Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why I Watch OITNB

I read this article yesterday, and it really struck me.

Ms. Yuan was discussing a recent scene from OITNB with Pennsatucky and the trauma she has gone through, in particular, rape. Ms. Yuan's views on the portrayal mirror my own. Taryn Manning does a phenomenal job in showing the pain and sadness her character is going through. There are so many different ways that a person - man and woman - can experience this traumatic event, and most often, television shows or movies put too much focus on the reaction of others more so than the pain and suffering of the person at the heart of the event.

People have many reasons for watching the show, but I am watching it for the same reason I watched Sons of Anarchy and the Walking Dead. It is interesting to me when a great writer can bring together a group of amazing actors that can make an audience actually feel what is happening in the moment. I enjoy watching the characters grow and follow their chosen path, especially when a writer can pave that path with the true heartache or joy that a real person would be feeling in that moment. When presented with something scary or horrific or challenging, how would we react? What lengths would we go to for those we love? For someone to love?

Taryn's performance evoked emotion from me, and validated for me the sadness and anguish felt from a rather unhappy early twenty's memory. When a character can do that without uttering a word, I'm drawn to the performance. Relateable characters are so few and far between today. I hope that I can write a character someday like Pennsatucky - a character that reaches out and touches someone through the world that's been created on the pages or the screen. She is like so many of us women are: a little flawed, a little broken, a little strong, and still so hopeful to find the best in life.

I've said before that I definitely include characters in my books that are created off of people from my life, which is very true. I also put a bit of myself into my characters. Writing them with my past experiences and hopes for the future allows me to make something positive out of things I'm not so proud of from the past. Sometimes the path they choose is my way of making a better decision than I did when I was younger, and sometimes it's a way for me to write out the path I could have taken and wisely chose not to.

I look at my baby girl and hope that she has the courage and strength to sidestep the same poor choices I made when presented with options as she grows. However, while I sometimes wish that I didn't have the memories OITNB evoked from me in her last episode  - from a time when I was lonely, heartbroken, and afraid - I am also grateful for each choice I've made because the decisions and the consequences push me to think more and write more and remember that every day is a new opportunity.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Years

Okay, I'm going to ask you to bear with me through this - it's gonna get a little sappy.

On the 18th, it will be 10 years since my mom died. To be honest, I'm having a really hard time with this anniversary. The first holidays and birthdays without her were hard; the birth of my kids without her was harder; getting married without her there was brutal. I miss her like crazy every day, but this 10 year thing is really getting to me. Like, a lot, if you hadn't taken note yet.

I've been having some anxiety the past month, and I know it's because the 18th is inching up on me. It was about this time 10 years ago that mom stopped being alert. She slipped into a coma of sorts for the last couple weeks, and then she was gone. No more whispers of "I love you" (or "I glub you" as her speech got worse), no more smiles and laughs at George Carlin on the television. Just silence.

My mom's favorite animal was the bunny. She loved rabbits, and we even had a pet lop eared bunny at one point growing up. Last night, I came home to find that my sweet dog killed a bunny in our yard and could not understand why I was not thrilled with her "gift". We ended up with two more bunnies in the yard late last night, which is highly unusual. We have a fenced in yard, and a pretty rambunctious dog, so I can say with all honesty that in the five+ years of living here, I've probably seen no more than a couple bunnies total in our back yard. And never at the same time. 

So today, I dropped my son at baseball practice and decided on a whim to go to the cemetery, which is down the street, and check on her grave. I go there sometimes not because I think she's there, but because I want to make sure the weeds haven't overtaken the gravestone and that the grass is growing properly. On my way, I whispered out loud, "Mom, please have a bunny where you are so I know you're okay." And by "where you are", I meant her grave.

When I pulled up to the big tree that reminds me where her body rests, I didn't see a bunny. Not on her grave. Not anywhere around.

I cleaned off the weeds and went back to pick up my son at baseball, and then headed home. While sitting in the back yard, hubs pointed out a discovery - there were baby bunnies living in a hole in the yard!

Not only that, but mama bunny has come back around to check on them!

I should have known when I asked my mom to send a bunny to where she was, she wouldn't send one to her grave. She would send them to our home, where she watches over us.

I know it's corny, and it's a stretch, but I needed this little happening this month. My heart is still broken, but maybe just a smidge less tonight.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Back to life, back to the blog-os-phere

I'm working on another book. For anyone keeping track, I've got five written and only one of those edited. And last week, after years of pondering how to tell a certain story close to my heart, I had an idea for a storyline and began typing away at night after everyone's gone to bed.

It usually takes me months to pump out a book, which is usually around 70,000 words. In three nights, I managed to write 26,000 words. Not only that, but I find myself not wanting to stop clicking my fingers on the keyboard when my alarm finally notifies me that I better head to bed or the next day could be extremely long.

I love all my stories, I really do. There have been some ideas I've had where, after a bit of typing, I'm not feeling it and abandon it altogether. And then there are others like these that I absolutely fall in love with and cannot wait to get all of the feelings out on paper. Especially when it's an important story to me.

All of my stories have a history rooted in my life. Sure, the ideas and plots are pretty far fetched from anything that's actually happened in my life because drama and storyline is what you read a book for. But if you look closely enough at my books, you'll see that the people, places, and some of the plot are part of who I am and important people, places, and things in my life.

Take my book "The Touch" for instance. AJ is the lead character, and his name basically stands for "All J's", or all my J's, meaning Jaime, Jake, Joel, and Jose - dear friends of mine, and a husband too! The character is comprised of bits and pieces of all of them - both what I love about them and what drives me crazy about them. The grandparent figures, Helen and Matthew, have a root in my life. Helen is based off of my mom's eight best friends who are like mothers to me, and the advice they pass down - the name is even one of theirs. And Matthew is after my great-Uncle, with the name of my big brother who died right after he was born. There are more instances of my life in the books, but I'll leave it to your imagination to figure it out ;) The series definitely has some basis off people I've known, loved, and perhaps even disliked, from my teenager years on up. But other than what's above, I'm not spilling ;)

I've read that some writers don't include anything personal in their books, but I don't know if I could do that. My characters and settings all carry a part of me with them, and I do put my heart and soul into these books. Of course, not every plotline stems from real life. While I'm working on a book about bikers, I don't think my suburban, baseball and ballet chauffeuring mommy self has really experienced any of the crazy shenanigans in the book. Some of the stories are just fun.

Some of what I write is healing for me, a chance to share something I've been through without saying it out loud, if that makes sense. That's what happens in one scene in "The Vengeance". I have the opportunity to say what I need to say and find a way to make my character come out stronger on the other side, and that's an amazing feeling.

This book about love that I'm working on now as well is one that holds a special place in my heart. It contains a lot of things I wish I could have said. The character faces many of the same choices I have and in some cases, makes the same decision while in others, chooses the path that perhaps I should have taken at the time. The actual plotline, well, that's definitely a bit more dramatic than anything that has actually happened in my life (and thanks to my husbands willingness to pretend to be a character while I drop a literary plot bomb on him, has a GREAT twist in it). It holds, however, an opportunity for me to say some things I've never said and make some amends I've never made, even if the person the amends are for would never even know it's for them. That's the wonderful thing about writing; you take your life and your decisions and your own story and build that into your work to create pieces that are important to you.

So, if you ever pick up a copy of one of my books and think you get a quick glance at yourself from the words popping out on the page, you might be right.

Or wrong. 

Either way, I hope it's fun for you to wonder - because it was certainly fun to write!

Happy writing all!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mom x2

This May, my mom will have been gone 10 years. The feeling of never having a mother again to talk to and spend time with after she died was daunting; I was a few months pregnant and lost.

What my 35 year old self would tell my 25 year old self is that yes, the loss of my mom was painful and an incredible loss of a woman whose shoes no one else could fill quite the same. Yet I'd also tell her that in some entirely lucky twist of fate, she'd end up with the most wonderful mother-in-law. I mean, the type of mother-in-law whose awesomeness would earn her the next step up from an Emmy.

Let me just start with this little ditty: Hubs and I had been together less than a year. It was our first Christmas together; the first one I'd spend with his family. I had just bought a house that year and like any 22-year-old, had nothing. I had actually just moved my television off the two chairs I was using as a makeshift television stand and put them on a new one hubs-to-be-someday had built for me. She hands me this big box while everyone is opening gifts and as I tear the paper off, I see an entire kitchen pan set.

A nice kitchen pan set. "You need pans for your new house," she smiled. She'd known me for awhile, but only shortly as her son's girlfriend. I was floored. That was a huge gift. That's who she is (not the big gift thing, the giving thing). She is constantly thinking about others, about how she can help, about what she can do.

My mother-in-law - we'll call her R - has not had it easy, that's for sure. Just a few months after losing her own mother, she was taking on a grieving and pregnant-future-daughter-in-law.

Before her grandson was born, she basically took on two-grandma's worth of responsibilities and love. She planned a beautiful shower for her son and this soon-to-be-mama while knowing no matter how much I loved the shower, a part of my heart would be aching for my mom to be there. And this was key: R never shied away from talking about her like others did. She often said how proud my mom would be of my son and of us as parents; that meant so much to me. 

When her grandson was born, she brought me Taco Bell at the hospital. That's right - Taco Bell. And she was at our house for three days after we got home, taking care of the baby while I got some sleep, cooking, cleaning - you name it, she was doing it. I would go lay down and think to myself, "Geez, I hope I can be half the woman she is. She makes this whole raising a family and being a parent thing look easy. She raised three of these crying, non-sleeping little peanuts and she still manages to do this!" (I still think that same thing many times a week!) And I was so grateful for her being there. I would have loved for my mom to be there too, of course, but what I needed was a mom - and she was that for me. Not an easy task, I'm sure, trying to navigate grandma-dom and probably worrying about if her daughter-in-law is just wishing it were her mom there instead. But she handled it so gracefully!

She'd keep the baby overnight once every couple weeks so hubs and I could go out or go sleep. I know from watching my nephew now (and not even overnight yet) that taking on a newborn when you haven't had one in awhile is a challenge. One you love, but yes, a challenge! God bless her for the sleepless nights and diaper changes she handled so we could have a break.

When kid #2 came along, hubs and I couldn't agree on a name. All we knew is it had to flow with his mom's name, which would be baby's middle name, no question. She has never missed a holiday, school event, or party. She comes to more than her fair share of sports games and recitals. She never misses a birthday, even when we have forgotten hers in the chaos of kids' activities. She picks up the kids when school gets out early, she cooks them their favorite meals. We went on a road trip to Nashville and had the best time. I could talk to her for hours on end about everything and anything, and often times we do. I love being around her.

This poor woman ran half a mile in the freezing sleet/rain to catch a train to take her granddaughter to the American Girl Doll store appointment this past winter. When I said we would never make it due to construction and my poor timing, she said, oh yes we will! Literally ran. Did I mention the sleet and rain? Yeah. She. Is. Awesome. 

R retired last year and, though she should be out enjoying her retirement, she still helps us tremendously with getting the kids to and from practices, games, dance along with father-in-law. I called her last week in tears, asking if she could get the kids because I had just left the dentist in excruciating pain and was heading to get an emergency root canal. In her typical, take-charge fashion, she told me to go where I needed to go, she would assign awesome father-in-law to get the kids, and she would be at the endo/perio as soon as she could to be with me. When I said she didn't have to do that, she said, "I know I don't. I want to."

And she did. She was there some twenty minutes later, waiting patiently in the waiting room. 

My mom never really liked my boyfriends throughout college. That's actually an understatement. When she met Jaime, she adored him - well before we were dating. She would talk about how nice he was, and how well dressed, and how he obviously came from a good family because he was always kind and respectful. She was right, more so than perhaps she knew. I don't think I could have picked two better women to have as role models. If I can be half the mother they each are, I will have done a pretty good job.

So, I'd tell that twenty-five-year-old self who fears that she will never know a mother's love again: you are wrong. Very, very wrong. You will, and it will come in the most amazing, just-over-five-foot package that contains all the happiness, fiesty-ness, love and friendship you thought you'd miss out on. She has been a mother-in-law, grandma, mother, friend, and more over the past 10 years. She is beautiful and smart, and I can't help but smile when I see her fiesty-ness come out because I love that about her, too. 

We are so very blessed to have her in my life, and I hope she truly knows that. I don't think there are words that can adequately express how appreciated she is. Love you, R!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Day Test

Monday, I read an article about a man who saved his marriage with a little bit of creativity. I thought the simple gestures he made were pretty incredible in that they were so simple, and so important.

My hubs and I do not have an endangered marriage (thankfully). We get along pretty well and while we do have our arguments, after nearly 14 years together, I feel blessed that I still wake up every morning feeling like I won the lotto with him. In thinking about the article, however, the author's actions really stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. 

Hubs and I have our stresses. We both work full time jobs. We have two kids with nightly homework. They also have ballet class two times a week, drum lessons, theatre class, and more baseball than I like to think about. We're constantly shuffling here or there (with a little help from my wonderful in-laws). Some days we might only see each other for about half an hour, and that's usually when we're trying to quickly eat something to head out the door or get to bed.

I thought it might be interesting to see what my own family responded when I asked them that question. I didn't just want to ask hubs, but to also ask my kids.

It's only been a few days but in those few days, I'm starting to see what the kids really feel is important - and my husband too.

On Monday night I asked them, individually, what I could do to make their days better. They were all a little unsure about my request and looked at me to see if I was serious. My son quietly asked if I would let him stay up ten minutes later. Daughter wanted an extra snack. Hubs asked if he could shower without being interrupted. (I should note: I'm usually sitting in the bathroom yakking at him about what's coming up the rest of the week, what we have to do, where we have to be, because that's pretty much the only private time we get to talk all week, lol). So all three happened without much ado.

Tuesday I asked the same thing. My son wanted me to sort Pokemon cards with him and asked me to put them in order. (I won't even get into the structure of his Pokemon cards. His room is a disaster and he can't seem to remember how to put things away, but his Pokemon cards are organized like he's starting a professional card dealership.) My daughter wanted extra cuddles, and hubs - still unsure why I was asking this question again - just wanted me to get him a glass of tea when he ran out during his favorite tv show of the week: The Flash. Easy enough.

On Wednesday, I woke up feeling not so hot. This darn weather has a thousand bugs running around the schools and being brought home, but I hoped as the day went on I would perk up (thankfully, I did). I asked all three the same question that morning. Son wanted to go to Pokemon night at the library; daughter wanted to get extra books at the library, and hubs responded with, "Nothing - if you're not feeling good I will take the kids to Pokemon night." It's not abnormal for him to volunteer, but during the winter when his work days are extra long and extra hard, he's usually not overly excited to run another errand after work on top of the kid's usual activities, so his offer was pretty priceless.

Then yesterday rolled around. Daughter wanted me to play a game with her, and son wanted extra snuggles before bed (I'll take this while I can. Pretty soon, he'll be too cool to snuggle with his mom). And hubs wanted snuggles, too. Done, done, and done.

What I noticed about this week was that there was a lot less arguing in the house. Less of me trying to get the kids into bed; less begging them to get dressed in the morning. There was less tension, less whining from everyone. Anyone who is a parent knows the whining and struggle that comes along with getting kids in bed and getting them ready for school. It's an epic battle most days. It was pretty nice, actually, to have them bounce up and get ready. The kids fought with each other less, which was awesome in itself. I didn't hear a constant barrage of "MOM, HE TOOK MY BALLOON!" or "SHE IS IN MY ROOM!" They. Got. Along. Bonus!

I probably won't ask it every day, because hubs still thinks it is kind of corny, but I'm going to make a point to ask it more often. We get so busy in life that sometimes we forget to make the time for the things that the people we love value the most - from a quiet shower to a board game. Before I know it the kids will be grown and I'm going to miss having the opportunity to get extra snuggles before bedtime. 

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Such Ponders

Today would have been Katie's 35th birthday. I woke up yesterday morning not remembering what today was, but felt this strong push that I really needed to send her mom an email. Very weird coincidence.

I try not to focus on the what-ifs of life too much. To sit and dwell on something that will never be reality seems a little wasteful, when we should be doing something to honor the memory of those we've lost. That's where I'm at today - wondering what I can do to show how grateful I am to have known Katie.

I was trying to describe her to someone today.

Katie was this beautiful,  happy girl. I'm not kidding when I say she always had a smile on her face. Her laugh was contagious. Once she started, I had no recourse but to join in. She was goofy and serious all rolled into one. She listened during my worst and best times, and put up with my ridiculous teenage girl attitude. Then my ridiculous college girl attitude.

She was the loudest laugh during sand volleyball, a beer in her hand and her determination to win. She was the voice of reason. She let me cry the night we bumped into a boy at a bar who I hadn't seen since one of the worst days of my life - a day where I'd lost so much of myself in one afternoon that I wondered if I'd ever be whole again. He'd broken me in ways I didn't believe I could be broken and to see him made me physically ill. Just like she had years before, she comforted me and assured me that life was just beginning. That I was more than what had happened. That's who she was - she took care of those she loved with an unwavering heart.

That was so many years ago and today, I try and remind myself of her words again. Life ended far too soon for her, but every day we wake up is a new beginning. Not a chance to wipe the slate clean; we need to remember the lessons we've learned. But a chance to see the world with fresh eyes and be grateful for every moment, every smile, every obstacle we have the opportunity to overcome.

Happy birthday to my friend. I wish we'd found our way back to each other sooner, but I'm glad we found our way back, period. You are, and always will be,  a part of my heart. I wish I had the courage to reach out to old friends the way you did to me, but my heart was always the one more scared of that rejection. Today, I will just be grateful again that you were never the scared one ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Perpetually Broken Heart

Don't let the title deceive you - I am a very lucky woman with a very beautiful family and life filled with laughter and good memories. (Watch our video at the bottom!)

But yes, I have, and forever will have, a perpetually broken heart. Let me explain.

I have been reading all evening that Brittany Maynard, an advocate for Death With Dignity, has passed away. And I've realized yet again that growing up brings along with it a very large path shaded in gray where the answers in life are not so clear.

When we're growing up, we are taught that choices are black and white; all or nothing; right or wrong. We are taught to take the theories and lessons taught to us and keep to them, not questioning the reasoning behind it. Then we grow up and see that nothing in life is truly black or white, but instead an eternal shade of gray.

I don't know Brittany. I can't say that I even know how she felt, because I myself have never (thankfully) had brain cancer. But my mother did, and I was one of her main caretakers during her illness.

My mother was beautiful, inside and out. I loved her smile, loved her laugh. Within months, this monster in her brain had stolen those from her. From all of us. So many people have rushed to judge Brittany, saying her decision was cowardly and wrong. Even those of us so close to brain cancer have no right to judge her because we have not walked that path. I can say that I don't think she was cowardly at all. Mom had stage IV inoperable glioblastoma brain cancer, and it ravaged her pretty quickly.

May 2004, right before diagnosis

July 2004

December 2004, on my birthday

February 2005

Every brain cancer is different. It will affect each person differently, and no two stories will be exactly alike. She is absolutely right though, that with her exact diagnosis, the end did not look anything but bleak and terrifying for her. You can see from the pictures of my mom, everything changed for her. Physically and emotionally, she was slowly robbed of dignity a piece at a time.

I never knew what the end would hold for my mom. She and my dad tried to shield us from that truth, although I could have easily researched it. I chose not to. Partly because I didn't believe she would die, and partly because looking it up would make it seem real. I wasn't prepared for either. Prepared or not, my mother's last months were devastating to say the least.

We were surrounded by family and friends non-stop; that is the silver lining on the eternal rainstorm that is brain cancer. As each day passed and more obstacles presented themselves - inability to walk, loss of 99% of her speech, unable to use her right side, bedridden, seizures (the list goes on and on) - a new kind of awful presented itself. I don't know that she would have chosen what Brittany did, because my mom is the type to fight tooth and nail until the last breath, but I do know that if she had been shown a reel of her final days, she would have been beyond mortified at what we had to do to care for her. 

I know my mom, and I know that she would have absolutely hated being in that position and having us there to be an active part. She would not have wanted that. I know that faced with the same outlook and knowing what I know after having been there at her side, I wouldn't want those same memories for my children or my husband. And yet not being in that position, I don't know what choices I would make in regards to my care. No one does until the situation is their reality. Brittany's family will miss her more than any words can explain, just as they would if she died after a few more weeks or months. But their last memories with her are beautiful; time spent as a family and checking items off her bucket list. I wish those were the last memories I had with my mom.

I wish that I could describe it to those who are judging Brittany. I wish I could relay to them the reality of those last months, weeks and days. What caring for someone with this diagnosis is like, to even offer a glimpse of what it must be like for the person with cancer if this is what caregivers experience. I want to tell them what my last memories with my mom are like, and how I would pray that my husband and children NEVER have to experience what we did. I won't, because even detailing it would strip my mom of the little dignity she had left at the end and I cannot do that to her. Telling the world those details would remove the beauty of her fight, the good moments that we had with her. I won't do that to her. I never have, and never will. So trust me when I say that Brittany knew what was ahead for her and it was not pretty. It was so ugly that even almost ten years after mom died, I won't say out loud what daily caretaking involved out of respect.

My heart goes out to the Maynard family. Sitting here tonight, my eyes are filled with tears and I know that no choice is an easy choice when dealing with cancer. May she rest in peace.

I hope my mom was there to greet her, and that the family knows so many people are thinking of them now. I'm really missing my mom tonight, just as I do whenever the holidays roll around. And without her here, yes, I have a perpetually broken heart.

This was the video done on our experience when we did the 5K a few years ago.


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