Wednesday, May 6, 2015

That Time My 7yo Asked For A Fairy Tale, But I Shared A Nightmare

Days before her 7th birthday, my daughter asked for a bedtime story.  And while I’ll admit that I do try to make mine a bit more creative than a standard fairytale, I certainly hadn’t planned in advance the adventure I chose that night. I’ve tried to recreate the story here, of course with a bit of embellishment, but the message is still the same.

“There was once a girl more beautiful than you could imagine, both inside and out. She wasn’t a princess or a dancer or a popular singer; she was full of even more magic than that.  She was curious, and read books whenever she could. She loved science, dinosaurs, animals and volcanoes. She rode her scooter on voyages (without leaving the yard) and created museum-worthy masterpieces with sidewalk chalk.

She did well in school, always giving the very best effort possible.  She was respectful of her teachers, thoughtful with her friends and a good listener at home (most of the time). In her parent’s eyes she was just perfect, and had been since the time she was merely a twinkle in their eye.

Then one day, things changed suddenly. The energy she exuded just wasn’t the same. She was less of a page-turner, less of an inventor, less of herself. Soon the neighborhood kids came by less often. There were fewer requests for play dates, fewer trips to the local library, fewer adventures of any kind, really.”

At this point, the story had clearly taken a turn. But once my mind caught back up with my mouth, and based on the events taking place at our home for the week prior, I realized exactly where my story was headed. And there was no turning back.

“See, a week or so earlier, the beautiful girl had picked something up and never put it down (or, so it seemed.) She rushed to get ready for school in the morning so she could have a few moments with it before heading out the door. She ate dinner with her family too quickly and sat on the edge of her seat waiting to be excused so she could have it some more. One time, her mother even found her pretending to be going to the bathroom so she could sit on the toilet and hold it without interruption.

At first, her parents had let her have at it. What harm could she really do? This was a phase, they assumed. And making a bigger deal about it or putting restrictions on it would only make her want it more. So they sat, waiting, and hoping the realization they wished for her would present itself on it’s own. Sadly, it didn’t.”

At this point, my daughter was nearly asleep. Any other evening, I would have tucked her in, kissed her forehead, repeated the nightly prayer my mother recited over me one million times and softly crept out of the room before she heard me.  But tonight, even I needed to know how this story ended. I continued.

“Before long, gone were the lights behind her eyes. Gone were the stories of what treasures she and a classmate had discovered in the yard during recess. And, gone were the scraps of paper her mother would find beside her bed stand that started with a warning that the pages were private, and ended with a sentence or drawing as curious as her.

So before going to bed that night, the mother of that beautiful girl made sure just one more thing was gone: the girl’s iPad. And by morning, just like that, her magic was back.”

Just like that. I know. That is where the “fairytale” part rings true.

I fear there will be times in the future when my daughters will lose a bit of themselves, and I may not be able to help them retrieve it. I also know that this story, though believed to be for my eldest, was just as much for me.

There are certainly times when magic can be created in an instant. But more often than not, it takes time and nurturing to cultivate something magical. So once we have it, it needs to be both cherished and protected. That way, if someday it leaves you forever, you will appreciate it all the more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On That TINY Spot of Blood That Made HUGE Headlines

I got boobs before any of my classmates.  And like they were an ugly birthmark, or some other unsightly two dimensional thingy I could easily cover, I tried to hide them.


I failed.  Big time.

This was the first of many challenges I would attempt to ignore as a growing girl, excusing it as "a woman thing".

Soon after, I was the first of my friends to get my period and was so embarrassed to tell my mother that I made her guess what the big news was that I had to share.  (A registered nurse and super attentive mother, she got the correct answer straight out of the gate.)

Then, I got fat.  Not fat enough that people would point or make fun of me, but just fat enough.  I wore t-shirts over my bathing suits and spent weeks shopping for the dresses I'd wear to dances that I'd attend without a date.

Next, came the Freshman Fifteen.  Granted I had so much fun in college that the bars should have paid me tuition, but I got heavier.  And heavier.

After graduation, I joined my first gym just because everyone else was doing it.  One day on the treadmill, likely walking the same speed at which I'd walk to the bathroom to pee in the middle of the night, I spotted a friend who'd clearly received a complete body transformation along with her diploma.  Long (life-changing) story short, she FORCED me to meet with her new personal trainer.

A year later, I was in the best shape of my life.  I'd completed two marathons, was in true love for the first time in my life, had a great job, my own apartment and a one-way ticket to an eating disorder.  I don't believe I was ever too thin, but I wasn't me.  I remember my Grandfather telling me I looked like an Ethiopian, and part of me took it as a compliment.

Fast forwarding a bit, I got married to the man of my dreams, had a career that I loved, and a baby in my belly.  (That's definitely a woman thing.)

So for the first time since that day I'd made my mom guess, I didn't have a period.  But in exchange I had a myriad of other issues, including a bulging hernia that made it look like I was giving birth not only to a little girl but an alien sibling.  That meant I was headed for both a c-section and an abdominal hernia repair (at the same time) for both of my pregnancies.

Every woman will say that her body was "never the same" after having children, but that expression takes on a different meaning for me.  Post-pregnancy brought on aches, pains, anemia and fatigue like I'd never experienced.  Numerous vials of blood and doctors appointments later, I was diagnosed with Lupus.  That disease, fatal for many, is something I deal with on a daily basis.  The presentation of the disease came with my first pregnancy, was exacerbated by my second and is now the reason I cannot have a third.  Though a very small of percentage of those with Lupus are men, it's mostly a woman thing.

And, it all started with my very first period.  My "friend".

But thank God it did.  Because if it didn't, I wouldn't have this.

I'd never really thought fondly of my menstrual cycle before today.  In the past, it has been nothing but a super heavy annoyance.

Thanks to Rupi and Prabh Kaur, brave sisters who made the curious decision to share a photo series called "Period" on their social media before it being quickly and unjustly censored as "inappropriate", I will look at this gift of life very differently moving forward.

I can't begin to put into words exactly how this situation has made me feel, not only about womanhood but about our freedom of expression, discrimination and censorship, but I strongly suggest you read about it for yourself.

This isn't just a woman thing.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Daughter's First Bout of Embarrassment Could Help All Your Dreams Come True

I still remember the day my eldest daughter watched Charlotte's Web for the first time. I sat with her, in amazement, partly because it seemed unfathomable that my own daughter was experiencing a story I loved so much at her same age, but more because it was the first time I saw an experience other than her own bring her to tears.

It caught her off guard, at first.  But as she turned to me, lip quivering, and said with both fear and confusion, "I think I am going to cry", I could do nothing but hold her close and reassure her that it was okay.  It's always okay to cry.

Each of us sat, a bit crippled by raw, pure emotion, with tears streaming down our faces.  And in that moment, we both grew up a bit.  It was a once in a lifetime thing.

Until, of course, today.

Now two years older, that same daughter is the most beautiful combination of brilliant, boisterous and bright that I could ever dream of.  She is funny, creative, imaginative and embarrassed.

Yes, embarrassed.

On our ride home from school today, my nearly seven year old daughter shared that something she was asked to do at school embarrassed her.  She hadn't farted in gym class, snarfed during snack, or giggled to the point of an "accident".  No, this was much less benign, at least to me.  But my daughter was embarrassed.

It was one of those moments when the car radio and kid chatter fell away, and all I could hear was the mumble of adults in a Charlie Brown film.  All I could feel was heartbreak.

I reassured her, again, in the best way that I could.  And honestly, I am one hundred (and ten) percent positive that the whole thing hurt me way more than it hurt her.  I am sure of that because a short time later I heard her reciting "I will not give up on my dreams" over and over again.  "I will not give up on my dreams."

She'd happened upon the card I'd grabbed from a stunning photo exhibit I'd seen at an ArcLight Cinema.

Credit: Jamie Johnson

I knew taking them to see The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was bound to have a payoff somehow.

I will never give up on my dreams, either.

And remember.

It's always okay to cry.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thank You, Emily Saliers...

Just because I took some time off from writing over the holidays doesn't mean I was any less spastic in thinking of things I wanted to share.  We overnighted at Disneyland and got stranded on the side of a mountain in the snow.  Then my husband ran out to the grocery store and came home with a new pet, shortly before a two inch cut made my home look like a murder scene landed us in the emergency room.  No shortage of material.

But when I finally sat down to blog, I struggled with where to begin.  Then I remembered a quote from my favorite singer-songwriter, the Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers.

You have to laugh at yourself, because you'd cry your eyes out if you didn't.


A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption.  One goes to live with a family in Egypt and is named Amal.  The other is adopted by a family in Spain and they name him Juan.

Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother.  Delighted to receive the photo, the woman tells her husband that she wishes she also had one of Amal.

"But they are twins", he says. "If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

I'm excited to be back in action next week and hope you will join me.  Until then, have fun blowing your New Year's Resolutions.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How Does Trista Sutter Stay So Darn Positive? It's All About Her Grateful Heart

When I first met Trista Sutter, she and her husband Ryan were appearing on a television special to introduce their son Max to the world.  I was quite pregnant with my first daughter at the time and she gave me some invaluably calming (solicited!) advice for new parenthood.  I was so grateful for the connection, as I was one of many new faces she'd see that day.

Somehow our friendship grew, and years later when I considered starting this blog, one of my first phone calls was to her.  Trista's encouragement is part of what brought me here to you.  So again, I was grateful for her.

Then a couple of years ago Trista called seeking my input, wanting a story she could share in her book Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart It became clear to me in an instant.

Gratefulness Breeds Gratefulness

But in a world where negativity, brutality and hate abound, how are we to remain positive?  And for those of us who struggle getting there, is feeling grateful one day a week enough?  For Trista, the answer is quite simple.  No.  (Although, I'm sure her positive side would say it's a start...)  Her book, coming out in paperback on December 30th, teaches how the daily practice of having a grateful heart is life-changing not only for the beholder but for those in her wake.

I wasn't so sure I was buying it.  So when I had the chance to chat with her more about the book, I jumped.  Here's what she had to say.

Q: Opening our lives up to the public leaves us very vulnerable to criticism.  This is risk you’ve taken many times and endured some harsh comments as a result.  Still, I see you kill haters with kindness.  Tell me about a time you just couldn't do it.

It happens constantly.  I have to consciously focus on not letting them bring me down.  When I was named the Bachelorette, my name was dragged through the mud.  One reporter said that I was setting back the women’s movement.  I was called a slut and a whore.  That was hard because I was coming from such a genuine place of wanting to find love, but I just had to sit there and take it.  It really hurt me a lot. To this day, I feel my blood boil thinking about it.  Those haters, the reporters, I hope watching the show actually changed their opinion.

Q: Being the Bachelorette can be seen one of two ways.  Either you're a slut, or you're applauded for taking the reigns.  Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I love encouraging women to be strong, independent, individualistic women.  I love encouraging women to be who they are, stand up for themselves, and feel proud to be a woman.  So if that makes me a feminist, then fine.  But I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into that word, because there is a negative connotation that comes along with it.

Q: In the book you offer take home advice for finding gratefulness, called “Happily Ever Actions”.  And, you give options for each one, like a choose your own adventure.  Is there something you’ve learned since the book was published that you’d like to add?

I can’t tell you how many readers have shared their tips with me since going to print.  A meeting I was at earlier today was setting a mission statement for the school that my kids go to.  The woman leading the meeting asked if anyone had a mission statement for their family.   I had never thought of that, but I think it's a great idea.  It tells people who you are, what your values are and who you want to be.  Now I want to do that with Ryan and the kids, have it framed, and keep it in a prominent place in our home.  You write a fire escape plan, why wouldn’t you write a mission statement?  And, of course, having a grateful heart would be part of ours.

Q: Tell me about Glory Haus.

I had some Glory Haus picture frames that a friend had given me as a gift.  I've always been really passionate about the gift industry.  I’d love to open a gift boutique some day.  And I thought how cool it would be for people to have visual reminders in their home to embrace gratefulness.  We were able to make it happen, and called it the Grateful Heart Collection.  It includes pictures frames, magnets, wall art, pillowcases, jewelry that is handmade by women in Haiti who are trying to support themselves, and "favorite part of the day" jars.

Q: It’s easy for people to be grateful at the holidays, but many need a gentle push throughout the rest of the year.  What’s the must-have item you recommend for the person wanting to embrace gratefulness everyday?

That’s easy.  The magnets.  My favorite says simply “inspire gratitude”.  They are small, and if you stick them on the refrigerator, the entire family will see them throughout the day.

Q: The Bachelor franchise is such a tight knit family that once you are part of it, it's almost impossible to leave (even if you try).  In the book, I love how you acknowledge the show getting you to where you are, but then move on to way more important things in your life.  How do you keep the balance of being "Trista from The Bachelorette", but way more than that,  "Trista the wife, mother, author, designer"?

Priorities.  That’s number one.  But it’s also who I surround myself with and where we live, making a conscious decision to come here and be in a small community.  I can’t walk around saying "I was on The Bachelorette".  It’s obnoxious.  Being isolated makes us more real.  My priority for me right now is my family.  That’s my hope for my future.  To focus on my family, to keep them happy and create good people, to encourage my kids to embrace nature and gratitude. 

Well, Trista, I think you found your mission statement.  You just need to put it in print.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Can't Tell You What This Is Really About Because It Will Ruin The Ending, But I Guarantee It's Worth The Quick Read

Yesterday I took my first grader to get her hair cut.  While I sat in the spinning chair beside her, with my youngest in my lap, we were treated to way more than the look on my daughter Emilia's face as her long locks fell to the floor.

An elderly woman entered the salon, supported by her granddaughter, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties.  "We are going to a wedding tomorrow", she said, "and my grandmother wants to look beautiful".

The elderly woman said very little, but smiled consistently as the stylist trimmed her snow white hair.  Having supported her physically through the door, the granddaughter now helped her loved one emotionally.  As she spoke tenderly about the nuptials they were about to celebrate, I could not help but be filled with joy for the bride, groom and their families.  At the same time (somewhat selfishly) I was also reminded of my own wedding, which neither of my grandmothers lived to attend.

I was very close with both of my grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother lived across the street from me for most of my childhood and I saw her on a near daily basis.  In fact, my daughter Emilia is named after her.  (For those of you who remember my grandmother as Jeannette, you are correct.  But, that was her middle name.  She went by Jeannette only to differentiate herself because Emilia was a popular name in her German family.)  My paternal grandmother, Angelina, lived in the next town over.  The Italian (read: big) side of my family gathered there every Sunday for pasta, the pool and more pasta.

Unfortunately, I lost both of my grandmothers before our wedding day, although my husband and I were gifted the time to celebrate our engagement with my mother's mom.

Still, as I stared longing at the lovely grandma in the salon, my heart filled with joy for her and those who would be with her this coming weekend.

Once her trim was completed, she smiled gratefully and took those ironic "baby steps" toward the door.  I wished her a wonderful time at the wedding.  She, her granddaughter and the stylist simply smiled back.

Once her client had left, the stylist came to me.

"She isn't going to a wedding", she said.  "She has advanced Alzheimer's and the only way she will allow her hair to be cut is if she believes she is headed to a big event.  Every time it is something new... a wedding, a holiday party, a graduation."

In that moment, I was overcome with so much emotion.  But mostly I was happy for that little old woman, who gets to celebrate momentous occasions over and over again in her mind- even if only for a moment.  While I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult it is to care for someone struggling with this terrible disease, I hope her loved ones can appreciate the beauty of that moment as much as I did.