What’s your word?

For those of you that don’t know, my Mary Kay Unit has their meetings on Monday nights. This week was no exception and being January 2nd of a brand new  year, we discussed goal setting. My director handed out a sheet outlining questions to ask yourself when setting goals; all pretty standard (no less difficult but standard). The last question threw me through a loop.

What do you want your 2017 word to be?

  Huh? Just one word. I sat for a good while, trying to come up with a SINGLE WORD. Not a phrase. ONE WORD. (If this doesn’t seem difficult to you, try it and let me know what you come up with and what tools you used to do so.)

The first word I came up with was “adjust.” Not a bad word to describe something but it wasn’t the way I wanted 2017 to feel. It needed force. It needed to be constant. It needed to be able to withstand storms and sunny days. Strong breezes and sticky humidity without movement. Then it hit me.

My word for 2017 would be TIDAL.

   Consider the ocean and it’s tides. It drives everything around it. It’s constant, always coming in and going out, each time with the opportunity to do it all again. With the constant change in weather, the opportunity for new challenges and strategies arise, giving rise to the best of inventions and determination.

  My love and desperate need to be near water should have pushed this word to the forefront of my brain immediately but that wouldn’t have required creative and critical thinking. My Mary Kay business connects me to Dad, who loved and respected the ocean as much as I do so here we are. Another connection in spite of his absence.

    Big goals need big force, consistency and the willingness to always push through the biggest catastrophes. I have big goals this year. I have to embrace the tide and be willing to become TIDAL.

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With Gratitude, Stephanie

Thanksgiving is Thursday and despite the ever growing to-do list that my husband is so awesome at creating, I’m sitting down and writing during my lunch hour. I haven’t written since late October and that was cathartic and truly inspiring for me. This piece is different. Writing is a muscle and since the rest of my muscles are looking meager at best, I thought I should take a minute and flex this one.

Many of my customers are receiving thank you cards this week and all end “With Gratitude, Stephanie.” As I wrote out the first one, I racked my brain searching for something to end the card with besides “sincerely” or “best wishes” or “thank you.” They all seemed generic and unfitting of my sentiment. Especially to those customers that have been there from Day 1. Customers that began as friends of my parents that I am so grateful to call friends of my own. Customers that bought a single lipstick, just to encourage me on my Mary Kay endeavor. Customers that had no idea what they were buying into when they purchased product from me. I cannot thank you enough for the confidence that you have given me to pursue the goals that I have, both professionally and personally, just by buying into me.

I spent a good bit of the past year feeling lost and hopeless. I felt great at the end of last month then Veteran’s Day hit. I’ve found that holiday to be particularly difficult for me to handle since Dad died. He didn’t have very long to be celebrated for the purpose he chose in life by those that never knew him personally. There’s a good bit of anger there that bubbles up when I think about that. As angry as that makes me, I feel grateful to have had a father like him. Grateful and deeply wounded having lost him when I wasn’t ready. More importantly, when HE wasn’t ready. Still I’m grateful.

Grateful that I’ve made friends with his friends. Grateful that I can tell Izzi stories about him and introduce her to the music of Queen, Journey, Meatloaf, and Bon Jovi. Grateful to spend time with my family, even if it’s just trips to Sam’s Clubs “for lunch.” Grateful to host Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grateful to be here, where I am in life, because it’s only going to last a second.

That said. This Thanksgiving as you’re saying grace, soaking your taters in gravy, or chowing down on some Turkey, remember that gratitude makes fear impossible. Gratitude is the reason some people won’t be home for the holiday and gratitude makes living worthwhile. I am so grateful for you.

With Gratitude, Stephanie

You better sit down for this.

I can’t remember the last time I updated this blog. I assume that the last post dealt with many of the unresolved feelings of grief and sadness that have followed me since the loss of my Dad. Or maybe my feeling of lack of control since I lost my job in 2011. Perhaps even the feeling of being lost in a sea of incredibly successful people that surround me on Facebook and in real life.

I imagine that I’ve written about all of those at one point or another. I imagine that at times, this blog has been a pity party for 1 and not representative of the person that my parents worked so hard to raise. I imagine that it looks pretty far from how I feel on a daily basis now.

Back in August, just a few days shy of my 29th birthday, I attended a unit meeting for my Mary Kay consultant. I had just come back from a whirlwind, emotionally, physically and financially draining jaunt from MI to FL to NC back to MI again and was exhausted. I also had no ability to say no and was hoping that if I did this one thing, she would leave me alone and in peace.

So I go to the meeting and I was blown away by how kind the women were to one another. When I worked for a medical group in Atlanta, run by women, it was so hostile and unpleasant that I still withdraw during social interactions with women. But these women at this unit meeting for Mary Kay? Supportive, kind, empowering, and welcoming. I didn’t know it yet but I was going to sign my contract that night.

For an hour after the meeting, Stephanie and I chatted about the Mary Kay opportunity. For those of you ladies who are consultants, I am very much a C and an S so I wasn’t going to sign without some cajoling and certainly not without dotting my Is and crossing my Ts. She assured me that despite my introvert nature, my lack of Michigan contacts and any other excuse that I came up with that night, I could and would be successful. So before fear could take over and drive me home without making a change in my static life, I signed.

Don’t get me wrong, fear did eventually find me. It’s found me many times since that life changing night in August. It found me when I told my wonderful, understanding and supportive husband what I did. It found me when I was trying to plan my Pink Party (a business debut) and people weren’t responding. It found me when I felt like I was bothering the women on the other end of the phone despite having something to offer them. It finds me when I hold parties and it finds me when I meet inspiring and intimidating women that I want on my team. Women that I am terrified are going to think less of me because I sell Mary Kay.

When fear starts to get in the way of my dreams, I start to remember that this was my first chance at being brave on my own. This was my first decision after becoming a mother that would really positively affect my daughter. This was my chance to leave something BIG for her and BE something big for me. This was my chance. I’m not selling Mary Kay. I’m selling hope for her, for me, and for the thousands of other women like me. I’m empowering women that deserve more in this world and are searching for a soapbox that will allow them to speak uninterrupted. I’m offering choices to women who want to be brave like me.

Tonight I could feel that fear creeping up again. It was trying to rip me apart and jump on every self-perceived failure that has ever happened in my life. Tonight I asked it firmly to sit down and started to remind myself of who I am now. Brave, Powerful, Compassionate, Dedicated, Empowering, and a future Sales Director.

The best part about this? It sat down back in the depths of my soul where it belongs. #BecauseOfMKICan

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Patience.

About a month ago, I picked up a book called “300 Writing Prompts” in an effort to get back into the habit of writing on a somewhat regular basis. Today, I actually opened it and one of the ideas that struck a cord was this prompt: Describe something that requires your patience today. That made me laugh out loud. Ordinarily I would have had some smart response about my daughter pushing buttons or being 4 but today that’s not it.

I find myself struggling to be patient with those that call themselves adults. People that are inconsiderate to the needs or wants of others. People that leave things broken in their wake and continue on without a care in the world. Don’t get me wrong. Adulting is hard, and it requires work like most anything else in life. At what point though do we begin to hold people accountable for their actions and decisions to emotionally destroy others? When do we decide that adults need to behave as such and it is no longer our responsibility to care for them as we did when they were children? Why are so many silent when others carry on like fools?

I get it though. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. Perhaps you’re one of those people that have tried to talk sense into a particularly irresponsible human being disguising themselves as an adult. You’re exhausted. Constantly battling the traits of narcissism can damage one’s sense of peace, self confidence and world view. Eventually you give up, not only on them, but yourself as well. What’s so wrong with you that you can’t fix them?

Today, I want you to transfer that patience that you’ve been dedicating to the 4 year olds traipsing around as adult and gift it to yourself. Applaud your ability to love without borders, then love yourself enough to create them. Praise how far you’ve come despite whoever has discouraged your progress and KEEP GOING. Be patient with your success because I promise it will come. Wish them well and walk away. Give yourself the ability to be patient with your children, pets, spouse, extended family and occupation. You are worth it.

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Drink to your health

I’m 28 years old. I have an autoimmune disease and as of Saturday evening, high cholesterol. Let’s stop and think about this. I’m not even 30 and I have desecrated my body so terribly with genetics, fried food and sugar that I have high cholesterol. I’ve figured out that doctors are far more afraid of high cholesterol than they are my thyroid disease, with good reason I suppose. It can cause stroke, heart disease and diabetes and since my family genes are so good, I already have a good chance of all of that anyway. (Yay genetics!)

So it appears that my love affair with fried foods, sugars, saturated fats and cholesterol must end. My days of ignoring the labels and going with what looks healthy are over. This past weekend, I pored over labels at the grocery store with my mom trying to figure out what I could have and what I can’t. Turns out, some of the stuff that they recommend for heart health (looking at you Quaker Oatmeal) have saturated fats. Who knew?

On Sunday, I started my “sugar detox.” I don’t know if I just haven’t hit the fun stage yet or if my addiction wasn’t as bad as I thought but so far the headaches have been nonexistent (minus tonight when I bumped my head on Izzi’s top bunk) and even the fatigue hasn’t been overwhelming. Dare I say? I have some energy. Monday was the worst so far in terms of fatigue. I looked like an extra from The Walking Dead and that’s being kind. I’ve tried to stay hydrated which I’ve heard helps. The worst craving I had was after we went to Bagger Dave’s. My meal was so dissatisfying that I immediately wanted something sugary after I put Izzi to bed. (I fought it off with my bare hands!)

I’m not writing this post to lecture you on the dangers of your evil eating ways. On the contrary, i’m envious but in a strange way, I’m so proud of myself. I can go at least 5 days without sweets and fried foods. I’m not saying that it will never touch my lips again (that’s silly, I’m having donuts at my wedding!) but I am saying that I’m trying harder to be better to me.

So right now, I’m sitting here with a cup of unsweetened decaf tea, taking small sips (pretending it tastes good) because I know that it’s a step towards better health. A step towards being able to have enough energy to write and play more. Or at least not fall asleep at random.

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The Saddest Thing

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a hard time expressing myself confidently. The best way that I know how to do it coherently is to write. Sometimes I do it well, other times, it’s mediocre at best. I’m my own worst critic, the voice in my head consistently screaming “DO BETTER!” Compound that with grief and my guess is you get a spiral of anxiety and depression that leaves me consistently exhausted and angry. Not conducive with a three year old and partner who depend on my ability to stay patient in the face of adversity…er, everyday life.

My Christmas present last year from Josh was a Fitbit Charge (which I love!) and that has proven to be a curse. This week, I have slept more than played with Izzi. This week, I have spent more time on the phone than teaching her how to read or working on her ability to add or subtract. The rare moments that I have found the capacity to be the mother that I think she deserves, I’m irritable and mentally spent after the exchange.

In no way is she neglected or malnourished but I can’t help but feel like I’m failing her when I can’t get out of my own head. I find myself flashing back to previous holidays, and vacations and am spaced out and short of breath when I return to the present. Usually snapping out of it because Izzi has asked the same question 18 times and I’m just now figuring out how to answer.

The other day, perhaps the beginning of my spiral, I was on the phone with my mother and Izzi asked to speak to Opa. My guess is she longed to hear him say “IKE!” and ask her how she’s doing. I was unable to prevent my mom from hearing it and after my own anguish, the guilt of Izzi’s inability to understand and the probable pain caused by her question flowed freely. I should be able to explain Opa in a way that she understands but then, how can I explain what I don’t even understand. It’s like explaining why the sky is blue or the stars shine so brightly outside the lights of the city.

Guilt and grief go hand in hand these days. I’m sad because I miss my Dad, then guilty because I couldn’t save him. I’m sad because I can’t make myself move past this and guilty because it’s taken a toll on my family that I can’t fix right now. I’m sad because I can’t heal the pain that my mom, daughter and partner endure from the loss of a man that’s left a black hole sized chasm in our family. Guilty because there should be something that I could do to ease their pain.

Grief specialists will tell you that this is part of the process and you have to let yourself feel every emotion to get through it. Grief stops for nobody. Not even a three year old that needs her mother. That’s probably the saddest thing of all.

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I’d Do Anything for Love…but not that

Relationships are tricky. I have yet to find one that reminds me of a Disney movie where the partners are in love, happily ever after and forest animals do their laundry. They’re messy. The right one comes with baggage from previous partners, family and professionally. It can alter your dreams and change them in a way that you never saw coming.

When I was 15, I told everyone and anyone that would listen that I would never get married, have children or a house that would require yard work on my part. As I grew older, I realized that perhaps my 8 year old version knew more of life and love than I gave her credit. At that age, I planned on being married, having 3 kids and being a writer. Surrounded by the love of my imaginary children and husband, I felt content, creative and full of life.

I always pictured my Dad walking me down an aisle made of sand and seashells and placing my hand into a man whose face I couldn’t quite imagine at that point. I knew that he would love dogs, want kids, creative in his own right and value family.

That never happened. I found the man, he’s everything I thought he would be, and at times more. Our relationship is a work in a progress, but because I saw what work in a relationship is, I know we can make it. I just don’t know what that looks like right now.

Marriage is a right that so many people have fought for and I don’t know if I want to do it anymore. What does a piece of paper mean if you’re not willing to do the work? Will it keep me from leaving? No, the loyalty that my mom taught me will do that. Will it keep me from giving up? No, Dad’s determination is firmly ingrained in my personality.

So is his last name. My connection to the past, to the happy memories of days gone is something I see everyday I get the mail. I’m reminded of the beauty of those before me, like my grandparents and father. I’m reminded of my incredibly strong mother for making the choice to change her name and bear my brother and I. It’s a strength that I’m not sure I have or even want anymore.

At the end of the day, I’m already in a Disney relationship. It may not end with happily ever after but it’s beautiful nonetheless. I have a partner that values stability, humor, family, our furry and non furry children and my dreams. It turns out that both my 8 and 15 year old selves were right: the title doesn’t matter, it’s the person willing to meet you in the middle and do the work.

 

 

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Empty Chair(s)

This year has been one of extreme loss for my family. Miss Gwen, one of the most lovely women that I’ve ever met, who taught me southern hospitality (the best and worst of it) passed away in May. My Dad left us in August. My tormented, creative cousin Justin moved on in October. These losses don’t include the natural upheaval that comes from loss, and the inconsiderate actions of others that have desecrated our family as a whole.

The Holidays are here and I can’t seem to muster enough joy to find reason in the season. I want to pretend that it’s just another day because those are hard enough to get through without adding the flood of memories from yesteryear. My Grandfather and later, Dad playing Santa to all of us. The smells of the kitchen from my Grandmother’s kitchen who would never let us cook, yet all of us seemed to have picked up a few tips from her along the way. (Even if it means our children can’t cook with us.) Calls from all branches of the family, sometimes even visits from those that were close enough, well wishes for the coming year and reminiscing of those lost in a figurative or literal manner. It never seemed to matter because in one way or another, those that were lost were always present; the empty chairs always filled.

This year, I feel lost. I feel like I can’t bring those to life, and honor all those that aren’t here appropriately. Not the way it’s been done in the past. Mentally, I know this calls for new traditions, to show my daughter the reason why I fell in love with the Christmas season. Emotionally, it breaks me in a way that I’ve never felt before. The tightness in my chest, the sharp physical pain in my heart and hot tears that slide down my face. There is no reconciling the past with the present right now. No filling the empty chairs in the physical manner that I crave.

If this were any other piece, I’d end it with hope. A message of peaceful conclusion that I’ve arrived at that I wanted to share with you. Not this time. This time, I’m just trying to fill a couple of empty chairs that will never be full again.

 

 

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Fight for What You Love.

A little more than 2 months ago, I said goodbye to someone. Not “see ya later.” Not “I’ll call you when I get home.” There was no more of that. This was goodbye, this one was final.

My heart speeds up as I write this and I hadn’t realized it, but I’m holding my breath. Writing this is so necessary for my healing, yet I’m stumped. I don’t know how to put into words exactly how I feel because mentally, I’m exhausted.

Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September of 2014. He fought it hard with the same tenacity that he approached everything but this was different. We all knew it. The question wasn’t “could he beat it?” but “how long do we have?” Despite this, he responded well to the first round of chemo – miraculously in fact. The tumors shrunk, they were still there, but they shrunk to a size that amazed the Oncologist. So after a round of radiation, they put him on a maintenance drug. When the cancer returned with vengeance, back on the chemo Dad went. As successful as the first round went, this round was the opposite. Dad lost more weight and was smaller than I had ever seen him. Shortly after the second round of chemo began, they decided to stop it, and hold out hope that the newest drug approved for lung cancer would be available for Dad after the annual trip to the beach. Though I don’t know for sure, my guess is that by the time the beach rolled around the cancer had further spread from his bones and lungs to his other organs. He was in constant pain, exhausted, and ate less and less. After a particularly difficult day, he agreed to go to the ER, and was admitted to the hospital, treated and released. I should have known things weren’t good.  

The trip back from the beach was the worst trip of his life and probably my mother’s life. The day after our return, he was admitted to the hospital at home, and wouldn’t leave there. His lungs began to fill with fluid, and that was it.

The last conversation that I had with my Dad gave me hope. We talked about the embargo being lifted from Cuba and what possibilities laid ahead in international policy. I should have known then.

I write this knowing that I stared blankly at a screen full of technicality. I didn’t speak at Dad’s memorial. I couldn’t bring myself to say what he meant means to me.

How do I say goodbye to the man who taught me how to ride a bike? Who chased down the boy who stole my bike from our driveway in DE? Who patiently, (and probably scared shitless) taught me to drive around Northern VA drivers, then drive a stick on the hills of Pittsburgh. The man who taught me that honor is something that you have to be able to find within yourself and not in anyone else. He taught me loyalty. When I wanted to quit baseball, he (and Mom) said, you don’t quit something just because; you need to show up for your team mates. He taught me about family. You take care of your own. Despite having had surgery on his ankles, he flew up to Pittsburgh in 2013 to help his sister with their dying father. He was there with Grandad when he took his last breath and said that he would always be thankful that he could be there to talk him through that. At least I can say that I was able to talk Dad through that. I was there when he took his last breath. A few hours before that happened, he and I looked at pictures of the beach, and Izzi and everything he loved and my God, I wouldn’t change that for anything.

My Dad wasn’t always there. He dedicated his life to the Coast Guard. He spent many birthdays and holidays on a boat protecting my freedom. As a kid, that’s hard to understand. As an adult, and now parent, I get it. He loved us. He took care of us the best way that he knew how and the best part was that he loved his job. He fought hard for what he loved.

I don’t now how to say goodbye to him. I see so much of him in my daughter. I worry that she won’t remember him, and how much he loved her. I worry that I’ll forget how his voice sounded and how we could get together and just sit. Not always having to say something but enjoying the time spent. I’m heartbroken that there are milestones that we never got to hit together, and it’s too late now. I worry about my Mom. I worry about my brother. I worry about the rest of my family which seems to be in constant turmoil of late.

Saying goodbye was never supposed to happen this soon. Yet. Here we are. I’m rambling in a blog post about how I miss my Dad. That’s the most true thing about me right now, even if everything else seems so unclear right now. This grieving process is not for the faint of heart, but at least, I can use one of the lessons that he taught me: Fight for what you love.

I love you Dad. I’m fighting for your memory. I’m fighting for our family and more importantly, I’m fighting to live life everyday. No matter what kind of day it is.

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The Ultimate Pass/Fail

After seeing a blog post titled “My Kid is a Shitty Sleeper” one of my friends who has not yet experienced the joys of parenthood expressed a growing fear regarding the path. The blog posts that I share most often do tend to make motherhood seem daunting. It places the majority of the blame on the children and their behavior and little of the responsibility on the parents. It’s tickles a funny bone that only someone with children has and it can seem slightly heartless to those who don’t have children.

I want to break this down for just a minute though. To have a child is to have an enormous amount of responsibility placed on your shoulders. It is a parent’s responsibility to raise a human being that is a productive, hopefully kind member of society with the potential for success that no one has achieved prior. That is no joke. Commercials and sitcoms have led us all to believe that children are blessings, that never tantrum, are hardly heard from unless they have a witty one liner. Yes, children are blessings. Yes they have the potential for a perfectly timed witty one liner. Tantrums though? That happens in real life. Unsolicited advice, judgemental looks, and a combination of guilt and embarrassment so thick you could spread it with a knife. That’s not what the commercials show. That’s not how the kids behave on TV. Sure, this could be all part of the rose colored glasses that not everyone wears but let’s complicate things further, shall we?

In addition to a child being a child (precocious, curious, boundary pushing creatures), let’s add a developmental delay to the mix. My child was delayed in walking and now, is delayed in her speech. Most kids her age are speaking in full sentences but mine? No, she can say about 45 words now (adding more everyday, thanks for her speech therapist and wonderful teachers at school) which adds to the pressure. It adds to the worry that perhaps that goal that you have been tasked with upon receiving said baby in the hospital, may not be a productive, kind and successful member of society. Please don’t mistake that sentence as someone waving the white flag and giving up. That’s absolutely not that case, just wanted to give an example.

Now parents reading this will understand everything that I’ve said and perhaps, may even be nodding their heads in agreement. Everyone else? Probably still fuzzy. So let’s put it this way. Having a child is like cramming for finals on 3 hours of sleep every single day. It’s the ultimate pass/fail test but rather than get your grades back in a week, you won’t actually receive them for 18 years. Scary right?

My daughter is one of the smartest, happiest, well adjusted (sort of) toddlers on the planet. I love watching her grow. She sings my favorite song (the mama dada song) and has the sweetest smile and goofiest sense of humor. I don’t regret her in the least. I just mourn the things that I lost when she came into my life: like sleep, chewing my food and not knowing the words to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. My hope is that in reading this, some of my friends who aren’t parents (yet or by choice) will understand that these blogs that I post on Facebook are my way of coping, of keeping my sense of humor and retaining some sense of myself before becoming Izzi’s mom. Please don’t fear adding the role of mother or father to your resume simply because some harsh words are written regarding the subject. Chance are, you’ll be great at it.

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