On #2 Leaving the Nest

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…THE DAYS ARE LONG, BUT THE YEARS ARE SHORT

 

August 29, 2017

Gabby leaves for college in a few days. Similar to when she was born and had a blank slate to life; she is now beginning a brand new chapter of her life with a blank slate. This time she is beginning with a host of 18 years worth of experiences created through childhood behind her. Anything is possible. Some of the potential possibilities are controllable, and others are circumstantial.

Two years ago I wrote my first blog about the experience of Thomas leaving for college (A Cold August Morning). It’s hard to imagine that half of his college years have elapsed and Gabby is now leaving the nest too.

It’s not any easier. It’s just as beautiful, yet heartbreaking. It is actually like a piece of me leaves with them. I feel emotionally like I’m giving birth again, and a piece of me is being taken away from me. There is an emptiness in my body. I know from the experience with Thomas that they pain goes away after a few days, very similar to the way a body heals itself after the birthing process.

I’ve spent much of this summer off the grid and taking care of a very intimate, private matter. Perhaps one day I will consider blogging about it, but for now it’s very personal and may always stay as such. It also happens to be a transformational time of my life with my youngest biological child morphing into an adult and going out into the world solo before my very eyes. I have spent some time journaling, contemplating, and thinking about the passage of time. Certain experiences will string together to create a future you cannot yet see or imagine. At the time you have no idea how important certain things are.

Gabby is beginning the journey cut off from the age and necessary schooling restrictions that kept her close to me and under my care for the past 18 years. I’m so excited, scared, and happy for her. I wish I could keep being there in the day-to-day, knowing when she gets home from work, what she is wearing, etc. But that is unhealthy. It’s time for me to let her use the wings I helped her to grow.

How did my experiences get me to this point in time?

 

October 1994 – One fine morning around 3am

I am 18 years old. I am freshly out of Coast Guard boot camp and on watch of my first duty station on the USCGC Boutwell. I am standing my first “mids” watch in port. It’s dark, I smell diesel, and I can barely make out the visuals of my new surroundings. I hear water lapping up against the hull and my feet hurt in these dress shoes I’m wearing in the middle of the night. I am on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, CA. It’s a little chilly and I’m wearing an issued jacket over my uniform that isn’t very warm. 

I’m standing watch with a BPOW (brow petty officer of the watch) on the brow of the ship. My role is that of the messenger. Sometime around 3am I am instructed to wake up the folks who are on the 4-8am watch shift. My thoughts become slightly fearful… wake people up? I thought about how I was woken up around 11pm, by a male voice. It is still a bit strange and new to me to be in close quarters with strangers; and even more so, to be exchanging such intimacies with males such as waking someone up. Until now it didn’t dawn on me that I would have to do that too. Earlier the BPOW walked me through who I was to wake up and where their berthing area was on the ship. I took notes. I have 4 people to wake up. One is a female and the other three are male. Of the three guys, two are in the same birthing area and one is in another. I plan to start with the female to get my feet wet, then the single male, and then the doubles. I glance at their names on the list. Everyone addresses one another by their last name. I don’t know many people yet and I don’t know any of these folks. One of the names is Messeder. He will be my direct replacement as Messenger of the watch. Messeder the Messenger I smile quietly to myself.

 

October 1994 – That same fine day around 1pm or so…

As the daily work is drawing to a close, I am assigned to sweep the port side of the ship with a handful of other Seamen. I am sweeping not far from someone I am pretty sure I hadn’t seen before. His hat covers most of his face since he is looking down as he sweeps. When I’m not paying attention I hear him say said “Hello DeGrazia”. I look up. He has a semi-confident/semi-nervous smile. I think to myself I haven’t seen this one before, I would remember him because he is cute. He has a nice crooked smile and eyes that seemed familiar, almost like I should know them. I look down at the nametag on his working blue shirt. Messeder.

 

August 1995

Messeder and I are out on a Sunday afternoon. At some point in the past 10 months, I started calling Messeder by his first name, John. We have been dating a few months. However, since dating is prohibited amongst shipmates; we need to stay clear of any places we may be spotted.

This particular cool, sunny August afternoon we drive south from my apartment in San Leandro toward San Jose. We have no plans other than explore the area and hang together. Somehow we hap chance upon a Zucchini festival in Hayward, CA. We walk around, eat fried zucchini and play some games. We walk toward the end of the festival and onto the side walked street. We continue to walk a few blocks until we find ourselves in front of a movie theater playing a movie called Nine Months. Since the movie is a few weeks old, it only costs a dollar. We decide to watch it.

In the movie, the unexpected pregnant main female lead reads the book “What to Expect when you’re Expecting” and wanted the baby’s father to read it as well. He wasn’t interested, they fought and broke up… and in the fairy tell end; he read the book and was there for her when she had their baby.

 

Nearly 4 years later

May 1999

It’s late in the afternoon on a weekday. It’s warm, bright and sunny. All the windows are open in our Cape Cod unit on Otis Air force base. John and I are now married for 3 ½ years. I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner and reading. We have a two year old named Tommy and I’m 8 months pregnant with number two.

I’m rereading the same book I read with Tommy “What to Expect when you’re Expecting”. Apparently this book is quite popular amongst parents to be. With both pregnancies each month I read the chapter that corresponded with my gestational timeline to learn more about what was happening inside my body and the baby.

Since I’m 8 months pregnant I decide to read the 9th month and the closing chapter as well. I don’t remember reading this with Tommy, but the book writes something to the effect of how crazy and messy the house and life will be once the bundle of joy comes home, and it will be like that for years to come. However, once that little baby grows up and goes off to college; and the house is in pristine condition and quiet once again – you will miss the sound of chaos and children running around. I tear up and get chills. That is so long from now, but it will be so sad.

 

18+ years later

August 26, 2017

It’s a bright, sunny cool day. The summer is drawing to a close. The sun is rising later each morning and setting sooner each evening. The air in the morning is far cooler than the past few weeks, and last night it was downright cold while I was sitting outside on the porch with Thomas (we call him Tom or Thomas now).

John, Thomas, Gabby and I are having an early lunch at Outback Steakhouse in Southington, CT. It’s only 11:30 in the morning and the restaurant is quite empty. It’s dark inside, but the sun’s light floods the windows. We haven’t sat together for a meal just the four of us since Gabby’s 12th birthday in 2011; soon after John and I divorced following 15 years of marriage.

Thomas spent this past summer between his sophomore and junior year in college working and living in Rhode Island with this current girlfriend. He came home last night and is leaving tomorrow morning to go back up to school in Portland, ME. John drove down from Pittsfield, MA this morning where he lives. He just accepted a new job in Tennessee and will be training in Germany for two months. He is leaving in just over a week. Gabby lives with me, but has been working at Panera nearly every night this summer. She is asleep when I leave in the morning and gone by the time I come home each afternoon. She will be starting her freshman year at the University of Rhode Island next Sunday.

John and I are on one side of the table. Thomas and Gabby are on the other. Thomas is across from John and looks like a younger version of his dad. Gabby sits across from me. For years people have commented that she is my little twin. We now have two grown children who are 20 and 18 years old. This is the nuclear family John and I started when we were not much older than these two in front of us. They very much look like we did back then.

What to say? There has been a combination of 23 years of laughter, fun, tears, pain, and growing together. Beginning tomorrow, the four of us are going our separate ways; farther apart than we’d ever been before. Sitting here during this meal, we have a lot of conversation about the mistakes we made in the past as individuals and with one another. There is a lot of apologizing, explaining and understanding. Gabby is the most cut off from the group – texting her colleagues about the evening’s coverage at Panera. John and Thomas are at the brink of potentially arguing a few times. I’m the one who probably feels the most surreal. I happen to look over at Thomas while he is talking to John. He has his father’s eyes. The same eyes I somehow recognized on the Boutwell that day.

While it’s incredibly likely we will be together again in the future, this is the last of the raising children part as childhood is officially over for these two wonderful grown ups sitting in front of me today. I didn’t know that first mid-watch on the Boutwell when I read the name Messeder that it would be my name for 18 whole years (as old as I was at that time), or that it would be the name of my future children. I couldn’t have possibly predicted what was in store.

 

Today

August 31, 2017

Tonight I’m sad and having a little difficultly coming to the realization that my time as a mom in the way I’ve known it is over. I still have an important role though I don’t know what it is yet. The uncertainty of the future stirs up a bit of anxiety. Life is uncertain. I want to use these experiences as reminders in my life that every moment counts. Some will shape the future and others will just be a blip in the passage of life. But every single moment has potential. I want to be present more and just enjoy what is.

The years with Gabby were nothing but a blessing. She has gone from a helpless little baby to a fully-grown woman. I can’t help but think back to some of the younger days when she needed me. Times when she was afraid of having bad dreams and I would dust her arms with “sweet dreams powder” before bed. She used to snuggle up next to me on the couch and often put her arms around me and tell me that she loves having a compact, portable mommy (for whatever that meant!). I coached her soccer team and while braiding her hair one day one home she said she imagined the other girls on her team would be jealous because she is getting her hair braided by the coach. She used to want to work at the VA with me and said she was going to buy a house next door and always live near me. Recently I came across an old mother’s day card from her where she said to do nothing but relax, if I need anything just look to my right and she will be there to do it for me. She always loved cats and McDonalds. Those little trinkets the kids buy at school Holiday fairs that say #1 mom and similar sentiments mean more now than they did then. When Gabby found out her dad and I were divorcing she was so sweet. We went to Hubbard park that day and sat on a picnic blanket. Once settled down she said she understood and even kind of predicted it. She was 11. She’s taken after me with planning, organizing and baking. She works hard but has a healthy balance of taking it easy when she feels stressed (I wished I learned that a bit earlier on). She’s also pretty stinking intuitive. I’m so proud of her.

I put a lot of heart into honoring Gabby on her 18th birthday (On This Day) just over 2 months ago. I knew the coming weeks were going to fly by and I’d be here, in this very place where the excerpt from What to Expect When you’re Expecting said it would be. Where the noise, chaos, laughter & tears will be missed once the house is back to normal and the car packed for college.

Though we aren’t back to normal quite yet. I am still a step-mother of two more that haven’t left the nest yet. It’s a more complicated, undefined role. Daren & I’s story is equally as complicated and full of what initially seemed like uneventful life experiences that shaped the circumstances that led us to where we are today. It’s just about time to shift gears and move onto the next stage.

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The reputation of Stepmothers

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I post a lot of happy photos and experiences on social media. I have a pretty good life. One thing I almost never write or post about is Daren & my biggest struggle. The largest hurdle we haven’t gotten over and continue to learn about and navigate is having a blended family.

 

I’ve written countless journal entries over the years. We’ve written hundreds of heartfelt emails to one another, our kids and our extended family trying to explain where we are coming from. I don’t really know anyone in real life with a current blended family to turn to for advice or to vent. There are little to no resources.

 

Over the years in complete frustration I’ve turned to the Internet. It’s been helpful in learning how we are not alone, but as with many things in life the ‘tips’ (if you can call them that) are much easier said than done. In the past week I’ve been a bit selfish and have only been looking up information about stepmothers. In the past I ran across information and angry forums where biological moms and step-moms posted and complained about one another. It was all a bit too Jerry Springer for me, yet I kept reading the same kind of stories and threads over and over. This week I tried to stick with peer-reviewed information only. There is little to none. The closest thing I can find that has a lot of information are Psychology periodicals. The New York Times and Huffington Post had some articles too, but on average 1-2 a year– and they are more informational for the public to be aware of the struggles that blended families experience rather than a help to the blended family itself.

 

What shocks me is how ‘textbook’ we are. We fell hook, line & sinker into exactly what normally happens.

 

Stepmothers generally have such a bad reputation. It’s often long into adulthood, usually after grandchildren/step-grandchildren are born; that the relationship between a step-mother and her step-children starts to flourish. Until then it’s often contentious and it doesn’t have to be. These are 3 things in order that a family could do to speed up that process.

  • The parents should work together to establish the boundaries, rules and consequences in their home (father and step-mother).
  • Both biological parents should work together to maintain as many commonalities as possible between both homes and back one another up or at least check-in when the children complain about one home or the other.
  • The biological mother should give her children permission to accept the step-mother in their lives.

 

This is the bare minimum to ensure success. Taking it further might look like all 3 (or 4 if mom is remarried) parents working together, especially if either stepparent has children living in their home. Mature adults realize this is in the best interest of all kids involved. Without the above 3 factors in place the situation is practically a perfect set up for failure. However we are so quick to blame the step-mother when anything goes wrong. Why? The world believes the fairy tale evil stepmother fantasy. She is the easy target because she is the outsider and no one feels any loyalty to her.

 

This is a very lonely feeling. As a stepmother you wonder what is wrong with you. You lose part of yourself. You question every word you say. I felt really alone for so long. It’s comforting to now know that research shows that there is a high incidence of anxiety and depression among stepmothers. They’re often the lowest member on the stepfamily rung, the P.S., the annoyance, the person that everyone in the family “puts up” with and often wishes would just go away.

 

 

Taken from the article (The Evil Stepmother: Myth or Truth?) “Simple… as a stepmother, I’ve been called names, blamed for things I had nothing to do with, talked behind my back, badmouthed, lied to and about, used and abused, mistreated, misunderstood, and all because I actually tried to be exactly the opposite of the common perception of ‘The Evil Stepmom’. I never demanded or asked for anything. I never made anyone choose. I never lied about their mother. I never treated her unkind. I never forgot their birthdays or a holiday. I never whined about how much money we spent on travel, child support, court costs, lawyers, or on the children.”

 

Wow how that sits with me. So it’s not just me? It’s not something I did or our special situation?

 

I’ve been accused of thriving on drama, needing my husband’s ex as a common enemy to save my relationship with him, being verbally abusive, making capricious rules, being childish, having an eating disorder, trying to make the children into something they aren’t, the list goes on. To anyone who knows me in real life this sounds so ridiculous. But if you didn’t know me and heard I’m a stepmother you really might believe it – because you know step mothers are evil & all that.

 

Why do so many women have the same experience?

 

From what I read recently, the stepmother is the first to notice something isn’t jelling and starts to do research about how to make her family work. She becomes the authoritative figure at home trying to educate herself, her children, her husband and his children about the topic. This often breeds resentment and alienates her as a starting point.

 

I’ve also learned that stepfathers don’t have the same experience as their counter-parts (step-moms) because usually ex-husbands deal with a divorce in a more healthy way. According to The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers it’s the ex-wife who is likely to hold onto anger, feel it for longer and have the kids act it out on her behalf. Additionally the mom usually will have stronger agenda about what happens in her ex-husband’s house “The stronger the ex’s agenda, researchers found, the more involvement across households–and opportunities for conflict. And high conflict situations between two linked households lead to greater resentment of the stepparent, who feels more expendable

 

The above is a real problem when the step-mom has her own children and is trying to treat everyone fairly. It’s so important that the kids feel at home – all of them. Due to ex-wives trying to exert control, the step-mother loses control of her own home, and if she has children of her own that live in the house; she can’t seem to make things fair for everyone – leading to a great divide between step-sibling.

 

Geez, if we could only all just co-parent that wouldn’t happen right? That takes maturity though. Sadly the one target everyone points to as immature, jealous, power hungry, etc is the stepmother.

 

These are some common myths that I find so absurd.

 

She is jealous of the children

That just such a weird accusation yet widely held belief. I’ve heard it long before I ever became a step-mother, I’ve heard it about myself, and see/read/hear about other step-mothers that are jealous of their step-children. They are so jealous in fact, that they do all kinds of crazy, secret, manipulative things to make the children look bad in the father’s eyes. Has anyone ever questioned this hypocrisy? Why would she be jealous of the children?

 

She tries to exert power over the blended family and make the children’s lives miserable

What kind of person wants to see children miserable? I really ask that with pure interest of what someone’s answer might be. Do you know many people like this? I can’t think of a single person in real life that ever exhibited signed of feeling such intentions (at least that I know of… I’ll give you that).

 

I think a lot of people know just a single story and are more apt to listen to angry ex-wives and the kids who have a distorted image of “what goes on in that house”. She isn’t super strict and making capricious rules when she asks the kids sit up at the table, not climb the furniture, use utensils properly and say please & thank you. These are common complaints (wow… again I’m not alone) 5 Good Reasons to be an Evil Stepmother.

 

In step-families where the husband is the biological parent, research shows that fathers are more likely to be permissive parents if their ex-wife is not remarried and works outside the home (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers). The biological mother will often start to let little things go at first, then big things. When the children get to their father’s house they are used to not having rules and the father fears that if he is too strict the children will not want to come back. The stepmother inadvertently becomes the menacing authoritative figure for wanting to instill a few simple boundaries that others would normally not question. In turn people look at her like she is on a power trip and wants to make the children miserable and unwelcome into their dad’s house. After this happens a few times the stepmother will often feel like she has no control of her household and has to walk on eggshells when the children are around. It only makes the situation worse which is why most blended families on the surface seem happier early on. It’s not because the stepmother’s true colors have emerged that she has been holding in all this time until she got her claws deep enough into the family. Life isn’t that simple or sinister.

 

She shouldn’t have any say when it comes to the children

This is a partial myth. She has a lot to say about a lot of things and nothing to say about many others. Does she have a right to be part of a negotiation about what time something should take place when it affects her and/or her own biological children, or her household? Yes. Should she have a say in how holidays are celebrated within the confines of her own blended family, especially when she has children of her own? Absolutely. Should she be part of schedule planning for breaks, summers, and vacations if they in any way shape or form will be part of her schedule, her own vacation or anything related to her children? Without a doubt!

 

Does she have a say about where a child goes to the doctor or to college? Absolutely not. Nothing at all. Is it ok for her to be there to look at school options on the table? Why not? If I weren’t married and my brother or a good friend came with me and my child to look at schools, no one would blink or question their motives. They may even be able to say something like – hey remember that great cafeteria at that place, I had a fantastic burrito! But the stepmother accompanies her husband to the physician or a college visit and she must want to manipulate an outcome for her own benefit right? She must think she is their parent and has a right to be involved in this decision. Ya… ok then.

 

What about discipline? This is a tricky one. It depends. Did the child do something at school or get a bad grade? Then she should have little to no say. That is up to the biological parents if they are communicating well enough. Did the child break one of the house rules that she and her husband had in place? Then she does have a say. Many might disagree with me, but I think she has more of a say and should work with the husband closer when there are more than 1 set of biological children in the house. If there are stepsiblings or half siblings and something happens under your roof or in your care; the adults should work as diligently as possible to keep the same consequences for all the children in the house. Toxicity is created when the rules are different for one set of children than another. The stepmother has a say about what happens in her house, especially when it affects her or any children she birthed.

 

If she is kind the children will warm up to her

Not necessarily. The odds are stacked against her. She is putting up with a lot more than you know. People don’t look at her and smile warmly. When the family is out in public and strangers start asking questions where she has to explain they are a blended family, there is subtle shift in the conversation where she is looked at like she is just a bit ‘lesser than’. She can feel this hostility from strangers, the kid’s friend’s parents, teachers, etc. The extended family often quietly or openly resents or blames her because things aren’t just exactly the same as before. The kids sense all of this. How can they like her?

 

Throw in “loyalty”. Many stepkids–and adult stepkids–suspect that liking stepmom would be a betrayal of mom. So they keep her at arm’s length–or worse. And there’s nothing she can do about that. Only mom can release them from the torturous loyalty bind and pave the way to a healthy stepmom/stepchild relationship, by saying, “I wish you’d give Jenny a chance. I won’t be upset.” Too often, no such permission is given” (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers).

It’s been found that the more warm & appealing a step mom is, the more conflict a child feels about liking her.

Culturally there is a double standard “Stepchildren are allowed to dislike and resent their stepmoms, while a stepmom must always show unconditional love for her stepchildren.


She isn’t immature and childish; she is human with little understanding on her part.

 

Are you a stepmother or know of any? Try looking at things from her perspective. Most little girls don’t grow up with dreams of marrying a man with children. Almost no woman on earth goes out seeking a man with children. Marrying a man with children means you really love him and accept all facets of his life, including his children. The day the couple says “I do” with smiles on their faces, she isn’t secretly plotting about how to systematically get the kids out of his life. I don’t disagree that there may be a few incredibly unstable females out there where this might be the case, but trust me in that they are the exception, not the norm.

 

 

Lessons from the Garden

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We have a fairly large sized personal garden at our home. There are flowers, shrubs, veggies, trees, bushes and fruit. I spend a lot of time in our garden during the warmer months. I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a while because I have some many thoughts when I’m out in the garden that I have wanted to capture in writing.

I’ve had a lot of time about this. Below are some beautiful universal principles that apply to most things in life. I learned in a Franklin Covey work class a few years ago that universal laws exist, operate, and govern our universe whether you know about them or not; and whether or not you believe in them. That’s something I do believe!

My own universal principles from the garden –

  • All life comes from the dirt.
  • Dirt is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it.
  • Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted.
  • You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire.
  • The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand.
  • The sooner you deal with weeds, the better.
  • The deeper and more often more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.
  • It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, an natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.
  • While things may look the same and come from the same place, it’s not necessarily the case.
  • If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it should be nurtured and protected.
  • It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.
  • The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it.

The first time I spent a considerable time weeding as an adult was at the condo I lived at in Naugatuck. It was a really small little patch of dirt in front of the house, but I spent hours picking weeds and rocks from this small space that I “owned”. It was early spring and the first year I lived there, so I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the ground and what might be a weed. It was incredibly therapeutic. What I loved about it was how I was able to let my mind wander and explore thoughts that were stemming immediately from the task I was doing. I remember thinking about good and evil and how difficult it could be to tell those traits in people, in the same way it’s hard to tell weeds from actual plantings. I went out there many times in a few week period to remove all kinds of rocks, turn over the dirt, and plant some seeds and flowers. The little garden took off from there and I only went out every so often to tend to it.

In my next house we had a lot more land, hence a lot more yard work. Starting in spring and all through summer it became a weekly chore to take care of the lawn and yard. This was new to me. I liked it, but was a bit surprised about how time consuming these tasks were. I quickly fell into a pattern of going out to weed, tossing the weeds into the grass, then lightly evening out the mulch or rocks with a little garden tool before trimming and mowing.

As much as I dreaded it each week, once I got outside and starting weeding; I could have gotten lost for hours with my hands in the dirt, noticing the changes from the prior week, watching the worms, picking the tiniest of all weeds, finding large rocks and deep old, long roots to dig up. If it wasn’t for needing to take care of the kids, or my ex-husband complaining about how long I spent in the garden; I could have stayed there all day. Whenever I was done, I loved to sit down with a book or glass of wine and admire the beauty from afar. I loved knowing intimately what the details close up in each flower bed and the veggie patch looked like, but I also loved seeing the big picture. The big picture at first blush always looked sharper, happier & more alive after I did even the most minute work.

Fast forward to my current house. Daren created a beautiful garden area with several flower beds and a large vegetable garden the first spring we moved to our home in 2012. I LOVE the garden. But it’s a lot of work. Like a LOT. For the first few years I hardly paid attention to it. It was too much work. We would go out to weed maybe once a month and pick these gargantuan monsters. Daren would often use a giant clipper for the really gnarly ones. The veggie garden where we ate from was full of weeds. Daren would use chemicals, newspaper, hay, and all kinds of crazy things to keep them at bay… but they were there, always – right in the midst of everything. When we were done, I have to admit it looked nicer; but I didn’t admire it with pride. And all I could do was look around at the smaller weeds and notice how bad they looked and lament on how little time I had for keeping up this “facade” of beauty. It was exhausting. The garden didn’t seem to be glowing when I stepped back and looked at it from afar. It seemed like an actual burden glaring back at me with sorrow for having been created – like it felt responsible for taking up my time. If it could – the garden had it’s head hung down low.
Last summer I started working part-time. I started to regularly go out in the garden once a week to take care of it. At first it was a lot of work. I wasn’t sure the best way to tackle it. But little-by-little, as I battled the largest weeds; I was able to keep up with the smaller ones more regularly – and before long I was able to tackle all of them every week. Not long after I was in a great routine where I would even out the mulch, trim back certain things, rearrange rocks, sweep the porches, wipe down the furniture…. bring the smaller outdoor decorations inside to be cleaned and washed with warm, soapy water in the sink! Like in the past at my last house, I started to look forward to my weekly yard work, and when I was done I would love to sit back and admire the scenery. It finally looked loved and smiled back at me with a head held high. I took immense pride in the work.

This year I am still working part-time and I was able to get out to the garden early. I’m taking even better care of it this year. I know the different corners of each area intimately. I know where the dirt is thick, where the water collects, where it’s easy to scrape small weeds with my fingers, when to leave the tiny weeds near the fragile seeds and when to remove them. After all these years I’ve learned to notice the ever so subtle difference between what is a weed and what is something coming up from the ground that I want there. To one not paying much attention it all looks the same.

In relation to my universal principles from the garden –

 

All life comes from the dirt.

I grew up Catholic. At the start of each start Lenten season on Ash Wednesday; while receiving ashes, the priest would anoint each person saying “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”.

Alan Watts is a famous philosopher that I love to listen to. In several of his talks he speaks of how we as humans have “appled” as a race. Without going into the fine details of one of his famous explanations – I’ll just use one of his quotes “We do not [come into] this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Unless we are astronauts; we don’t leave the planet. We have only come from the planet as far as science can tell and return to it when our journey on it with flesh is over. In the meanwhile the planet is like a merry go round souring through space. It’s our ancestor and such the dirt is our ancestor. It’s from which all life as we know it on dry land springs. So how could this thing (dirt) that hosts our life, not govern the laws of how things work?

 

The earth is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it. Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted. But it won’t grow anything that isn’t planted, and it won’t change the property of the seed once it’s there (you will not get a watermelon from a carrot seed). If you don’t care about the garden and don’t tend to it, you are going to get a mish mash of what nature throws at it.  

Dirt doesn’t do anything alone in and of itself. Neither does a seed. But put them together and nurture them with water, sun, and even wind that carries seeds and removes the leaves that are no longer needing the soil’s nutrient and WHALA!… Suddenly something is created out of seemingly nothing. Like a baby. Like our thoughts.

Thoughts are like seeds. Our consciousness is like the dirt. We plant, give those thoughts attention (sun/water) and the thought grows and shapes our reality. While it may sound a bit “new-agey” (there is a lot to it that is), there are also some simple truths that most people who grumble at new-age would agree to.

In the month of May and earlier in June since it was planting season, in New England; while teaching my yoga classes I used quotes around this concept and started my classes with the following poem.

 

Watch your thoughts

For they will become your words

Watch your words

For they will become your actions

Watch your actions

For they will become your habits

Watch your habits

For they will become your character

Watch your character

For it will become your destiny

 

After savasana (final resting pose for the non-yogis out there) when the class sits up and meets me in the seated position where we started, after a few closing lines I ended class with the quote: “The ancestor of every action is a thought”.

In essence if we catch our thoughts before they become actions and ensure that they are thoughts we want to have – we will be planting words, actions, habits and the character that we desire rather than living a life based on whatever nature threw at us and we blindly just ingest as what is. We become co-creators of our reality rather than passive receivers of other people’s thoughts.

 

You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire, just know that weeds and nature are inevitable.

When weeds grow we don’t cry about it. We don’t pound our fists to our chests and demand an answer from the heavens asking “Why me”. We don’t get mad at the weeds, think the garden is cursed, or that there is something wrong with it. It’s life. It’s a natural law. The same goes for us. Life is going to throw us curve balls. Things are going to happen that we will not like. It doesn’t mean we are cursed. We can’t blame anyone else for what happened that we don’t like. It’s life. But we can control how we react to it. We can either leave the weeds there and let them take over our beautiful garden, or we can work to remove them as necessary to create the garden (aka life) we want. You can’t clean your house once and expect it to stay clean forever. You can’t weed once and expect nothing will grow back. And you can’t have a perfect life one moment and expect that the next life won’t throw something right back at you to mess up that perfection. It’s not how universal law works.

 

The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand (sun, rain, wind).

In life we need a little bit of good and bad to grow, learn, adapt and become stronger. A charmed easy life is not one worth living. A lot of people would disagree with that statement, but all life, including ours as humans; thrives by being challenged, overcoming barriers, and learning. It’s one of the few ways that help us to feel alive and satisfied.

 

The sooner you deal with weeds, the better. The deeper you pluck & the more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.

The quicker you pull the tiny weeds, the less likely they will interfere with your well-balanced eco-system. Even if it’s microscopic, if it’s hurting the invisible bacteria and germs; it will have an adverse affect. A beautiful vine? It looks nice up until the point it’s either pulling down your fence or choking other plants, crops or bushes that you would like to thrive. We can use these things (weeds, vines, etc) when we need them, as long as we are aware of their nature, keep them at bay, and use them for the good you want in your life (like drugs, alcohol, the partying type friends, etc). Problems that are not dealt with in life generally grow. What starts out in a relationship as any kind of a little “weed” will only continue to grow if it isn’t brought to attention and removed. Without tending to it, it may create a breeding ground for more weeds that grow… eventually destroying all we initially set out to create something beautiful.

Additionally, the deeper you remove unwanted root systems; the more prolific life you will see above the ground. Perhaps the deeper into the conscious we seek to remove negative, habitual thought patterns that don’t serve us or won’t assist in creating the life we want; the less likely there will be any adverse, even microscopic effect on our actions, habits, character, etc.

 

It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, a natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.

For anyone who doesn’t get out in the dirt often, when you plant something, weeds mimic what the plant looks like almost from a seedling to maturity. To the untrained eye it’s hard to tell which is the weed and which is the plant. At some point the weeds replicate and take over the plant when unattended. If the plant even stays alive, it’s chances of thriving to it’s fullest potential grow smaller with each passing day. The weed is competing underground for nutrients and water, it might grow taller or in such a way that it blocks out the sun’s rays, or it may eventually choke parts or all of the plant.

It’s hard to tell good people from bad people. They all initially behave the same. But if you are looking, there are subtle signals and signs that alert us how to determine who has good intentions and who does not. Just look closely, their intentions are right there on their shoulders and in their eyes. We can actually see if the person is feeding the little angel or little devil sitting on each shoulder like the cartoons used to show back in the day.

 

While things may look the same and come from the same place they aren’t. It’s not the same leaf on the tree that was there last year.

The exact leaf on that exact tree is not the same one from last year. A whole lot could have happened to that tree from last year. It could have gotten a disease it’s spreading, weeds might have taken over it, something underground might be transmitting in a different way and harming the rest of the garden. You don’t know. People do change too. It might look like the same person you once know, but it might not be. The person you knew might have planted new thoughts and is living a different life. Keep an eye out for those who might be a bad influence and give people second chances as they may be able to better nurture your life and help you thrive in a well-balanced, functioning eco-system.

 

If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it will be nurtured and protected.

Life is going to go on whether we live in it passively or with conscious intention. If you do want to go out and create the garden of your dreams with brand new seeds, you will need to nurture it. Like a baby, new kitten or small puppy; a seedling needs initial outside assistance. At first it needs a lot of attention and careful nurturing. As it grows a little bigger, you don’t have to be as careful when removing the same sized teeny weeds around it because it’s rooted into the ground more deeply and is starting to thrive on it’s own. It needs some regular of attentiveness until it can fully thrive on it’s own and have the ability to recognize the weeds from itself – not fall into peer pressure so to speak. At about this point in my garden my carrots are there. In my life, my 18-year old daughter Gabby and 20-year old son Thomas are pretty much there. But you can’t and shouldn’t leave these newly matured almost proliferating life forms alone for good. If it doesn’t rain for a few days, my carrots are still going to need water if I want carrots this fall. Weeds will still grow around them, although at a much less rapid pace since they aren’t trying to dupe me or the carrots themselves like they were when the carrot seeds just burst forth out of the ground. I still need to ensure vines don’t grow from out of the woods into the carrot patch. I still need to let Thomas and Gabrielle know I’m there if they have questions, need advice or start to flounder from the elements they aren’t used to weathering on their own just yet. Even fully-grown mature adults need love, validation and nurturing from other humans to thrive and put forth fruit in the world; albeit, much less than babies, adolescents and young adults. Those full grown plants in the garden can be left on their own most of the time to fight the elements and create their fruits, just like us fully grown humans. However with some love, nurturing and attention; it only makes it easier for us to thrive, provides us with more of a fighting chance to survive, and helps make our fruits all that much sweeter. The inherent properties of the dirt and us as creatures walking the dirt are mostly the same.

Of course things will grow without attention, love, or nurturing… – thrive and be fine. But in the absence of these things; the odds of growing to maturity, producing bountiful vitamin- rich fruits, and being a contributing member to the surrounding ecosystem are far less.

 

It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.

This seems like the most obvious but hardest lesson of all. I didn’t appreciate my garden until I was able to tend to it. I wanted it, but it was a source of stress and felt like a chore. We all want a lot of things we can’t tend to. Life isn’t endless, and our brains and bodies have a capacity to only deal with so much. There are however endless possibilities to pursue. You can try to pursue them all, but you will not succeed. You can’t tend and nurture too many things. Those things will not get the attention they deserve if your proverbial plate is too full. Whether it’s your garden, job, pets, kids, friends, partner, hobbies; whatever. If you can’t love it properly or in the way that you want it to love you back (a partner, a pet, or even the way the garden looks or produces) – don’t take it on. You won’t appreciate it and it won’t appreciate you. Sure you can pass the duties off to someone else like a pet sitter, babysitter, landscaper…. but it’s not really yours then. Without knowing the intimate details of it you don’t appreciate it or feel pride in its success in the same way as when you are putting the work in yourself.

Too many things on our plates often cause unnecessary stress – and who wants that? Even stepping back and looking at the big picture, we immediately notice at first blush which things have had the fine details tended to and which seem unloved. It’s HARD to slow down and only focus on a few things. Life steers us to do the opposite. I myself have cut my hours back in and attention the business world and took two part-time jobs teaching yoga and taking care of our rental home. My life is slower, I know all the fine details of these things, I see the results in my family and my life. I could not be more appreciative and have more pride in these fewer things than I was trying to juggle before. .

 

The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it, which only enhances and enriches your experience in life.

Get outside. Feel the wind in your lungs – the temperature of that air, the depth of the breath, where into your body you are breathing (belly, ribs, chest…. or somewhere else). Put your feet on the earth (gasp… may without shoes?) & feel that connection. Swim in the natural water. Turn off your music and listen to the birds, the wind, the crickets, that doggie bark in the distance…

Myriads of indisputable evidence show that stress is lowered when we connect with nature. The answer to every quandary is right there when we tune down the monkey chatter in our mind and listen to the quiet teacher inside of us. That quiet teacher is connected with our universe, which is governed by the universal principles of nature. It’s our friend and mother. We “appled from it” as Watts said. We carry the same qualities it does.

Shhh….. just listen and find the way to happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this day

On this day 18 years ago I woke up with a pain that I had never felt before. The sky was sort of light already. I looked at the alarm clock by the bed and it was 4:45. I wasn’t used to getting up so early, so the time in comparison with the light sky seemed a little strange.

 

I got up to use the bathroom and I noticed something else that was weird. Sign number 2 that something was happening. My pulse started to quicken as I crawled back into bed. Should I wake up my husband? It was a Sunday, a rare day to sleep in. What if I’m wrong? I tossed and turned but couldn’t fall back to sleep.

 

Before John woke up I had a few more pains, but still I wasn’t sure. The next day was my due date. Could I be in labor? I already had a two-year old, but he was a planned c-section, so I never experienced any dramatic water breaking, mucus plugs, or labor pains. I had no idea what to expect. John was convinced it was labor. I wasn’t so sure. The pain wasn’t bad at all. Just different.

 

That afternoon we had plans with Ned and Crystal who were friends of ours that lived around the corner of the Coast Guard base we lived on. They had a one-year old son named Frankie. He was just a year younger than our son Tommy. We went on a picnic somewhere in Sandwich, MA. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. John wanted to tell them that I might be in labor, but I didn’t want to risk being wrong. They were going to be watching Tommy when it was time, so John dropped the ‘news’ in the middle of the picnic. They were enthusiastic and supportive. I had pains all day, but it was so mild I was skeptical that I could actually be in labor.

 

After the picnic we went back to Ned and Crystal’s house for dinner and stayed until just after dark. We walked back home and put Tommy to bed. I was in the shower when the pain started getting slightly worse. It also seemed to be coming more frequently and timed perfectly apart. I got out of the shower, went downstairs and asked John to start the timer. It was around 10pm and it was dark out. 5 minutes apart. John phoned the on-call service for my ob-gyn and they advised we go to the hospital. We called Ned and Crystal who were still awake and excitedly awaiting Thomas’ arrival.

 

Falmouth Hospital on a dark, warm, humid evening. I can practically smell it. I went into some check-in area and was already 4cm dilated. Wow! This was happening. We got into a room and settled in. Somehow it was too late for me to get an epidural. I wasn’t upset by this information and decided to use the Lamaze breathing techniques I learned instead. I started with the first of the four breaths. Hours passed. The nurses and John kept offering all kinds of things to do, but I felt so comfortable and focused on the breathing that I was pretty darned content. Every so often I would ask what time it was. Midnight passed and it was June 7, 1999. My due date. John and I speculated about the sex of the baby. For some reason the physicians were unable to read the sex on my sonograms. Two weeks before that we paid $40 to a little ultrasound place in Dartmouth that specialized in determining the baby’s gender. They told us it was a girl. I was pretty excited because I did want a boy and a girl. But my spirits dampened when we told people and we heard story after story about how these places were wrong. John was pretty convinced it was a girl. I was remaining my usual skeptical self.

 

All of a sudden the nurses said it was time to start pushing. The pain did worsen, but never past the point where I felt I needed to start that next level of breathing. How could it be time? Not that there is ever turning back once you are pregnant, but at the time of pushing you really feel like there is no turning back now. No breaks – nothing… you just have to do this whether you want to or not. I don’t remember too much of this experience, but I do remember noticing it was starting to get light out again and realizing I had been up for 24 hours. I had the medical team and my husband all around me. I never felt alone and I never felt like it was more than I can handle. I kept thinking it will get worse, but surprisingly I was told that one last push was needed and tada – a baby girl was born!

 

5:00am exactly on Monday, June 7, 1999. Gabrielle Catherine Messeder. We decided on the name months before. We picked two names – one for a boy and one for a girl. We chose Gabrielle because we both liked it and didn’t know anyone by that name. Catherine was after my mom.

 

The next few hours and days were a reasonable blur. I remember distinctly feeling so good right after giving birth that I wanted to get up and walk around. The nurses warned me not to. It was so different than when I had Tommy and was under anesthesia and in a ton of pain. I was alert and able to hold the baby. Tommy came to visit and meet his new sister. He was excited. I used the hospital phone and my little phonebook I brought with me to call my family and friends. Visitors poured in. A day later I packed up and went home with this new bundle of joy.

 

We started calling her Gabby almost right away. Tommy adjusted pretty quickly. I was used to diapers and baby things so child number two was an unexpected breeze. I remember when she was 3 or 4 days old I was changing her clothes upstairs in her room and I put a headband on her head. I was so excited to have girl clothes and pink things to doll her up in. The headband looked kind of silly. While I contemplated whether or not to leave it on, I heard the hustle and bustle of my crazy family coming in the door downstairs. It was my mom, grandmother, aunt Fran and Uncle Joey; who was visiting from Italy. I don’t remember if I kept the headband on or not, but I do remember bundling her up and gently carrying her downstairs. When I came around the corner and started walking down the stairs, it was almost as time stopped. I saw my family standing there with their bags and purses looking up at me. For some reason I said, “Here she is everyone – Miss America.” I teared up when I said that, and I had a vision of a day in the far, far future when she would be all grown up and walking down the stairs in a prom dress. My standstill moment was interrupted when the family broke out into Ooohs and Aaahs and everyone wanted to look at and hold her. Time went back to it’s normal pace and I welcomed my daughter to her small, loud, extended, Italian family.

 

Those first few weeks were a complete blur. I was prepared for the worst, but everything was mild and well functioning to say the least. I got more sleep than I thought I would. Tommy adjusted better than I imagined. Things were no where near as hectic during the day while I was home alone as I was told they would be. Almost immediately I put Gabby on my lap while I read books to Tommy at night before bed. He didn’t mind. I would put her baby tub in the bathtub with Tommy at bath time so they bathed together and they both adjusted just fine. I think the routine we kept got her sleeping regularly pretty quickly. Before I knew it the familiar signs of the beginnings of rolling over started to take place. Then it happened! Solid foods were introduced in what seemed like a flash. Suddenly she was sitting up on her own. Then leaning forward to slither like a navy seal to chase after Tommy. In what seems like a moment in memory she started to crawl, walk, talk, run, and play. We celebrated her first and second birthday on Cape Cod with our neighbors and their children. When Gabby was 2 ½, John got out of the Coast Guard, and we packed our bags to head for Connecticut.

 

Gabby’s 3rd birthday was in our newly owned condo. We had only just been there a few months. I remember it so distinctly. It was the first of many parties we had there, so it was the first time we moved the table a certain way and bought and prepared food in what would become the pattern for hosting similar events. That same year Tommy started kindergarten and I went back to work full time. It was the first time that Gabby would be watched by anyone other than me or her father. She and her brother had to go to daycare. A few weeks into kindergarten Tommy was invited to one of his new friend’s houses for a party. The boy’s name was Justin. When John called to RSVP, Justin’s mom said it was ok to bring the whole family over. New friends were born for all of us. Justin was just about 6 months younger than Tommy. And his little sister Sierra was 2. She was 6 months younger than Gabby. Within just a few months, their mom Sherrie started watching our kids and they no longer went to daycare. The kids all became good friends.

 

Everyone knows how time flies. Birthdays came and went. Our friends moved away. We had a plethora of different day care scenarios intermingled with John on shifts and staying home with the kids as often as possible.

 

I remember the day Gabby started kindergarten. It was just she and I at home that day. She was enrolled in the PM session. We waited inside all dressed up for the bus that afternoon. She was SO nervous. One of our cats “Snickers” was sitting on the desk by the front door. She was kissing him and talking to him, telling him it was ok – that he will be fine without her. My heart melted. Finally the kids started lining up outside at the bus stop at the corner. We walked out there and I met some of the moms. Gabby wouldn’t let go of my hand. She was shaking. When the bus came and everyone lined up, she just let go and bravely stood there on line with everyone else, shyly looking at me. Then the girl in front of her started he started talking to her, and continued to do so while she climbed on. I knew she would be ok. I stood on the curb as the bus pulled away. She found a seat in the back and waved to me out the window with a big smile on her face. My little girl was growing up and away from me.

 

Whenever I was home (rarely), I made it a habit to watch the kids get on the bus from the storm door of our condo. They would sit at a window on the bus and wave as it went by. Now that seems so symbolic.

 

I miss those days. Gabby never had a problem making friends or her teachers proud. She fit in wherever she went. She got great grades. She ate well. We lived in a neighborhood with a ton of kids. She and Tommy got to experience that life that most of the older generation experienced as kids, which nearly no children have now. They played outside daily with the neighbors. The condo was up against a pond and the woods, so it was a kid’s paradise. They and their friends learned to ride bikes one at a time. They ate snacks from each other’s houses, had sleepovers, played manhunt, played videogames inside one of our homes when it was raining or too cold. They dressed up, played with sticks and swords, caught frogs, told stories, and spent hours in the woods with the trees, insects, and plants. They couldn’t wait to go back outside after dinner and had to be called in at dark. In those days John worked evenings often. I would call them in, have them shower and read them a story. Like I said, I miss those days.

 

When Gabby was almost 9 years old we moved to Cheshire. The kids were naturally nervous and didn’t want to move. I remember when we bought the house. Before we moved in we went in to meet a contractor one evening who would be finishing off the basement, and spent a little time in the house measuring that day. I distinctly recall standing in the living room measuring, and looking at the stairs. I flashed back to that day when Gabby came home from the hospital in Cape Cod and I walked down the stairs with her, imagining one day she would be all dressed up for prom. Again, tears filled my eye. I tried to picture her walking down those stairs. It made me sad, but some how I had a foreboding that she wouldn’t be coming down those particular stairs.

 

We moved at the end of 3rd and 5th grade so we kept the kids in Naugatuck at their old school for the last few weeks. Before school started in Cheshire, there was a little welcome day for new students. Tommy was completely confident (at least he acted as if he was), but Gabby was really nervous. The day we went to Chapman Elementary School to meet her new teacher she was a wreck. I remember walking up the stairs with her. Like that first day of school she was holding my hand and shaking. When we got to the classroom she held on until the teacher said hi. At that point she let go and walked in front of me into the classroom. Again I knew she would be alright.

 

Less than two years after moving to the new house, I understood why I had that foreboding about the stairs and prom. John and I were parting ways. I had a few living arrangements before moving into the house I now live in with Daren. Nothing seemed right or fit that prom image I had for Gabby until we got here. I never told anyone this weird feeling I had with the prom and stairs, but when I saw the stairs in my house now; I knew these would be the ones. It made me sad though because her dad and I weren’t together. How would that work? How would he see her? How sad that both of her parents wouldn’t be looking at her fondly.

 

Braces, glasses, puberty. It was a whirlwind. Suddenly Gabby turned 13, then 14, 15, 16. I took her up to the DMV right after her 16th birthday. Again she was incredibly nervous. Her friend Grace was there too. I was a prop along with Grace’s mom as they stood on line nervously laughing and giggling together. She was going to be fine. She didn’t need me. She walked out with her permit and excitedly asked if we could practice right then! We drove up to Home Depot and switched places for the first time. I took a picture to capture what I knew would be a fleeting moment. This was the second child that I was to teach how to drive. Naturally it was much easier knowing what to do. Everything with her was easier since she was #2. We went through the same practice cycles I did with Tommy up until the last day before the test. And before I could blink she was driving at 16 and 4 months old.

 

All of a sudden it was time for college visits and SATs. That next summer she got a job and had her own money. Senior year appeared. Senior Day for Cross Country. The last banquet. The last fencing tournament. Everything started swirling so fast. College was chosen. Then sadly 3 ½ weeks ago was the day I was able to see my daughter walk down the stairs for her senior prom. Her dad and I are on really good terms and he came to the house to see her and take pictures. I never knew how it would work, but I knew it would. That day I practically dreaded since I brought her home from the hospital has already come and gone. She looked absolutely beautiful and was glowing from the inside out. Now tomorrow she officially becomes an adult.

 

As with my labor I was always waiting for it to get harder with her, more than I can handle. But it never did. When Gabby was around 7 years I had that country music song “Suds in the Bucket” playing in the condo one night. Gabby was dancing around when she listened to the words and said mommy that will never be me. I don’t want to grow up and move away from you. I told her she would and she didn’t believe me. “That little pony tailed girl growed up to be a women, and she’s gone in the blink of an eye, she left the suds in the bucket and the clothes hanging out on the line”. I was always waiting for those famous mom/teenage daughter “I hate you” fights to happen, but they never did. Every year that passed I thought – it’s one year closer to that possibly never happening, but knowing darned well it could. As with my labor, it never did get harder – but I couldn’t stop the process of her growing up either. It was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

 

On this day 18 years ago I was in labor with a little baby girl. I still remember exactly how it felt when she hiccupped in my belly. I can vividly recall watching my belly move on it’s own as Gabby moved around slowly in the little space my body created for her. I remember the smell of her skin after a bath and she was all swaddled and on my lap for a book with her brother. I remember wiping messy food from her pudgy fingers after a meal. That first day of kindergarten when she was telling Snickers he was going to be fine without her there. I remember the day she met Sierra back in 2002. They are still the bestest of friends. Lastly I can of course remember her very recent senior prom; coming down the stairs all dressed up to be taken out by her date. Tomorrow that little baby becomes an official adult. No longer protected by driving curfews or minor labor laws. She is released out into the adult pool with the rest of us.

 

She just came home from work and sat eating in the dining room, watching something on her phone as she often has done for the past year. Soon she will be in college and I’ll just have the ghost of this memory too. My heart is broken, but in the best way. I’m proud of so her.

 

Tonight 18 years later I’m going to sleep with a pain I’d never felt before. The last of my two babies is an adult. It’s nothing more than utterly and completely bittersweet.

 

 

 

On International Women’s Day

If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.

I have to admit – I never heard of International Women’s Day either. My initial reaction was slightly unpleasant, but I took to googling the “holiday”. This holiday has been around since 1909. Really? It was first celebrated on 2/28 in New York City; the date moved to March 8th in 1917 when Russia declared it a national holiday. It’s 100 years old this year and has never caught on. Maybe it’s about time.

When I thought about it past first blush I started to get outraged. To everyone out there who made fun of the day & just had to post something a little snarky on a social media page– have you considered the following? In our country – the United States:

  1. Is Dead Last in developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave,
  2. Ranks last in every measure when it comes to family policy, in 10 charts.
  3. Of 41 developed nations, the U.S. is the only country that does not have a paid paternal leave policy.
  4. Women still make only $0.80 to every dollar a man makes for the same job.
  5. The U.S. ranks an unimpressive 33rd when it comes to women in the national legislature, among 49 “high-income” countries (defined as those with per-capita incomes above $12,615). Among a larger group of 137 countries with data available, the U.S. ranks 83rd.
  6. The U.S. media still provides a disproportionate number of images of women as young, white, heterosexual, and underweight.
  7. Women respond to advertisers’ messages of never being good enough: American women spend more money on the pursuit of beauty than on their own education
  8. Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories. “When a group is not featured in the media… it is called symbolic annhilation.

Internationally:

  1. Women make up 51% of the population and only 22% of national parliamentarians are female. That’s double the number in 1995, but still a marker of slow change.
  2. Women currently hold 24, or 4.8 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
  3. 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
  4. In most countries, women only earn between 60 and 75% of men’s wages – for the same work.
  5. 2/3 of the adult world population who are illiterate are female.
  6. The list goes on people – human trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, denied the right to drive, wear clothes you can breath in, literally show your face…

How is this equality? So one might say that women get paid less because they stayed home with the kids or aren’t willing to move and take risks. Why is that OK? How is it better to put a new human who will one day be a contributing member of society in a heartless daycare center or in a care of strangers a better option? Of the families who place their children in day care, they like myself mostly needed to in order to pay bills – to live and eat. If one opts to stay home you don’t earn anything, don’t put money toward retirement and don’t contribute to taxes. This isn’t good for the society in general and will only cause more problems down the road. The U.S. is the only developed country that hasn’t caught on.

For those women who do return to the workforce in the six weeks that we are allowed off (before losing their job and not getting paid during this time); they end up with so many stressors, extra bills – and both parents who need to take unexpected time off constantly for a child who is sick or their daycare/school is closed due to the weather.

The federal government should be setting a standard. Laws should be on the table for discussion, but they are not. Perhaps it’s because there are so few women in political positions. That is why points 5 and 9 are so critical above. And nearly every other point blocks women, or doesn’t provide proper role models for women to be interested in political positions.

Imagine if the federal government actually set the stage for their employees? They do. On paper. I have been working for the federal government since 1994. When I got pregnant in 2006 while in the military, I applied for the “generous” 2 year unpaid maternity leave program where you can come back into your previous level after two years after delivery. My ex-husband was also in the military at the time, and we didn’t have childcare with anyone locally. I had to be at work at 5am as a cook, and my husband had to leave at 5am each day to get to start his 1 hour commute. Daycare centers don’t open until 7am at the very earliest – even in 2017.

My station signed off on the paperwork, this should have been a shoe in case. But it was denied. With no good real reason other than I was needed. As a E-4 cook? Those jobs are a dime a dozen. But I sucked it up and went back to work after just six weeks. No where to pump – such a thing was unheard of at the time so I didn’t breast feed. One of my male co-workers wife’s, volunteered to watch my son. She lived on the base just right up the road from where I cooked. Everyone was completely appalled at my denied request. It worked out, but it easily could have not.

Fast forward to 1998 when it was time for me to re-enlist. I was now an E-5. I had advanced pretty quickly and had nothing but outstanding reviews for 4 straight years. I wanted to stay in the military. My then husband was working as an aircraft mechanic and had to be stationed at an Airbase. We tried to work with our two detailers in D.C. to let them know that we were a married couple with a child and only one of us could really be deployed or have an overnight regular rotation at a time. As a cook on land I never had to stay overnight, but the Coast Guard had an unofficial policy that enlisted personnel who have non-airbase jobs rotate between ship duty and a land station. When my ex and I filled out our “dream sheet”, I wrote any land position at or near an air station anywhere in the world. We were totally flexible about where we go, even to a remote location that no one wanted as long as I could be stationed on land so we knew we had someone home with our 1-year old child every evening. His job could never get him out of an overnight rotation. I remember sitting in my kitchen at our shared little apartment one weekday afternoon when the detailer called me on the phone. He was kind of a jerk and the conversation ended with it was my turn to go back to ship duty. There was nothing he could do. End of story.

What??? At the station I was working at there were guys who were on their 3rd or 4th tour at a land station. I had an unusual case, but they were not willing to allow me at least two back-to-back shore duties. I felt completely frustrated. Why did the military have these “generous” family policies but I have never met a single person able to use them? I stayed home with my son, went into the active reserves and back to school. Another motivated female left the job force.

Fast forward 18 years to last year. I am still in the federal government. In 2002 when I took my first civilian federal job I was so excited to read about all the “benefits” of working for the federal government – specifically a flexible schedule, flex jobs, job-sharing, compressed tours, work-at-home, part-time work etc. In the now 15 years I’ve been employed in the federal civilian workforce, I’ve only known 1 position that job shares. To be fair there are more telework jobs and some people have been able to beg, borrow, and plea for compressed tours in the last few years. But they are RARE. To be fair I do work in a hospital and staff need to be around to see patients. But there are hundreds of administrative jobs (like every role I’ve served) where there is no patient contact and no reason on earth to be at work everyday or at a desk taking up precious real estate where patients can actually be seen.

After 22 years in the federal government and a most outstanding record, I asked to exercise my right to request an alternative work schedule for a better work life balance as the latest of many presidential policy states. I was burning out after working non-stop for 22 years; and just needed to do my job in a different way. Surprise, surprise – the answer was no. I never did get an answer about “why” as the policy states that I should, only I just needed to be there full time 5 days a week. I knew I was able to do my job in an alternative way. I had an outstanding record, but I was denied from even trialing it. When I insisted on learning why it was denied, I pointed out that I have a right to grieve if I don’t have a real answer. Instead of an answer (which I still haven’t gotten until this day), I received passive aggressive can’t ever really prove it quiet retaliation. Again – policies that are nothing more than words on paper. I’m not in the job any more. Another motivated employee gone.

Where is the justice? Why aren’t we marching the streets fighting for rights that most other developed nations already have as standard practice. Why aren’t we fighting for our sisters in non-developed countries? And aside from the lower pay, discrimination, not being taken seriously, being looked at as a sex object, not being represented in board rooms or lawmaking policy…. It’s women who suffer the most from not being able to use the policies that likely another woman put in place.

So we’ve never heard of International Womans Day. We should. Instead of laughing about it, why not consider actually Being Bold for a Change? Our world leaders declared a national holiday 100 Years ago and in doing so asked the citizens of the world to consider inequality once every merely 365 days. And we are poking fun at it as if it’s some ridiculous silly womans bra burning movement. That is how normal we think inequality is. And that is no ok.

 

On Abuse

Division Bell

Wikipedia defines a division bell as: A division bell is a bell rung in or around a parliament to signal a division and thus call all members of the chamber so affected to vote in it.

Hence –it’s a call to action.unknown

It’s also an album by Pink Floyd that was released in 1994. Pink Floyd was one of my favorite groups in high school. In 1994 when this album was released I was a senior in high school just about to graduate. I heard it right after I made my decision to join to military once I graduated. It felt like a time of hope. The album spoke to me.

It’s time for me to do my part in a call to action against domestic violence. I grew up as a child in a household with domestic violence. My father was the perpetrator, my mother, brothers, and myself the victims. More than anyone though, even my family would agree, for some reason I bore the brunt of the violence.

Like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, I didn’t know I was in a bad situation. I didn’t realize my father was an alcoholic. I knew he was a gambler. I knew what happened in our house wasn’t right, but I also thought it could be worse and the people who experienced something worse were really the victims. There were so many people in my life who saw the signs and bruises and heard our excuses. Teachers, friends, friend’s parents, our own extended family, our neighbors. No one dared ask past the excuse. They all suspected, but they dropped it there. I always thought – they should suspect more, poke a hole in my ridiculous story so I have a reason to elaborate. Since they didn’t, I assumed my parents were right and it must not be too bad.

Everything went. Things broke. Things were thrown at us – food, boiling water, household objects. Our heads and bodies made holes in walls and doors. I was thrown across the room, beaten with a chair, punched, kicked… you name it. Called names, told I was stupid, lazy, a whore, an idiot, etc. Looking back it’s a miracle I made it out ok.

I was also told not to cry – by both of my parents. Neither could stand anyone yelling back or crying. I learned so early on to bury my feelings and cry only under the cloak of darkness.

statistics

I knew I wanted out of that house, probably from the age of a toddler. My mother once said to me she couldn’t leave my father because she didn’t finish high school and couldn’t take care of us. It was my life’s mission as a kid to finish school and get an education so I could take care of myself. I didn’t want to be like her and put anyone else into the situation I was in.

It wasn’t until about a year after I left my house & was in the military that I realized anything was different about me. I overreacted far more than anyone else to other people’s anger. I jumped when asked to do something and did it better than anyone else. The only good that probably came out of my growing up situation is that it made me a good solider, a good employee, one who aims to please. But other people’s anger really got to me. I went to see a counselor through the EAP program once my ship was on land. She gave me a book about co-dependence and didn’t think I needed to go back. It was no help at all to me.

When I got pregnant with Tommy I was determined to be a different kind of parent. I read every book I could get my hands on about parenting, which was pretty limited 21 years ago – it wasn’t like I had Amazon or all the time in the world to shop while I was active duty. I think the books served me well. John didn’t read anything and was quick to listen to me. We were on the same page as parents – loving, stern, caring, rules, and fun. Once I had Tommy and I was a parent myself, I started to realize how it feels to care for and love another little human so much. It really started to bother me thinking about the way I grew up. I just didn’t understand. For about a year I think I cried and journaled EVERY SINGLE day. John was kind and patient. He was more angry at my parents than I was. Again I went to counseling through the EAP, and again I found it to be a waste of time.

One day about a year of absolute post suffering, in the middle of writing – something just clicked inside me. It was like something you read about in books or see in the movies. All of a sudden my sadness was just lifted. It wasn’t replaced by bliss and I wasn’t overly joyed; but I felt a sense of letting go of the past. I suddenly realized what John meant when he said there is nothing you can do about it anymore. I think I just put the pen down and stopped shedding tears. I was just done crying about the past. I was only 22 at the time.

For the most part since then I’ve been able to talk about my experience without getting swept away by it. When I was 30 my mom passed away and her boss asked our family if we would write a little something about her life. I wrote this story that I shared on the 10 year anniversary of her passing on my blog page: https://esterinaanderson.com/tag/my-mom/.

At the time there was nowhere to post it. I emailed it to a bunch of my family and friends. Everyone gathered around & supported me. It was the first time I was public with what happened in my house. I hit send and was kind of frightened by the reaction I might get. I had always felt ashamed and broken by the situation – as if it made me different from everyone else and less of a person. But the love and support I received made that feeling disappear. It felt good to share. I felt light.

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For the next 10 years I only talked about it when it seemed relevant (super rarely). It wasn’t until I went to a Yocovery class last March that I realized I was still very much affected by what happened to me. Yocovery is a special program at my yoga studio where addicts and family members of addicts go weekly to share their stories and do a little yoga. I was curious about what it was one Friday evening, so I drove over and joined the class. Everyone started sharing their stories. When it came to be my turn and I started talking, I was surprised to get choked up and then start crying. Wow – it did still bother me. Over the next few months I started to read about the affects of child abuse on adults. I was a classic case. Anxiety, anger, rage, guilt, shame, emotional numbing, dissociation. On the outside I’m very normal and well adjusted, but I hid a lot. And I hid it so well I was no longer aware it was even there.

In December I became aware of a group called Exhale to Inhale (ETI). ETI. is an organization that supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through the teaching of yoga. I joined the group and will soon be taking trauma teacher training so I can volunteer my time at shelters and safe houses. In the month of April the organization asked members to hold donations based classes through their own events and at their home yoga studios. I wanted to be a part of that. I emailed my beautiful point of contact at my home studio and got it registered for a volunteer class on Sat 4/15/17 http://www.yogasouthington.com/news-and-events/. I may also host a personal event at the house in Branford on 3/31. Stay tuned.

As strong as I feel, while researching some quotes, pictures and facts to incorporate into this class; I had to stop, cry and feel. Even 23 years after I have left the house, the experiences sit so deeply within in me until today. As a child I had nowhere to go, I didn’t even really know I was in harms way. In school we learned when to tell, but my parents would tell me that is for other people, not us – don’t waste their time. And I believed them.

I just still wanted out of that house. Music through my growing up helped me to escape and deal. Be normal. Sing in the car. Have something fun to connect to. Dance in my room with the door closed. Pink Floyd was one of those music groups for me. Those last few weeks in high school when the Division Bell came out, the end was in sight. The songs on that album mean so much to me. They can be relevant for so many topics. In my room while falling asleep – those songs… the lyrics and instruments were about the rise and fall of innocence before and after abuse. “On the Turning Away” from Momentary Lapse of Reason spoke to me about people who kind of knew but turned away. And then the escape. The ringing of the division bell at the end of that album in the song “High Hopes” as it faded away, sounded to me at the time like the bell toll that was my escape. Any bells I heard after that, especially in my early days of boot camp and in the military were the sound of justice for me. I hope to make that album in some way part of the theme for the karma class to raise money for ETI. The ringing of the Division Bell is a call to action to vote on something and bring justice. It’s time to do something about domestic violence.

Also in reading about the topic of child abuse I had to shake a bit in disgust. Sometimes as a society we take identifying “abuse” too far. Feeling angry, yelling at a kid every once in a while when they actually did something disrespectful, not looking up for the 5th time when a child shows you something and pretending it’s the best thing you ever saw while you are trying to finish something for work, taking some time for yourself and not attending every last little league game is NOT abuse. I couldn’t believe the things I was reading. It’s not even in the same league. Doing these things repetitively could be – absolutely… But children who now feel like they are being neglected and abused by working parents because they only help with their homework 50% of the time is not neglect. I understand why people tune out and don’t pay attention to so many allegations.

There is real abuse taking place. It can be hard to weed through the garbage of allegations, but those who know about it or have experience just can tell. There is a true sense of hopelessness, loss of control, and fear in victims. ETI’s two platforms of Intimate Partner violence and sexual assault help survivors to feel empowered, to feel safe, to help themselves, and to connect with the spirit inside of them that knows the right thing to do.

People are surprised I don’t hate my father. I do love him. I can’t be around him for long. I feel kind of bad for him. He has no real friends. He is still an alcoholic. He hangs with the wrong crowd and does the wrong things. When you talk to him he lives in the past and will still talk about my mom and how she left him, never understanding his part in it. He is still quick to blow up. Has been in jail a few times. He is loving. He is generous with his money. He has some really insightful, intelligent things to say sometimes. People that don’t know him who tell me that my father is a good man and nice company don’t know any better. I liken it to what my brother Mario once said recently about the type of people who support certain politics – if you say you like pops you just don’t know any better; and there is no way I can explain it to you because you haven’t experienced the dark side.

We all come from different experiences. Don’t judge, but do give and command respect back – Always. Act in love, but don’t be pushed around. Listen to your gut if something feels off and stand up for what is right. Push a little harder if you are talking to someone you suspect is having any of these experiences. They likely won’t tell you the first time you ask, but once or twice more may be just the little barrier breaker that can save them.

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Lexapro “Rollercoaster” Journal

 

Friday, January 13, 2017

8:53pm

Well… I just took my first reduced dose. Fingers crossed. It was an awesome medication. It did exactly what I needed. But now it’s time to stop.

 

Reason #1 weight gain. I gained 11 pounds since I started 10 months ago. 7 of those were in the past 4 months. My BMI is still only 23 point something but it’s disconcerting that week after week the scale goes up at least 1/2 lb. I was ok with it at first. I feel stronger than ever and have been more physically active and at the top of my physical fitness game than ever. But the past few weeks my clothes have been getting tighter and tighter. And that is not ok. I practically live in leggings and yoga pants now, but even those are getting tight. Super warning sign. I’ve been on amazing money saving kick. A whole new wardrobe to accommodate my fat Lexapro ass isn’t part of the plan.

 

Reason #2 is decreased libido. Not ok, I don’t feel like myself in that regard. Enough said.

 

I’ve been considering going off for a while. I knew I had an appointment today with my primary care provider. I had this appointment since last September. The side effects weren’t too bad until the last month of two. I wanted to get thru the holidays and settled with my new job. I wanted a good destressifying (likely not a real word) routine, the new VRBO property totally set and posted, a solid yoga/meditation/pranayama/mantra/daily spiritual practice set up. I have most of this now 90% there, but I need to admit to myself that realistically it’s probably not going to get better than this. I had an appointment today and decided to start tonight.

 

I’ve been reading online about the experience of going off. Brain zaps, depression, feeling out of it, head aches, nausea… to name a few. I’m ready for it. I’m done now. It did it’s job. It cleared my mind and helped me to see what I needed to do to live a more stress free life. And I did it! I’m proud. That life is in place as much as it probably will be and I’m ready to start this slow 6 week trickling down process.

 

Bring it on!

 

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

5:45am

The morning of day 4. I have slept like a log since I was pregnant with Thomas over 20 years ago. The past few weeks with not having to get up everyday I have been sleeping 9-10 hours. It’s been amazing! But last night as tired as I was I couldn’t stay asleep more than 5-10 min at a time. Holy cow now. I didn’t even think to relate it to a withdrawal symptom until Daren mentioned it. Then I just came downstairs now and got this overwhelming sense of dizziness and nausea. I had to lay down. Ugh… I don’t want to feel like this.

 

Until last night I was going to journal about the good things I’ve felt so far. 3 namely and I have a hard time believing in the less than 48 hours that I cut back the dosage from 15 to 10mg that I can feel anything positive. But the first thing I noticed immediately was how less hungry I feel. Secondly Sun morning I woke up and my stomach felt flatter than it has since last summer. Despite not eating so well Sat night. And lastly I am having these incredible bursts of creative energy. I did so many things (recreational/income bearing) the past few days it’s not been like me since before I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety since before I met Daren.

 

But this morning sucks. I can hardly see the words I’m typing. I’m uncoordinated, dizzy, nauseous and exhausted. Not to mention incredibly UNmotivated or creative.

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

3:40pm

Well… today I feel fabulous. Yesterday morning was the absolute pits. I had constant hot & cold flashes. I was so sick to my stomach & SO unbelievably tired. It was a hazard for me to be on the road. I didn’t want to call out sick. I only started my new job a few weeks ago. And I’m glad I didn’t because by about 8:30 I felt pretty normal. By noon I was 100% myself. Last night I took NyQuil because not only did I have post nasal drip that was keeping me up and restless the night before, but I didn’t want to chance not sleeping again. I of course slept long & deep. I didn’t wake up at all until the alarm. And once I did I felt so awake and rested. I was slightly concerned I would feel dizzy and sick standing up and moving about, but it never happened.

 

So far so good. I’m suppose to stay on 10mg for 2 full weeks, but my prescriber did say that was a slow wean and if I felt good I could speed it up. IF I’m still feeling this good by Fri eve I will consider going down to 5mg. That would be nice! I’ll see.

 

And one other amazing thing that I’m not sure is a coincidence, but the scale lowered 5 full pounds since last week. I wasn’t this light since last September. Fingers crossed it’s not a fluke!

 

Friday, January 20, 2017

7:42am

1 week on 10mg and other than a few hours of feeling sick on Tuesday I’ve had no other side effects.

 

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, the placebo effect, or something real; but I lost 6 pounds somehow in the past week and my creativity level KICKED up. Sunday morning I was suddenly inspired to really amp up my LLC. I was thinking about where I might be able to provide yoga (library, park, local businesses, etc)… when it dawned on me we have 340 rarely used completely finished space in our walk out basement. There is a bathroom & sauna attached. No overhead… what could I lose??? I immediately set to work playing with the website I paid for randomly on the fly back in Dec when I filed for the LLC and got in fire. My creative juices have been flowing ever since. I’m making crafts, finding new uses for things that otherwise would have been discarded.

 

My PCP said to do 2 weeks on 10mg and it’s really up to me if I feel ok to cut back to 5 a little sooner. 1 week seems like a nice number. Think tonight I will take only 5 and see what happens.

 

Wish me luck

 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

7:21pm

Day 9. So far so good. Feel steady, balanced, creative. 3 of those pounds came back, so somewhat of a fluke there, but otherwise I’m feeling great. Last week it was 4 days after I cut back I felt sick so I’m prepared this time just in case. I hope nothing sooner because I have a yoga dem/interview tomorrow eve and want to feel on my game. Starting up a yoga business and going off these mess at the same time may not have been my brightest idea, but so far it’s going smoothly. Yee hah!!!

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5:31pm

Day 11, but Day 4 on 5mg and not a single sign of sickness or withdrawal. I got that yoga gig last night right there on the spot. I start 3/1 on Wednesday evenings at 5pm. I have another interview tomorrow at a chiropractor’s office in Hamden. It’s Sarah’s provider and she mentioned her friend who teaches yoga. He wanted to meet me and asked her to have me call his assistant. I did and I’m going to see to what this might be about tomorrow. Wish me luck!!

 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

12:06pm

This is the first day I feel really crummy. I’ve been feeling crummy since Friday, but I thought it was because I didn’t get enough sleep. Yesterday I had that same tired feeling and I didn’t get the best night sleep, but today after a totally long restorative rest I still have that surreal kind of feeling like I haven’t slept. I’m dizzy and just overall slumpy.

 

I’ve been on only 5mg since last Friday last week. I took my last 5 Thursday night. Friday was the first night without Lexapro since last March. Last night I was totally on the fence with deciding if I should do one day on one day off for a week, but I’d love to just get this over with so I didn’t take it. Today I woke up feeling super yucky. I also woke up with anxiety. It is going in reverse for me in that what was happening to me when I started it is now happening to me in the reverse way. I had that feeling of my body having anxiety and my brain asking why. Before the lex at all my body & brain were in sink. Like day 2 they started to disconnect. I hope the next step on going off isn’t reconnection.

 

Once I noticed the feeling I immediately sat down and did some pranayama practice (breathing). It helped immensely for about 5 minutes and then I felt anxious again. I talked to Daren about how I was feeling and two particular things that were bugging me… and then I felt better. Until the headache started about an hour after that. He is now with Devin at a hockey game. I’ve been working on Tom’s room and the basement (moving stuff around & getting ready to paint the new little yoga studio). But I had to just stop. I’m so exhausted and dizzy. No more physical anxiety, just withdrawal side effects. This sucks because I have such will, but my body just isn’t cooperating. And the one thing I really learned this past year is to honor my body. At times it’s important to listen to the body or it will shut down on you. And other times it’s important to listen to the brain- like this morning when the body was anxious for no good reason. Maybe a nap will help. Koji got when I laid down in Tom’s room before I wrote this. He immediately jumped up and laid next to me- falling asleep instantly. He is my little buddy, following me around the house all day. I love this Stinky black doggie.

 

No weight gain or loss lately. I did get another gig with the chiropractor too! I start on 2/28 on Tuesday nights at 5pm. Very excited. Between the two classes I hope to fill in my home studio, these two I just signed up for this week, the one I teach at work, and the domestic violence volunteering I am finished taking on anything new. The VRBO site has suddenly picked up in the past week and I need to go down there in Friday’s to turn the house over between guests. I’m so excited to just get started on all these things. First guests this weekend and just a few loose ends to tie up. And I’m aiming to have a yoga open house next Sun. I just need to take a break right now and let my body recover/process out these meds.

 

Scared the anxiety will come back but I do feel strong enough to recognize it before it takes a hold of me and reach into my toolbox of things to combat it in the early stages. Worst case scenario is I got back on the Lexapro because I know it works.

 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

8:35am

The past few days have been a rollercoaster to say the very least. I cracked Monday afternoon. I took 5mg. And I feel better already. I feel a bit disappointed, but at the same time kind of thankful. It was a nice wake up call.

 

Sunday was the last time I journaled while laying down with Koji. I actually felt a lot better after that. I went down to the new studio area and started prepping the walls and taping so we could paint. About half way through I became super dizzy again. I finished up anyway and decided I need to stop for the day. I went to take a shower and just started feeling worse and worse. In the shower I felt overwhelmingly dizzy and nauseous. After I came out I couldn’t even get dressed. I didn’t want to. I grabbed a robe and laid down. I felt so out of it. Everything that touched me annoyed me. I had to even take the hair band off my wrist that I always wear because it felt so tight and constricting. I usually put lotion on the minute I come out of the shower because my skin is so dry; but I couldn’t imagine even adding moisturizer to my skin. Everything felt insane. My own skin was uncomfortable.

 

Daren came home from Devin’s hockey game just as I was laying down. He asked me how I felt and I just burst into tears. OK… I thought, here comes the full withdrawal experience. My husband was very sweet to me and said he wanted to paint. He asked if I would like to keep him company down there. I said yes, but it took me forever to go through the process of just putting on clothes. I went down to meet him and suddenly felt like I was starving. I could hardly move. Every time I turned my head the room spun behind me. But I gathered a bunch of random stuff to bring down to my trip to the basement. A bag of popcorn, edamame, chocolate chips and a cold IPA. Holy confusion. I couldn’t remember what I was doing one moment to the next.

 

Within a half an hour I felt better. There was a distinct 10-15 minute period where it felt like there were a serious of moments where a fog was just lifting and the world was becoming clearer and clearer. We warmed up some frozen homemade pasta sauce for dinner and boiled some pasta and I felt great. Maybe I had just gone through the worse of it. But not long after dinner when I was considering walking Koji, the thought seemed so laborious and I realized I was getting dizzy again. Oh well… I thought tomorrow is another day.

 

Monday morning I woke up & felt phenomenal. No head ache, no anxiety either in my body or mind. I thought I had this. I had my coffee, went through my normal morning routine and headed upstairs to get ready for work. While standing at the sink I started thinking about some unsolved blended family issues and things that happened over the weekend that we could have handled so much better with the kids, and all of a sudden my anxiety KICKED up. Body and mind this time, together. The whole shebang… The exact way I felt before I ever took Lexapro. The way I used to feel all the time. I noticed it right away and thought – if I can only talk to Daren and let him know that I’m anxious and tell him about what I’ll be ok. That is what I always wanted to do, just talk about an issue and work it out with my husband. I thought I would try….

 

No go. Daren doesn’t understand when I’m anxious. Even when I tell him. He says I’m too angry to talk to and I try so hard to explain that I’m not angry. There is such a difference I feel between those two emotions and I get even more anxious when he says I’m angry. My heart beats faster, my mind races faster. I shake internally. So it wasn’t a pleasant conversation. The moment my voice goes over a normal tone he fears the kids will hear us and tells me to quiet down. I never know how to handle that. I am so freakin’ anxious that speaking low is practically impossible, and not talking about what I’m anxious about seems even harder. He walked out the bedroom door. I was left in the same tizzy I felt all the time just less than a year ago.

 

I left to go to work. Now I was dizzy and nauseous again – lovely symptoms to add to my anxiety. As I was driving my mind was racing with confusion and then I just burst out crying. Then I was worried. Should I have done one day on – one day off of the meds? What if I go back? – will I experience all this all over again? Is it the withdrawal making me anxious or my anxiety making me anxious? Withdrawal symptoms do include anxiety.

 

What was clear to me was that I felt EXACTLY how I felt before I started the medicine. Same thoughts, same aggravation. In the midst of this worry, trying to decide if I should take a pill that night and crying… I didn’t realize the crying got worse and I started to hyperventilate. I noticed I was shaking, my heart was racing even faster and I had to pull over to the side of the road. I let myself cry and then I had a panic attack. Holy “s”… 3 nights off and I already had a panic attack.

 

I got to work and left by 9:30. I couldn’t stay. Everything started to calm down mentally but physically I was so dizzy and ungrounded. I went home and laid down on the couch and instead of sleeping, which my body was desperately pleasing for, I typed two long heart felt emails to Daren. After I sent them and I laid there, a cat on my legs and a dog on the floor next to me I realized too much of how I feel is just too closely related to how I felt before Lexapro. Even the act of writing and sending long explanatory emails was something I hadn’t done in a long time.

 

I slightly worried I would be someone who needs medicine for the rest of my life. That all the yoga and spiritual practices was a bunch of hooey and didn’t work. But then I considered the following:

 

1) I didn’t follow my provider’s instructions on tapering down. I felt so good I thought I could handle accelerating it on my own.

 

2) I wasn’t exercising lately or even walking at all. Not even walking the dog at night. I had been so busy with getting the rental home ready and working on things for the yoga studio that exercise had gone to the wayside.

 

3) In fact everything had gone to the wayside. I’m not eating well. I’m not doing my morning aryuvedic practices, my breathing practices, or meditating. And other than Michele’s Thu eve Yin class, I hadn’t taken anyone else’s yoga classes or done yoga outside of teaching it for weeks. I wasn’t even doing the hooey that I do know works for me.

 

4) Most importantly was that I didn’t completely deal with some of the stressors that caused me to tailspin last year. When I went to see my provider and told her I would like to go off the meds, she naturally asked me about why and what I’ve done to change things in my life so I can live without them. I told her about how I now work part time and I’m partaking in hobbies and investment activities that I absolutely love and fill me up rather than drain me. But then she asked about my blended family life. That was one of my chief complaints last year. I said it was better, which was true. But to be honest, nothing has changed. The Lexapro just numbed me to not care about it as much. And it took going off to realize that these things that I was stressed about when it comes to these issues are still there and very much alive. I didn’t work with Daren to collaborate on the best way to deal with things – and it was the first thing to come creeping back just 3 days later.

 

Without doing any exercise, spiritual practice, or dealing with one of the largest contributors of my stress; I’m not sure why I thought I could live anxiety free now. Monday afternoon I got up off the couch and took 5mg. I wanted to get set and in a comfortable routine again before going cold turkey. I wasn’t ready. I have been neglecting the life style and practices I put in place to feel better, and took to working equally as hard but on different things. I also now know what Daren and I have to work through with the blended family issues. I want to stay on 5mg until I have these things under control. It was my provider’s only concern, and she was right.

 

I struggled emotionally all through Monday- day and night. Yesterday I woke up and felt COMPLETELY anxiety free physically and mentally. But I still had some obnoxious withdrawal symptoms. Namely the dizziness. That has been the worse for me. I was describing to a friend on Monday that it feels like I haven’t slept – and although eating, drinking tea, laying down, even trying to sleep seem like they might help; nothing helps. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling.

 

And today after my 2nd dose of 5mg last night, I almost feel completely normal. A little queasiness, but overall so so so much better. I know what I need to work on and what I need to do in my life to remain mostly stress free. Going off for just 3 stinking days helped me to see that.

 

I share this because when I have questions about what is normal and what isn’t; and when I feel like I am derailing and I look to the Internet in desperation for any sign of anyone or any institution who understands… I find little only nuggets here and there of anything I can relate to. I share this because maybe it can be someone else’s nugget. Whether you do know me in real life or not, I’m not as perfect and put together as I might always look. But like all humans I try to show up in the world the best I can, and in general that me who shows up is a pretty happy person who wants to help and connect with others through my own passions and experiences.

 

5mg is my magic little helper for now. I know when I try to go off again when I decide I’m ready to try again in a few weeks or months, I will go through some of the side effects again. But maybe this time I’ll be a little smarter about doing the things that help me feel better & actually listen to how my provider tells me to do it. And if I’m a person who needs this forever – maybe I should just accept that and not fight the tide. We’ll see!

 

Peace, Esterina

 

Yoga Journey 2016

 

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It’s Friday, December 30, 2016. I just walked 4 miles up to Cheshire coffee from my house. I’m siting alone with a yummy cup of green tea with a little honey & lemon. I’ve never been more content in my life. I did a lot of thinking on the way up here and wanted to capture my own thoughts. I don’t know if I’ll finish this or blog it. For now I’m just writing from my heart.

 

2016 was the best year of my life [so far]. I’ve been reading all these Facebook posts about the number of days until this miserable year ends, and the posting everyone shares about how they want to stay up this New Years Eve just to watch 2016 die. I don’t relate to this. I would have until this year, but I’m really a different person.

 

A few weeks ago on the first weekend in November, Daren and I drove up to Portland, ME with Koji in the backseat. We were on our way to see Thomas at college. On the way up there Daren and I were having one of our normal long car ride talks about life that I absolutely love and adore. At some point we hit traffic and Siri took us on a different route. It was off the main road through a shady looking neighborhood. The dog was seemingly upset. He was panting, walking back and forth and squeaking. We had some background music playing that suddenly seemed so inappropriate. Siri was directing my movements breaking into the music and into what seemed like insane directions with pop-up turns. The very yang, bright setting sun was shining in our eyes. The car was hot. There was loud construction work taking place just outside our tightly rolled up windows. Somehow we continued to talk through the chaos continuing what started out as a deep conversation when I needed to just stop. I realized it wasn’t serving me any longer. When Daren continued I gently said that we should pick it up a bit later, that I felt a little anxious needing to talk so loud over the noise, and it was difficult for me to concentrate on what Siri was saying. I turned off the music too. He understood. We continued driving in silence until we were back on the road, traffic lightened up and the dog was comfortably resting in the back. All the while I thought about how recognizing all of this was something that was new to me a few years ago. Before that I would have just started to feel irritated and angry and not quite understand why. Once I realized this type of scenario I would have pointed it out and grumbled about it. But actually doing something about it in a constructive way is new to me this year. I recognized the feelings of irritability and I didn’t feel the need to have a verbal running commentary of everything in my head anymore. I was thinking about how in general I don’t feel the need to comment on everything. I was going through so much of my yoga studies and homework at that point in time and really starting to put into practice the 3 checkpoints of is it true? is it necessary? and is it kind? I suddenly had a lot less to say. And I’m a better listener for it.

 

I was thinking about this and how different I am when Daren asked me in the car that evening what I was thinking about. How can I explain it to him? I told him I was just thinking about how different I am from the person I was just a year ago. He asked me why I thought that. I said yoga. In some very nice way I can’t recall, he questioned me about how. He said something to the effect of ‘I live with you every day and watched you go through this journey, but I don’t see anything different’. It’s probably true that looking at me, and even more so living with me one wouldn’t notice a difference. Not only are the differences mostly internal and subtle, but one doesn’t notice their pet or child growing up day to day. Only when you measure a height on a wall or look back at pictures can you really see a change. How can I explain to my husband how I’m different?

 

One part of me didn’t want to explain. I’m truly becoming a less is more kind of person. It seemed like work to talk about this. Why couldn’t we go back to the deep conversation we were having earlier? That moment was now lost. Why try to get it back? We were in a new moment. I was just asked a question that could lead to another deep conversation. Should I try to explain? Is it true/kind/necessary? It kind of passed my filter. The necessary part was plus/minus, but he was curious and I guess talking out loud would help me to actually quantify what I was thinking internally and have someone to bounce it off of.

 

Well…. I don’t remember exactly how I described the way I felt different, but it included a lot of the following:

 

  • I listen more deeply. I resist the urge to dole out advice. Yoga taught me to listen to my body, other people, and nature. My teachers taught me to sit in a circle and just listen to other people’s stories sans weighing in. Without the pressure of having to respond, and the stipulation that you can’t; I learned to listen more deeply. Even though it was something I only practiced for a weekend a month for a short period of time during a check in; I took it off the mat and internalized it into my life.

 

  • I am aware of my body. Panic attacks this year helped me to further listen to my body and even become aware of the anxiety I was so accustomed to, that I didn’t even realize I was walking around with it. All Of The Time. One of my yoga teachers who also has anxiety and is very open about it, helped me to realize that it’s ok and human to have a disorder. Listening to her and other teachers share their own stories of being human and battling various ailments (for lack of a better word) encouraged me to open up and share as well.

 

  • Once I realized I had anxiety disorder and that it was way out of my control, I started medication. The medication helped to clear the fog and chatter of my mind. With that fog gone, I was able to actually hear my body, the messages behind my thoughts, and work through learning much more about myself. Once I started to understand myself, especially the way my body works through yoga practice, yoga study and self-contemplation; I began to love myself in new ways and just accept what is, my life experiences, and my place in the world.

 

  • Understanding myself also helped me be in touch with what “amps” me up. I learned this year that I can run 8-10 miles… no problem! But I also learned that it also makes my anxiety worse. I can’t have more than 1 cup of coffee each day. Ginger makes me nauseous. I was too clouded with monkey chatter and anxiety to even notice let alone act upon these things before.

 

  • I have a better idea of when to fight for something and when to let go. I was more of a fighter before. Taoism is something I’m only starting to touch upon through Yin Yoga. I love the concept of the yin yang and the balance between healer and warrior. Now I know there is no need to fight for everything. Some things are not worth it and others really are. Knowing the difference is key. At work I let a lot more go. I can’t change certain things and exerting energy toward doing so is fruitless. However, I knew when to keep going for myself and my employees at times; and when it was worth doing something for the greater good. At home I stood my ground with some blended family issues I knew are also for the greater good. Things that I would have handled more heatedly and immaturely before. I have a little more insight on how to stand my ground like a mature and calm woman.

 

  • I’m moving slower – physically. When I find myself rushing (which is less and less these days), I question why and slow down. There is almost no reason why I’m doing it. My knee surgery really helped me to recognize this. When I had to move incredibly slowly around my house and workplace, I felt uncomfortable; like I was wasting time. I questioned what was not happening or what I was not otherwise doing while I was taking all this time to get from place to place. How would moving faster make anything better? I didn’t have a good answer.

 

  • I usually realize I’m rushing because my deep exhales tell me so. I realized once I started to tackle my anxiety how much I exhale out deeply. I often do that when I’m anxious. Rushing and haste makes me anxious. And there is never really a good reason to rush. I had to question why was I uncomfortable with sitting still and slowing down. What I was running from? Meditating and sitting in yoga postures for a long time, especially yin postures helped me to learn to sit with discomfort and contemplate the thoughts that arise. In a class with others it’s harder to run away.

 

  • Once I realized I when I was taking deep exhales and slowing down, I was so much more in touch with my breathing. Especially how often I breath in a shallow manner. Yoga taught me to breath. The 3-part breath taught me what a full breath was and the benefits of what proper breathing does to my body. I created a personal breathing practice varying with Sufi and Ayurvedic breathing. I feel fresh and cleansed after I do these practices. It helps me use my breath all throughout the day as I move about life to help channel my emotions in a more healthy way. I stop and think about my breath so much more now. It’s a beautiful thing that we all carry with us. It has so much untapped power that most people don’t know about. I want to share this with the world it’s so cool.

 

  • Being in touch with my breath and slowing down has helped me think a lot more about my thoughts. The quality of my thoughts. How they are shaping my perception of the world. “Don’t water the weeds”. I catch myself all the time thinking about things I don’t want to be thinking about that don’t serve me. At first I would beat myself up for not having pure, beautiful thoughts. But the yoga sutras taught me this is normal and to just begin again. So I feel normal and begin again. The beauty is that the time span between beginning again is growing longer and longer. Catching myself happens more quickly. And the quality of my outlook on life is improving as a result.

 

  • Being in touch with thoughts and clearing the fog of anxiety has helped me to also recognize the running background noise in my mind. Songs that I didn’t even like that would play continuously sometimes for hours on end. Conversations from earlier in the day or years before that were either good, bad or indifferent would repeat over and over. Why? What was I feeding my body by allowing the monkey chatter to take over? Yoga taught me about how thoughts have power and shape life experiences. I learned to help redirect many unconscious thoughts through mantra by putting the power of the mind and background noise to work in good ways. Saying a mantra over and over is directing energy toward something you actually would like in your life. I started replacing the music I listened to on the way to work with beautiful mantra music instead. Now the background noise in my head is often messages I intend to fill myself with. I hear mantras and the changes that I want to see in the world replaying instead of unhealthy messages. I’m aware of what I’m ingesting from the world around me, consciously direct it, and let that be the monkey chatter.

 

  • In January this year I woke up one morning with a sty in my eye. I never had one before. It hurt and I couldn’t wear make-up. I had to go to work without eye make-up. No one really noticed. If they did, they didn’t say anything. Somehow over the course of the past year through conversations in my yoga classes with other students about healthy living I started to think about what I’m ingesting in all ways. Food is obvious, but thoughts, air (breath), products, messages – everything. I didn’t know anyone else in real life that I saw on a regular basis who even thought about using natural products. I’m now painfully aware of health & beauty products that seep right into the largest organ of our bodies (skin). I am weary of chemicals and not so hip on make-up anymore. I look and feel so much more natural. I get ready in the morning faster. I’m not blow drying my hair. I’m using natural food more often for health & beauty products inside and out.

 

  • I’m me more. I didn’t even know me before. I was under the influence of my own thoughts and hardly noticing the world around me. In being more aware of the world around me, I’m more aware of others. A few weeks ago while walking to the copier machine in my old office I passed someone that I hardly know that I sort of peripherally worked with in the past. She was crying. On the way back to my office I don’t even know why, but I walked right up to her and gave her a big hug. She seemed surprised at first but then collapsed into my arms and let herself cry. I said I don’t know what it is, but I wish for you that everything goes the way you want and need it to. Between sobs she said me too. I hugged her extra tight, let go, and went on my way. I used to not do things like that. I tell people I love them, I listen with the intent to understand a lot more often. I’m present mentally with greater frequency. I feel more authentically me than I’ve ever felt before.

 

  • I love my own company. I used to fear it. When I was 20 years old I drove across the country by myself while in the military. I had no CD player in my car. Cell phones didn’t exist. I was uncomfortable with myself. I hated going out to eat and sitting alone on that trip. I disliked being alone most of my adult life. I needed a book or something to do or watch. Now I love being alone just as much as I love being with other people. I need to do both to keep myself balanced. How can I ever have an original thought if I’m not alone? How can I ever hear if I’m always talking, listening, stimulated or having to respond?

 

Daren was right mostly. One can’t see these things. They are subtle. They are personal to me. On the outside I do look mostly the same. I’m imperceptibly different sitting in a car in traffic to the person next to me. Inside – not so much. The world tells us how we should be and behave from the moment we are born. It’s hard to know who you really are or how you really feel if society dictates how that should be. Humans are the only ones who do that. In the car ride on the way to Maine Koji acted upset when we were in traffic. Us humans tried to ignore what was around us and carry on. Why? Yoga was predominately responsible for bringing me so much more awareness. There are other things that started to shape my life in a different way that started a few years ago. Things that led me to the practice of yoga. Yoga itself worked it’s quiet magic on me over the past 4 years. Starting yoga teacher training last January really took it to a new level because I started to understand how it worked on me and the training enabled me to embrace it for it’s benefits that much more.

 

I feel very blessed and lucky to have had the time to dedicate to learning about yoga and myself. I’m lucky to be a citizen of the first world who is fulfilled in food, shelter, and clothing enough to be able to explore higher thoughts. I don’t want to take that for granted for a single second. I’m in NO way perfect. I fall off my own path. But I get up. And I fall less and less these days. 2016 rocked in that way for me. I only hope to keep going and maybe inspire others to do what they need to do to find their own path as well.

 

I will post this as a blog after all. If anyone is still reading – Thank you for doing so and being interested enough to finish. Hopefully that means it touches you too in some way. Comment, write, call me, text me if you are moved to. I love to listen. Love to share. And would love to learn from you. Peace. 2016 – out.

From a very sane step mother

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  • Mommy doesn’t care if we fight and beat each other up at her house.
  • Mommy doesn’t care if I brush my teeth before school – why do you care about my teeth, it’s like you are trying to control me!
  • You are making me try a piece of potato as punishment.
  • Mommy says we don’t need a bedtime, she doesn’t care when we go to sleep so why are you telling me sleep is important?
  • We are allowed to eat all the candy we want at mommy’ house, she buys it for us. Why are you being so mean and trying to tell me about nutrition?
  • Are you trying to tell me mommy doesn’t care? (totally unprompted but in follow-up to many of the above conversations)

 

How do you answer these questions and very nasty accusations as a step-mom? Either when these questions are directed right to you or your husband?

 

I’m either very insane to think these questions are odd. Or as I would prefer to think, I’m sane and I’m dealing with someone who for whatever reason doesn’t follow societal norms. That is ok in most cases, really it is; I do believe that everyone should do as they wish for the most part as long as no one else is getting harmed in the process. Except in my case I have two children of my own who see their step-siblings “getting away” with things that I would never allow and then question why there are two standards. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary.

 

I guess one might suggest talking to the mom, but there is no way you will talk to me, and Angelo has tried that numerous times. You won’t even communicate with him verbally unless you by hap chance run into him at a rare kid event when I’m not there. Talking to Angelo on the phone upsets you, so the only option is texts and emails. He has emailed you hundreds of times to try to talk about the kids and the only types of responses het gets are nasty, cruel and somehow turned into me(?) being a monster who hates Kelly and Billy. Me? Me who is never mentioned in these aforementioned emails. Yet I’m accused of trying to control them with some nefarious rules. I’m accused by you to me, my husband, my in-laws, my step-children… anyone who will listen really; or has to read an email from you.

 

Six and a half years have now elapsed since you and Angelo split up and started sharing custody of the kids. I’m asking you to please start the New Year in 2017 with some level of collaboration and kindness for the sake of Kelly and Billy. It would be so wonderful. Not to steal the words of people past… but it’s so relevant “Can’t we all just get along?“.

 

I’ve been accused of being mean, picking fights with you & your children, having an eating disorder, being money hungry, “going after” doctors, using your husband to put my kids through college, being abusive, causing damage… the list goes on. You actually don’t know anything about me. If you did, this would sound as absurd to you as the people who know me. I don’t know anything about you either. Although women are 50% of the population, we are a minority in so many ways. Instead of putting one another down, is there anyway we can lift each other up? Especially when there is something like our children’s upbringing at stake? Seeing two grown women get along would help them in so many ways to be good, kind, collaborative, understanding people in their own lives as they grow into mature adults themselves. How can I encourage you to work with me and Angelo to be a shining example of the change we’d like to see in the world?

 

No more rumors about me. No more sob stories. How about acknowledging that I had nothing to do with your unhappy marriage to your ex-husband . If you’d like to know why you are no longer married to him, perhaps you should ask him  and  stop telling me how I ruined your life? No more nasty grams. No more talking about made up things you wish to be true about me to anyone who will listen including parents at school, mutual friends, your children (my step-children), my in-laws, my in-laws friends, etc. Please.

 

Angelo and I always think it might stop. After about a week or two of no un-pleasantries, we actually feel like we turned a corner and feel a little hopeful. But as recent as this morning when Angelo received a text about your mother’s 75th birthday party over in Santa Barbara where you stated you will take the kids on his weekend next month so plan for it…. we realize the lack of collaboration or common courtesy to ask if we already had plans that weekend just continues.

 

This text comes in follow-up to the 75th birthday party that was supposed to take place this weekend actually. Christmas weekend. On Angelo’s year with Kelly and Billy for Christmas Eve into Christmas morning. For some reason you took it upon yourself to single-handedly ignore the divorce agreement and give Kelly who is only 16 a choice to come with you to see grandmother or go to dads. She was upset for weeks about having to make a choice. You hadn’t discussed this with Angelo or anyone else who was planning Christmas with the kids including her other grandparents and my children. Why would we hear about it through Kelly and then have to watch her have heart-wrenching anxiety about what to do? She shouldn’t have had a choice. There is a plan in place through the court system for a reason; and it’s to avoid undue heart-ache on the children. Now that she is there with you and we paid for a train ticket back to our neck of the woods the on the 23rd, suddenly this 75th birthday party was just moved to next month? And you are telling Angelo what will happen rather than asking?

 

Six and a half years later and you are still making demands that make no sense and attacking me unnecessarily for no reason. Just 3 days ago Angelo responded to your monthly charges for the children by saying he wasn’t going to pay for clothes since we buy so many clothes for them and never charge you. What is the response? Not oh my goodness, gosh I didn’t realize, silly me…. please ignore that (what a normal person reading his email might expect). But it turned into you copying me asking me to read your divorce agreement and produce receipts. Um…. What? I know your divorce agreement better than you. It says nothing at all about $600 worth of winter coats that are sprung upon the other party out of nowhere, where the other person is required to just pay. If you are going to spend so much, why not ask if it was ok? I actually had a 40% off coupon to Abercrombie that we could have used and saved money (thanks to Billy’s incredibly heavy jacket that fell on me because he hung in so junkily in my closet which happened to still have the Abercrombie tag still on it). Why do Angelo & I just have to fork over money for whatever you decide you’d like to spend? We don’t spend that much in a season for all 4 children’s clothes. There are much more cost efficient ways to buy what you’d like without spending $600 a pop. And all the stuff you’ve charged us for in the past 6 years, we have never seen a single receipt. The divorce agreement clearly says that no parent shall be charged with his or her cost of anything that if he or she has not given prior approval. So what is your point by asking me to produce receipts and read your divorce agreement? Where are your receipts and where is the prior ok to spend over $600 on winter coats? How about all the years we paid for unqualified childcare where the divorce agreement clearly states qualified childcare? Qualified means someone paid on the books who may not have stipulations about where they can or can’t drive and can actually see what the kids are doing in the house instead of sitting there in an elder state staring off into space. We paid anyway for subservient service so you can work and go to fancy dinners or whatnot when we asked to have the kids those evenings anyway. And how about the dozens, perhaps hundreds of days you traveled? Where we paid for their transportation, gas, heat, hot water, dinner, carpools, etc? You are going to attack me over $600 winter coats? We have paid for more than our share of your expenses throughout the years. Little of which have anything on earth to do with me, so why attack me and ask me to read your divorce agreement and produce receipts. We should be asking you to do that right?

 

Actually that part of the divorce agreement I’m referring to comes right after the part that states “The parties will consult with each other in a thorough and timely fashion before committing the children to any extracurricular activities, private school attendance, events, or summer activities“. I don’t believe Angelo has been consulted on at least if not more than 90% of all of these aforementioned activities. They are sprung upon us at the last minute with no choice because they kids have already been promised whatever it is they were promised. Parties with pick ups you arranged in obscure places at obscure times without even asking if we had plans with or without the kids those days/evenings. Clubs, sports, music, camps, summer schools, etc where we were just told after it was all set up and the kids knew and were all excited, that we’d have to pay & pick them up from some out of the way place at some very inconvenient time. How is that part of the divorce agreement of co-parenting? Not to mention when you sued Angelo 2 years ago for Kelly’s private high school. He has hundreds of emails saying he didn’t want to pay and didn’t believe in this particular school you had her applying to, not to mention private schools in general where he talked about over & over why. He was actually worried about her mental health since you told her since birth that if she didn’t get into Arbor Rose Hall her whole life would be over. Kelly really believed that. From 5th grade on there were emails where he pleaded to not go down the path of this elite school. You insisted she will apply there. When asked, Kelly would respond like a robot that mommy told her that she will be applying there, and that no matter what she will be going to private school. Against Angelo’s wishes you took her to numerous open houses, arranged interviews and even a flute “audition” which wasn’t really an audition, but it was really. You didn’t even work with Angelo who is amazing at the flute to help her prepare. It was something we heard about after the fact. There were several dozen emails back that you would pay for private school even if he didn’t. You told this to Kelly and Billy as well as my in-laws. Everyone we know knows that you lied because you told everyone we know you would pay for it. Kelly didn’t get into Arbor Rose Hall… and you enrolled her in Skipons despite the fact that you told her for years that Skipons was only for losers who didn’t get into Arbor Rose. You told Angelo you would pay and 2 weeks into her start date you sued him for half of small fortune cost of Skipons. You sat on the stand and lied in court. You hired a bully lawyer who was literally snorting and smirking around the court room pushing back his suit jacket and poppy cocking his leg up on a chair to make a trashy point over and over that just ticked off the judge enough to say you and Angelo make enough money – just split it and get it over with. The judge stipulated the way that Kelly learns about the outcome of the court case… and you completely ignored it. Now we are about to face the same battle with Billy. It’s old Gertrude. Your tactics are just old and tired. You didn’t care what it did to our finances. Or how Kelly’s attitude that her whole life would just be over if she didn’t go to private school divided your children against mine. They have to live together, but they have no respect for one another for so many reasons that you filled their heads with. As far as schooling, it’s not like we live in Harlem. We live in a wealthy suburban California town in a public school district that constantly comes up on the nation’s top 500 list. There is nothing wrong with the public school in our town. However you have made Kelly and Billy believe that only thugs go there and as a consequence they view my children as thugs who don’t know any better.

 

My children are smart. Both have been on the honor roll and obtained great SAT scores – in this “dastardly” public school no less. My daughter is going to school on an academic scholarship and my son is well on his way to getting even better merit offers. I don’t personally believe one is a loser and your life is over if you don’t go to an Ivy. I would never preach what my believe system feels is ignorance to my children.  It’s really sad that your children need to view mine as substandard to them because they didn’t go to private school and didn’t strive for Ivy’s.

 

Like it or not, there are so many blended families out there. Telling the children that it’s not a real family and they have no loyalty to our side is only hurting and confusing them. We are good people. We care and do good things. Mocking us is hurting them. It’s hurting them. Your two beautiful children as well as my own.

 

Please Gertrude. You’ve stolen 6 1/2 years from your own children at some of the most important years they needed a role model. When we tried to at lease be a role model in our house, you made fun of us for having family dinners, for insisting the kids even try the healthy pretty normal American food we spent a lot of time, money and energy getting in front of them at a decent meal hour. You had no interest in trying to collaborate bed times, phone rules, TV limitations, chores (or completely lack there of in your home) or anything normal parents do to instill a sense or routine, values or responsibly for their children. And instead of at least acknowledging the difference between our homes you had to blame those very normal things on me being some kind of angry witch that has these rules just to make your children miserable. It’s not true.

 

You have not wanted to collaborate on birthday or Christmas gifts, leaving the kids to have to do some crazy coordination of telling different people different things they’d like, which didn’t always work and caused an enormous amount of waste – including on my own children’s limited budgets. You’ve told Kelly you don’t support her acting because it won’t get her anywhere and don’t go to her plays because it upsets you. You insisted Billy keep playing Lacrosse at the expense of us spending 4-5 nights a week taking him to practices and games in & out of the state, but you won’t attend games yourself.

 

The kids told us that your own therapist told you to cool your anger. We hear that you are fighting with your latest finance. You couldn’t think about Kelly’s flipflopping houses and doing whatever she pleases recently because you are too stressed. You didn’t go to many of the kid’ events with the excuse that I was going to be there and you couldn’t deal with it. You lost your first marriage due to an obsession with work and then took a job in Missouri and nearly lost the respect of the kids. All to learn [hopefully] that work will never care about you like your family or loved ones because they laid you off without a care in the world about anyone’s feelings in name of the bottom line.

 

We truly are nice, normal, happy, beautiful inside people; who care deeply about making the world a better place and nurturing the kids. Your ex-husband and I share these values and try to instill them within all 4 children. But Kelly and Billy are confused, understandably so. Please help us to not have them feel confused. We have nothing but good messages coming from a very good heart. We are not being difficult, we are trying to work with you. Work with us?

 

Please – new year, new beginnings?

 

A very sane step-mother asking to work with you,

With all the love in my heart,

Erin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Anderson-Messeder Holiday Greetings

What a year! For me this has been the most transitional year of my life. Lots of wonderful things with lots of life lessons that were sometimes a challenge. I’m actually sorry to see the year coming to an end. But all exits lead to new entrances so I’m excited to continue on my own journey. It’s only a calendar right, not a true stopping or starting point right?

I had to peruse through old photos to help dust off the memory – so I decided to include them along here too. 

But before I get into the normal yee-hah, look how wonderful and perfect we are holiday cards that most of us get, I want to level with everyone. We had a wonderful year, but there were many not-so-wonderful things about it too. We had normal blended family issues one too many times over going on for 6 years now that left either Daren or me in tears, arguing and/or holding each other tight at night. We now have four teenagers and although we have four amazing wonderful children – we do deal with normal teenage “butt” kid issues that tick us off, leave us worrying or leave us scratching our heads. We often have too much going on and the house feels stressful more often than I’d like. I myself became so stressed this year that I started having uncontrolled panic attacks and needed to start some medication. I hit my knee and it got freakish water on the knee that regardless of injections would keep coming back, and worse every time until I needed knee surgery – which knocked me out of normal activities for a few weeks. I’m dealing with terrible carpal tunnel syndrome now. It began when we started painting the new house in Branford and has not relented even though I stopped painting once the pain started to wake me up at night. Our pets destroy things & cost us oodles of money in replacement of objects or pet healthcare. There are obnoxious mistakes with our bills, our internet doesn’t always work, after getting rid of cable we can’t always watch what we want on tv and spend hours trying to find a way to do so. We miscommunicate and accidentally don’t understand one another and waste a lot of time that could have been better spent if we only just communicated better upfront. There are often one too many things to do during the week and too many comings and going that leave us utterly exhausted. We laugh & cry & don’t always get along as smashingly as the tv tells us you that you are supposed to. But that is life right? We are real and we all do stupid clown things at times. All six of us yes… 😉 But onto the highlights I would much rather remember. 

January

Daren & I kicked off New Years day by taking Koji to the beach at Hammonasset. It was a beautiful day. We wanted to let him off leash but there were horses on the beach. Yes… I said horses. He’d never seen a horse before and was completely dumbfounded. Then he proceeded to investigate their droppings (yucky, stinky nose). 

In January I decided to start a 200 hour yoga teacher training. It was kind of an impromptu decision and one of the best ones I made this year. The rest of the month was fairly quiet and dare I say relaxing? When Thomas went back to college mid-month I felt the overwhelming need to capture these special days. So I started blogging on our shared family calendar/shopping list/to do list/meal-recipe site. It’s called Cozi. It also has a journal feature I started using & just kept using. I’ve been posting a few things each week that summarized what we’ve been up to. Thinking about the weekly highlights is a really nice way to start a Friday. Other than that, there was just some snow & some winter treat making – as seen here with Gabby & Koji. 

February

I turned 40! Something I dreaded for years, but as the weeks approached it didn’t seem like much of a big deal any more and it was nothing more than any other birthday. Daren threw me a surprise party (though it wasn’t much of a surprise – lol). I felt very loved surrounded by family & friends. Thomas even came home from college to be there.

Daren & I also visited with Keegan and Sarah in Portland, OR the week before my birthday. It was too short of a trip but we wine tasted, hiked and spent some qt with Liam & Lilly and had a chance to have some yummy meals with the grown ups too.

  • Snapshot of me & my February birthday homegirls with whom I celebrate together every year (Priscilla & Michele). 
  • A winery Karen “found” in Northford. I thought I knew all the wineries in the state, so this one took me by surprise.  
  • Harvard/Yale hockey game with Daren & Devin.
  • Some winery & hiking pics from Portland. 
  • My daily walk I take at work (stairs). This was just a pretty cold, snow on the ground day. Nothing special other than I was just really happy and wanted to capture the moment.
  • Out to dinner with my “Vannies” at Powder Ridge.
  • Gabby fencing. It was the first match we got the ‘ok’ to come see.

March

Thomas turned 19 and Devin turned 13. It marked the start of a year that we have four teenagers. Some key highlights from the month:

  • Sherrie & I took Gabby & Sierra Boston to visit the Lush store.
  • Daren met Bernie Sanders’ chief of staff in Washington DC on a work trip
  • Devin wrapped up his hockey season
  • Easter Egg hunting with Mario, Maria & Pops

April

Oh boy what a month. It was a whirlwind of college visits for Gabby. We took her to SUNY ESF (Environmental Sciences and Forestry) in Buffalo, NY; Boston University; Roger Williams in RI; UMass Dartmouth in MA; and University of Rhode Island. Then didn’t end it there… Gabby & I followed Daren to a conference in San Diego to spend a few days in the sun with David & Angela, and checking out the Scripps Institute with “Uncle Dave” who teased that he would walk in with a southern accent and ask all kinds of embarrassing questions – haha! It was also the month I kicked up the blog I wrote one story in last year. I took a day off after this trip due to stress and ended up writing a blog I decided to publicly share about my stress. I was so touched by the many, many people who publicly and privately reached out to me to share their stories and tell how that I’m not alone, both after that day & many others. I’ve posted many articles since then. If you’ve never checked it out – it’s @ esterinaanderson.com. Take a look and either publicly or privately comment/chat on any of the stories if you feel moved to. 

  • Daren and Gabby on the water of one of the finger lakes (can’t remember which one without looking it up)
  • At SUNY ESF
  • “Uncle David” at Scripps 
  • And lastly, my beautiful daughter Gabrielle had her junior prom. 

May –

Koji turned 2! I took my crazy chances at the peak of my anxiety to ask if I could work part-time (crazy story that I blogged about & ended up with me working a totally different part time job as of last week [11/28]) How to squash a motivated employee. Wrapped up the end of the school year with spring concerts and end of year events and fanfare. Thomas finished his first year of college, came back home for the summer, and resumed work at Best Friends in Prospect (dog daycare/boarding). We hiked & did a bit of CT wine tasting. I got my knee surgery. And we spent a lovely long weekend on Long Island seeing my beautiful niece’s dance recital and hanging out with my father-in-law doing some LI hiking too. Well, I did some LI wobbling with my pained knee. But I went a few miles with it! 

  • Koji’s birthday!
  • Pets always where they aren’t supposed to be.
    • Pictured above this one is a shoe out of a closet when Kieran & I got home. Luckily this one wasn’t destroyed. Guilty looking paws are caught next to it. 
    • Gilmore caught here on the counter hairing up the juice I was about to make. 
  • Memorial Day weekend hiking on Long Island with Dick & Devin

June –

School ended for the other three kids. Gabby turned 17. Daren & I “discovered” the CT breweries & fell in love with IPAs. Daren and Devin built a beautiful stairwell down to the garden from under our deck that we enjoyed this summer. It’s a pretty little sanctuary with a mandala, some adirondack chairs, a swinging bench, a fire pit and some cool lights. Kieran took a little trip to Ireland with his class for Chorus. And we started our European family vacation at the end of June. 

  • Chilling one Saturday afternoon with cards & snacks at Stony Creek Brewery
  • View from under the deck
  • Gabby’s birthday cake
  • International Yoga Day (6/21) with my homegirls at Two Roads.
  • Game of Thrones snacks Thomas made for the season finale 
  • The group (minus Daren who was taking the picture) in Berlin. As you can see my eldest just has to be a clown and cross his eyes for most serious pictures. Ugh… these kids I tell ya! 

July –

This month started out in Europe. We crossed from Berlin to Copenhagen on a train/ferry (pictured below). We took a train over to Sweden and back to Denmark. We came back to CT and the kids started back at work. Kieran worked at the country club golf course in Westhampton Beach by his grandparents (my in-laws). Gabby landed a job at Panera bread and Tom kept his old high school job at Best Friends. Best Friends luckily allows him to bring Koji to work most days, so that stinky black beast gets to play with lots of his doggie friends. Unfortunately there was a bout of kennel cough and Koji got a little sick. He does have his kennel cough shot so it wasn’t too bad. All was good!

Right after we got back from Europe, Daren and I took a trip out to Vancouver, Canada for a work conference he was a part of. It was awesome. I spent the days walking through the city and hiking/doing yoga in a nearby park. What a great city. Cool restaurants and museums. No need for a car.

  • Ferry portion of the trip to Denmark. As you can see, not everyone is happy to take a pic, nor can everyone gets off their phones for a moment. “But there is wifi ma…”
  • Kieran & Devin in Copenhagen 
  • Gabby, Daren, Kieran & Devin in Malmo, Sweden
  • Pokemon Go – All the rage of the summer of ’16
  • Daren & I outside a work dinner at a beautiful restaurant in a park during sunset. All you can eat oysters when we first got in (oh and we did… oh boy we did!). 

August –

August… well…. We decided on the fly to buy a second home 🙂 Well, not too much on the fly. For anyone who knows us well in real life, you would know that Daren and I had always planned to move in 4 1/2 years somewhere else, perhaps to another country, likely a 3rd world one, to help out with healthcare in someway. We of course would want an address in the U.S. and always talked of having a decent home on the shoreline of CT where people would want to rent by the week so we could make some income on a permanent home  that we’d have to keep a mortgage on, and have a place to come home to for holidays & events. Well, while driving back from LI one weekend visiting my step boys who spend four weeks each summer with my in-laws; we started to ask ourselves why we were waiting on the house on the water part. So we came home, found some places we wanted to look at… contacted our good friend Melanie who also happens to be a realtor. And the rest is history! 

Aside from buying a home, running back and forth to LI, and immense stress at work – August 2016 was THE most relaxing month I have had in my adult life. With no school and mostly no kids and their events/practices/sports/comings & goings, every night was like a mini vacation out on our beautiful back deck. Thomas went back to school at the end of the month. Gabby and Devin started 12th and 8th grade respectively. 

  • New trail in Cheshire that I fell in love with. It even got it’s own blog story 🙂 On New Pathways
  • Typical happy hour in the evening this summer. We really fell in love with rose wine (french word, can’t seem to put the accent mark in there) – you know… pink wine. I had a white craze two years ago and always stayed away from the pinks. We found some delightful ones this year. A new love! 
  • Keegan and Liam came to Long Island for a few days this summer. Liam got to see the Mets at Citifield for the first time.
  • View from the yard at the Branford house before we got it. I believe this was from the realtor site. It took so many pics since then. They are all ridiculously gorgeous. 
  • Koji enjoyed his pool this summer.
  • We had a very prolific garden. My co-workers and yoga mates were some of the many recipients of the abundance. 
  • Missy Jean’s first day of senior year (missy jean would be Gabby – in case that was too much to figure out).

September – 

Daren, Gabby, Kieran & I ran the New Haven annual Labor Day 5K. Daren and I beat Kieran and Gabby – it’s nice to know we can run faster than our teenage kids – lol.

Kieran went back to school right after Labor day & wrapped up the summer golf course gig. Everything was back in full swing as the days quickly got shorter and cooler. Hockey, cross country, open house nights – papers to print & sign (printer never works is always out of ink), checks to write, ugh… 

Daren & I got in full swing with a new mini career as furniture renovators for our new house- haha! We bought a ton of furniture between $5 and $50 and repainted and refinished it all. We had such a blast. We did a little end of summer hiking. I made a few last summer pies. Gabby had her senior day at Cross Country. And we closed on the new house! 

  • One of the very many before & after pics of the furniture we refinished. 
  • I took a picture of so many pies I made this summer. It was pie summer, I was obsessed. I think the was my last summer pie – but I can’t be 100% certain.
  • The last hike we took this summer. Not because of the weather, but because we started working on the house like crazy lunatic fiends.
  • Gabby’s senior day for XC with her closest XC girlfriends. I cannot believe these girls are seniors. They’ve grown into beautiful young women.
  • House closing day! 

October 

In October we spent a lot of time painting, cleaning and repairing the new house. It was also our five year anniversary & we took a trip to Italy to celebrate. We went to Milan, Venice, Tuscany and Como. And it was Halloween – one of my favorite holidays. 

  • Little miss Maria, my awesome brother Mario & me painting one early Sunday morning. 
  • The VACT 2015-2016 Strategic Planning Team. Was something akin to a last supper  – lol.
  • One of many awesome “game nights” (although we hardly play games these days) with some of my favorite girlfriends. 
  • One of many beautiful views at Summer Island Point.
  • Everyone has seen enough of our Italy pictures – so I’ll spare you all. This is something I took a picture of in Italy that I still laugh about. It just makes me smile- seriously 🙂
  • Gabby’s boyfriend Dennis’ first pumpkin carving! His family is from Ukraine. Although he was born here, they’ve never observed the tradition and he wanted to try. Check out Devin in between them photo bombing the pic… Haha – totally cracks me up.

November –

Grateful time of year. We finished up the new house. It came out beautifully. Anyone who wants to see some pics who hasn’t seen the blog or been victims of  us showing you pictures on our iPhones – they are available at New Vacation Home Renovations

We spent one weekend visiting Thomas in Portland, ME. We rented a cool apartment in the heart of town and brought Koji with us. The weather was gorgeous and we had a great time. It was the Clinton/Trump election. Gabby had her senior year Cross Country banquet which was very beautiful but sad because these young girls have been together forever! It was the busiest month ever with Daren traveling to Seattle, Boston, and Colorado, and the usual kid scheduling craziness. In the middle of it all I had a peaceful evening with some of my closest work girlfriends over at the Branford house for some wine, pizza and mandala coloring. Also, Daren turned 49! We celebrated at the new house with just the boys and a beautiful sunset and homemade surf & turf dinner. We also celebrated Thanksgiving in the new house with my father, my brother Frankie, his girlfriend Mary, my nephew Frankie, and Tommy & Gabby. 

And lastly – I finally started officially working part time. It’s not even been 2 weeks yet, but I feel the stress just melting off my body, mind & spirit. Time to fill in that empty space with my heart’s passions before the “little rocks” of life fill it up for me. I won’t let that happen though! 

  • Visiting with Thomas in Portland. Kofi was SO stinking happy to see him.
  • Election Day. 
  • Out to dinner with our hubbies but had to get a girl pic. Love you girls! 
  • Senior Cross Country Banquet. 
  • Picture I captured while taking an early Thanksgiving morning walk in Branford at the new house. It was cloudy & quiet, but an absolutely breathtaking morning.

December –

This month’s story is still being written. Kieran will turn 17 this month! We had some of our closest friends over to the new house last weekend for an intimate house warming party. Next month we hope to do a large open house and have everyone over. We adopted another domestic violence family this year. I love doing this and feel so blessed we have the ability to keep Santa alive for another family – giving their children hope and possibly a chance in life with confidence and the attitude of giving back. Most excitingly for me, it’s yoga teacher graduation next weekend. The class and experience shaped me into a different person this year. That is truly a story that is personal, and one that I may share one day – but in another more appropriate venue. 

Thank you to all who are a part of my life and our lives. I cherish each and every single one of you and the time we spend together. Not everyone I see all the time or often share a supper or girls night with was pictured  or mentioned here, but I cherish & love you all immensely. 

Love, Peace & Namaste.

Happy Holidays for our family to  you & yours.