About Me

I have something to say... But a blog let's me spew until I figure out what it is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Goodbye

I was standing in a crowded airport - the hustle and bustle of travelers swirling around me. I was navigating the sea of people in the same fashion I did of crowded New York City streets - eyes straight ahead, seeing people as moving obstacles rather than human beings.

I ducked around a corner and there he was - a tall, lean figure with coarse black hair.

He didn't smile. In fact, he hardly acknowledged that it was me standing in front of him.

"Oh my god! You're here! I can't believe that you are still here!!" I shouted. He looked at me solemnly. His eyes glanced at me and then, distracted, followed the traffic around us. "Stand here. Don't move. I am taking you home with me."

I fumbled frantically for my cell phone which was buried in my purse. After a moment, I located it and pulled it from my bag. There was no ringing on the line as I dialed my mother, but she answered anyway. There was no one there - I was talking to myself in a kind of one-way dialogue you see actors partake of in a play.

"He's here!... No, standing in front of me. He hasn't left!... I am not sure... I have to figure something out... No! I won't lose him!... NO! I said I won't LOSE HIM."

He and I had drifted toward baggage claim while I was talking on the phone - he followed me, aimlessly, heartlessly, as I approached the carousel and waited for my bag.

I hung up the phone, returning my cell phone to the abyss that was my purse, took a deep breath and stared at him. My heart was pounding quickly and loudly in my chest and I quickly began trying to memorize every aspect of him as though I had never seen him before; his pale skin... the texture of his jeans... the crookedness of his nose... the specks of color that ran through his green eyes. He stared back at me blankly and without any gross emotion but then seemed somewhat irritated like he often was when we were teens.

"I'm going, Jenn. This isn't going to stop me."
"But WHY?" I asked.
"Because," he replied in a huff; irritated.
I cried. I didn't reason with him but panic overcame me.
"No. You can't. You just can't. Mom and dad are worried sick. Everything is a mess. We all want you to come home."
He forced a snicker as if to say "oh well - you can't have everything that you want".

I retrieved my bag and we began walking through the crowded airport. Up and down stairwells, in and out of corridors, and finally prepared to take the elevators to the floor above where our exit would be.

I made him load the elevator before me so I wouldn't lose sight of him, but when we exited the elevator, I exited first and when I turned around, he was gone. I lost him again. I let him get away.

The feeling of failure was overwhelming as I dug for my cell phone again. My one-way dialogue made it clear to those within ear-shot that my mother was disappointed in me for losing him when I had him right next to me.

At last, the exit to the airport revealed itself. Unbeknowst to me, the airport was on an island and the only way to get home would be a trek across a mile-long bridge. I approached the bridge but realized quickly that the other travelers were crossing the bridge on their hands and knees - crawling from one end of the bridge to the other. I followed suite.

The bridge was wide enough for two people and wobbled from side-to-side. The closer you got to the center of the bridge, the more it wobbled and veered. The sides of the bridge were built of single two-by-fours standing on their sides, making the sides of the bridge a very shallow four inches tall.

As I approached the center of the bridge, the apex tipped violently from one side to the other until my legs were in the water. I fell off the side of the bridge because of the pitch and began holding on to the side of the walkway as tight as I could so I didn't fall into the black water. I panicked. No one would help me. I was losing my strength from the freezing cold of the water. I woke up.

This was the dream that I had about a week after my brother died.

To say that this year has been turbulent is an understatement. With George's death, its hard to recount the 9 months prior to his passing and so, whereas at this time of year I look back at all the good things that happened with ease, I find myself struggling to find the happy memories from this year.

On one hand, the beginning of 2011 brings with it, in my mind, the beginning of a fresh year - and on the other hand, I feel as though I am leaving this horrific event behind which, on the surface, seems great, but much in the same way that I lost my brother in the airport during the dream, part of me feels like I am leaving him behind.

I know, I know. "He will always be with you" and all the jazz and I know that the clock striking 12:01 on January 1, 2011 will not mean that I don't think about him every day for the rest of my life - but it feels as though I am leaving the time that I did have with him. 2010 will be, officially, the last year that I lived with my brother in this world and so something conceptual like a year has turned, in some ways, into a companion or person... and to leave it behind makes me feel like I am leaving George behind.

I find myself working hard to think of the things that came out of the year other than the loss of my brother - but the death of a family member this close changes you in such an organic way that it really changes your perceptions - and event that once seemed earth-shattering-ly great now seems "good". Things that were once "terrible" now seem tolerable. You are changed, at a fundamental level - your life and the perceptions of events within it are drastically recalibrated.

But, as I have said in previous blog entries, it is not my way to dwell on negativity. Its not my nature to obsess over things that cannot be changed or which I have no control over.

I have no hope of trying to figure out the values and pleasantries of 2010 prior to September of 2010 because the last three months created a "new me".

So, rather than hoping to figure out what greatness came out of this year, I will focus instead on the hopes I have for the new one.

I hope to achieve professional success.
I hope to achieve personal satisfaction with my weight.
I hope to grow/nurture new friendships.
I hope to establish a long-term plan for my family.
I look forward to life with a two-year-old (yes, I said "I look forward to it!")
I hope to be kinder to myself than I have been for the last 20 years or so.
I look forward to celebrating my 30th Birthday (EEK!)
And lastly, I hope to be the best possible mother, wife, daughter, cousin and friend I can possibly be - without "putting myself second".

I will never be able to reflect on 2010 without sadness, but with luck, later in life, I will be able to look back on my life and say that 2010 was the year that began a long momentum of great things.

To each of my friends, family, and random readers out there - I wish a very Happy New Year. May it bring new opportunities, great things, lots of love, and, for those who need it, peace.

Love always,

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

I snuck down the steps, heavy-footed and confident, anxious to see what was waiting for us in the living room. There, in the middle of the floor was a new drafting desk - exactly what I had asked for. From the shadows of my stairway, I could see a handwritten note waiting for me and so with a slightly-held breathe, I finished down the steps to read what Santa Claus had written to me.

I was fourteen.

I was fourteen and there was a still a part of me that had held on to Santa - the reality of Santa - reindeers and all. While I had long ago learned that Santa was fictional, there was a big part of me that simply couldn't accept his non-existance.

See, when George and I were small, mom and dad would go to great lengths to bring the magic of Santa and Christmas to the Gumpert household. One year, they pulled out all the stops: Pain-stakingly tearing buddles of cotton balls into small shreds and lining the interior of our chimney was among the details that year. George was too small to really process it, but for me it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Looking back, I couldn't tell you if this activity yielded a chimney FULL of cotton or a small little wick of cotton, but I guess that's even more the point.

That same year, I woke up in the middle of the night to loud banging and scraping on the roof above my room. My heart raced and thumped loudly in my 5-year-old chest with excitement and anxiety as I tried to convince myself to fall back asleep so that I wouldn't ruin Santa's visit.

From that point on, I woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve pretty regularly. I would sneek quietly into the living room and strain to see the tree in the dark. Inevitably, my eyes would play tricks on me and I would SEE Santa Claus hunched over the packages, pulling more out from his satchel.

When I was 8, the girl next door got mad at me for something and, to punish me, she yelled loudly "YEA!? Well Santa Claus AND the Easter Bunny aren't real!!".

With tears streaming down my face, I fled up the stairs to our second floor apartment and ask mom and dad if it was true. The paused before telling me that the Easter Bunny was not real, but Santa was. I guess they couldn't bear the idea of me losing both childhood dreams in the same day. Like a child, I believed them, of course, and continued perpetuating the myth of the Easter Bunny for my brother's sake.

A few years later, mom and dad finally came clean about jolly old St. Nick but for some reason, as I got closer to mid-teenager-dom, I just couldn't accept it. I had heard those reindeer and I saw all that cotton and my brain just couldn't let it go.

So on Christmas Eve of my 14th year, I wrote a letter to Santa and left it for him. We had long ago stopped leaving cookies, so I found an obvious spot for the letter and told dad what I was doing and why.

"I just have to know, one way or the other, for sure." And off I went to bed.

My parents wrote a beautiful letter (I still have no idea which parent wrote it) and left it for me on my new drafting table. It talked about how Santa lives in the hearts of all of us, but especially the young and told me not to give up on whimsy and magic no matter how silly it may seem.

Of course my parents never used the word "whimsy" but you get the point!

So, in my house, Christmas always held this incredible, beautiful warmth to it.

After George and I moved out, we stopped going into Brooklyn for Christmas (Grandma had passed away and the house had been sold), dad's job became less stable, and mom and dad became less happy in their marriage, the four of us tried so hard to keep that same warmth in Christmas. But, despite our best efforts, it waned.

I started putting my heart and soul into Christmas' with Josh - his Christmas history was never so lavish as mine and so watching him open gifts (all be it weeks before Christmas cause we could never seem to wait till Christmas morning) often compensated for I was losing in Christmas with my family. We still loved spending the time with one another, but the act of Christmas itself had become a bit of a chore for us all and we were "forcing it".

This year, by far, will be the hardest Christmas of my life. Olivia is too young to "get" the magic of Christmas and so the oweness is on Josh and I to make our own Christmas great.

And yet, I still find myself trying to "hurry" up to the 26th.

I know,full well, it will not be this way next year. I know that we will establish our own traditions and pass the magic of Christmas and Santa on to my daughter in the coming years and now is when things will really start to be fun.

But, for this year, there is a lot of sorrow surrounding the holidays for a multitude of reasons and I am trying to "get through" the once-magical holidays.

Santa will return to my Christmas spirit - in full force. We all need Santa in our lives for a myriad of different reasons. So tell the mean girl next door to "go screw", Santa Claus is coming to town - he's just navigating a detour.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dear Jenn: Don't be a fatty

The majority of those who read my blog regularly knew me in high school - the tall, pudgy girl with the LONG ratty looking nearly black hair who liked to sing. I was outspoken, but not rude to people and was, I have come to learn, an aquired taste. I like to think that I was "ahead of my time" insofar as I acted like a 25 year old and, therefore, couldn't really be identified with by my peers.

Through Elementary School and Middle School, I had been pretty well tortured by my classmates. I can distinctly remember running through JC Mills Elementary School's plaground during recess - me and two girlfriends of mine were holding hand's and skipping around the playground in a makeshift version of "The Whip" and our teacher approached us and said "Well you guys are awefully happy!" - I, in my infinite wisdom, responded "YES! We're GAY!" - knowing, in the fourth grade, that gay meant "happy" AND happened to a reference to homosexuality. The mistake that I made, of course, was that other fourth graders didn't know that gay meant happy. So, you can imagine how my heart broke when my two girlfriends immediately ripped their hands away from mine, looked at me in disgust, and left - all the while me yelling after them: "noo! Gay means happy too!! Listen to me!"


By the time I was in the 5th and 6th grade, I couldn't find pants that fit properly because my legs are, well, ganglionic, if that's even a word. Presently I have a 35" inseam but have the shortest torso known to man (seriously, imagine a little person - now imagine that little person with normal length legs. That was me.). So, you can imagine that walking around with pants that come 1 inch above the tops of your feet can be a bit of a problem. The solution my mother came up with, creatively, was to start buying me men's jeans since you could order them in any waist x leg length you needed. Let me tell you ladies - not comfortable.

No, Middle School wasn't fun. Luke (insert last name here) pushed all my books off my desk, pulled my chair out from under me as I went to sit down, stepped on the backs of my heels as I was walking through the hallway... it was terrible. Finally, I swung around, one day, kicked him in the shin as hard as I could and started to finish down the hall - and almost ran headfirst into Mr. Tromontina who witnessed my whole, intentional, act. I was called to the Principal's office later but was let go with a warning after I sold Luke out on all the horrible things he had done to me all year and never reported.

I think Luke mighta had a crush on me but will never know for sure.

When I was about 11, dad sat down on the edge of my bed and said something along the lines of (and don't quote me here!):
"Jenn, we are really concerned about your weight".
"Do you think I am fat?" I replied carefully.
"No, but we just want to make sure that you are eating right so that you don't have to worry about being overweight."

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea here there are some very important things I need to share about this exchange between my dad and I:

1) Dad was VERY overweight when he was a kid. He knew the kind of torture I was in for if I didn't get my weight under control soon.

2) Dad didn't say what he did in such a way as to be abusive. He has ALWAYS been very careful about what and how he says things to me so that I don't get hurt but he still gets his point across.

3) I am "over it" these days, so any "hurt" I felt back then is completely unimportant. My dad (and my mother) are amazing people who care about me a lot and never intentionally hurt me. (Though they do believe in tough love).

Unfortunately, my dad's warning fell on deaf, immature ears and I went about my business. Mom was very sick in these years and dinners were, mostly, "fend for yourself". I didn't have a lot of guidance on portion control, less guidance on balanced meals and didn't have a very good schedule (started skipping breakfast VERY young, eating next to nothing the rest of the day and loading up on high carb foods at around 5pm at night before bed at 8pm). This cycle of eating continued through high school.

In the 15 years since, I have come to learn a few things. Firstly, I LOVE FOOD. It's yummy, it makes me happy, it soothes me when I am not happy, and its a neccessary part of my life. Next, "everything in moderation" isn't bullshit. Yes, I can sit down and eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's in one sitting, but I will have to pay the repercussion and it will usually be in my ASS. Another thing is that desert doesn't mean a quarter of a pan of brownies, topped with 2-3 scoops of ice cream, hot fudge whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles, and cookie crumbles (a common occurance in the Gumpert household circa 1998 - its a MIRACLE the heaviest I got was 198 and NOT 305). Also, if you are going to eat desert, here's an idea: Don't eat it 20 minutes before you go to bed and put your body into hibernation.


Lastly, I have learned that excercise is not your enemy - its your ally. Look, I am not getting in shape to run a marathon. I am not getting in shape to live a healthy lifestyle and become some motivator for the people around me. I am getting in shape so I can eat what I want and not hate myself for it. I can enjoy eating out with my husband or with our friends and not sit on the shower stall floor crying or take 45 minutes to pick out an outfit for work because nothing in my closet makes me feel very good about myself.

My weightloss/management journey has varied a LOT in the last 15 years:
1998: 198lbs (sophomore year/junior year)
1999: 160lbs (senior year - Atkins diet)
2000: 165lbs (escaped the freshman fifteen by pulling 20 hours days and rarely eating)
2001: 185lbs (liked food a lot, stopped doing anything physical)
2002: 160lbs (started Rutgers, stressed out, stopped eating, took up smoking)
2004: 185lbs ("Happy Bunny Syndrome", enjoying my life, not doing much activity)
2007: 160lbs (started working out a LOT, eating right, finally figured out my magic pill)
2009: 225lbs (stopped smoking, pregnant with Olivia)
2010: 202lbs (no longer pregnant with Olivia - shocked I didn't have a 50lb baby)
NOW: 178lbs (changed my eating habits, cut out deserts after 7pm, had one bought of the flu, hitting the gym as often as I can - about 2-4 times per week.)

So the battle continues, but at least I know what I need to do - whether I do it or not is up to me. I have only myself to blame if I create excuses for why I am not at my goal weight (which, by the way, is presently 155).

I like burgers. I like fries. I like milkshakes. I like cookies. I like Eggnog - so they will all be coming with me on this journey... and it means that I need to spend another 40 minutes on the treadmill at 4.5mph, so be it.

Otherwise, Jenn: Put. The cookie. Down.

(Upcoming Future Post: Fat girl trapped in a skinny body - The weight may be gone by it still sticks around

Monday, December 6, 2010

Seeing Through Vasaline

When Olivia was born, it wasn't her first cries that I can still remember clear as day - it was my husband's raw emotion as he proclaimed "Oh my God" as she came into the world.

They held her up for me; her white, wrinkly body stark against the lights of the labor and delivery room. She writhed and yelled and all I could say was "look - Josh!! She's real! She's real!" as we cried together and enjoyed a moment that would never in our lives be replicated.

They cleaned her up and handed to her to me and I was in awe that this little person was in my belly and that she was now here, that her name was Olivia, and that I was now wholly responsible for her.

But almost immediately, there was some thing wrong with me - or so I thought at the time and for months beyond those wonderful early moments.

The reality, for me, was that she was a stranger. She was not my daughter - she was a kid that God dropped off and said: "You wanted her? You got her!"

What started off as a sensation that caused me to tilt my head slightly to the side and say "hmm... this doesn't seem right" snowballed over the next few weeks into a feverish hatred for a being that had no concept of anything.

And then, I hated myself for hating her.

When Olivia was born, Jenn was split into two people: a person who very much reflects who I am everyday - an impatient but even-keeled girl capable of anything and everything she sets her mind to. The other was a vicious, malicious, impatient, easily frustrated, whiny, depressed woman.

The two personalities fought with each other constantly. On many occasions the dialogue would go like this:

Mr. Hyde: The baby is crying. Again. What the %*$(?? You can't even make a BABY stop crying?
Dr. Jekyll: I am trying. She won't stop! What do you want me to do!?
Mr. Hyde: Well. There is nothing you CAN do now, is there? You went and got pregnant and made the commitment. Good job.
Dr. Jekyll: NO! This will get better. I know that it will. It has to. People wouldn't have kids if it was always like this.
Mr. Hyde: You are too selfish. Other people aren't as selfish as you are. SHE IS STILL CRYING.
Dr. Jekyll: I know. I don't know what to do. I can't do this.
Mr. Hyde: No. You can't. You are a horrible mother. You are a failure. What were you thinking?
Dr. Jekyll: I want to love her. I will love her. I KNOW I will love her. Right? I will love her, right?
Mr. Hyde:.... the baby is crying....

It's like I became a visitor in my own body for months following the birth of my daughter.

She would look up at me, innocently, bleery-eyed, and smile. I would cry because I didn't deserve it.

She had no idea of the private war that was being waged inside my mind. She didn't remember 5 minutes ago - so she didn't remember me leaving her in her play pen for 15 minutes while she cried and I tried to figure out how to calm myself down and love her until she stopped crying.

When I was given the opportunity to return to work a week early, I leapt at the opportunity - thinking that this would be an opportunity to sink myself into my work and give myself a break from the 10-11 hour days of nothing but baby. I was partially right.

Returning to work was an onslaught of well-meaning friends and co-workers asking "and how is that beautiful little girl of yours?" - their eyes lit with love, adoration, and all the feelings and emotions I should have for my own child. I squinted my eyes to make them smile, clenched my teeth and lifted the corners of my mouth as I faked my way through my rehearsed responses: "She is so goooooood!", "She is amazing. I love her SO much!", "She is so pretty. I can't believe how lucky I am." (See? And you thought my acting background had completely fallen to the wayside!) What I really wanted to say is "I'm back early for a reason!", "I am so tired I could throw up", "I'm not breastfeeding because she tore through my nipple and now I am on so much medicine I can't even think straight", "You love her so much? You can take her for a little bit!" and my favorite: "She sucks. I need a break".

But, as you can imagine, even the slightest indication that I didn't love my newborn baby immediately drew some very dissapointed reactions from people and, so, I avoided anything that sounded like frustration or disappointment.

Afterall, a new mother thinks that merely not loving her brand new baby means she will get reported to DYFS and lose him/her.

Finally, nine horrible months later, the veil of post-partum depression lifted and I started seeing the blessing that God gave me. She. Was. Beautiful.

She was spirited and determined. She was stubborn and curious. She was wary and loving. She was, well, me. And she loved me.

Through the haze of post-partum I had gone into a routine of taking care of her. It was robotic. BUT, Olivia didn't know (or care) that robo-mom didn't know what she was doing. She didn't care that robo-mom didn't put much emotion into it. She didn't care that robo-mom felt like a failure. What she appreciated is that I was there when she woke up. I hugged her when she was tired or hurt, happy or sad, cold or scared. I played with her on the floor. I sang to her. I did all the things that I had seen other parents do - I faked it - and she didn't care.

At the end of it all, the reality is that Olivia didn't need me to love her - she just needed me there at all. To catch her when she fell down, to hold her up when she wanted to take her first steps. To hug her when she was scared of a dark room.

The blessing of a baby's incredibly short memory (the idea that they barely remember five minutes ago) is that our post-partum distance from them is never permanant in their minds. She will never remember that I walked away from her to go calm down. She will never remember that I screamed, at the top of my lungs, on more than one occassion.

But, unfortunately, I will. I can never get those months back. True, they are "boring" months as far as childhood goes, but I feel robbed of a right-of-passage... the first months of your firstborn baby.

Looking at videos now of Olivia in those early months, I can see so much in her little face. I can see when she was scared or when she wanted me to pick her up and hold her. Her face, as I see it now, tells me EVERYTHING that I need to know about her and what she needed at that moment. What Post-Partum Depression did to me is put a pair of vaseline-covered goggles over my eyes and robbed me of nearly the first year of my daughter's life.

The best I can offer her is to love her with the whole of my being every single day for the rest of her life. And I do.

So, here is why I am writing this.

The worst feeling in the WORLD was feeling as though no one could hear me and that I couldn't talk to ANYONE about how I really felt. There is an intense fear that comes with being a mommy when we don't love our kids the moment they exit our bodies and enter the world. If you are one of these women, I am here to tell you: "I HEAR YOU". Don't be AFRAID to say it. It doesn't make you less of a woman. It doesn't make you less of a mother. You aren't alone and it ISN'T forever. I promise.

So if you are out there, whether you are a friend of mine or a person who happened to come across my blog from the world wide web, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to listen and (proudly and emphatically) not judge!

Even as I write this last portion of this blog, Olivia is on my lap, playing with my cell phone, happily suckling on her nuk.

And when the day comes that Olivia finds the right man and is ready to start her own little family - you bet your ass that I will proudly and shamelessly share with her the battle we survived together. I would never want her, for one moment, to think that I may judge her for encountering the same challenge should she encounter it.

So, in the end, maybe some good came of those very dark days! I was always a sucker for a happy ending!

Monday, November 29, 2010

'Tis the Season for... Judgment?

So there I was... stuffed from a night of eating and enjoying the afterglow of my Thanksgiving Day turkey while I stood at the end of a 600 yard line of people at the Toys 'R Us. The evening was warm and still, the people around me chatting hyper-actively. It was my first foray into the craziness that is Black Friday shopping (in this case, Pre-Black Friday Shopping) and I had headed out alone. I got in line at 9:30pm in anticipation of the 10pm opening with the 4-5,000 other people who had the same idea.

In an effort to pass some time, I pulled out my not-so-smart phone and started checking status updates on facebook which had come in through out the course of the day and evening and that's when it hit me - by standing in this line, I became one of the many who are judged by those who chose not to contribute to the "capitalistic" "insanity".

As the evening progressed, the updates continued over the course of the two-hour wait. Someone posted that they "hoped that the tv (we) are waiting in line for blows up", another posted that "(we) are stupid and have nothing better to do"... the comments went on and on.

Why was I do this? There was a kitchenette on sale - Olivia is at a point, developmentally, where she can enjoy this type of item and its important to her imagination development. Also, when I was a toddler, I always wanted one but we were too poor to have one.

At $100 dollars, the kitchenette was too expensive, but with the sale that was on that evening, I could get the same set for about $50 or so - which was much more within my budget and made getting it for her possible. I considered waiting till morning, but what if they had run out? No biggie, personally - next year is another year. But Olivia is finally getting to that age where her eyes light up at things she likes, and buying gifts for her for Christmas is becoming fun for us as parents.

As I continued my wait in line, I developed short-term friendships with the extremely pleasant people around me. The family behind me (7 in all) were there to get gifts for their kids. Grandma, in her motorized wheelchair, chatted with her children and grandchildren about everything from A Christmas Story to discussions about what the "hot item" is going to be this year. Two very early-twenty somethings stood in front of my making fun of themselves and the lot of us giggled about their past Black Friday experiences.

As the evening progressed and the judgmental facebook updates continued, so began the "Put the Christ back in Christmas" postings... before you shut down this blog and never return, you should know that I DO believe in Christ and His sacrifice for me. My issue is actually much bigger than the "remember what Christmas is all about" postings and more to do with people's judgment on how others choose to celebrate the holiday.

What is wrong with my choosing to take my own time to stand in line on a beautiful November evening in Florida to chat with people I will never see again, experience something I have not yet experienced, make my own decision about how great/horrible it is, try to obtain a toy that I think my daughter will enjoy and benefit from ... all in the name of Christmas? Is it to say that the true followers of Christ do NOT exchange gifts on Christmas? Is there anything in the Bible or in history that indicates that the giving and receiving of gifts on December 25th hearkens back to traditions original to the holiday? Are those that are devout and faithful followers of Christ willing to cease this gift exchange to more fully celebrate the day of His birth (though to my understanding there is debate on the 25th having any true biblical significance). And if not, where is it written that though shalt not purchase such gifts in a hectic/cattle-like way? What does it matter to you if I purchase these things at a discount (i.e. financially responsible way) or if I pay nearly full-price for them. How does it affect your life for me to stand in line with people for the party of it? Hell! I may go back next year NOT to buy anything just to learn something from people around me.

And do you know what I learned this year? The economy sucks! Families are struggling through so much turmoil between lost jobs and pay cuts that they have to do anything and everything they can to provide for their children. If 50% off an Iron Man helmet is the best they are going to be able to do for their kids this year, I say stand in line baby - stand in line!

No, gift receiving should not be identify of Christmas, but I will proudly state that I am happy beyond happy to identify Christmas as a gift giving season. Christ is Love and my holidays have always been an opportunity to celebrate time with family and friends, to make great food for each other's enjoyment, to enjoy comfort food, to spend time together, to come together when the year has kept you apart, to slow down and enjoy the companionship of your family, and to give to each other a token of how much you appreciate their presence in life.

If Chris is Love then He wants me to get together with my family and to bask in our love for each other. He wants for us to laugh, drink, eat, and exchange gifts. He wants for us to help the poor and give to those who are less fortunate.

But most of all, I am quite certain that Christ never said "acknowledge and dote on me on December 25th each year". I never really viewed Christ as that self-congratulatory, self-interested, or self-centered.

And while he certainly never said "shower each other with gifts on a specific day of the year", he did ask us to love they neighbor and to love each other. Christmas is the reminder that we are all wrapped up in our own stuff - without it, I would barely remember to slow down and enjoy the company of those in my life. The bell ringers at Salvation Army tins, the Toys for Tots commercials, the local church food-raisers, the Christmas lights inside the mall --- all serve to remind us that we should be kind and look out for one another.

At the end of it all, most of those crazy nutjobs that are standing in line are just desperate to show their children or loved ones that they care. We don't know their story. We don't know their ability to provide for the other 365 days of the year. We don't know if this tv they are purchasing is the first thing that they are able to afford since they got married or since their child was born with a severe birth defect costing them their life savings. That woman at the front of the line who has been there since Tuesday could, for all you know, be rushing into the Toys 'R Us to pick up a Baby Alive for her Alzheimer patient grandmother who had one when she was a girl.

Or - they could JUST be getting some things for their kids for LESS than they would spend tomorrow.

Either way - I am pretty certain that we aren't meant to judge each other.

So I will take pictures as Olivia sets her eyes on that kitchenette I stood 4 hours in line to purchase. And, yes, it will be worth every second of it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

... to be thankful for...

It has been a rough year in the Boyle household. In early January, my husband's mom died suddenly. There was a steady stream of parental units living in the house for the better part of the year. I switched Olivia's day-care provider. Found my footing as a parent. Finally came out of my post-partum depression haze of the previous year. All leading up to the very abrupt death of my younger sibling.

From November 1st through December 31st, you can usually find me walking on air. It is, by far, the best time of year for me - little goes wrong, everyone is a twitter with activity and, usually, the family draws closer together as they overindulge and enjoy each other's company.

Up until today, the spirit of the season has been a little lackluster. While I knew months ago that I would have no family in Florida through the holidays and subsequently planned large gatherings of friends local to us, George's death hit a nerve. It was as though I was standing in a bell tower when the church elected to ring the bell and noone had provided ear covering.

"Bonnnnggggg - your family is far away. Bonnnnnnnnnnggg - your family, as you once knew it, has desolved completely. Bonnnnnnggg - you are all alone. Bonnnnnnnggggggg......"

It is easy to wrap yourself up in these types of negativities - but as is "my way" I have a tendancy to turn the tables on myself and change my perspective. So, in a rather cliche attempt to find my Thanksgiving Mojo, I have decided to make a list of the top-four things I am thankful for this year:

4. My Job
The unemployment rate in Tampa, Florida as of September was 12.4% - ranking the city 334th out of 372 metropolitan cities according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (compared to the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania Metro area currently experiencing a unemployment rate of 8.5% - representing a 187th place ranking!)

In spite of this horrible economic climate, I managed to secure a job in March, 2008 (when the unemployment rate was still on the rise) at Southeastern Guide Dogs. Having never worked for a non-profit before, I had no idea how risky a move it could be - but coming from the construction industry (THE hardest hit industry in Florida) anything was better than the sinking ship I was currently a passenger of.

But my appreciation for this job goes SO MUCH deeper than just having the job. In a time when many are stuck in positions they are overqualified for at companies they have little if any respect for or, as is the case for many, no job at all - I actually have a job I love coming to everyday. Sure - it has its headaches. There are days where I can't wait for the clock to strike 4:30 and I can run home to my daughter. But, on the whole, I am challenged by my work, I am able to make a huge impact both internally at my organization and in the lives of other people, and I am given professional freedom to think outside the box and develop existing or new programming. It is rare to achieve this level of professional satisfaction at any age - let alone 29.

3. My Marriage
I am blessed enough to have a supportive husband who treats me as an equal, who values my opinion and shares (for the most part) my enjoyments. As we age together, we have definately changed our common iterests, but I have come to realize that with age comes a shift in priorities. It's not nso important, anymore, that you enjoy the same music and both love going to movies. What becomes the priority is whether you support each other's life goals. Do you challenge each other to love as much as you can in the face of never-ending changes. Can you survive financial draughts, setbacks, parenting and all the other life challenges that come your way. The surgeries, the family deaths, the family celebrations and everything in between?

Suddenly, the you start to deconstruct your vows and realize that the commitments you made when you stood in front of your friends, family and God were lip service at the time - because growing together in your relationship is the true validation test of the vows you spoke.

2. My Family
I was raised to believe that family was the end-all-be-all of life. My grandmother, who was not the most affectionate woman, was also the woman well-respected by the community and loved (deeply) by those around her. What she lacked in hugs and "I love you"s, she made up in an openess you rarely find in women of her generation. A single mother raising three boys in Brooklyn, NY, she took no shit from anyone. You didn't mess with Dottie.

What she instilled in her boys was a sense of familial responsibility and, even more importantly, the ability to enjoy each other's presence in your life - to find the humor in everything you do - and to live life to the fullest no matter how illogical your choices might be. The trickle-down-effect instilled the same beliefs in all the grandchildren (there are 6 of us) and the desire to continue the tradition of family with our kids.

In September (a week after my brother died), I had the incredible pleasure of joining my cousin Kelly Ann in North Carolina for her wedding. It was the first time we had ALL been together since Grandma's death in 2003. Despite the fact that some of us hadn't seen each other in 7 years or more (in some cases), they were like a familiar sweatshirt you pull out on the coldest days of the winter. Being with family is akin to lighting a fire on Christmas Eve, snuggling up in your favorite old sweatshirt with a warm hot cocoa (with marshmellows of course) and letting yourself enjoy the mezmorizing effect of the fire's flames as it warms your skin.

I am so blessed to be a Gumpert. We laugh like no other family. We love like no other family. We party like no other family. And we protect each other like no other family.

1. My Daughter
Well, you had to see that one coming.

When I was in the throws of my post-partum depression (more on that in a future blog post), I began going to a church nearby. At the time, I went partially out of a personal need to be away from the house. But more than that - I was searching from something... I just had no idea what it was.

During one of the services, I was listening to Pastor Mark and something he said brought me to tears. I couldn't tell you what he said as its been quite a long time, but the result of his words landed in my heart and said: God made Olivia exactly the way she is specifically for you.

I cried.

To that point (and for a few months beyond it) I realized that I was failing as a parent. I hadn't yet acknowledged that I was suffering the effects of Post-Partum, but even at a basic level had not accepted that my expectations on her were too steep. Olivia's nose, her smell, her bald head, her tiny toes, her chubby belly... all existed because God said "You two shall be parents". Yes, I know - Olivia exists because sperm met egg - but in my view... THAT sperm met THIS egg to produce THIS child based on God's plan for us all. Olivia was made perfect - it was my expectations that were wrong.

Once the cloud of post-partum lifted, the warm sun that was the joy of my daughter shown brightly. She is loving. She is compassionate. She is stubborn and determined. She is wholly my daughter and she loves me. For the way that she has taught me patience, compassion, and gratitude - she is the single most important thing in my life and most definately the greatest thing to be thankful for.

As we approach the Holidays, I hope each of you will make your own small list of the things that you appreciate having. Life can be very very hard. We can be broke and jobless. We may have recently lost a very important loved one. We may be going through a divorce or a messy breakup. But I can assure you that there is something in you life you can "hang your thanks on".

Diversity, anguish and challenges are a part of life - and how much shit is doled out to you is not within your control (most of the time). The question is how much you will let that diversity run your life, or if you will take those things you are joyful about and run in a different direction.

As we say at Southeastern Guide Dogs (on a regular basis) - "It's not a challenge - it's an opportunity."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Recieve!

Before I go forward, let me preempt this (and all future entries, by proxy - that's right Sarah - I am giving a "Gumpert Disclaimer") by saying this: I love my friends and I love my friend's children. If I criticize the behavior a child, it's a personal opinion and while it IS a reflection on you as a parent, it is NOT a reflection of my opinion of you as my friend - your parenting techniques does not change my opinion of you in the slightest. It is not meant to forshadow that Olivia will become President of the United States while your kid is flipping burgers at the nearest Burger King (hollah to my homies from the B-ville BK!) with one finger in his/her nose while contemplating the definition of "ambition". We ALL choose to raise our kids differently as we are ALL the products of our own environments growing up. I am able to distinguish that who you are (the person I love) is raising a child the way you see fit. I can love you (and your parenting) in spite of your kid's shenanigans. No child is the same, no parent is the same. But I DO believe that there are certain, fundamental things that define our generation of parents from the generation we all grew up in. More on that in a bit.

Moving on.

This past Saturday, the stars aligned, my sun sign was in Jupiter, and I saw a pig fly by window - well at least it felt like it. For the first time in months I got a chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and talk on the phone with one of my dearest friends. Every mommy out there can relate with the idea that there comes a point in your life when you start making appoitments to have phone calls with the (adult) people who matter most to you. Coordinating this type of phone call between TWO moms is just about as impossible as lighting a candle with a strong wind blowing.

As we chatted about our kids, the conversation shifted, slowly, to a more global discussion on parenting and our parenting styles.

When Olivia was still nothing more than an idea, my husband and I talked endlesslessly about the types of parents we wanted to be. I grew up in a household with strict limitations. My husband grew up in a household with none. You can imagine my reaction when I learned that he believed that teenages shouldn't have curfews as long as they are responsible and get good grades. Right - because the kids with good grades are NEVER the ones that get into trouble at all hours of night. Never. Ever.

I mentioned earlier that I believe that there are key, fundamental differences between the generation me and my peers were raised in and the generation that we are raising kids in. When I really sit back and think about what these differences are, I am able to come up with the following:
1) We are in the generation of the working mom. Other than gender equality, there is nothing great about this. More than ever, households need two incomes to survive. The result? A bunch of moms who carry with them a guilt that they don't get to spend much time with their kids. I see Olivia a whopping 1.5 hours a weekday - including daycare travel time and cooking dinner. The result of this maternal guilt is that we don't want the small increments of time we DO get to spend with our kids to be spoiled with time-outs and the enevitable crying that comes with it.
2) We are raising kids in a generation of instant gratification and lax parenting. The other day I was reading a local mom magazine that had a four page article on "Free Range Parenting" - the most incredible thing to me is that everything that was included in this article was EXACTLY how I was raised. There is a TERM for it now? But in the era of too-much-information, a mom has everything to worry about: from preservatives to aspertame, from drinking water to diaper cream, from lead-painted toys from china to carseat recalls. Addmittedly, my parenting philosophy is this: If I did it and it didn't kill me, Olivia can too. Now, if there is some new research that specifically an unequivocally identifies a link between the play-doh and cancer, I will OF COURSE reevaluate the 50-gallon barrel of play-doh I have stowed in my garage for the day when Olivia could play with it.
3) Today's generation of parent is weak. We have this incredible aversion to listening to our parents when it comes to basic parenting (by basic parenting I mean eating, sleeping, discipline and boundary setting as opposed to computer usage, television viewing, etc... too much has changed in the last 20 years so we are "on our own" to some extent with the more mature subject matter). The difference between our parents and us is that mom and dad were NOT afraid to tell us "No" and they ingrained into us that there would be consequences for talk-back. It didn't come easily to mom and dad to be so mean to us. Look into the eyes of your son or daughter when you tell them "no" and their tears well in their little eyes, their lip pouts and they cry as though they were in the greatest pain imaginable - and then TRY to remember when mom or dad switched their position and said "oh - ok... please don't cry. I'm sorry". I can tell you in my house it didn't happen. When the answer was "no", crying got you sent to your room until you could calm down. Why do we have such an aversion to listening to our parents? Is it JUST that we "don't want to be like them"? Is it JUST the idea that "this is MY kid and I can do it on my own"? If that were true - then basically you are saying that you don't like YOURSELF... your parents raised you to be the person you are today. If you love your husband, you have mom and dad to thank for giving you the right idea of what you were looking for. If you are proud of your career, you have mom and dad to thank for the drive they instilled in you and the support that they gave you as you developed through school and beyond.

When I was collecting my thoughts for this week's blog, I decided to ask my facebook friends what they would like to see on my blog. Here is where the real fun begins!

Two friends asked about how to get their children to sleep through the night. Now, provided that your child is OLD enough to sleep through the night (meaning that they are not so young that they should be regularly waking up for feedings), the suggestion I have is the simplest/hardest thing you will ever have to do - but there are few factors involved in this answer:

1)If your baby isn't TIRED they will NOT sleep through the night. Rocket science, I know. The ONLY thing that got Olivia to regularly sleep through the night was a consitant nap schedule during the day. Without a good nap routine, you have NO hope for an overnight sleeper. I have my mom to thank for this. Olivia woke up at 6:30am. If she didn't wake up, we woke her up. That's right - we woke her up. There is NO sleeping late. Mommy and daddy hated it, but the change in Olivia was so stark that we couldn't bear to sleep late. Olivia would be put down for her nap every day at 9:30 and 2:30. It didn't matter if she was tired or not and now, as she gets older, it doesn't matter if she sleeps or not. That time is "quiet time" - she can do with it what she likes. We keep no toys in her bedroom (or if there are toys they are put away) so that there is no desire to play. I would rather my living room be a mess if it means that she is going to sleep in her bedroom. Each of these naps were two hours. If she slept later, we would wake her up. By the time 7:00pm rolls around, that kids is TUCKERED OUT. Now, at 6:50, Olivia will grab me or her fathers hand, grab her favorite stuffed animal and her nuk and drag US to her bedroom for bedtime.

2) If your child DOES wake up in the middle of the night: Listen to the cry. Is something wrong? Or is your little one just calling to you. If they are calling to you, let them sit for a little bit. They may fall back asleep. If they begin to CRY for you - go in (leave the lights off!!), make sure they covered, that they have their favorite things with them and LEAVE THE ROOM. By picking them up, soothing them or stroking their hair, you are conditioning them to NEED you to fall back asleep. I say this as a parent who tried EVERYTHING to get Olivia to sleep through the night. Finally, my desire to keep my own sanity in check allowed me the strength regularly walk out of the room and not come back. If Olivia's cries turned from sadness to panic, I repeated the routine. This is the HARDEST WEEK OF CONDITIONING YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH but by the time a kid is old enough to be able to sleep through the night without waking up, its time to play hardball.

3) Lastly, and most importantly, do not deviate from the routine - every. single. day. No excuses. We will work our entire day around being home for naptimes and being home in time for bed. The ONE exception was on Halloween when we took Olivia trick-or-treating. She was 18 months old and could handle it (but she didn't get to sleep in the next day!) Now that Olivia's closer to two, we DO skip naps from time to time, but bedtime is a non-negotiable. Yes, it sucks. Yes, you want to hang out with people after dark - but having Olivia not acting like a terrible two in the grocery store is FAR more desireable.

The other question I got from a friend was how to "survive mobility". I LOVE the way she worded it. Here is where the "Jenn's a bad parent" letters start flowing into my inbox. Ready? I don't childproof. There. I said it - it's so LIBERATING!!!!!

I have plug covers on every plug in the house for the sake of OTHER people's kids. I started telling Olivia "no" when she was 5 months old. "No plug". "No table". "No wire". Sometimes, at 18 months, she gets defiant and devilishly touches a lamp wire the interaction goes as such:

"Olivia. No. Wire." *touch touch touch* "Olivia. No. Wire. 1.... 2.... 3" at which point Olivia goes into time-out for one minute. IF she comes out of time-out early (which is rare as she is VERY used to time out), I add a minute. I DO use the Suppernanny methodology of discipline (so does my daycare provider which is SO important cause she is reinforcing what I am doing at home).

As a result, Olivia closes doors, rather than opens them. She doesn't TOUCH the cabinets (she has be taught not to). She doesn't touch the dishwasher. She doesn't open the refridgerator. She doesn't touch plugs or lamps or glass-top tables. She has been walking since she was 8 months old and by 10 months, most of the "No Cabinet" discussions were over.

So when it comes to childproofing my philosophy is pretty simple: Teach the child not to touch it, rather than challenging them to break into it.

I have heard HORROR stories about kids that will do ANYTHING to get into the cabinet. Wouldn't you? If someone told you not to do something and then, on top of it, gave you a little puzzle to figure out that would let you INTO it? Literally - cabinets ripped off the hinges! Drawer faces pulled clean off the drawer!

So, hang in there moms and dads! No one ever said that parenting was easy - but we have a responsibility to our kids to do the RIGHT thing rather than the easy thing! Don't let the judgement of the parents next to you (who wouldn't DREAM of telling their kid "no" in public) sway you from the mission you have to raise a well-rounded kid with set boundaries!!!

United - we stand - divided... well, our kids run through the grocery store, half-naked, with a giant box of sugared cereal clutched in their hands as they threaten to call DCFS from their cell phone.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finding My Way

On September 13, 2010, they found my brother dead in his apartment. That is the first time I have written that down on paper and, somehow, it seems so much more real in writing than when I communicate to people verbally.

As you can imagine, choas ensued. In fact, if you could possible fathom the type of chaos that would take place when your sibling commits suicide at the age of 27 - if you could imagine all the different things that MAY happen when that news starts to trickle through the cosmos - chances are it occured in the hours, days and weeks following my brother's death. The hardest part was, by far, working with my brother's widow who was, by all accounts, not cut out to handler the extremely untimely death of her husband.

I was faced with the very stark reality that while no one is prepared for the suicide of a loved one, least of all is a 29-year-old widow after two years of marriage.

Then the inevitable blame game started. I struggled with trying to observe and respect the feelings of my brother's life-long love while balancing the wishes of my parents and, to an even smaller degree, my own personal feelings about and through out the aftermath. It was a lose-lose situation where no one would walking away feeling good.

After two months of trying to respect everyone, his wife determined that it was in her own best interest (and I can't say that I disagree with her, per se) that she remove herself from the family and begin moving forward without any of us in the picture.

So, too, went the hopes that I have carried with me since I was 14 that we would all be one big happy family one day.

A few days after my brother died, I began seeing a therapist to help me work through the grief I was feeling. It was my intention to see him a few times, get what I needed, and be on my way. But as I attended my sessions with him (and he implored me to stick with the therapy), I began to realize a lot of things about myself that had not previously been paid attention to.

While I was working to manage everyone else's grief - no one was managing mine.

Now, let me be clear that I have an extremely supportive family. They love me immensely and are tremendously proud of my personal and professional accomplishments. It isn't to say that they weren't reaching out to me. They were. They asked how I was doing and encouraged me to talk about how I was working through the death of my brother (who was close to me in age and was very close to me growing up but to whom I had developed a significant distance from in more recent years).

More to the point is that the death of my brother, the role I assumed without flinching or being asked, and the mediation I tried to take part in without expectation from ANYONE was actually a mini-version of the rest of my life. I put everyone before myself without anyone asking and, ultimately, make msyelf the victim in the process. Even if I don't play victim or count myself as the victim, I am victimizing myself.

So, here we are.

My brother was a huge talent - while he struggled whith finding outlets for himself in his childhood and adolescence, he had found a niche for himself in graphic and web design. He was talented and well respected among industry professionals and respected the talents that I had growing up.

As I write this, two months after his death, I find myself desperate to find a way to honor him. He always thought I was a strong writer - and had suggested, at one time, that I pursue copywriting as a career (which I never did). He also solicited me to write for his site: Media Consumes Me(which I never did despite my obsession with television). Ultimately, we pushed each other to create which, despite my talent or passion/enjoyment for it - I stopped doing and he continued to pursue and cultivate up until the day he took his life.

So, in memory of him - and to honor his creativity - I have created this blog. Its aim is undefined and I certainly don't forsee me becoming particularly notorious as a result of its entries, but at the very minimum I can write about his niece - my experiences as a first time mother, my intentions as a parent and my hopes for her future. I can share my television-watching experiences and hopefully make some people laugh. I can itemize my never-ending list as I endeavor to one day move back to New Jersey. And I can, MOST IMPORTANTLY, revel in how much I love my family... neuroses and oddities included without exception. Because, at the end of it all, that's the only thing you really have - it is with you forever.