quickly to us.

Ladies (and men): I do not know what it feels like to miscarry, have infertility issues, or try to conceive for months and still not have a growing baby inside of me.  I cannot speak to your struggles of emotionally & physically managing the IVF process (or repeated, failed IVF attempts).  I cannot speak to the loss, the pain, the agony, the anger, the frustration of what you have gone through or what you are going through right now.  I cannot speak to the waiting game, often times filled with anxiety and concern while you are driven down a painstakingly long adoption process.  I’m sure some of you might even harbor feelings of anger toward me and others like me: someone who got pregnant very quickly, knowing that for so long I didn’t even know if I even wanted a baby.  There is nothing I can say to make you feel any better, though I wish there was.  With this new perspective, I have come to empathize more than anyone could ever understand or that I could even explain.  I’ve seen some of my best friends struggle with miscarriages and infertility.  And who knows if these hardships could make their way into my own future pregnancy attempts.  I want you to know sincerely that I think about all of you constantly.  My prayers don’t hold any more weight than the person sitting next to me, but please know that while I can’t begin to imagine what many of you are going through, I am always thinking of you and praying for an answer.

 

 

Pregnancy Tests and a Carton of Soy Milk

I was late.  But I’ve never been on time.

For years I never had a regular period, stemming primarily from my consistent marathoning.  But on July 26, the night before my favorite day of the year, Ale Fest, I was late.  Not just a day late, but a few days late.

I didn’t tell many people that my husband & I were trying, mostly in part because of what people would think of me after reading a multitude of blogs that painstakingly described how not sure I was about even having kids.  (Yup, still the girl who cares what everyone thinks of her and still trying hard to rid that mindset.)  “But what changed?” you ask.

I met my nephew.  Pat & I arrived at the hospital just hours after he was born, and it was love at first sight.  I mean that most sincerely.  It wasn’t baby fever, because let me just say, I’ve been around a million babies and never once has a baby made my uterus start to jump for joy.  More like the opposite, actually.  Babies weren’t “my thing.”  Maternal bug?  Never caught it.  Need me to babysit?  Never wanted to.  But I saw sweet little love nugget munchkin Finn and my heart exploded.  God wanted us to have a baby.  It was a sign and a calling I had been praying for and waiting for, for what felt like eternity.  I finally knew it in my entire, whole heart.  I didn’t have an ounce of hesitation.

Pat & I got home from the hospital, went on with our normal evening, but deep inside of me was a feeling that something was different.  I woke up the next day, went to work, came home, and while getting ready for yoga looked at Pat and said, “Soo… I don’t want you to think I’m crazy, but like, did seeing Finn make you want to have a baby?”  I cringed as I said it, my face got all scrunchy and I kind of stepped back, recoiling.  Pat responded in the same exact way, stirring a little bit of surprise in me.  For all my “negativity” and confusion surrounding becoming a mother, you may think that Pat was the overwhelmingly positive one, ready to jump at fatherhood as soon I said “go.”  But let me tell you, Pat had some of the same qualms I did about getting pregnant, especially considering the past year’s downward mental spiral.

Let’s consider Pat’s perspective in the roller coaster of that which I led him on over the past five years:

Being the cougar in the relationship (I’m technically considered a puma because cougar is for 10+ years.  Under 10 years makes me a spry, agile younger cousin of the cougar), my mind constantly wandered.  I wondered how I could go from our first date, at ages 24 and 29, telling this guy I barely knew that I “wanted kids because I’m old so I mean I hope you want that too.” BOOM.  How’s that for a first date?  Cue Pat: “Kids?  Yea totally want them.  Like, a lot of them.  And I’m ready!!!”  My opinion eventually changed to being filled with depression and anxiety two years later over the fear of motherhood, begging him to understand what was going on in my head when I couldn’t even process what was going on in my own head.  Then finally, nearly five years later, at 29 and 34, deciding that yes, I wanted kids, and I hope you still want them, too.  Like, duh.  Change your mind and get on the same page as me right now, Pat.  What’s wrong with you?  (Nothing, nothing is wrong with him whatsoever.)  It was a roller coaster for both of us.  And often times I didn’t take Pat’s age into consideration.  Our age gap never bothering me previously, how could I not notice this age gap when the kid convo came up?  My eggs are slowly walking their way into an old age home, and my husband hadn’t even celebrated his 30th birthday.  Thinking back to our first few months of dating, how would I feel if my 29-year-old girlfriend wanted kids and I was only 24?  Basically still a college grad, not nearly ready for that responsibility.  To be on board right away, mentally prepare myself for that because I truly, deeply loved someone that much, and then have that impending fatherhood role I’ve prepared for myself suddenly be stripped away?  Pressing forward yet again, to then have your 34-year-old wife turn the dial back the other way and ask you to be on the same page again?  Kids!  Let’s do it!  C’mon, babe!!!  I was not fair to Pat’s feelings for so long, but it was not intentional.  I wasn’t able to manage someone else’s feelings when I couldn’t even take hold of my own.  I was, for lack of a better term, somewhat manic.

However, all that is history.

When I got home from work that Friday eve of Ale Fest, three days late, I stormed through the door, flung off my backpack, looked at Pat and said, “I’m late.  Like, kind of pretty late.  I’m taking a pregnancy test.  I’ll bet you $100 I’m not pregnant, but I can’t go to Ale Fest tomorrow and consciously drink my face off if I am.”  He just started laughing, suddenly turning serious, questioning me.  “Wait, you are?  Right now!?”  And when I told him I was dead serious and sat right there on the toilet in front of him, door wide open, he started pacing.  Three minutes later, “Yea, babe.  We’re fine!  There’s just a faint second line.  It would be much bolder.”  What idiots we were.  Clearly (pun intended) we didn’t know how to work a damn pregnancy test. We went on with our evening, cooked dinner, and opened a bottle of wine.  (P.S. wine, I love you and I miss you.)

11:00pm rolls around and I’m buzzed.  And also for some odd reason, I’m second-guessing myself.

Pat already in bed, lights were out, but something stirred in me.  I walked back to the bathroom, dug into the garbage, pulled out the test and took another look.  Still that faint second line that “obviously” means we weren’t pregnant, or so I thought.  (Again, what a novice.)  “Pat!”  I yelled from the bathroom.  “I’m taking another one!  Just to be sure!”  Same faint, second line.  I showed him the stick, and after going back & forth a bunch of times as to “how faint” this line actually was, his reaction was to call our moms because “We’re just confused!!!  It’s so faint!!!  You’re 100% not pregnant, but like, let’s call our moms… or let’s call Holly.  Yea, call Holly.”  I texted our very pregnant, very good friend Holly knowing that she was probably already 4 hours into a deep REM cycle, went to bed, woke up for yoga, and told myself I would stop at Rite Aid to get a second box of tests in a different brand because I mean obviously this test and its stupid faint second line is screwing with me.  I’ll be ready for Ale Fest in no time.

Holly finally responds to my late night text, nine hours later.  I finished yoga, bought the new pack of tests, and even stopped at Brewnuts for a lil treat.  I show her the first test and she immediately tells me I’m pregnant.  “THAT’S POSITIVE NICOLE.”  Me: “But like, no way.  It’s so faint!”  She proceeds to send me a pic of her pregnancy test… and they look the same.  In fact, hers might have been even fainter.  Heart drops.  Stomach drops.  My mind is racing and I am gripping the steering wheel with all my might, racing to get home.  WHAT THE F&$% DO I DO NOW?!?!?!  I get home, take the 3rd pregnancy test because obviously I just spent $18 on this stupid Rite Aid-branded test so I’m going to take it, and boom, there’s a plus sign and a horizontal line.  It couldn’t have been clearer or more “plus signy.”  Holly: “NOW are you convinced?!”  Me: facepalm.

Just as the three minutes are up – the timing couldn’t have been more poetic – Pat rolls up the driveway from the gym.  I’m scrolling through my texts with Holly, feverishly trying to show Pat what she told me — Pat still unsure of what’s going on (“IT WAS SO FAINT!  BOTH of them were!  Ok, hold up, scroll back up… MORE UP… go back… WAIT!  What?  What is she saying?!”) — and then right in the middle of all of this, Holly calls, and I put her on speaker: “OMG YOU’RE PREGNANT!!!! OMG!!!!  YOU GUYS I’M CRYING THIS IS AMAZING OMG I JUST CAN’T EVEN!!!!”  Me: “Wait, I am?  Are you sure though?  Like, really sure?”  Now I’m crying.  Pat’s crying.  Holly’s crying.  There we are in our kitchen, sweaty from our workouts, just Pat, Holly & me bawling our eyes out, exactly the way I envisioned finding out I was pregnant. <<obviously a joke but seriously, Holly, the apparent “pregnancy teller confirmer expert” explaining to us we were pregnant was pretty hilarious>>

And so begins the fun process of worrying (every.single.minute) about whether I’m going to miscarry, deliver a healthy baby, harm the baby, or harm myself.  So many times in my life throughout so many different hardships, I’ve silently whispered to myself, “I cannot handle this” or “I am not built to do this.”  I’m guessing a lot of you feel the same way, too.  Well, now more than ever we’ll see what I’m made of.  What we’re made of.  I have a loving, supportive, beyond excited husband, a wonderful family and tremendous groups of caring friends.  I have no idea what the F%&* I’m doing, but I know now I can handle this, and I know I was born to do this.

I walked out of Rite Aid with a pack of pregnancy tests and a carton of soy milk for my cold brew.  See ya in 8 months, cold brew.  I sure hope my husband likes vanilla soy in his extra-strength coffee.

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I said this in our social media announcement, but I meant every word of it and it is worth repeating:

We are in constant prayer for a healthy pregnancy and baby, so if you pray, add us to your list; if you meditate, send calmness our way; and if you believe in luck, we will happily take that too.

Baby P (gender not revealed nor will we find out ourselves so don’t even ask) due April 2, 2020.

[This blog penned 7/30/19, 5 days after news confirmed via Rite Aid pregnancy test.  Which, Rite Aid, if you’re reading this, I am writing you and your tests a 5-star review because your directions are amazing!  First Response, YOU SUCK.]

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“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your words are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:13-14

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Here are some of our favorite pics in telling our parents, and my uncle Phil, who lives in Toledo and we unfortunately couldn’t tell in person.  For those of you who were at our wedding, he is the one who read the hilarious poem during the night’s speeches.  He is like a second father to me and it would have been wonderful to tell him in person, but Face Timing him was certainly still fulfilling enough for us.

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Ladies Who Play Fantasy Football: SURPRISE! It’s Not Far-Fetched nor Is It Fantasy.

There’s a line in one of the songs from the musical Hamilton, called “Right Hand Man.”  Burr, Hamilton, Laurens, Lafayette, and basically everyone else in the scene awaits George Washington to enter.  Washington’s General banter starts off saying:

“Check it—
Can I be real a second?
For just a millisecond?
Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?”

I’m gonna liken myself to a past war general and president for just a second.  I know that this line probably has no relevance to what I’m about to rant over, but I felt I needed to bring a little context to this post right away as I begin to argue over… WOMEN WHO PLAY FANTASY FOOTBALL.

Shocking!  I know, right?!  There are actually women who play — and, GASP! — excel in Fantasy Football!  Such a crazy thought that I can’t believe the words even came out of my mouth!

Under attack, Washington goes on, fielding cannon blows between each line.

[WASHINGTON] “We are outgunned!  Outmanned!”

[ENSEMBLE] “What?”

[WASHINGTON] “Outnumbered!  Outplanned!”

[ENSEMBLE] “What?”

[WASHINGTON] “We gotta make an all out stand!”

Women, Washington is right.  We need to stick together, make an all out stand.  We’re outnumbered, outmanned (literally), but certainly not outplanned.  Several years ago Matthew Berry (my favorite FF expert; we can agree to disagree if he’s not your jam – it’s all good) in one of his “Draft Day Manifestos” had a Top Ten list of FF “rules” to prepare people for their upcoming drafts.  And smack dab in the middle he says, “And guys.  Get over the fact that women play FF.  I know many of you can’t understand this, but — shocking, I know — women know sports and there are plenty of women in leagues that I’m in who have better teams than mine.  Set aside your egos once and for all.”  I could have kissed my computer screen.  Hell, I should’ve just sought him out and gave him a huge smooch on the lips.  Berry, man.  You’re a man of all women.  And we appreciate you.

Should we ladies create a union?  A collective bargaining force that protects our rights and our intelligence against that (somehow increasingly large) percentage of egotistical men who continue to demean us?

As if there aren’t far worse platitudes than the thought that women can’t play FF, what about the pathetic banter that occurs when another woman somehow goes against you and your intelligence?  Gurrrrrl.  What ever happened to sticking together?  Solidarity?  Feminism?  Heard of it?  Hamilton also has a line – an entire song, actually – titled, “Rise Up.”  Collectively rising up together should be our end goal, not making enemies against each other.  Isn’t that what all the men in our FF leagues do to us anyway?  A collective “force” aimed to make our choices look foolish and uneducated?  And then we have to deal with women breaking each other down over a game of lottery that is essentially a total and utter crapshoot at its core when you peel away all the egos and bias?

Let’s play a little game to give men (not all, just you a-holes who think women are meant to sit still, look pretty and cook for you) some context as to what I, along with other sports-loving women, deal with on a regular basis (and this is just a sampling):

Example 1: Said female wants to join a FF league, as she is currently a free agent.

Situation A:

F: “Hey, Joe.  I’m looking for a new FF league.   Any openings?”

M: “Yea, actually, I think we do.  Let me check with the commish to make sure he didn’t give that spot away already.”

Situation B:

F: “Hey, Joe.  I’m looking for a new FF league.  Any openings?”

M: “Oh shit!  You play FF?  That’s cool.  Not many women play.  Let me check with the commish to make sure we have a spot open.”

Analysis: I think it’s pretty obvious.  Yet Situation B has happened to me on numerous occasions.  Shall I go slap on my apron right now?

 

Example 2: Female picks John Smith, a known “troublemaker” off the field.  Pathetic banter follows, stroking all male egos who are present to witness said female suddenly get ripped apart.

Situation A:

F: “Nicole Perkins selects Joe Smith” scrolls across the message/chat/alert board.

M1: “Complete waste of a pick.  Nice job.”

M2: “Ohh so you condone that kind of behavior off the field?  Aren’t you a woman?”

M3: “Nicole!” <<can only imagine this one word has the underlying meaning of “YOU picking HIM?  But you’re a… a WOMAN!”  THE DISGRACE!!!  THE HORROR!!!>>

Analysis:  All of these examples have occurred.  I have many, many opinions on why certain males feel the need to comment like this, or really, at all, but here are my best few guesses: 1) You wanted to draft Joe Smith and are pissed a girl drafted him before you.  Jealous much?  Here’s a tissue.  2) You’re hypocritical AF and need to make yourself feel better by subsequently making a female feel badly about this “poor” decision, when you would have easily drafted said player IF he was available, then follow with a comment of, “Hey, what happens off the field is none of my business” and lastly, 3) Offering public scorn decidedly makes you look better in front of others (I’m still trying to grasp this?).  Male solidarity!  Because we need more of it!

While there are so many other examples I could give, these are a few mild, yes, mild, examples of what we, as women, deal with in a Fantasy field populated primarily by men.

Let’s change to another topic: garnering help from other FF participants.  So what if a female asks a man (or another woman) for help on a few picks?  It’s a crapshoot.  You mean to tell me that mock drafts don’t hold the same purpose?  You are soliciting opinions of others to see where you should draft and what player you should pick.  What’s the difference between asking someone in person or asking something who hides behind a computer?  Both genders do it.  And there are plenty of avenues on social media and the interwebs to find solid resources.  Still sad a woman drafted a player before you?  Your passive aggressive comments have no place here, so stop trying to shape this into an argument that women have no f’ing clue what they’re doing.  PSA: Remember, this game is still… a crapshoot!  There!  I said it again juuuust as a friendly reminder about the fantasy world we’re playing in.  Said player could injure himself week one and we’d both be SOL.  This league has the name “Fantasy” in it for a reason.  Men ask or seek the help of others but just won’t admit it.  Because God forbid another male chastises you for getting info from the “wrong” source (face palm).  Men, ladies are allowed to do the same thing.  It’s called being adequately prepared and doing your research before you invest.

This brings me back to my goal of rebelling against the FF patriarchy.  Ban together, ladies!  Strip away your fear of playing against these imbeciles who seemingly get joy from bringing you down.  Hold your head high, strut that chest nice & proud (oh, but not too proud because, you know, then we’ll go down that road) and JOIN THAT ELUSIVE FANTASY LEAGUE.  Be the only woman among a pack of men!  Claim Baker Mayfield as your QB!  Be ballsy!  Stay convicted in your drafting choices.  And hell, I’ll just say it, TALK BACK TO MALES AND MEAN IT!  Your opinions, choices and decisions have as much equal merit as the males’ in this Fantasy world.  Own it.  And don’t ever look back.

And ladies, if no one else is up to the job of leading this unionized charge, I’ll raise my hand.  I will be the face for all women discriminated against in FF!  The AOC of FF!  Let’s march for our FF lives!  Grab your poster board and megaphone!  Let’s rally it up!!!

Have any of you dealt with even a portion of this ridiculous nonsense?  I can’t imagine I’m the only one.  If so, hope to see you on the front lines.  It’s time to get down & dirty in the trenches, ladies.  Demand respect and don’t let it slip away from the grips!  I made it to the playoffs last year.  Actually three female-led teams made it to the playoffs.  Three out of four teams, female-led.  And this is a 12-team league. Where were all the rest of you dudes who thought you knew better than us?  Bueller?  Bueller?

I had the “joy” of drafting (generally, an evening I look forward to) my “Joe Thomas’ Dad Bod” a couple weeks ago, and was lambasted for choosing particular players that anyone else would pick.  My intelligence was tested and belittled, which I’m only attesting to the fact that I was, again, a woman.  Oh, it was a great night.  A night to which I kept thinking about for the remainder of the evening, furrowed brow and all.  I couldn’t stop gritting my teeth the entire way through my run the following morning, even still 10+ hours later.  Men.  Meh.  Find something else to hang your hat on.  Because, quite frankly, using your energy to break apart women in FF is pretty elementary.  Trying to admit that your sexist-laced comments aren’t at all sexist-laced, but instead are “in jest” is just a lie you made up in your heads trying to survive in this make-believe, build-your-own-team crapshoot FF world we’re all cohabiting in together.

But seriously, good luck and I hope everyone has fun!

Bite me.

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Oh, and because I always close with an Avett song, here’s an appropro line from “February Seven” on the album, “The Carpenter.”  Because no blog is complete with the words of Seth & Scott Avett.  Cheesy, yes, but just deal.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.
There’s no falling back asleep
Once you’ve wakened from the dream
Now I’m rested and I’m ready,
I’m rested and I’m ready to begin.
I’m ready to begin.

Sanguine

I got a tattoo last week.  Gah!!!  While I was completely anxious leading up to the appointment, it ended up being awesome.  I got a single word in dainty script, “sanguine,” the title of one of my favorite Avett Brothers songs.  I’ve been following this band for many years, traveling all over the country to see them, totaling (at this point) close to 20 shows.  Right after my tattoo’s completion (all 4.5 minutes of it!  Watch out world!), I posted in an Avett Brothers “ink” Facebook group that this little word packed a mean punch, as this band has saved my life over & over again in more ways than one.

I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my entire life I thought tattoos were trashy.  When all my friends were getting them in high school and college, I often wondered why in the world they would want to do that to their bodies.  “You’ll regret it one day” and “omg my parents would kill me” were frequent phrases that popped into my head.  But I’m 34 years old.  I’m old enough to make educated, adult decisions such as this.   My husband often joked with me leading up to the tattoo appointment, “What are you going to tell our kids?!”  My response: “Mommy waited 34 years to get her first tattoo, so she had 34 years to really think long and hard about this decision.  Get whatever you want, whenever you want, but just know that something you want now at 18, 20, 22, 24, etc. may not hold the same meaning it does to you now.”  Pat’s response?  “Yea, well, ok that makes perfect sense and I stand by that explanation.”  BOOM.😊

But you want to know the problem?  I want more.  Every single person who has ink told me that I would want more.  I never believed them.  But now when I look in the mirror and see that word scripted on my arm, it brings a massive smile to my face, because these boys put the words into songs that I could never find the words to say.  There is meaning.  I got my tattoo on a Thursday.  I drove to Louisville the next morning to see them play on Sunday night at Forecastle Fest.  As most of you already know, SCOTT AVETT GRABBED MY HAND during their performance on Sunday.  I fangirled so hard that I cried, instantly texting one of my college best friends who is solely responsible for my obsession with this band to tell him what happened.  Needless to say he was thrilled for me!  So back to the first-ink-at-34 thing, I have had a lot of time to ruminate over getting a meaningful tattoo.

I remember almost a year ago to the day, my husband, his best friend & I all went to Colorado to see Avett perform at Red Rocks (my second time, their first).  To be perfectly honest, I was technically the third wheel on a “bro trip” but I didn’t care in the least bit because 1) Stephen Wido is the best, and 2) I got to see my boys at the greatest concert venue on the planet, yet again.  However, not having started to treat my mental health at that point in time, looking back I can see I was at the height of my lowest days.  I was depressed and didn’t know how to help myself.  There’s a point to this paragraph, just hold tight.   Leaving Pat & Stephen a couple days early (I had limits on my vacation time, they did not), I sat in misery en route to the airport.  I cried the entire time through security.  I spent my last moments in Denver wondering if this would be my last trip ever to Red Rocks, my last big “tour de Avett” before kids came along, a feeling of dread and despair surrounding every single thought that popped into my head.  “My life is over” was all I could think.  Call me dramatic, but when you are suffering alone inside, these thoughts are frequent and these thoughts always feel validated.  I felt I was done doing the things I wanted to do, traveling to places I wanted so badly to visit, done taking solo trips with my husband without a care in the world.  I didn’t tell Pat about this particular bout of deep sadness until many months after the Colorado trip.  I was scared he would make fun of me or think I was a lunatic for feeling so much potential regret over the possibility of not being able to see a band again.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Life is not over when you are depressed, nor is it over based on the mere thought of having children (re: March 2019 blog).  But when your mind is warped, you are constantly being wrangled by your thoughts.  Back to the point of this paragraph.  After many years of saying I would get a tattoo, and wussing out every time, while at the Denver airport I stumbled across this fan page comprised solely of people who have Avett-centric ink or use this page as an idea stream for upcoming tattoos.  Aside from the obvious that we are all Avett crazy, every person in that group thinks of this band as more than just a band.  They give us words, and images, and scripts to better dissect meaning behind our lives.  Free therapy to an extent, right?  They’ve saved our lives in more ways than one.  A year later I found the courage to get the tattoo.  I’ve never felt prouder or more convicted in a decision (other than marrying my husband, of course).  The ink & I were meant to be.  Read the lyrics.  Hear the song.  Sanguine.  Getting inked now was probably an even better decision than rushing to get it after my return from Colorado.  I was not in a good mental state, and it just would not have been right.  But things have started to fall much more in place over the past few months.  Not only am I a stronger person, but together, even Patrick & I are better, when I didn’t think we needed any improvement.

My husband said that it would be nice if I focused one of my blogs on a topic that was a little happier than the norm, a distant cry from battling with my self-inflicted wounds or begging people to show a little more empathy.  I still struggle with a lot of that stuff, but as a work in progress, I really am making strides.  I’m trying to empty my life of negative influences: unfollowing people on social media who do not serve me anymore — in real life too, not just the social stratosphere – trying to let go of friendships I still attach a lot of weight to, that weight not being reciprocated from their end.  It’s ok, Nicole.  It’s all ok.

I can’t wait till my next Avett-inspired tattoo.  Pat really does love it and fully endorses my decision to get more, as long as it packs as much meaning as this one, as long as they aren’t too big, and as long as I don’t fall victim to full sleeves. 😉  (“I have to draw the line somewhere, babe!” Point taken.  Also, pun intended.)  The look on his face when he saw the look on my face watching Scott Avett run toward us at Forecastle Fest.  I want people to see what I saw.  There was genuine happiness and excitement for me.  I had the biggest smile on my face.  I cried.  I was shaking.  I was elated.  He was ecstatic for me. What perfect timing in getting that small little dainty word on my arm.  (Side note: What a team we make.  I love our marriage so frickin’ much.  And babe, if you ever run into Anna Kendrick or Rashida Jones, I fully endorse your turn to fanboy.)  I put a lot of trust in these two brothers’ lyrics, which are beginning to translate into pieces of art on my skin, albeit small, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  (NO, I will not have full sleeves as mentioned before.  But a few more small tattoos wouldn’t hurt, people.)

Though we almost burned alive in Louisville’s 95-degree heat all weekend, spending time with my best friends, in a new city, all sun-soaked and music-filled — it was glorious.  And the coincidence of timing that nearly a year ago, seeing where I was then and where I am now, that period of change is not lost on me.  One day I’ll meet Scott & Seth (and Bob & Joe!).  And while I’ll probably faint or my knees will most certainly give out, that gratitude will shine through boldly.  I am a better person, empathizer, friend, and companion because of their lyrics.  I look forward to the day I can tell them that in person.

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A comment I wasn’t sure where to fit in here so I’m leaving it as a footnote:  I recently read Kate Fagan’s Players’ Tribune article.  It centered around the relationship with her dad and his current battle with ALS.  Kate said something specific that really stuck with me.  I suggest reading the entire letter, but I’ll leave her words here: “I remember wondering how common this feeling was – how much energy grieving people spend wondering how their grief is being interpreted by others?  Wondering if they’re ‘doing it right,’ or if it’s justified?”  I’ve always cared what people thought of me for NO apparent reason.  Why?!  My friend Anna said something along the lines of, “Who cares how I grieve?  It’s mine.” And I get that, totally.  I couldn’t have said it better.  But grief comes in a lot of different packages, and it manifests in a lot of different ways.  I’m sure for Kate being in the public eye most of her life, she may feel her grief gets judged a little more than others.  From my perspective, it’s even harder when your grief comes in the form of battling inner demons.  That bad energy builds up.  I was worried what a couple of people in particular would say about my tattoo: it’s not easily hidden on my arm, but not large by any means either.  “What is that?”  “What does it even mean?”  “She’s so frickin’ crazy over a stupid band” “Why would she even get that?”  My mind raced with all the impending comments.   But instead, I trained my mind to trade worry for optimism. “Fuck the rest.”  Didn’t I say that in a blog not too long ago?  Thanks for the reminder to not waste energy on stupid shit, Kate.  I’m rooting for you and your family.  Sanguine.

 

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The Power of Empathy

Empathy.  Is it that hard for people to have these days?  Lately it’s been weighing on me heavily.  This feeling of how unempathetic people can be toward another person’s situation, and how little compassion is shown.  Overall, we lack empathy toward one another’s culture, experiences, feelings, struggles, losses, everything.  I can’t particularly pinpoint where society has gone awry.  But the vast majority of us don’t hold compassion like we used to, even toward people we should deem it second nature to do so.  At least that’s the way I feel.  And today I’m specifically directing my feelings  around the empathy I’ve received and didn’t receive after posting my “Getting Old Sucks” blog back in March.

I admit that I sometimes struggle, but I am also quite aware that this is an area I generally do a pretty good job in.  I remember my husband telling me early on in our relationship that I had a particular knack for having empathy for others, which he truly admired, and looking back at that comment some 4+ years later, I see how much more his sentiment means to me now than it did originally.  I think I do a great job of caring for my friends and family.  I want to stay abreast of what’s going on in their lives because I truly care.  I want to be a part of their lives and be there for them not just for the good times, but for those times we hit rock bottom or need help navigating the uncontrollables life throws our way.  I do not do this out of obligation, but out of a genuine desire to care.  It’s that simple.  Yet we, as a society, make these types of interactions and gestures so difficult.

We all go through shit.  Life is hard.  It’s really f’ing hard.  So hard that I was truly driving myself crazy battling my own inner demons so I sought the help of a professional.  Sure, she helped.  She helped a TONNNN.  But you know what I valued even more than sitting with a professional?  Those who stepped the F up and came through in this time of need, amplifying their empathy, coming at me from a genuinely good, kind-hearted place deep within themselves.   They took the time to set their own problems aside – even if for a hot second – to respond to me.  That kind of support, to me at least, speaks volumes.  A lot of these people who came forward weren’t the people I expected.  They were old coworkers, some of them having not worked with in ages, or worked with only briefly.  One was my wedding photographer.  A few were old high school acquaintances.  It was my cousin’s best friend who lives across the country, 15 states away.  It was my old boss.  My friend & financial advisor from Chicago.  Some were fellow yogis.  Cousins-who-aren’t-really-cousins-but-I’ve-called-them-cousins-all-my-life.  My high school English teacher.  People I casually play sports with.  A few people I legit only know through social media.  There was suddenly this bond I felt with each of these people that I hadn’t ever felt before.  It saddened me to know that many people I probably would have expected to elicit empathy when I truly needed it weren’t necessarily there.  Does anyone else feel this way about a particular situation you’ve dealt with?  Maybe it’s just me, but hey, this is my blog so I’m going to expand on this.  Being completely transparent and vulnerable with my feelings of deep sadness and loneliness, I felt this huge gaping hole that I wish would have been filled by familiarity.  In times of need, the sincere expression of support, love and kindness go a very, very long way.

Let me disrupt this diatribe to move forward on a happier note and sing the praises of one of my best friends.  My maid of honor is a total bad ass.  Full-time teacher, mommy, wife, daughter, cousin, all that good stuff and more rolled into one.  The love I have for this beautiful person is immeasurable.  We may live 45-50 minutes away from one another, and we may be on different paths in life right now, but it never stops us from “checking in” whether it be for serious support or for a moment of comedic, college inside joke-type relief.  And let me tell you, those check-ins mean the world to me, probably more than I’ve ever told her they do.  When we, as humans, don’t have this type of meaningful interaction with people we hold dear to our hearts, the feeling of neglect, loneliness and unimportance (at least inside of me) is exposed and intensified.  I wish it was second nature for more people close to us to have that desire to reach out and lend an ear, to really be there.  There’s a mutual affection and shared experience in friendships that binds us together and warrants empathy and connection.  I was really struggling with the absence of that after publishing that particular blog.

Look.  I know we are all busy AF.  We all have kids, spouses, jobs (sometimes multiple), hobbies, and are just trying to make it through each day.  I also know a lot of us see a whole lot more than we wish we saw about people thanks in part to social media.  We share ev-er-y-thing on these platforms, myself guilty as charged.  But for how much time we choose to spend on these platforms, just wasting away, how can one justify not spending a mere 30 seconds to reach out to those you care about in a moment of need?  I mean, you probably saw some post or some “share” or pic or blog that indicated a struggle or a tough time going on with someone you know.  All it takes is a few words – “I just wanted to say hi and I’m thinking of you” – to make someone feel validated, important, and loved.  (I threw that Oxford Comma in there for you, Michael Bull!)  Don’t overthink compassion and empathy.  If your heart is in the right place, the sentiment will shine through and speak volumes.

Part of this struggle I’m facing right now stems from an overarching, looming feeling of fear of the unknown that is just a simple part of being an adult and being human.  But another part of this struggle is stemming from a place of true mis-understanding in a sense that I am lacking the understanding of why people do not choose to engage in compassion and empathy toward people who need it.  “Likes” on Facebook don’t cut it for me.  We’re dealing with real shit.  How about a phone call?  A text?  A coffee/smoothie/juice/yoga/running date?  How about a whatever you can do to show someone you are there, even if all you can do is simply send a few words or let someone know you are thinking of them.  It’s not that hard, but we choose to make it hard.  And by choosing to avoid interaction in these ways, someone on the other side of that missed interaction picks at themselves even more, likes themselves just a little bit less, feels even more lonely & misunderstood, a feeling of insignificance constantly ringing in their heads.

There’s a risk we take when being vocal about our flaws, fears and struggles.  We risk people making fun of us, not understanding us, ignoring us, laughing at us, talking about us behind our backs.  But sharing our struggles should only help us, and I think we need more of this.  We should bring to light that we need each other and we need one another to build us up.  “No one gets out of life alive” they say, but we can get through life a little better by having people step up and step into our corner to have our backs.  I never realized until I shared my own story how much of a cry for support I really was.  I’m not ashamed of bearing my soul through a blog (it is a blog, none the less, I do so willingly).   However, I’m feeling a little bit of shame expressing my feelings at this particular time because people are still sensitive to the fact that sharing our story with others is actually a GOOD thing.  Our initial reaction is to criticize when we should be learning how to better listen and empathize.

This particular “angsty” post was meant to be therapeutic for me, and to speak what’s on my mind.  My blog has evolved from running tips, tricks and marathon evaluations to something a bit more personal.  It’s like I’m growing as a person through the maturing of my story.  At this point in my life, I am taking stock of the friendships and relationships in my life, especially the ones that have changed and grown.  My “wannabe 26 again self” is longing for a lot of these to continue to stay the same as they were 5-10+ years ago, still fostering empathy & compassion between each other that once was just a natural manifestation.  I wonder if any of you feel the same way I do?  Or if I’m just a sad, nostalgic soul who can’t accept that we all change?  Maybe empathy & compassion is just too hard for a lot of people and I need to cut everyone some slack?  Thinking out loud here, obvs.  Adult relationships built on foundations from childhood or coming-of-age formative years take on new meanings as we get older, and I’m trying to cope with the loss of some of these.  Not all friendships and relationships are going to be completely 50/50 – sometimes they’re more one-sided – and not all are meant to last forever.  That’s a really tough pill to swallow.  Relationships really do dwindle away when they aren’t worked at or better maintained, regardless of our age or the path we’ve chosen to walk down.  It’s a work in progress to sort through all of these feelings I have of my own inadequacy in several aspects of my life, which is essentially how I’ve been feeling lately.  In particular, when looking at and reevaluating these relationships.

Shared connections and affections are what friendships are made of, right?  So what’s stopping us all from digging deep into those relationships and showing a little more empathy for the friendships we hold or used to hold?  I’m hoping I find the answers to the questions I’m seeking.  There’s a lot of compassion I need to unleash onto myself in order to better understand the paths I’ve taken.  Until then, remember that kindness can shoulder the weight of a lot of personal burdens and afflictions.  Kindness, compassion and empathy.  I am a constant work in progress to be better, and to treat others better, to be there for people, for anyone, really.  Here’s hoping we all can collectively do the same moving forward.  I know in the times I’ve really needed it, the people who have stepped up to the plate (I’m calling them “unsung heroes”) have truly made me feel validated, important, and loved.  Thank you for taking the time to reach out to me.  You don’t know how much it meant to me and still does.  I wish more of that was gathered, shared, expressed and reciprocated in this world.  The end.

 

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A few book recommendations that I highly, highly recommend (and these are in order of importance and how quickly you should ignite your Kindle and download them):

“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed” – Lori Gottlieb

“There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love” – Dr. Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell

“Silent Power” – Stuart Wilde

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An Avett Brothers song because duh:

Smithsonian

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

I wonder if Romeo ever got scared
Taken but shaken, unprepared
Under the balcony, under the trees
Fully unknowing of where this would lead
What if we marry or give up the ghost?
Or we abandon those we love most?
What if you carry me and lay me down
Once you get used to me being around?

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

My bedroom’s an office, my kitchen’s a car
My life is a joke, my bathroom’s a bar
I go there a lot, more than I should
I know I should stop but it feels too damn good

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

 

 

Love Letter To My Legs

I had a conversation with my legs last Saturday.  Yea, I’m a weirdo.  I had just finished my first 20-miler of the spring training season, and I was feeling a wee bit emotional.  Twenty-mile runs are hard on the body but also the mind.  This run in particular challenged me tremendously as it rained steadily for about sixteen of the twenty miles.  I was lucky enough to be running in shorts for the first time all season, as temps reached 59 degrees in Rocky River that morning.  What a treat!  But no matter how much Body Glide I put on, I suffered some decent chaffage in the normal spots and oddly enough saw some slight rashes emerge on my chest, the rain to blame as I was completely drenched from head to toe.  Soggy feet sported new blisters, and my Camelbak had left me with a couple of pretty nasty back wounds that needed tending.  Most of my body was struggling.  But my legs?  My trusty legs, there for me this far for nineteen marathons, countless halfs, and thousands of miles of training runs… they looked pristine.  They were total pillars in a soaking wet, puddle-filled 20-mile battle.  I got home from my run, peeled off my wet (and bloody – sure it’s TMI but hey, I’m being truthful here) clothes, gingerly stepped into the shower, and just started crying.

My recent yoga retreat has made me more emotional than ever before.  (I have yet to be able to compose all of my thoughts surrounding this retreat, and one day I’ll be able to come up with the words to post a blog about it, but for now I’ll settle on just calling that entire week “extremely emotional.”). I looked down at my legs, tears starting to form and ultimately flow, and I grabbed my thighs with my hands and just pressed into them.  To the outside world I probably looked like a hot mess.  Battered.  Scarred.  Bruised.  Naked.  Crying.  Vulnerable.  My mind was racing, thoughts coming at me from all directions.  These legs.  These tree trunks.  These sturdy, beefy, infallible legs of mine have been the key to my marathon resilience for twelve years and thousands of miles.  But what made me cry the most right then and there wasn’t the soreness or the aching, it wasn’t the loss of breath that stays with me for sometimes a good hour or more after a long run.  It was this deep sadness that for the past year only teetered on the edge of a breakdown, and only now had finally surfaced.  Last year I cried wolf and said that marathon #19 was the end.  But it wasn’t.  I think I knew it in my heart even though I told the world I was done.  I wanted to get to #20 so badly.  So now that I am getting older, my legs taking more of a beating, my recovery taking longer, I know deep down that #20 is the last one, at least for an undetermined amount of time.  For that reason alone, staring down at this support system, I just lost it.

I pressed deeper into them, hands clawing at my thighs, hammies, calves, unable to get the words out that I wanted to say, trying hard to thank them for all these years of constant beat downs.  Strong.  Sturdy.  Resilient.  My legs were such an intimate part of my marathoning journey, I suddenly realized.  All they’ve ever done was support me and help me achieve my dreams, and yet all I’ve ever done was beat them up and treat them like impersonal cogs to a machine.  I haven’t listened to their needs all that well.  So what can I do to properly repay them for this 12+ year, one-sided relationship?  The simple solution is, well, to stop… a word I am not accustomed to saying.  Stop.  The one word I have dreaded since finishing #19, knowing I wanted one more.  My legs have started to crave the yoga mat over the pavement, cried for the spin bike over the trail runs, begged for rest rather than ramping up.  I looked down at them, thanked them, hoped that they knew how much they had meant to me over the years.  Those strong calves, thick thighs, even the tight hamstrings I have completely worn apart.  I loved every ounce of them.  I loved how good they looked throughout training, feeling most proud of my physical appearance in the heat of it all.  I loved the definition, even if it came at the cost of flexibility.  I was so sad looking down, muscles aching, wounds burning, but so grateful at the time same.  My mind was having a hard time coming to grips that there are only two more 20+ mile training runs, and only one more 26.2.  If I was a mess at this halfway point in my training, how the hell was I going to cope with crossing that finish line come May 19?  I thought hard about whether this mental hiccup may warrant another trip to my therapist.  Seriously.

I finished the cry fest with my legs.  I thanked them repeatedly.  I said a prayer asking God to help me get through one more marathon training season safely and injury-free, and asked Him to help me better deal with the grieving I am going through over this being my last marathon.  Because you know what, I am grieving.  And I have every right to grieve this loss.  Finishing marathon 20, I am terrified I won’t know who I am anymore.  Who am I without marathons?  What am I without marathons?  What is my identity?  Am I still a runner?  Unfortunately there are very few people in my circle of friends who can relate to what I am going through.  That makes the grieving process even harder.  There is a lack of people who can relate to what might may seem “silly” to a lot of you.  I can already mentally see myself climbing up the Detroit bridge next month at mile 25, one foot slowly in front of the other, heart racing, breath getting short, and then starting to come down over its peak, seeing that finish line just yards away.  I have tried over the past few midweek runs to mentally prepare for this moment and to envision how this will feel for me.  All that’s ever happened was I’ve ended up in tears, no more closer to feeling resolute in my decision to stop running marathons.  I will always want more.  It’s going to be one of the hardest things I ever do and my mind just still isn’t right.  My legs may be ready for finality, but my heart and mind are not.

Still on this journey of self-awareness, self-worth and self-discovery, finishing this upcoming marathon may make this journey harder, or it may make it easier.  Change sucks.  I am a creature of habit, routine, schedules.  And I’m certainly not enjoying this newfound identity crisis.  I wish more people understood how hard this is for me, and how hard it is for athletes in general to leave the sport they love in any capacity, whether you are a flag-football junkie or an ex-Olympian.  I am thankful for yoga, yes of course, but any remotely intelligent person will agree with me when I say that these two sports complement each other, neither one replaces the other.  It’s just not apples to apples.

I don’t have a catchy closing paragraph, or a summation of my thoughts to leave me feeling complete about this particular blog.  I’m just choosing to end with hope.  I’m ending with the hope that this won’t be the end of everything I’ve ever known, but more of a start to open up my mind to more of the unknown, and doing it with gratitude and hopefulness rather than sadness and hopelessness.  Because the latter half is generally how I’ve been feeling as of lately, with only seven weeks of training to go.  Come May 19, I will have 20 full marathons to hang my hat on, and that’s a lot to be grateful for.  So cheers to whatever door opens next.  I sure hope this new door, whatever it looks like and however it’s constructed, will be as fun, as uplifting, as challenging, and quite simply as wonderful as the last chapter in my life has been.

___________________________________

 

A couple books that might be up your alley if you’re also struggling with a journey of self-discovery:

Swell – by Liz Clark (even more worth your while if you’re into following unconventional life stories)

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends – by Kelsey Miller (if you are a Friends junkie, or you long for a bout of nostalgia in the midst of any “heavy” reading you might be doing, this one is most definitely for you)

___________________________

 

And, duh, an Avett Brothers song to pine over:

“No Hard Feelings”

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady?
When I lay down my fears
My hopes and my doubts
The rings on my fingers
And the keys to my house
With no hard feelings
When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest
Won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thoughts and love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Stock of Yourself

A friend, who I am choosing to remain nameless (at the respect of his privacy), is dealing with something pretty bad.  So bad, that in all actuality I feel that my “Getting Old Sucks.” blog post seems pretty trivial in retrospect.  I’ll spare you the details of his personal battle, because it’s neither here nor there, but, I will say it puts some serious levity to how I am thinking (and rethinking) the path I’m on and what I choose to deem important and not important.

This friend & I haven’t always been particularly close.  That’s not to say I think any less of him by any means, but weeks or months of not seeing each other on purpose or in passing really wasn’t a big deal.  That’s why I was kind of shocked when he reached out to me with some questions on how to get started on a yoga journey.  And not just the asana focus of a yoga practice (though restorative classes were of interest), but the spiritual & meditative tenets of yoga.  We chatted about the obvious benefits of yoga, what classes I recommend he take, and what teachers I would suggest be the best fit for him.  To my surprise, he followed through with my recommendations.  All of them.  To the point of even circling back with me on feedback, asking for more suggestions, looking for more recommendations.  Who is this friend I’ve long neglected over the years?  Can we, like, suddenly become besties and share all the good yoga juju together while talking shop on good books to read and what healthy, plant-based diets to try?  It’s actually funny how Type A personalities really do tend to unknowingly flock toward each other…

These conversations we started to have about our personal wellness journeys were a far cry from some of the friends I’m used to chatting with about this topic.  You know, all the friends who say they’re dying  to try yoga, say they can’t wait to come to your yoga classes, say they’re sooo interested in scheduling private yoga sessions with you, and – oh wait, none of these people actually follow through with their promises, and you end up being a time suck to people just shelling out your yoga schedule and your yoga goodness to everyone around you who doesn’t treat any of it seriously.  But I digress. Sorry, sensitive topic.

One thing this friend – let’s name him Ralph for ease, and also because, quite frankly, there aren’t many Ralphs out there in the world anymore – said to me this week really stuck with me.  We were having an impromptu chat about the importance of spiritual well-being.  Staying sane in all the madness.  Finding some respite for the mind.  Taking stock of yourself.  And he said something along the lines of, “For so many years I have focused on the physical aspect of my well-being.  Whatever it took to be fit, to be at the top of my game, to be running 1000 mph to keep my body in excellent shape, I did it.  And now I’m taking a step back thinking, ‘what about the spiritual and mental parts?’  I never even touched on that stuff.  Here I am now seeing that there’s truly three parts to being a well-rounded, healthy individual: physical, spiritual, and mental.”  DAMNNNN.  Ain’t that the truth!  I took a step back.  Was he talking directly to me?!  Because holy shit, that was me.  The one who couldn’t sit still, the one who always felt the need to prove someone wrong by upping the ante physically, the one who has always had an “odd” relationship with food to say the least, to the point that to drink that Mitchell’s milkshake I would make damn sure that there was a 12-miler thrown somewhere in the day so I felt like I could negate the calories I was about to consume.  THAT kind of direct talk seemed to be speaking right.at.me.

It leads me to beg the question, one particularly more important in this new age of social media craziness, what is important to each one of us?  Is it your sheer number of Facebook friends?  The infatuation with IG models who seem to flawlessly “strike” a yoga pose, when in reality there’s a whole crew behind them preparing to concoct the perfect photograph?  I’m not saying I’m perfect, or that I don’t indulge in a good asana shot.  But come on, people.  Is this what we’re deeming important these days?  Is this what values our self-worth?

I leave for a yoga retreat tomorrow morning, to Panama, for a week of sun-drenched bliss, and I’m carting with me a frickin’ library of books on everything from yoga philosophy, to Catholic doctrine, to real life tales of motherhood straight from the front lines (told you I’m really digging deep to try and summon these maternal feelings).  I am hoping this week away – a bucket list “vacation” for me –  in total seclusion will help fast forward my journey into self-importance and awareness.  I really need it.  And as with any bibliophile, I’m mentally preparing myself for the countless amount of books (maxing out that total Library Holds amount, babayyy!) that I’m about to read.

This search for self-worth, self-importance and self-awareness also brings me to another topic of interest that I’ve struggled with as of lately.  And it’s the subject of what people tell you that you need to be doing, or tell you that subsequently what you’re doing is wrong altogether.  Instant reaction is to say, “You are going to tell me how to live my life?  Bitch please.”  But the correct, and kinder, response is to wonder why they haven’t gone on their own personal journey.  Or, what makes their journey better in such a way that they need to belittle or seriously question mine?  It kind of goes along with the whole argument of people trying to pigeon-hole you into one sort of person, when in reality, we all know that’s not possible.  Like with politics.  I won’t make this a political battle, I’m just saying that everything – and every person – can lie in a gray area.  I’m Catholic.  I’m pretty transparent about that.  But I’m also very much into yoga philosophy.  And honestly, there’s a lot of overlap between these two “doctrines.”  Don’t believe me?  Follow Ignatian Yoga by Alan Haras.  In my opinion, he’s breaking ground and shining light on the misnomers of what people believe about these two subjects intermingling.  [On a side note, and to add some humor to this post, earlier in the week my husband & I were complaining about a particular person who has challenged my beliefs both to my face and behind my back (like I wouldn’t find out, come on man), not understanding fully what this person is even arguing.  My darling husband, without hesitation, said, “You know what.  I’m just going to look this person in the eye next time I see them and say, ‘hey, you need to align your chakras… bitch.’”  I about died.]  The point is, less judgment, more acceptance.  Your journey is not mine, and mine is not yours.  Move along.

With this newfound, resurrected, whatever-you-want-to-call-it friendship, it has been a pleasant reminder that it’s never too late to make new friends.  I have been more than #blessed to find some very true friendships over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to the yoga world.  Particularly to Becky & Sinead (Shoutout alert! ALSO ANNIE YOU ARE STILL MY BFF SO CALM DOWN.  Remember?  You’re the only one who had the luxury of that midnight crying sesh!), I have found lasting friendships in people who truly care about me, and vice versa.  It’s really hard to find good friends in your 30’s.  Some may say it’s nearly impossible.  But if you put yourself in the right physical and mental space, the friends you want and need will come to you.  Find friends in the avenues you want to be in.  And have no shame in putting yourself out there.  It takes vulnerability and a solid set of balls to make yourself comfortable in a place of discomfort.  But if it means enough to you, you’ll do it.  Just keep asking yourself, what’s really important to me?  What kind of people do I want to align myself with, so that looking back on my life, friends have enriched me rather than brought me down?  What hobbies and interests are bringing me new life versus sucking the life out of me?  Sounds cheesy, right?  Sure.  Truthful?  Well, sorry, but it is.  Do yourself a favor and don’t take what I’m saying lightly.  I’m no yoga guru or priest or scholar, but I do think I’m right on par with that statement.

And if you’re looking for someone to throw ideas off of, be a sounding board, vent to, or just question life and the meaning of it, you know where to find me.  I’ll just be over here studying chakras and Jesus and yoga poses, paying no attention to judgment or competition.  We’ve only got one life to live, friends.  Do it on your own accord and fuck the rest.

___________________

Another Avett Brothers song for this time around:

“Ten Thousand Words”

Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin’ in the swarms
Still can’t find out how to hold my hands
And I know you need me in the next room over
But I am stuck in here all paralyzed
For months I got myself in ruts
Too much time spent in mirrors framed in yellow walls
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
And everyone around me shakes their head in disbelief
And says I’m too caught up
They say young is good and old is fine
And truth is cool but all that matters
Is that you have your good times
But their good times come with prices
And I can’t believe it when I hear the jokes they make
At anyone’s expense except their own
Would they laugh if they knew who paid?
_____________________
Book recommendation, if it suits your fancy (and I’m sure I’ll have more once I come back from Panama):
“And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready” –Meaghan O’Connell