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!