Why Our Conversations on Parenthood Always End On A Pregnant Pause

Last night, I dreamed that Warrior Poet gave me the nod for us to start trying to get pregnant. I was clearly surprised by his definitive declaration on a topic that usually inspires his vagueness. I reminded him that I would need to wean myself off some of my medication first, so if he were really ready, I would have to start doing so pronto. He reassured me that I was physically strong enough to get through the journey, that he would be there to support me every step of the way. With the extremely lucid details, the dream felt so real. But alas, it was just a dream.

It’s not surprising that the question of ‘Will we or won’t we—or should we or should we not—not have children of our own?’ has been on our minds. A co-worker of WP’s recently urged him (and us) to decide soon whether we want them as we’re rapidly approaching our 40s. And for the last couple years, my lady parts doctor has been reminding me of the ticking biological clock. And after we made it official as husband and wife, our friends have been increasingly encouraging us to be parents—citing our wisdom, compassion, encompassing perspective and emotional stability. Plus, we’re just so darn fun, ha.

But it seems like there are just as many reasons to not have kids as there are to have them.

What You Give Up to Get

While abstractly we both feel that we’d be fairly decent parents, the logistics of parenthood raises questions. Are we willing to give up so much of our freedom and mobility? Are we financially mature enough to start saving and planning for the expenses of raising children?  And are we prepared to lose our precious sleep? And if not, would we consider adopting older children? The sleep depletion is one of the most important factors of early parenthood to me, as a sleepless me always means a much sicker me.

My health, of course, is also a huge question mark. Would I go into remission with pregnancy, like many of my friends, or would I be one of the unfortunate women with serious, chronic illness who get significantly sicker when carrying a child? It can be a real struggle on my off days to shower, cook and take care of things around the house, let alone manage anything or anyone else. Would I crumble trying to manage a child, or simply get more efficient with my energy and time?

Keep Your Head In The Game

“Keep Your Head in the Game” Danielle Guenther Photography

I also wonder if WP could handle the noise, mess and distraction of children, especially when doing dishes in his hearing zone alone can set him off. As it is now, when he comes home from a harrying day of work, sometimes it takes an hour for him to even decompress enough to take me fully in. Once we have dinner, he physically and mentally shuts us down, and it isn’t long before he nods off. On the weekends, he needs his long escape into gaming when he’s not at the gym—at least until the sun starts to go down. I can’t help but wonder if I would wind up raising a child mostly on my own?

When I had more of a village surrounding me, I had more confidence in taking on the myriad challenges of parenting. But now that we live more than an hour away from our families and almost all of our friends, I can’t help feeling like we exist on an island even without kids. Of course, we’re still fairly new to this area, and I could make more an effort to connect with a community here now that the weather is nice and I’m feeling significantly more physically energized and mentally awake again.

Other Perspectives on Parenthood

Last weekend I was fortunately pepped up for a couples’ night out with friends, which was really fun and emotionally nourishing for us both. Toward the end of the night, the men and women split up as the guys went on to have one more drink, and we gals sleepily settled at a table to chat. While the boys were likely talking about martial arts and their manly adventure trip coming up, the girls wound up talking about children and parenthood.

The sole mother of the group had previously let the cat out of the bag that she and her husband-to-be will be trying to get pregnant next year. Now, she informed us that an abnormality in her baby-making hardware meant that her time for having more children was also running out, although she’s only in her late 20s. She lives for being a parent and is an incredibly doting and nurturing mother to her school-aged son. For her, it’s especially important to her to have more children while she’s young and able.

My doctor has also been urging me to be aware of the passing of time as I am already considered a high-risk pregnancy, and that risk jumps exponentially beyond 40. Of course, I’d like to be able to simply cite the research that claims older mothers have better educated and more physically resilient children. But with an autoimmune disorder that affects blood clotting, I have to be a bit more realistic about the physical risks of older pregnancy to both a potential child and to me. That is not to say that if we’re having children, I’m going off the birth control tomorrow. It just means that I realize I can’t just postpone making a decision for another five years without consequence.

Our other friend is in her mid-30s—and like WP and I—she and her husband are both on the fence about having children of their own. They both absolutely love kids, but they are open to adopting. They also, like us, are content being the great aunt and uncle to their nieces and nephews and the children of their friends if life passions lead them elsewhere.

FB-expecting-a-babyNow when I was younger, I absolutely wanted a soccer team of children of my own, but as I’ve grown older, the urgency of that desire has faded as reality kicked in. I didn’t meet my lifemate early in adulthood. I lost the overwhelming baby-making desire that threatened to derail my life in my 20s. Years and years of chronic illness forced me to alter my perspective a little bit and put more focus on self-care and self-love first. I’ve certainly enjoyed the role I’ve been able to play being a present and active aunt with my niece and nephews, literally watching my niece being born and caring for the older two when the third was born. I love playing soccer with them, reading to them, learning from them and snuggling them. Yet I also have been grateful to step back in hectic times and moments of exhaustion.

This indecisiveness of WP and me is what always causes the conversation about potential parenthood to simple fizzle out into ellipses…Unanswered, equally as unsure. And having and raising children should be one of the most important decisions you make in your life. Shouldn’t you be sure? Shouldn’t you decisively say, I definitely want to bring new life into this world—or at least to help raise new life in the world?

A friend who is a father says it doesn’t work as neatly as that. He says nothing could have prepared him for experience of parenthood, both its challenges and its immense rewards. His certainty about being father only has strengthened with time and experience, he tells me with the awe of one on the brink of bringing in his second child. Sometimes, he says, you have to take the leap.

As WP and I try on and grow into what it means to be man and wife, we have answered questions and uncertainties as they present themselves. We are forever defining, refining or clarifying our needs, desires and approaches. In time, we always make the choice that’s best for us. And I have no doubt we eventually will when it comes to parenthood, as well.

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Almost a mother, almost a wife on Mother’s Day

Kids Say the Darnedest ThingsThis past Sunday, I was sitting at the dinner table with my family—my niece and nephew, brother and sister-in-law, my beau, my dad and last, but not least, my mom. With the exception of the Warrior Poet and I, everyone was feasting on two scrumptious desserts when my 6-year-old nephew, who adores his tía, said he counted three mothers at the dinner table: “Mom, grandma and Tía [me].”

Considering that I have no biological or adopted children, I was a bit puzzled. I was a bona fide cat mom until a couple months ago, sure, and my family has a habit of saying Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. My nephew’s earnest grinning reminded me that the closest I’ve come to parenting was caring for him and his sister over the years.

I think it was my brother who asked his son what his criteria was for being a mother. He responded with a laugh, admitting he didn’t know what the word ‘criteria’ meant.

Almost a Mother

After the question was rephrased, my nephew clarified, “You’re almost a mother.”

“Why is she almost a mother?” my own mother asked.

The impish first-grader replied, “Because she has almost a husband.” He pointed to the Warrior Poet, whom he’s embraced with glee during the multiple family visits and holidays, as he’s not afraid to get playfully hands-on with my nephew.

Treating his observation seriously, my nephew was asked, “How does having an almost husband make Tía an almost mother?”

He responded, “Well, when you get married, then you have children.”

There was laughter and a little bit of embarrassment. But come on–he’s 6 and adorable. The Warrior Poet knows me well, but I wouldn’t put it a different person in a different relationship to stage that sort of cuteness. I was even getting paranoid that my family members would think that we were pregnant and that my nephew had somehow picked up on it.

Warrior Poet replied, “Well, I can’t argue with that logic.”

I sighed a breath of relief as the topic of conversation shifted. It’s not that we haven’t ever talked about the future. The fact that we plan to be together is a given in both of our minds. We’ve even discussed the kind of spare but lovely ceremony we’d like to have if we get married. We’ve come up with endless imaginary children that we’d have. But it’s all fantastical mind-play.

Last night, while talking about insurance, the Warrior Poet said, “I could marry you so you can be sure you get good coverage, but that’s not very romantic.”

True, but does that mean he doesn’t plan to marry me any time soon?

Throwing Out the Ticking Clock

Though there is no need to put any pressure on our relationship, we are not getting any younger. If I ever have children, I will already be an at-risk pregnancy because of my health conditions. I’m over age 35, so that just ups the risk factor. My parents always point out that I could adopt, which both Warrior Poet and I would theoretically consider, but that’s not as big a concern as it once was for me.

As much as the Warrior Poet enjoys other people’s kids, I don’t think he really sees himself ever being a father. Which is fine, really. I went from wanting a soccer team of children to being resigned to the fact that I may never have children of my own. Yet I have nieces and a nephew, my friends’ kids, and I’ll probably wind up teaching children again sometime in the future. It’s not the same as having your own kids, but it might be enough to satisfy the urge to nurture.

A Mother’s Love

This Mother’s Day was the first in eight years where I haven’t been able to officially proclaim that I was a cat mom. It may sound ridiculous to people who don’t love animals and welcome them into their home or who don’t pour their love and attention into caring for their pets. But when you allow yourself, you can form such a strong and powerful bond with your animals. And for those of us who aren’t mothers of children, our fur babies can often feel like the next, best thing.

This is not a post to trivialize motherhood. My own mother is the epitome of compassion and self-less love. She raised her three children with grace and great strength, and, along with my dad, instilled in us empathy for others a strong moral code, drive for creative expression, deep appreciation for education and learning, and the ability to value all aspects of life—work, play and travel.

As for marriage, Warrior Poet says he gains inspiration from the marriage of my parents, and that he has the same realizations about our love that my dad has shared about his love for my mom. But where he was seriously looking at rings and such for his ex, despite how wrong they were for each other, I know that his mind is not there as far as we are concerned. We’ve signed on for another year of our lease, but he hemmed and hawed when our insurance agent suggested we might save in our respective car insurance bills if we got it as a couple.

Our almost decade younger friends, who have been dating one month longer than we have and had a horrifically tumultuous first year plus of their relationship, are certain that they will get married. The guy knows he’s going to propose soon. With her child in the picture, they have already become a lovely family.

We are not young. We know what we want in life and in love. We know we have a near ideal relationship (though we’re definitely not perfect, haha) for each of us. We always are talking about how happy we are and how lucky we are to have found one another at long last. But there’s an unspoken barrier about the future that feels strange to me.

 Not Yet…But Ever?

Warrior Poet has been with me the through some of the roughest times and been an awesome champion through that—so maybe he’s just waiting to see if I return to the super energetic and active woman with whom he first fell in love? It wouldn’t be the first time, by any mans.

Or maybe he’s scared to make a wrong decision about someone again. Or maybe he just realized he doesn’t want to participate in the institute of marriage. Or maybe deep down, a lifelong partnership is just not the way he sees his life going in reality.

This would have put me in full panic 4 or 5 years ago—it did in fact put me in panic in the relationship I was in at the time. Yet that was largely because I knew the person I was with was not meant for me in the long haul. I know I don’t actually shrivel up in three-and-a-half years when I turn 40, but being single at 40 would be a completely different ballgame than single at 34.

Either way, sweet nephew, while the Warrior Poet and I may be almost husband and wife in a lot of ways, we are most definitely not married, nor does it seem to be in the picture for my love any time soon. But I think he’ll still be around to fake-wrestle with for a while longer yet.

Can You Ask to Bring Your Love to a Wedding?

CanYouAskToBringYourLoveToAWeddingSummertime is finally here, and with it comes the annual parade of graduations and weddings. The Warrior Poet and I went to his cousin’s graduation party last weekend, have another cousin’s wedding coming up in September, and one of my cousins living a couple states away is getting married in August. Yet I came up against a wedding etiquette conundrum the other day: When in a committed relationship, can you ask to bring your love to a wedding if the invite is only for you?

WP’s invitations to the wedding and Jack-and-Jill party included a “plus one.” My invitation, which was actually part of my parents’, did not. This absence instigated a humorous battle between my parents that has stretched over several days.

Find out how I decided to handle this sticky situation on Singles Warehouse:

http://www.singleswarehouse.co.uk/2013/06/can-you-ask-to-bring-your-love-to-a-wedding/

Saying Goodbye to a Pet I Love (For a Man I Love)

IMG_2437As he got under the covers last night to snuggle up against me in bed, I couldn’t help wondering if he somehow sensed that our time together was limited. After six and half years together, through laughter and comfort he’s brought me during so many ups and downs in this period of my life, it breaks my heart to know that I soon won’t have him always by my side.

It’s funny how attached you can become to the furry kids in your life. I’ve had my cat Alexei the longest of all my pets. Mindy was the first cat of the family when I was 10. With the typical Siamese attitude, she turned into a major bitch when she had kittens. Overly possessive of me, she became emotionally and physically abusive of Sabrina, the little girl that we kept.

Forced to give Mindy to another home after two years together, I was left to care for the emotionally fragile Sabrina. She stayed mostly in a large cat condo in the garage that my dad built, too afraid to enter the house with the memory of her mother’s threats still casting a dark. So I spent a lot of time in the garage—or as much time as I could, being an adolescent, busy with school, friends and plenty of extra-curricular activities.

 

One day, I came home to find out that Sabrina was missing. Someone accidentally left the garage door open, and Sabrina had gotten out. We speculated numerous scenarios – she was sick and went looking for a place to die alone; she was curious to see what was outside, and a coyote or fisher cat got her; she got hit by a car; or the least likely of them all, she went wandering for a couple days until a nice person found her and brought Sabrina into their home and family.

 

Whatever the case was, I called for her outside every day for weeks. I cried guiltily, thinking if I was a better cat mom, she never would have gotten out, gotten sick or even had been subject to as much abuse as Mindy dished out when she was younger. But eventually, I made my peace with it.

 

I swore that if I ever had another cat again, it would be under my terms and conditions: Living in the house 24/7, sleeping with me if it so chose, and I would make sure I had the time and ability to give it all the love and attention it deserved.

 

Skip to my mid-20s: My boyfriend at the time saw how much attention I gave to his upstairs tenant’s cat. After we’d been together for a while, the tenant was moving out. So my boyfriend came up with the sweet plan of getting me a cat for my birthday. On top of that, we would get two cats, so they would have a constant buddy.

 

Our two beautiful cats were very different from one another – one outgoing, affectionate and a Mama’s boy; the other introverted, often sleeping under the bed, only coming out to cuddle at night for bedtime, to play with toys or to eat if she heard the sound of a tuna can opening. I was super content to sleep squeezed between my boy and my girl cats, with my boyfriend less than an arm’s reach away.

 

Our cats survived a few cross-country trips and moves. They survived house renovations and crazy parties. They survived a temperamental human “dad,” who often made life feel unstable. When I finally made the healthy decision t to leave, I was prepared to take my cats with me. I fed them, cleaned their little box, clipped their nails, brushed them, played with them and brought them to the vet. It was a no-brainer that I should take them with me.

 

Unfortunately, my boyfriend didn’t agree. Part of him kept them knowing I could never leave my cats, and thus I could never leave them. Part of him kept them because he would be alone in his big, old house, and at least he’d had feline companionship. I went back and forth for several months, shed many tears over the decision, but I couldn’t stay, and he wouldn’t let me leave with the cats.

 

After I moved, terribly missing my furry family, I made the decision that I could get another cat of the same breed if I accomplished a big creative goal working on my novel. Powered by longing, I found myself trucking through my goal in about a week, instead of a month. That’s when I met the people who had my silver and black-spotted boy.

 

Alexei curled around me like a scarf when I met him, licking my fingers. He gave kisses on the nose and forehead. Alexei came home with me, and we bonded tremendously from the very beginning.

Mom&AlexeiHe has seen me through rough illnesses and medical treatments. He provides entertainment with his vivid expressiveness, both vocally and with body language. He has encouraged me to keep moving around, being an extremely active cat needing tremendous interaction. We’ve wrestled and played “toss and fetch the mouse,” pull the cat in a plastic bag or paper box, and jump on the twitching feather/piece of paper/finger under a sheet. He’s covered me with his purring body when my own body was trembling uncontrollably. He’s licked at my tears. He snuggles up next to me when I am cold, stiff and achy at night. He bugs watches me while I work, forcing the workaholic to take breaks. When I don’t, he resignedly plops down over my legs for a nap.

I’ve always known at some point that I would probably have to find him another home. In a family that travels frequently, paying for cat care when friends and exes no longer can watch him grows exorbitant and ridiculous, so I wind up staying home. But another reason has come along: I’m most likely moving out in a couple months.

The boyfriend is pet-hesitant at best, averse to the care and presumed mess and odor. As for my cat, we’ll be moving to a much smaller place, when Alexei is used to having a big house, garage and full basement to roam. He’s used to being able to sometimes go on supervised trips outside to sprint around and chew on grass with me by his side. Asking him to give up that freedom and the ability to cuddle at night when he’s very much a social kitty doesn’t seem quite fair for an almost middle age cat (he’s 7.)

He’s been in my life longer than any other cat, and I don’t know how I would deal with the loss. It hurts me just to think about it. But the other side of the coin is thinking about a home with another feline playmate, perhaps, lots of room to play, and for me, starting a new life with a man I love and more freedom to travel whenever desire and resources allow. We’ll see how things actually go, but I’m going to need pep talks to keep accentuating the positive.

Upon Turning 35, a Final Look Back

IMG_1866When I first began my pity party path to recognizing and acknowledging the blessings of turning 35, I wasn’t sure how the experience would play out. I couldn’t predict what it would feel like having to come up with 35 truly positive things about my life as it is now, without only citing banal, yet genuine daily items of gratitude that might put you to sleep. To be honest, some days were harder than others—not because I didn’t feel truly grateful for things in my life, but rather I didn’t know exactly how to express feelings into words on a screen.

Yet here on this final day—the day of turning 35—I can honestly say I have earned every single virtual candle on that birthday cake. I cherish all the experiences I’ve had in my life—both amazing and not so great, the ordinary day-to-day and the life-changing moments, as well as the expected and the surprises. They have helped shape and mold me into the person I am today. While flawed, still constantly growing and learning, I happen to appreciate and like the person whom I’ve become.

Upon turning 35, today I am grateful for…

1.I am grateful for having made it through to the other side of some very dark days. I’ve lived through some pretty rough experiences, both physically and emotionally, and I’m proud to be able to say I truly am a stronger and better person for it. Instead of staying in a wallowing, poor-me state that would’ve been so easy to do, I kept pushing ahead, learning from my challenges, and grown to further understand the human spirit. My compassion and empathy for others, while always rather keen, has expanded so much more and is very much broader in scope.

2. I am so grateful to have found a career where I can use those difficult experiences I’ve been through to help counsel and educate others. I eventually discovered and built my own virtual support groups many years ago. Yet it would have helped me even more to have a personal mentor who was both knowledgeable about what I was going through and who could also help show me how I could improve my health without simply telling me which medications to take and to go get treatments that would just keep me stuck at a plateau. I envisioned this career for so many years without knowing exactly how I would get here, so when it did finally show up, I just about cried. This is what it was for.

3. I am grateful for all the people who have touched my life over the years. My brothers who were my second set of parents, making sure I never got into too much trouble, who kept me humble, kept me in giggles and made sure I felt loved. The teachers who recognized and encouraged my skills and talents, who made sure I had the support to blossom academically. Different friends I’ve made along the way—people to talk, laugh, cry, and share endless memories with. Acquaintances who have crossed my path—casual compliments that meant more to me than I could thank them for. Strangers who have gone out of their way to help me up a mountain or make sure I navigated through a foreign city. Old classmates or family friends who remember something I did or said to them, what feels like a lifetime ago, that made a huge impact on them. The romantic partners who’ve taught me so much about loving and relating, while learning about what makes them tick, shapes who they are and how they love, and revealing so much of the same in myself through my experiences with them. My fellow health coaches who inspire me every single day, and who have been so amazingly warm, uplifting and supportive—you are all beautiful, loving superstars! I could go on and on, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

4. I am thankful for the white hairs. I am thankful for snow fingers and shoulders. I am thankful for the stiff joints in the morning. I am thankful for the reminders of the joy of sports played hard, of a life well lived and a life lived to its fullest. And I know this sounds incredibly strange, but I am thankful for the health issues that have taught me so much about the mind-body connection, about listening to and honoring my body and the importance of self care, a lesson that had to be beaten into me. I am listening. I know. I am ready to move into my next phase of living.

5. I am thankful for yet another year to experience awe. To live life to the fullest. To laugh. To love. To cry. To sing from my heart. To embrace my inner child. To savor what I’ve got. To dream. To go after those dreams and make them my reality. To give thanks for another year, another month, another day, this breath…

My One Week Countdown to 35: To Love and Creativity

To Love and Creativity!

DSC00444Day 5 is Dedicated to My Love

1. I am grateful to My Love for showing me real, unconditional love from a romantic partner. Loving me as exactly, completely me. Loving with kindness, compassion and patience. Love without judgment. Love without co-dependency. Love without jealousy.

2. I am grateful to My Love for being so open, honest and true. For baring everything and letting me in. For letting down any walls that would be so easy to have built up over these years. For giving me the chance to finally feel free to let myself dive in deeply to genuinely feel and give unconditional love.

3. I am grateful to My Love for listening to my dreams, encouraging my dreams and sharing my dreams. He’s even reawakened me to even more dreams, ideas, and visions for the future, as well as outlooks on life, the universe, and the human spirit.

4. I am grateful to My Love for knowing all my secrets, while believing I’m wonderful anyway. J I get misty-eyed knowing the admiration and respect he holds for me, without putting me on a pedestal, and for realizing my imperfections make me perfectly me.

5. I am grateful for My Love for welcoming me into his family of relatives and friends as openly and warmly as he has. I am also very thankful that he has equally wanted to know my own family of relatives and friends.

IMG_1673Day 6: Creativity

1. I am grateful for having never fully given up the inner child’s openness to inspiration and freedom of expression. Whether it’s been through creative writing, music, photography or art, I feel I have always had a toe dipped into that beautiful, blessed well that always feeds my spirit and positively infects the spirits of others.

2. As much as I complained about how my little fingers hurt, I am eternally grateful to my father for teaching my brothers and I the fundamentals of beginner’s blues guitar. “Betty And Dupree,” “Frankie and Johnny” and “Step it Up and Go” will be forever burned in my memory. But even more, the joy of hearing sounds come through my fingers and out of my voice birthed a lifetime love affair I will forever nurture.

3. I am extraordinary grateful for my opportunity to have (very independently, ha) record an album in my youth…actually, with my big brother, there are two albums floating around, aren’t there? And I’m extremely grateful for all the ways I’ve performed, from open mics to shows. I’ve made great friends and fans. Thanks to those who continue to encourage me to keep getting back out there.

4. I am grateful for Mrs. Jan Augusta for being the first teacher to tell me that I could write. I’ll never forget that story about “Magic Shoes” that inspired a lifetime of living in my imagination, and spending hours upon hours trying to translate it to paper (or computer). I’m grateful for my mother for reading to me all those years, for teaching me to read at such a young age, and for giving me a love of libraries. I’m grateful for those who’ve fed my adult literary adventures. From my parents to one of my oldest friends Jenn who once threatened me “Finish this story, or I will kill you!” From my writing critique partners, especially Laura Tien, to the different writing groups/classes with such amazing writers as fellow classmates. To that boyfriend who read every. Single. Story. I’d. Ever. Written. Trust me—even at 18, it was a LOT to the one who read my most recent novel, whose judgment I trust with my life.

5. I am grateful that my life continues to my lead me to a career that embraces my use of my creativity more and more, whether I am teaching old fogey music to hip, young kids, writing articles about inspiring people who touch people’s hearts, taking images that capture awe or sharing my story so that others can relate. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

My One Week Countown to 35: Dedicated to the Ones I Love

living-with-parentsDay 3 is Dedicated to My Parents

1. I am grateful to my parents for taking me back into their home when my health got too bad for me to live on my own (with or without a partner). And for the times when live-in relationships deteriorated… 😉

2. I am grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they have made occupationally (my mom transitioned to telecommuting full-time to keep an eye on me when my seizure-like episodes were at their worst, happening a dozen times a day), financially (when money was tight for me, they made sure I had my medication, gluten-free and dairy-free foods and the most important bills—when they discovered they were delinquent—paid) and with their time (healing from a seizure-like disorder, I am unable to drive until I have six consecutive months without an episode, so my folks have been driving me to doctors’ appointments, to run errands, to see boyfriends and friends and for social and work events—when I was editor/reporter for my town, my dad drove me everywhere in my town to cover news almost every day of the work week.)

3. I am grateful to my parents for making me feel safe and supported during the scariest point of my illnesses. If I fell, they were there to catch me. If I needed someone to help me care for myself in day-to-day living, my mom fed, bathed and clothed me. If I needed to vent my frustration, they were there to give me a shoulder to cry on, arms to fall into.

4. I am grateful for my dad’s unflappable belief that I would get better. While fear caused temporary blindness at times, he always had faith that I would keep getting stronger and find myself back on my feet again. He was right. He encouraged me to keep fighting, to keep looking for answers, to never, ever give up. Both my parents have always believed in me and been my biggest cheerleaders, and I credit much of my successes to the faith they’ve had in my talents and abilities.

5. I am grateful that my mother has not only been a parent to me, but also one of my best friends. I go to her for advice, for cheering up, for reassurance and unconditional love. I love that I can also be an ear for her, that she trusts me enough to share what she’s feeling when she is comfortable doing so. I am so thankful that our together time is as important to her as it is to me, whether I am 3000 miles away or a hallway down from her.

IMG_0535Day 4 is Dedicated to My Friend Carly

1. I am grateful to Carly for becoming that friend I can talk to every day, beginning at a time when I felt very alone with the challenges I was dealing with. I believe we’ve helped each other a great deal to get through our health battles.

2. I am grateful that Carly is the kind of person who will pop up and surprise me at a doctor’s office because it’s been too long since we last got to see each other. She had recommended I see this highly regarded specialist, who is located closer to Carly’s home than mine, and she wanted to make sure that everything went well. Seeing her face touched me more than words can say.

3. I am grateful for the way that Carly always tells me exactly what she thinks and feels about something. Even when it’s about my behavior, and it’s not always something I want to hear, it’s usually something I need to hear. That honesty is absolutely refreshing and invaluable in a friend.

4. I am grateful that Carly always calls to check up on me after a big event, whether it’s a first date or a chemo appointment. She remembers when my niece was born, the significant relationships I’ve had since and before we’ve known each other and she always asks after my parents. I don’t ever have to guess whether she cares or wonder if she knows what’s going on in my life.

5. I am grateful that Carly puts up with my moodiness and occasional reclusiveness. I know it can be very tough for her as it’s very important that there is daily connection with her closest friends. I appreciate her giving and forgiving heart.

Does “Home For the Holidays” Mean Yours, Mine or Ours?

I wasn’t sure what the boyfriend was thinking with regard to what we were going to do about celebrating Thanksgiving this year. I have been to some of his family events and was welcomed warmly, yet I wasn’t sure how they were about holidays. Plus, our hometowns are in neighboring states, and I uncertain how things could work logistically.

Navigating the holidays as a couple can make an already stressful time of year even more challenging for a relationship. This may be because it is often the first time family meets your sweetie; is everyone going to get along? But before you even reach that point, you have to make that big decision as couple: At whose place will we be spending the holidays…

Yours, Mine or Ours?

Read my full piece: Navigating the Holidays as a Couple for Singles Warehouse.

Be My Valentine Every Day of The Week

The very first Valentine’s in a new relationship always feels a bit like you’re carefully walking a wobbly tightrope. You want to convey sweet, even teasing, affection and give a taste of the romantic. Yet you don’t want to make too grand a gesture that will frighten your intended, nor say too much that might be potentially misinterpreted or that might make someone uneasy to continue to move forward with you.

This year I found myself looking through Valentine’s cards that were too distant and unemotional in tone or were too effusive about love and devotion. True, my valentine and I already shared great affection, growing friendship and meaningful experiences. We have been drunk on each other in the way of two souls who feel like they’ve already known each other for a very long time but need a period to reacquaint as so much time has passed since they last met. Yet the relationship is still so fresh and new. While our words are filled with hopes and dreams for times in the future, there is the uncertainty of budding romance.

In the greeting card aisle, I found a card that was playful, with very few words but a sentiment that truly fit us. I later filled in the blank space with some personal words that were a bit more romantic (even a bit sappy, but hey I was trying to rhyme). I made a mixed CD because he loves discovering new music, and as he originally comes from another country, there is still so much I have to share with him from my eclectic collection. I dressed up a little bit, and waited as he sent me texts counting down the minutes of his hour and half drive to come to me.

When he arrived, looking like a dream, he immediately lifted me off my feet into his arms—while somehow managing to keep the bouquet of roses in his hand from being crushed. The man is good—managing to charm my mom, get down on his knees to play with my nephew, do push-ups with my dad, and squeeze in as many hugs and sweet words to me as possible before whisking me away to dinner.

Truthfully, every day I spend with him is filled with moments of romance. Every single time, he opens the car door for me and helps me in and out of my coat. He guards me protectively from being jostled in a crowd or on the dance floor. He insists on sitting right by my side in restaurants whenever possible, just to have an excuse to snuggle close. He holds my hand in the car, walking in the street and sitting side by side on the couch. He gives constant hugs, kisses on the cheek and neck, and holds my hand, whether we’re alone or in public. And he never hesitates to tell me, “You are so beautiful.”

Valentine’s Day was no different. And because of this, the day truly carried the enchantment of fairy tale. When I am with this man, I feel truly seen and acknowledged from my smile to the core of my soul. I feel heard, respected, admired, supported and appreciated—not because some day propelled him to be reminded to do so, but because this is part of his being each and every day. He shows enthusiasm in my interests and passions, loves sharing his dreams and the various aspects his own life, and he’s snuck his way into my family so smoothly and quickly, I still grin and watch with amazement.

This is the stuff of this girl’s dreams, not fancy bouquets, boxes of chocolates, diamond rings or being whisked away to exotic locales…though don’t get me wrong, you won’t see me complain if he pronounces he wants to take me on a trip with him some day in the future.

Between You, Me and Your Mom

src: theashleysrealityroundup.com

I’m not exactly sure how I get myself into these situations—okay, that’s partially a lie—but once again I found myself playing the mediator between a mother and son this past week. Now, this is not something I recommend the uninitiated just attempt with only her big heart and big mouth to back her. The bond between a mother and son is often an especially tricky one, with multiple layers of fierce devotion, unquestioned loyalty mixed with confusing resentment and guilt in all flavors. In my experiences, this is even more so when the son is an only child, a child of single mother or whose parents divorced at a young age.

The attempted mother-son mediation often puts a strain on a relationship, even when a loving wife, girlfriend or even platonic best friend has the best of intentions. I have heard plenty of horror stories about well-meaning women barreling in on a mother-in-law or boyfriend’s mother, on behalf of her man only to find it blowing up in her face. And if this woman who is not yet your mother in law finds herself hating and resenting you now, don’t assume it’s going to get better once she realizes you’re a permanent member of the family.

When I was a naïve 17-year-old, I was dating a wonderful guy with the biggest heart – who also happened to be a true mama’s boy. The odd thing was, his particular mother somehow raised an intelligent, compassionate, open-minded man who saw the content of a person’s mind, heart and soul before he noticed the color of their skin. This tall, pale Polish-Italian guy fell head over heels for a honey-skinned girl with the melting pot of ethnic backgrounds. His Italian mother was, let’s just say, not pleased (ironically both her parents wound up treating me more like a member of the family than she ever did).

After multiple digging and degrading comments to her son, though I was nothing but loving to her son and nice and respectful to her, I decided to take matters into my own hands. While I was across the country at college, mama bear was trying to whisper poison into her son’s ears, and it only made him resent her more not pull away from me. So I decided to write her a long, heartfelt letter.

I told her how much I cared about her son and how I had no intention of hurting him. I knew she was taking out on me an old grudge she had against a former friend of my boyfriend’s older sister, who turned out to be a hurtful bitch and just so happened to have brown skin too. I told her the kind of person I was, describing my character, my background and basically attempting to defend myself, without explicitly saying how I was not that girl who hurt her daughter.

Most of all, however, I touched upon how it hurt her son to constantly have to he these nasty things about me. I told her I knew how much he loved his mother and how her words impacted him. In more diplomatic terms, I explained how continuing to disparage me would only put a wedge between her and her son. It took approximately five handwritten pages. Then…silence.

The result? Eventually, she reached out and made amends to her son. Frankly, some of what she said was crap about thinking about how people might treat future grandchildren (right!), but the gesture was appreciated. She never apologized to me, but she stopped giving me the evil eye when she thought I wasn’t looking. She started trying to be a little more pleasant when I was around.

Were we ever friends? No, but that wasn’t the aim—backing off her son was, and on that, we succeeded.

My next attempts at mother-son mediation did not have me as the center of the contention. It was mother versus son,  too similar personalities rubbing up against each other. I often had to play referee and yell for a time-out.

The Bulldog had what you can only describe as a mercurial personality. One moment, he was sweet, affectionate and more of an observer. The next, he was punching a hole in the wall with his fist, telling off strangers at a bar to where they wanted to punch him, or he was shouting blistering rants at clients on the other end of the phone.

src: pbskids.org/itsmylife/

His mother, unfortunately, could also fly off the handle once she was triggered. And nothing could set Bulldog or his mother off more than each other. I remember being paralyzed with horror in the middle of a restaurant in Las Vegas when Bulldog and his mom began swearing and shouting horrible things at each other.

Something like “You’re ridiculous. I’m f***ing leaving,” was said, followed by, “Fine, get the hell out of here!” And before I knew it, I was left at a table with his parents while my boyfriend sprinted angrily out of the restaurant.

I glanced at his father who gave me an apologetic look. I glanced at his mother, whose face was red with fury but whose eyes were filled with tears. I shook my head, reaching out my hand, saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” and then I ran to catch up with my ride. To say I was absolutely furious with him was putting it mildly. He knew his mom. He knew not to goad her. He knew to just let it go.

But I wasn’t so upset for just this one time. It was also for the time we were staying at their house, and there was an argument where he was too stubborn to back down that we left, not having a place to stay. So I had to get on the phone and find us a ridiculously overpriced hotel room for a night until I could convince him in the morning to stop being enough of an asshole to apologize.

And finally there was the time his parents were staying at our house, and I watched his mother’s face collapse right in front of me. Bulldog had just left me alone with her while she was crying, saying to me, “I don’t know why he says such things. I raised him better than that!”

I finally looked her in the eye and decided we needed to have a heart to heart. She needed to know that she wasn’t the only target of his wrath. I explained to her how his best friend literally had written Bulldog out of his life for the last time several months earlier because he couldn’t take his volcanic temper and insults anymore – apologies weren’t enough. I explained to her just how much pressure he was under with running his own franchise, how he’d taken on far more than he realized he was doing, how he didn’t know how to ask for help, how he wasn’t getting enough sleep, and how there’d be months where business was so slow we were struggling to pay the bills.

You could fairly ask me, where did I get off? Obviously, his family had been dysfunctional in their communicating just fine without me for many years, thank you very much. But I was somehow part of this family now, for better or for worse. They were putting me right in the thick of things.

And she was his mother, and she deserved to know what wasn’t personal and what buttons were especially tender for her son right now. He sure wasn’t going to tell her by himself. The Bulldog and his dad had a closer relationship, but there were still some layers of pride he hadn’t fully let down. Letting Bulldog’s mom see what was really going on opened up her eyes in a way that allowed her to really see Bulldog better, not just his snarling reactions. By no means is their relationship perfect even now, but I do know that we all started communicating with a bit more sensitivity from that point on.

For full disclosure, my very first communiqué with the Gentle Giant’s mother sprang from some insecurity issues on my part, envious of how close she was to his female best friend/ex-girlfriend. Honestly though, before our first date GG and his mom had discussed me fairly in-depth, he’d showed her my Facebook page, and I knew his mom and I had several things in common, and he had invited me to reach out to her even then regarding my career but I felt weird about it at the time.

Anyway, I did eventually send her an email after a couple weeks. Then, we did meet face-to-face during a move, which was a little weird. I worried she didn’t like me at all. Then I was completely shocked when she invited us both to dinner, and that seemed to go swimmingly. So well that I got a really sweet email from her, so I sent one back, and so it went.

This past week, GG and the mom had a discussion where he attempted to share frustration about an issue that unfortunately his mom took personally. He knew as soon as he hung up the phone that she was upset, and he told me how badly he felt about it. So imagine my surprise when a couple hours later I also get an email from his mom venting about the conversation, sharing her hurt feelings.

Now, I had talked with GG about this before stepping in, but I told him I thought it was just a matter of how things were communicated. He was trying to express A (frustration at this matter) and she heard B (he doesn’t appreciate me). The tough thing was I completely understood GG’s frustration, and I also understood his mom’s side of things – how easy it is to take words personally and internalize them – yet I wasn’t sure I knew a better way to phrase it so that GG’s mom wouldn’t take offense at what I said either.

So I thought about it. I wrote. I ran it by one of my friends who is really good at saying what she means from the best place in her heart. Then I crossed my fingers and hit send.

An email from GG’s mom was in my in-box.

Thanks so much for taking the time to really address my hurt feelings. What you wrote does make a lot of sense, and was very eloquently said.

She went on to tell me how much her son means to her and how much she loves him. It made me audibly “aww.” That’s what’s it all supposed to be about.

Phew. Then she really made me feel good by saying she saw why I chose the career I did: “You have a real talent for putting things in perspective.” We exchanged virtual hugs and encouragement.

Don’t worry—I’m not getting cocky. I just luckily chose the right situation to step into this time. I swear I am not making a habit out of doing this – except when I’m getting paid to do so.