About Me

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chapter 3: Pieces to a Puzzle

It becomes apparent, when something occurs that's as tragic and sudden as the death of my brother, that each person processes things in their own way. When something sudden and important happens in my family, it is usual for me to spring into action and start working toward a resolution. It isn't to say that's how I operate when something crazy happens to me - in fact, I handle personal things quite in the opposite way - but when something happens to my family, I am the first person to jump in to the fray and start fixing things.

Old habits die hard.

So when I learned of George's death, the first coherent thing I did was book my flight to North Carolina in preparation for the family meeting that would inevitably take place.

But, as I mentioned in the last blog (and I recognize that it was a very long time ago at this point), the details surrounding my brother's death drastically affected the overall plan.

**WARNING: IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW THE EXACT DETAILS OF GEORGE'S PASSING, SKIP THIS SECTION...MOVE TO THE NEXT "ALL CAPPED" SECTION OF THIS POST AND RESUME READING.**

As would likely be appropriate for any mother, my mom was fixated on finding out as many details as she could about my brother's last minutes of life, the way in which he chose to die, the thoughts that may have entered his head and any other details that she could obtain. She spoke with the Medical Examiner (ME) I think, initially, to determine whether suicide was the only possible explanation for his death.

George had not been drinking... nor had he taken any drugs within the traditional drug panel, but even without the influence of drugs or alcohol, he had determined that he was going to take his own life. He wrote a note on his computer, printed it and taped it to his computer screen.

He wrote a note warning whoever may find him, printed it, and taped it to his bedroom door. He got his iPod, selected some music, sat on his bed and placed a plastic bag over his head; tying it off with a shoelace then handcuffed his hands behind his back and laid down on his bed.

No one could tell us when he died - but I spoke with him Friday night (September 10th) around 11pm and from what I had heard, he had sent a Facebook message to a friend around 10pm on Saturday, September 11th. The ME confirmed that Saturday night would be "about right" given the rate of decomposition, but explained that time of death is not an exact science as they make it seem on TV. George lay in his room, alone, for just over a day before he was discovered by his building's maintenance department on Monday, September 13th.

The ME told each of these details to my mother who then relayed them to me.

**IF YOU SKIPPED THE ABOVE SECTION, YOU MAY SAFELY BEGIN READING FROM THIS POINT FORWARD**

My parent's plan was to leave New Jersey/Pennsylvania on Wednesday morning and arrive in North Carolina Tuesday evening, but the ME's advice to my mother stopped those plans dead in their tracks:

"Ms. Gumpert... if this were my child, I would not want to see him this way."

And with those words, my mother no longer wanted to make the trip to North Carolina.

I was immediately torn.

I had spent $400 to fly to North Carolina thinking that this would be the place we would congregate; to hug each other, love on one another, and be there for each other - all of us. I couldn't afford to fly to New Jersey to be near my parents.

I didn't want to be alone.
I didn't want to be in North Carolina.
I didn't want to wait.
I didn't want to go and didn't want to stay.

I was torn between wanting to there for Kristen, wanting to be there for my parents, wanting my parents to be there for me, and wanting to go home to wrap my arms around my daughter and just sob as hard as I could.

The plan was for me to fly back up to North Carolina in a week for my cousin's wedding, so I knew that I would get the opportunity to see my dad (and the rest of my dad's side of the family) at the wedding.

I researched flights back to Florida and established that I would be able to fly out around noon the next afternoon...

... But before I could leave North Carolina, there were a few items that needed to be addressed and so I was charged with doing them.

I spent the balance of Tuesday spending time with Kristen, Tricia and Erik - drinking in their hospitality and warmth and observing Erik's every move. His stature and mannerisms were so reminiscent of George it was uncanny. While somewhat unnerving, it was also pleasant and heartwarming. In retrospect, it was as though George compelled me to go to North Carolina because he wanted me to meet Tricia and Erik - he wanted me to see how similar he and Erik were and he wanted me to observe a man who so reminded me of my brother... it helped me process, heal and be ok.

I approached Kristen on the front porch - she had been there for a while. She was staring into the evening blankly. I wrapped my arms around her from behind, crouched down the porch for as long as I could before my thighs started trembling and I could no longer hold my own weight.

We smoked a ridiculous number of cigarettes, and eased into conversation. The gist of it was that I needed to go home. I needed to be near my husband and my daughter and start to process this death in my own way - privately. I let her know that she had a support system in Erik and Tricia - a support that I did not have with them and because of that, the hole in my heart was growing rapidly. We chatted about Kristen's feelings and the fear that she had about her future. She intimated that she missed her dad and I told her that I thought it was time to reach out to them. I am a big believer that family is family no matter WHAT - and that if there any time appropriate to mend long wounded fences, it's when you are 29 and have lost your husband.

All the while, through out this conversation, I couldn't ignore the seemingly overwhelming feeling that George was standing over my right shoulder as I consoled his wife and encouraged her to seek support.

"Kristen... I can't be it for you. I am trying as hard as I can right now to be there for you and support you in the way that you need to be supported but the reality is that I have lost my brother, my parents have lost their child. It's a bad situation that is only going to get worse, and I know that our time is limited. You need someone who is an advocate for YOU... you need family to know that they will be looking out for your best interest no matter what and whose motives you will never question. I am not sure how long that will be true for you and I. It's time."

As I brushed my teeth that evening with the toothbrush Tricia so thoughtfully had laid out for us, I wondered how long Kristen and I's friendship would survive. I wanted to believe that we were rational enough people that we would defy the odds and stay friends in spite of something as powerful as this death.
***

Kristen and I headed to the funeral home around 8am the next morning. We entered the parlor and immediately wished that we weren't there. We spoke very little but communicated how uncomfortable we were in this old/old fashioned house.

A tall, rather unintelligent man began assisting us and once again I was faced with the difficult and awkward situation of feeling as though I had less "right" to be there than Kristen did. After all... she is the wife... I am just this sister.

No, we would not like an obituary.
No, we would not like any fancy urn.
Yes, please provide 10 copies of his death certificate.

As we were leaving the funeral home, Kristen's grandfather arrived from Melbourne, FL. The man jumped in his car within hours of learning the news and began driving to be with his granddaughter in North Carolina.

I was impressed.

He was a former New York City cop and he was sharp as a tack. I liked him.

Kristen and I got back into her car and started heading back to the house where Tricia would be driving me to the airport.

On the ride back, my phone rang and mom and dad began itemizing things that they wanted from George's apartment. I knew that this was not a conversation which was going to go over very well with Kristen, so I proceeded to "yes" and "mm hmm" them to get them off the phone. When I arrived back at the house, I called dad back and told him that I was not in a place where it was possible or wise for me to start giving a list of requests. When I got off the phone, I was visibly shaken, upset and on edge. Kristen picked up on this immediately (she has, after all, known me for forever) and asked what was wrong. I tried like hell to avoid answering the question, but after the last three days and the substantial lack of sleep I had lived through, I cracked - and what came out of my mouth was loud and inconsiderate of anyone's feelings but my own:

"You have no idea how hard this is! I have mom and dad making demands on this situation and they are angry. They want things of George's and I told them that I can't ask you right now so now they are mad at me because they think that you should be offering to give us these things. I am trying to be a friend to you and not say anything to make you more upset than you already are! I am staying in a stranger's house. I don't know which way to go and I don't know what to say!"

"No one seems to care that I lost my husband," she responded angrily.

"NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE THAT I LOST MY BROTHER."

It was out there - I couldn't take it back ... and I likely wouldn't have if given the opportunity because it was the most honest thing I have ever said for myself.

I had said what was on my mind and had finally verbalized the fact that I felt like a pawn or like a child being bounced between divorcing parents. I spent the last three days catering to everyone's whims, playing peacemaker, working to advocate for both party's interests and continued to neglect my own grief.

Kristen and I hugged each other - apologized for the hurtful things we may have said to each other, and began saying our goodbyes as I had to head to the airport.

Tricia graciously drove me to the airport, and I began my trip back to Tampa. I breathed a sigh of relief that this particular chapter was over and hoped that the ones ahead would be easier... hell, nothing could be as hard as these three days had been, right?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 2: Unshakable

"Dad?"
His phone was breaking up and I couldn't get a clear signal. The weight of what I had to tell him was making me impatient, so the next thing that came out of my mouth was a very aggravated: "Dad, call me back from a place where you have a signal and can talk. It's important," then I hung up the phone and waited - the anger brewing.
Within a few minutes, Dad returned my call - his voice was light and cheerful as it usually is when I call him at an unusual time of day.
"Hey!" he said happily, "what's up?"
There was no turning back. This was it.
"Dad, are you someplace quiet with a signal?"
"Yes..."
"Is someone with you?"
"Yes, do you want me to be alone?"
"No!" I replied almost urgently, "No, I want you with someone."
There was an awkward pause while I tried to take a breath and tell him about George. There was no good way to say it. I was just going to have to say it...
"Dad, George is dead."
"What?"
"Big Guy is dead," I repeated.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean he is dead. He isn't living. He isn't with us anymore," I spurted. Somehow, I felt that if I told him every variation of what I was trying to tell him that there would be a) no room for confusion b) no room for error and c) nothing more to say and could hang up more quickly.
Dad's immediate reaction was anger: "What do you mean he's dead? How do you know that? Who told you that?"
"Dad, a detective from Raleigh Durham called Kristen saying that they found a deceased male in their apartment - no one was staying with them. George didn't come to work today so someone got worried and went to check on him. When they got there, there was a male in the apartment".
"So we don't know if its him, then," he replied. Clearly, dad believed that the possibility of a random homeless man wandering into their apartment and suddenly dying was just as plausible to him as it was for me. "Who told you this?" he shouted at me, "What's the phone number. I want the number... now."
I knew that if dad made a call to the detective I had been speaking with it would add more chaos to an already chaotic situation. Kristen and I had both been speaking with the detective on a regular basis and I didn't want any more people adding to the mix.
"Dad, I have spoken to her twice already. It's not going to change. She was able to confirm that George's Civic is in his parking lot, but she can't confirm his identity yet - we need to be realistic. Big Guy's car is there, he is nowhere to be found - and there is a deceased male in his bedroom."
"I gotta go," he said before the line went dead.
The house was once again silent.
Olivia's gentle breathing and occasional nuk suckling sounded over the baby monitor - the only reminder that while life was tail spinning for me, it was marching on as a usual for everyone else.
"Well, that sucked". I said trying to break the awkward quiet.
I evaluated my options for telling my mother the news but nothing seemed to be a reasonable option. In fact, it was a near impossibility. She had moved to North Jersey a few months earlier for a job and was living alone in a small apartment. A few minutes after I had told my father the news, his brother and good childhood friend mobilized and were headed to Pennsylvania to be with him - whereas my mom had no family or friends in the state to whom she could turn. For me to tell her that her only son - the apple of her eye and the person with whom she most identified - was dead - over the phone - was simply not going to happen. Dad was going to have to be the one to tell her as he was going to be the only person who could understand the pain and agony that she was going encounter instantly. The situation could, simply, not have sucked more.
Around 10:30pm (or so), I booked an early morning flight to Raleigh Durham before heading to bed and attempted to sleep.
But, as I drifted into sleep the first of many harsh realizations sprang to mind: "I am an only child."

***
About 3 hours into sleep, I woke up and started making my way out the door. Somehow I miscalculated my time and only left an hour and a half to do a trip that regularly takes 2 hours between drive-time, parking, shuttling, and security.
I finally got into the airport and ran to the desk where I needed to check-in for my flight. Unfortunately, my flight was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes and I still had to get upstairs, take the tram to the terminal and wait in line at security before proceeding to my gate.
The woman at the front desk said impatiently: "Ma'am... its 20 minutes before your flight. This flight is closed."
"Yes, I know. I'm running late. What does that mean?"
"It means the flight is closed. You aren't going to make it."
I had a connecting flight in Atlanta and now I couldn't seem to make it out of Tampa!
"Ma'am, my brother committed suicide yesterday. I HAVE to get to Raleigh Durham."
The woman looked horrified and broken-hearted at the same time. She quickly printed my tickets and gave me directions to get to the gate as quickly as possible. I bound up the steps of the escalator so fast that I lost a shoe.
When I got in the airport, I was stuck in a security line that was held up by a little old man and his walking cane. For some reason, no one could figure out what to do with the cane and so there was a huge lot of us that were held up. I stood in line, pacing, frantic that I might miss my flight. The more I thought about missing the flight, the more I realized why I was in the airport.
Shifting my weight from left to right repeatedly, my eyes were welling with tears and my chest grew tight.
A pilot who had been standing in front of me noticed that I was getting more upset at the delay. When the old man finally cleared the metal detector, the pilot looked to my sympathetically and said "You can go... please." I hugged him with my eyes, still tear-filled, and bolted through the security screening as quickly as possible.
By only the miracle of God, I caught the flight and off I went to North Carolina.

***
After about an hour in the air, I arrived in Atlanta and headed to my connecting gate. At the time, Kristen has been living and working in Atlanta so we happened to catch the same flight from Atlanta to North Carolina.
She looked tired - like something was propelling her forward. After a weak "hello" to one another, we headed to the smoking lounge to kill the hour-long layover and make some phone calls.
It was in this smoke-filled room that I realized that no one in George's life knew that he was gone. For some reason, I couldn't shake the idea that George had died in his apartment on, presumably, late Saturday/early Sunday morning and there was an entire world that didn't even know that he was gone. His closest childhood friends (the ones that I was familiar with) Ethan, Alan, Dave, Chris - "the gang" woke up on a regular Tuesday morning and started their days like any other. I was about to call them and tell them that one of their closest friends had died.
I did the best that I could given that I had no phone numbers. Fortunately, most of his friend's numbers were listed in Facebook and, nervously, I began making these difficult phone calls.
They say that God only gives you what you can handle - I believe that God knew that I couldn't handle hearing the live reaction of George's closest friends. Every number I called went to voicemail - and so it was on voicemail/text message, that I told some of George's dearest friends that they would never hear from him again.
I can still remember how awkward it was for me to call these people. They were the people who loved and cared about my brother like their own family - some of them I had known for years as we all attended the same school. Some I barely knew. The reality is, you aren't usually close with your siblings friends. What little you know of them is that they would attend band rehearsals in your basement and invite your brother to their house for birthdays. Beyond that - they were people who were not a true part of your life... but a real, personal, part of siblings life.
We boarded the flight to NC, trying to find our way through the subjects that were "safe" to discuss and what was too uncomfortable. Ultimately, we came up with a "safe word" that we could use so that at any time if either of us was too uncomfortable with the conversation, we could use the word and it would stop the conversation immediately (we could revisit it later).
From the time I had learned about my brother's death, I was not entirely convinced that he had committed suicide. It seemed easier to process the idea that he accidentally overdosed or that he mixed something he shouldn't have. No matter how I split it, I knew that he was depressed and unhappy - I believed he was likely self-medicating but it just didn't seem to work in my head that he had intentionally killed himself. After all - there was no note.
But there was.
At some point during the flight, Kristen shared with me that he had left a note. It was short and un-involved from the sound of it, but it was there all the same - and from that moment, the idea that George had done something stupid morphed into the reality that brother elected to stop living.
When we arrived at RDU airport, I called my father. It was his intent to arrive at mom's house by about 730am to tell her about George, so it was our plan for me to call as I deplaned in North Carolina.
To add insult to injury, mom and I had been fighting, rather intensely, for a few months leading up to the weekend preceding my brother's death. She had been living with me prior to her move to New Jersey and it hadn't ended well. After she moved out, we still were not in a great place in terms of our relationship and so, on the morning of the day that I would ultimately learn that my brother had died, I sent my mother an email telling her that I didn't want to have a relationship with her anymore. Looking back on this, it's hard to believe that I wrote her an email of that weight innocently tied up in our bad relationship - not knowing that George was already gone.
When mom answered the phone, her voice was weak and breaking. Within minutes, the conversation took an ugly, angry turn - so I tried to end the conversation as quickly as I could. It was obvious that mom was angry - that she believed that George was not at fault for his suicide, but I was not in a place or position where I was prepared to start passing judgement. After all, George made his own decision. He couldn't help who he fell in love with. He couldn't help who he chose to pine after. He chose to move in with her. He chose to stay with her even with the relationship was nearly impossible. He chose to marry her. Before anyone thinks that what I am saying now is said with any malice, I should point out that I fully supported my brother's choice to marry this particular person. She and I were very close when we were growing up and I believed that love that they shared was intense and unique. I don't believe she ever thought that it would "come to this". I don't believe that she ever believed that George was this sick. I don't believe that she was invested enough in the relationship, however, to see how sick he was. She is not the first wife to miss the signs - and she will not be the last. I guess that because she knew George since he was 12(?), I expected her to have more insight into who he was and how he processed things... but just because I expect something does not make it so.
On this day, just minutes after finding out about the death of her son, mom was not so prepared to give anyone the benefit of the doubt and finger pointing began. It was uncomfortable as I stood there listening to mom say angry, ugly things about Kristen who was sitting right beside me. I did everything I could to alter the direction of the conversation, but there were few alternatives.
"How can you sit next to her, Jenn? How can you sit in the same room with her when she is the reason he did this?"
I was at a loss for words. How do you respond to that? You are, first and foremost, the daughter and sister... you are second, someone's best friend and you are, least of all (at that moment) wanting desperately not to sit in judgement of other people.
Kristen had friends in Raleigh with whom we were invited to stay - their names were Trisha and Erik. I didn't know much about them, but I recall George mentioning Erik and speaking of him with fondness and appreciation.
We arrived in the late morning - Trisha and Erik met us on the porch and opened their arms widely as Kristen approached the porch. Their beautiful house was tucked back on a piece of property at the end of a short road that dead ended. The property on which their house sat was beautiful and, for the first time, I could see why George and Kristen loved living in North Carolina. The air was clean, the weather was crisp and unopressive even in early September and, on this particular piece of property, it was peaceful and quiet.
Despite their incredible warmth and overwhelmingly sincere welcome, it was hard for me to comfortable with Trisha and Erik. For my part, there was a mental block against being vulnerable with them. Afterall, these were two people who knew Kristen and George as a couple. They knew them well, hung out with them regularly, and had been invested in them as friends. It was hard for me to let go of the idea that they had never met me, but that they were meeting me on the worst day of my life - and it was nearly impossible for me to feel that it was appropriate to mourn this key loss in my life while living under the roof of someone who had never met me but was coping with their own loss. Still, I was thankful that Kristen had these incredibly warm, unassuming, non judgemental people that should could depend on. She was estranged from her own family and in this very difficult time, it was going to be extremely important to her that she have friends that she could depend on.
The chaos of the day moved along. I spoke with each of George's friends - each more heartbroken and in more disbelief than the last. I spoke with my parents as frequently as possible.
Around midday, I had an opportunity to speak with the detective at length. She was a woman who seemed to understand depression and suicide and she spoke with me candidly about her experience with this topic while remaining compassionate.
It was my intent to head to North Carolina to meet up with mom and dad and to handle the details associated with the disposal of my brother's body so that my parent's didn't have to. What I didn't know when I got on the plane in Tampa, was that mom and dad would never make it North Carolina - that there would be no disposal to arrange, and no affairs to close out. What I didn't know was that the details surrounding my brother's sudden suicide would be, for lack of a better word, unshakable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chapter 1: Breathe

I scooped Olivia up and plopped her, protesting, into her car seat. Let the car routine begin: Click the carseat buckles, smile at Olivia, kiss her on the forehead, give her her Piggy, give her her nuk, tell her I love her, and shut the rear passanger door.

I was in a great mood. The day had gone smoothly, the air was warm but not oppressive as it had been over the past few weeks. I turned the engine over, put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway slowly - smiling at Olivia as I looked out the back window.

Out of the corner of my eye, the slow, flashing light on my cell phone beckoned. My heart pitter-pattered when I saw that the call I had missed was from one of my best friends. We had gone months without getting an opportunity to speak to one another and had just spoken the previous week. I was hopeful that this was the beginning of a trend - a trend of regularly calling each other, checking on each other, and enjoying each other's presence in the other's lives. After 19 years of friendship and 14 years of hoping, she had married my baby brother. What more could a girl possibly want? When your best friend marries your brother, you gain a sister rather than a sister-in-law.

"Hey," she answered the phone warily.
"Hey!" I exlaimed. My mood was bright and soaring. Perhaps she needed a little dose of what I had to brighten her day.
"Have you talked to your brother?"
I hesitated. I had talked to him on Friday - three days earlier. Our conversation had been stilted and uncomfortable. He was unhappy. He was uncertain. He was buying a house. He was working very hard. He was lonely. He wanted her to stop working a job out of town. He was feeling insecure. He made me promise not to tell anyone - anyone - what we had talked about.
"Yes, I talked to him on Friday night a little bit."
"Did he say anything?"
This was a trick. She was fishing for something.
"Well, we talked a little bit about the wedding next week. My trip to North Carolina. What he was going to wear to Kelly's wedding. It wasn't long."
That was all true. I was heading to North Carolina in just over a week. My plan was to fly into RDU and stay with George the first night before we collectively caravaned over to New Bern for my cousins wedding and enjoyed a five-day, much needed, mini-vacation.
"Are you driving?" She asked quickly.
"Yea! I just picked up Olivia - we are heading home".
"Oh", she said dissapointedly. "Call me when you get home, okay?"
I tried to elicit conversation - my ride home was 25 minutes and the drive home was really the most ideal time for me to talk rather the chaos of getting home and trying to talk over dinner preperations, the dogs barking and Olivia squeeling as she devoured her meal.
"Just call me when you get home. It's not safe to drive and talk on the phone."
"Its a slow backroad.. it's not a big deal and it's legal in Florida."
"No. Call me as soon as you get home. I'll talk to you then."
About 6 minutes into my road, I got a sinking feeling but went on to convince myself that she nust need to share some recent relationship-y update.
When I got home, I hurried inside, put Olivia in her high-chair and immediately returned her call.
"What did your brother say the last time you talk to him?"
I repeated my original answer, adding a little more detail and finished with "WHY, what's up?"
"I got a call today from a detective in Durham..."
"Okay."
"They found deceased male in my apartment."
"Okay," I replied cluelessly.
"We had no friends staying with us."
"Okay?" Where was she going with this? Somehow in my brain, she was about to tell me that some homeless man wandered into her apartment, died and, oh - by the way - your brother wasn't at the apartment so do you know where he is?... For some reason, this fantastic and completely unrealistic possibility was so much more plausible than what was about to happen.
"Jenn. Listen to me. They found a deceased male in my apartment today. There was no friends staying with us. Your brother didn't show up to work today, someone got worried and came looking for him. They got maintenance to go into the apartment and when maintenance entered the apartment, they found a deceased male in the bedroom."
Somehow, the homeless man wandering into their somehow vacant apartment was still plausible.
Vacantly and devoid of any emotion, I slowly said, "Are you telling me what I think your telling me?"
The pause between my question and her response seemed to last five minutes.
"Yes."
I froze. I was breathing normally. I wasn't crying. I felt nothing. I sat on the floor. I started to shake... but somehow, there was a still a homeless man dead in their apartment and George had picked up and left without telling any of us where he was going.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
The investigators on the scene were not yet able to enter the apartment and confirm identity - there was a bunch of legal red tape to get through before they would be allowed to go into the apartment and start processing the apartment. She couldn't confirm if George's black honda civic was in their parking lot. She couldn't confirm the last time that anyone spoke to George. Every possibility was a more realistic possiblity than what she was asking me to accept.
When I finally got a hold of the investigator the first question I immediately asked if there was a black Honda Civic in the parking lot in front of the apartment.
There was.
I asked if it was my brother - she couldn't tell me.
"But ma'am - he is six foot three and has JET black hair. You would KNOW if it was him, instantly!"
She couldn't tell me.
"But ma'am... I have to tell my parents".
Oh, God.
Me.
I am going to be the one to tell my own parents that their son is no longer living.
The investigator advised that I wait until they could verify identity but could not give me any idea on whether they would get into the apartment in 5 minute or 5 hours. There was no way that I was going to wait when, in my heart, I already knew the answer.
At 7:40pm on September 13, 2010, I called my father and gave him the most devistating news a child will ever have to give their parent.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prologue/Disclaimer

I have been "teasing" for a few months that I will be writing a series of blog entries leading up to my brother's one year anniversary.

Well, the time has come.

The thought is that I will write one entry a week regarding the days surrounding my brother's death.

It is important that anyone who reads these entries keep in mind two things:
1) As with every other entry I have ever written, I will not pull punches. Some things I write may be difficult to read for any number of reasons... I would encourage you to close my blog and come back when a new post is up or when the series is over.
2) Everything that I say is either my opinion or my perspective. Anything on my blog is not meant to upset anyone - it is simply a subjective perspective on something very personal to me.

The purpose of these entries?

Simply put, there were SO MANY people who loved and cared about my brother and I think they have a right to know as much as possible about his death. Beyond that, there is nothing I hope to gain from putting all these stories "down on paper" other than to get them out of my head.

It is my hope to remove some of the mystery surrounding George's sudden death and nothing more.

With love,
Jenn

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!

So there I stood at the crossroads; challenged to make the biggest decision I think I have ever had to make. My options? Continue working for a tyranical jewish lesbian from Washington, D.C. (Absolutly NO offense meant to my jewish, lesbian, or DC friends - of which there are plenty) or quit my job with no backup plan and very little money in the bank.

In July, I accepted a position for a company that was looking for an Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the CEO. From the first interview, I had concerns that perhaps this wasn't the right position for me and, more specifically, that this wasn't the right environment for me. Something just seemed "off" and I couldn't put my finger on it.

Through three interviews I pushed my concerns down into my belly and remained optimistic. Afterall, the position was exactly in the salary range I was looking for and positions within my range are harder and harder to come by (not to mention, this market is an absolute wreck.) I hadn't been looking for a job for long at all - but given that only maybe 60 jobs are listed per week in my field and of that, only about 10 are looking for someone with my experience and of THAT only 1 or 2 are willing to pay my salary range - finding a job is nothing short of scary and stressful.

Before I knew it, the company was offering me the job - lowballing me, of course, but we were able to negotiate to a salary I was comfortable with - at least it would cover the commuting costs as the position was an hour away from home. The hours were 9 to 6pm which meant I had to leave at 730 to ensure I wasn't going to be late in the morning and I would not be getting home till about 730pm or later depending on whether I was kept late at work or if there was traffic on the highway.

But from the very first day, I suspected that I had made a terrible mistake.

Fast forward a few weeks and it was growing increasinly obvious that this was not a good fit for me. I was being micromanaged in a way that I have NEVER been micromanaged before. I was expected to document every minute of every day and to record a synopsis of move I made to complete a task - and while it made sense as we were in a billable-hour-type of industry, even those activities which were not client-applicable were to be recorded in the same way.

Then, of course, there was the fact that I was hired to do the job of three people: managing all AP/AR for a $1M+ company, all vendor payables, disputes (at least 6 a month) and any other finance related issues as well as all of the Human Resources, training protocols, etc and all things related to office supply management plus acting as the Executive Assistant.

Now, I am a high volume producer and I count myself among the few that can handle multiple roles fairly easily, but being slowed down by the incredible amount of documentation that was required made me doubt my abilities more than just a little bit.

My training was meant to last "three weeks" - at the conclusion of which (I found out at the end of my fifth week) there was a test that you must complete and pass on the history of the company, its sales strategy, its products, etc. In the first three weeks of working there, I had left "on time" exactly twice. I was kept each night until 6:30 or 7:00pm

At the risk of making this a very long story - I will cut to the chase and say: It wasn't for me, it started leaning into verbal abuse, and I was becoming more convinced that I needed to get out. The problem? How do you search for another job when you are working 10 hours per day and have no time off to interview?

So there I was on a Tuesday morning, drowning in expectations, exhausted from being required to stay at work till 10 o'clock the night before, and getting more and more frustrated at my bosses' insistance on sending me IM messages laced with curt judgement and apparent perception that I was incompetant - a feeling I have never ever had in any job.

The IM was blinging repeatedly - she was demanding a response "now" and my lunch had just arrived (did I mention I rarely left my desk to eat lunch).

It was now or never. What are you going to do, Jenn? Are you going to continue to find away to slough off the abuse and make it work because the money is pretty darn good? Are you going to miss Olivia and miss the opportunity to see her growing and changing? Are you going to continue not to have a hot dinner because you are getting home an hour and half after the rest of your family?

I cleared my desk of other items, slowly ate my newly arrived yellow chicken curry from the Thai place down the street (the company had bought lunch for us today), and proceeded to eat... slowly... IM blinging in the background.

When I finished, I slowly cleaned up my food, returned to my office, methodically placed the few personal effects I had brought to the office into a plastic garbage bag .... and walked out.

I have never ever done it in my life and I will never do it again - I felt terrible - but I knew that I was not in a place to be able to have a rational conversation with this woman in which I would not ultimately wind up in tears (aka, I could not have left with my dignity in tact) and anything I put in writing could somehow be used against me (She was in the middle of 5 seperate lawsuits). No thank you.

****

About 2 hours later (at about the same time they realized that I wasn't coming back, I found out from a co-worker later), it finally hit me that I was jobless with no plan and very little money. This was the most brilliant AND the most stupid thing I have ever done.

The next morning, I woke up and proceeded to spend 14 hours looking for work. I registered with almost every staffing agency in Tampa. I applied for every job that "looked good". I got on LinkedIn, signed up for as many job sites as I could find - all of this was orchestrated by an excel document I had created just for this occasion.

I figured out what my absolute drop-dead salary requirements were (it wasn't pretty).

By Friday, I was getting discouraged. I had 1 call about my resume and 1 meeting with a staffing agency - and rather than acknowledging that even having those two things was a lot more than some people are getting right now, I was letting the negativity seep into my head.

So I quit looking for the day. Let's start fresh again on Monday.

And, so, when Monday came, I had a renewed determination. "This will be the week that I get a REAL interview".

I began aggressively calling each of the staffing agencies I had registered with. You WILL talk to me... because once I have you on the phone, you are going to hear something that is "different" than every other candidate and you are going to like me... a lot. That will make you wonder what my resume looks like, and when you pull that out, you are going to be impressed and want to market me - because if I can get hired, you are probably looking at a pretty decent commission. Just sayin'".

And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. In fact, the position I wound up with was actually pitched to me two seperate staffing agencies - each of whom had a different contact within the organization... that should give you an idea of 1) how small the market it and 2) how well suited I must be for this position.

In the end, all of it "had to happen" for me to learn anything. I had to leave my job at the guide dog school and take the not-so-great job to realize how much I liked my former boss. I had to leave to learn what tyranny really was. I had to leave so that I would quit my job and make msyelf available to look for work full time - to call every staffing agency and to be available to interview at a moment's notice. It would have been (nearly) impossible for me to have gotten the job I just got if I was working full time because securing my network required a great deal of time and attention.

Push/shove... life is too short to HATE what you do - and while what I did may seem reckless to some, in the end I felt that I had to be bold to move forward - I had to bet big to win big. We spend more of our life with our co-workers than we do with husbands/wives or children. We aren't suppose to live work, but work to live. If we hate our job, if we hate the people we work with, if we aren't challenge by what we are doing and don't believe in what we do for a living... it will infect your life and the dynamic you have with your loved ones. Why live that way? When we can do something we love or something that we find interesting or be VERY good at something!!??

I won't say that I am "lucky" - though there was some luck involved in small parts - but I worked VERY hard at finding another job. I believed that I left a full time job as Office Manager and accepted a new position - as full time Jennifer Boyle Marketer... My new job responsibilities included aggressively marketing myself to anyone who would listen... even if that meant finding out where people ate lunch in downtown Tampa and walking up to complete strangers in a full business suit, handing out copies of my resume.

And I would have done it, too... because you do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Homesick

Josh and I moved to Florida in the winter of 2006. The way which we happened upon the decision was one part erratic mixed with one part desperation and 2 parts optimism.

We were on our honeymoon - cruising for 7 days through the Western Carribean and happened upon the idea of moving out of New Jersey. See, we weren't surviving very well in New Jersey - we were in debt up to our eyeballs, we weren't making great money, we were still living with a roommate and didn't see any prospects on that changing any time soon... It just didn't feel like we were going to get to "live our lives" in New Jersey. It felt like we were always going to be college kids scraping along. No house. Definitely no family.

So - off we went with the idea in our heads that we would move to Tampa and live near my brother who was just finishing up his degree at an art school in the area. It seemed like the perfect plan - George would live with us for less than he was paying in his current apartment and Josh and I would cut our expenses in half by moving to Florida. All systems go!

Well, two weeks after I moved to Florida, George decided to chase the love of his life in North Carolina and I was left with an apartment full of stuff to clear out. I was so mad at the time, but now it makes me laugh.

Josh and I did surprisingly well in Florida - Josh got a great job for comparable money to what he was making in New Jersey - the bonus being that he was making the same money to work INDOORS rather than outside the way we planned. I was also making the same money as up north and quickly Josh and I were financially solvent and then some.

Fast forward a bit and we bought a house. We eradicated our debt. We had the most amazing, beautiful little girl.

But here we sit - with a house. Free of debt. With an amazing little girl. Missing our friends. Missing the seasons. Missing our families. Missing the City. Missing pretty much everything from pumped gas to potholes.

After almost 4 years in the house, it still doesn't feel like home.

You would think that living on the flatest piece of earth would be pretty neat - you can ride your bike for miles and never really get tired! The gas mileage is GREAT! ... there are also no hills to bounce sunlight off of - to hike on or just admire its beauty.

You would think that living in a state with 300 days of sunshine a year would be pretty sweet! ... but you forget how pretty the leaves are when they change in October - no matter how briefly. You forget how beautiful it can be to wake up to a blanket of snow and what its like to step outside and hear only that which managed to survive beyond the absorption of the snow around you.

You would think that you "could get used above 70 degree temperatures nearly the entire year" ... until you are trying to enjoy thanksgiving and just can't seem to get into the spirit because its 80 degrees outside - or when you are trying to sing Christmas carols in the car at the mall as you pass by green grass, leaved trees, and palm trees trying to be pretty; dressed up in Christmas lights. Let me tell you that it's just plain sad. And don't even get me started drinking hot cocoa - I haven't had a hot cocoa in 6 years because it's just too damn hot.

You would think that having some of the countries most beautiful beaches and ocean water that is over 80 degrees in the summer time would be pretty spectacular - well, it is.. I can't really argue you there. But the reality is I hate sand (so does Josh) and we only go about twice a year because it's SUCH a project.

There is no culture here.

There is no food here (unless you are into Cuban food - it's pretty high in cuban food culture).

And when push comes to shove I am, simply, homesick.

I want so badly to raise my daughter in New Jersey - among our friends and family who love her despite barely knowing her.

To see friends around the holidays but not at the expense of seeing my family.

To feel confident that Olivia is going to a good school.

To wear cozy sweaters for a few months out of the year.

To be blessed with the warmth of being home in 1200 sq/ft at the same PRICE as 2,700 sq/ft because at the end of the day home is what matters ... not the price per square foot (provided that you aren't going to put yourself back in debt to do it, of course.)

I don't know what the future holds, but I know that Jersey is a part of it. There are so many people who move here and extol it's virtues - who couldn't be paid to move back to the North... but for us... we would pay ANYTHING to move home... and that's how I know that this is not where we belong. Florida has given us so much... and we will forever be grateful for the opportunities it has extended to us... but in the long run - it's not home. It never will be.

Thus begins the era of Operation: Homecoming. Who knows how long it will take... but we will do it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

All Tied Up

I never realized how tied up I get. There was a time in my life (I am sure many of you will remember) when you couldn't shut me up from talking about things that were bothering me. I would spew and spout about any and everything going on in my life and bore you to DEATH with how I felt about.

I have noticed in the last few years, however, that I really don't talk much about what I think and I can't help but wonder "why?" and "What's going on there?".

Over the last week or so I have been trying to trace it back to a specific time - to see if there was a point at which I went silent and it seems that, not surprisingly, I have really shut down since George's death last September.

Part of the reason is because therapy has made me better able to cope with things - so I generally have LESS I feel the need to talk about.

I have been trying for a year to reconcile the fact that I have lost my brother. It just isn't happening. There are days strung together where I rarely think about him - or when I do its with fondness and limited grief. Then, there are days when I simply don't want to think about him.

There are days when I sit on my couch at home, angry for no real reason - ever clenching my shoulders so tightly that the apples of my shoulder wind up around my ears. I sit - contemplate - and then realize that I haven't talked to anyone about anything for days. And, generally speaking, I am not easily worked up by stuff these days.

I am still plugging away on my 1yr Anniversary blog edition - its been the primary reason why I have been so absent lately. It's taking everything I have not to post it prematurely - and writing it is pretty exhausting. I will begin posting it on August 1, so I only have to wait till Monday.

If anyone is still out there and reading, I'm coming back! And it will be with a vengeance!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Incredible Expanding Vocabulary

I wrote a few months ago about the mostly inaudible, mostly parent translated, vocabulary of my then 22-month old child.

Now, just five months later, her vocabulary has increased dramatically. At 22 months, she had 22 words she used to illustrate things that she wanted. Some were more clear than others - some were just plain guess-work.

I was talking to my father then other day - updating him on Olivia's newest vocabulary accomplisments. He hasn't seen much of her since we attended my brother's memorial in March and in that time she has grown SO much.

As I was sharing with him the newly expanded vocabulary list, I realized just HOW many words my kid has managed to pick up in just a few short months. And so, for my own memorialization, I present to you: Olivia's list of words...

Animals:
1) Bunny
2) Piggy
3) Elephant
4) tiger
5) Lion
6) Giraffe
7) Bird
8) Kitty Cat
9) Puppy
10) Horse
11) Pony
12) Duck
13) Cow (What's a cow say? "Mooooooo!"

Shapes:
1) Circle
2) Square
3) Triangle
4) Rectangle
5) Pentagon (close to it)
6) Octagon (close to it)
7) Oval

Colors:
1) Red
2) Blue
3) Yellow
4) Green (though she CONTASTANTLY tries to tell me that things that are GREEN are YELLOW
5) Purple
6) Black
7) Brown
8) Orange
**She isn't able to recognize ALL these colors yet, but she says them.

Kitchen Items
1) Sink
2) Plate
3) Fork
4) Spoon
5) Bowl
6) Knife
7) Cup

Food
1) Corn
2) Peas (Please)
3) Pizza
4) Bread
5) Raisins
6) Apple
7) Dip (anything you can dip into, including Ketchup)
8) Ketchup
9) Chicken
10) Hamburger
11) Cheese
12) Peanut Butter
13) Cracker
14) Cookie
15) Juice
16) Milk
17) Chex
18) Cereal
19) Coffee
20) Hotdog

Clothing:
1) Shoes
2) Sandals
3) Flip-Flops
4) Shirt
5) Pants
6) Socks
7) Hat
8) Bracelet
9) Glasses

Stuffed Animals and Pets:
1) Baby
2) Bunny
3) Bear
4) Piggy
6) Frog
7) LB ("Elbee")
8) WhiBunny (White Bunny)
9) Bailey
10) Jackie
11) Cozette

Other Words:
1) Up
2) Down
3) Upstairs
4) Stairs
5) Chair
6) Sit
7) "Coming?" (as in - "Mom are you coming?")
8) Please
9) Thank you
10) Welcome
11) Hot
12) Cold
13) Pet Nice (for the dogs)
14) Yes
15) No
16) No want it
17) Want back
18) Keys
19) Door
20) Outside
21) Inside
22) Ball
23) Balloon
24) Sun
25) Moon
26) Look!
27) See?
28) Bebo (nickname - she has a tendency to speak in the third person)
29) Mine - of course, what 2 year old doesn't know "Mine"?
30) Car
31) Truck
32) Helicopter
33) Bike
34) Plane
35) Train
36) Table
37) Tree
38) Leaf
39) Diaper
40) Towel
41) Brush
42) Breakfast
43) Dinner
44) Cooking
45) Grass
46) Walk
47) Couch
48) I LOVE YOU (my favorite, of course)

People
1) Mommy
2) Daddy
3) MeMaw
4) Poppy
5) CeeCee (Erica)
6) Steve (day care provider's husband)
7) George
8) Bubba
9) Kayla
10) Memay

Characters
1) Mickey Mouse
2) Minnie Mouse
3) Daisy
4) Pete
5) Donald
6) Pluto
7) Goofy
8) Rocket

Body Parts
1) Eyes
2) Ears
3) Nose
4) Mouth
5) Knee
6) Finger
7) Thumb
8) Hair

Shows she can name
1) Blue's Clues

When I count this up, this puts Olivia's current word count around 150 words (from 22 just five months ago!). I am not even entirely sure that I got them all (but I feel like I did)... that's INCREDIBLE to me. I can't believe how much a kid's brain can learn in such a rediculously short amount of time. Pretty soon, there will be too many to list. I wish I could stop time. I really do.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Home Stretch

I am fighting "Senior-itis" this week. Unsure as to whether I will end my job with my current position this week and begin training in my new position on Tuesday or if I will be staying through the end of next week, I am doing my very best to stay on track and to be "mature and responsible" in my exit.

I have done everything I can to resign myself to this departure - to reconcile in my mind that leaving a job is part of life and that very few people (these days) stay with one company for a prolonged period of time and that growth and progress are things which are "okay" to want and to aspire to.

Yet, I cannot help the sense of grief and sadness that I feel.

Today, I am working hard to outline the pieces of a project that was scheduled to begin in August or so - I am doing everything I can to put onto paper what was in my mind in terms of the look and feel of a change to our software - and for anyone who has tried to write out something that is mostly visual/conceptual it can be a bit of a bear. Ultimately, its a big possibility that they won't even use my notes - they may decide to scratch everything I did and start over from the beginning because "its easier". Ultimately, trying to make sure that I leave everyone in a good spot to continue the forward progress really doesn't affect me at all - if I were to say "whelp! So long! It's been real!" and succumb to my Senior-itis... floating happily out the door without a care in the world, the repercussions of that don't affect me - I would be like many other separated employees who do the same thing.

But yet, there is this big part of me that says "Be nice - leave them with everything they need".

*Whining* But I don't WANNAAAAA. I want to be irresponsible and jump around campus with a cup of coffee, shirking responsibilities and not holding myself accountable for anything! I want to run up and down the hallway doing not-so-graceful ballet moves while singing a song from the Wizard of Oz. I want to interrupt EVERYONE from doing their actual job and monopolize their time with stories of what Olivia did over the weekend.

So what is a perfectionist to do? Perhaps I will find a happy medium - and work diligently through Wednesday before engaging in purely irresponsible behavior.

All in all, I am trying very hard to get excited about this next position. I don't want anyone to think that I am NOT looking forward to this position - I am! I think that it will bring with it a whole new array of experiences and opportunities for me to learn something new (in an industry I have no experience in!). But when you KNOW your projects, know the impact of those projects and can see the real benefit to the company, it's a lot easier to get "turned on" by those projects. With a new company, you just have to hold your breath and meander through your start... learning what you can and building your value over time.

Come back to me in a few months - you will be able to pick me out of a crowd by the smile on my face, I'm sure. (I'm hoping!).

And hey, with any luck I will get my own office - that'd be a first! - and maybe I can have a coffee maker and a mini-fridge in there. That'd be heaven....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life's Full of TOUGH Choices - Inn'it???

Yes - that's right. I quoted The Little Mermaid.

Well, I can finally say it. I am leaving my current job for another opportunity. This, primarily, has been the biggest point of contention for me in the last few weeks.

Why I am leaving is not so important - but the stress of making this decision has been rather impressive.

I never cease to be amazed at how difficult it is to make a change. Whether its losing weight, moving, or changing jobs, change doesn't come all that easily. No matter how you believe the change is going to be better for you in the long run, there is something that holds you back. It's inexplicable and non-sensical but its there all the same.

I have considered leaving this job a few times. Its a wonderful organization in which I have earned my stripes - I have matured over the last few years and this position has seen me blossom from an over-confident sassy pants to a centered, business-minded diplomat with a strong opinion (some things will never change). I love the people that I work with. I have a tremendous respect for our fearless leader and what he has been able to accomplish over the last three years. The place has sucked me in, loved me, hated me, and helped me to find my legs.

Ultimately, I became bored - I found myself lacking daily challenges that keep me enthusiastic about going into work every day. For a long time, I got angry about it and raged against it like a spoiled teenager who didn't get the car she wanted. Then one day I woke up and said to myself: "You have two options - acknowledge that this is what it is, that it isn't going to change, and shut the fuck up OR take inventory of what you have been able to accomplish and see if it translates into something other people want and take the risk. (and shut the fuck up)"

So - accepting the things I cannot change - off my resume went. All two of them.

And within two days - I got a call on one of them.

And yet, despite the fact that it is a MIRACLE to get a call so quickly in this economy, I wasn't able to be excited. The prospect of change has locked me up so tightly that I couldn't even process what was happening. I had developed so much security in knowing my job, where I was working, who I was surrounded by, etc. that the idea of going anywhere else was about as feasible as becoming a super model.

To add issue to injury (yes, I changed the phrase), I have always been the type of person that believed the idea that when something is "right" it comes together easily and when it's "wrong" it won't be easy and you will feel like you a forcing it.

So, when I couldn't make a decision about the job, couldn't find a care provider that I felt great about for Olivia, realized that I would be dramatically adjusting how often I would see Olivia during the week and the additional responsibility that would be put on my husband (who already does SO much around here), I felt like the universe was trying to tell me not to take this position.

But - then my damn therapist kept repeating the same phrase: "We do things others will not do so we may have things others will not have" and so I insisted on reaching for the opportunity that I knew would ultimately support me and my family better in the long run and insisted on this opportunity even though it went against every comfortable feeling in my body.

I took the three interviews.
I fashioned my thank you notes.
I kept it low key.
I didn't get over-committed to the idea of leaving.
I didn't tell everyone and their mother what I was doing.
I got the offer.
I found alternative childcare and got Olivia enrolled even though I hated how far away it was.
I gave my notice.
And then I was offered the PERFECT care for my daughter that would allow me to drop her off every morning AND Skype with her during the day.

So I went from not loving the arrangement, to actually winding up with the perfect arrangement despite every concern and ever obstacle thrown at me.

So what does it all mean?

I guess it means that what you perceive as instincts aren't always actually instincts. Sometimes instincts are actually "fear" masked as instincts - and they creep in to your psych, shake you of your confidence and laugh at you as they destroy your ability to achieve whatever it is you have been planning.

I have no idea if I made the right choice or not - in fact, I have never been so unsure of myself - but maybe that's the sign of my maturity. I know that I confident in my work and what I bring to the table professionally and that they saw something in me that they liked and believe that I can make a contribution to their company - that's it. Everything else is speculation and doubt.

So... here I go. Another Chapter in the life of a 30-year-old New Jersey transplant trying to prepare for her thirties and the life of her little girl.

Monday, June 20, 2011

... and then the fog rolled in.

Life's ebbs and flows have definately knocked me around for the last 4 weeks. I sit in my living room thinking about how I haven't written a blog in a while - sad that I am being inconsistent and losing readership - unmotivated to write anything.

For the last few weeks, I am assuming in part to certain activities in life which have been happening around me, I started coping with some mild depression. Not the "woe is me" kind of depression and not the "I can't take it anymore kind of depression" but the kind of depression where you feel like something is pushing on your shoulders all the time. I have been unmotivated, tired, crabby, and non-excitable. I can smile and laugh when something is funny, but generally I have had very little desire to do anything or to talk about anything.

I miss New Jersey.
I miss my dad.
I miss my family.
I miss my brother.
I miss my cousins.
I feel invisible at home.
I don't have any confidence in my potential.
I over sympathized with friends and cried uncontrollably for what seemed to be no reason.
I feel fat.
I'm tired all the time.
I feel trapped.
I feel sad.
I feel angry.

Anyway. I spoke with my therapist about it, identified when things started to change and I am working to fix it. Generally speaking, I rarely to never have boughts of this kind of feeling. I think that this is the second time in my life that I can recall feeling this way. We are trying some St. John's Wort to see if that helps at all (generally, it has been working pretty ok - the anxiety attacks have stopped and I don't cry over nothing but still have the feeling I want to cry).

I am going to start working to put together a list of topics - I really do want this blog to be consistent and dependable. If not for the 13 people I have reading semi-regularly, for the random web-searchers that hobble accross my page. Its been hard to find a voice for the blog - somewhere between mommy-centric stuff, general life content, and coping with George's suicide.

So I guess I want to turn this on you - the reader. What has "spoken to you" the most about my blog? What are the things that you like to read (and that you think have been my strengths)? Sometimes we get so close, we can't see the forest through the trees - and its best to ask someone for perspective.

What'dya think?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Overnight

For three days leading up to The Overnight walk in New York City I had stomach pains. Virtually everything I ate seemed to be making it worse.

The air was cool and humidity free, but the sun had dipped somewhere behind a grey sky sometime between my travels from Astoria, Queens and the corner of 10th and 53rd where dad was waiting to pick me up. We would drive into Brooklyn together.

We headed downtown making light, somewhat strained conversation. I say "strained" only because I was having a hard time concentrating on anything. As we approached the financial district, we were in awe over the progress of the Freedom Tower and the revitalization that has taken place in downtown NYC since 9/11. The artistic stone dividers, the slews of people milling about with their family and friends - the bikers, dogs, skateboarders. We had never seen this area of downtown so active and full of life.

Dad shared some storied about NYC and Brooklyn - something I always loved. It has a charm all its own, but I feel like dad is woven into the fabric of New York and Brooklyn so for some reason, I love to hear him talk about it.

At some point between the Freedom Tower and Camden Park West, under the grey veil that had settled over Brooklyn, it finally occurred to me what I was doing and I couldn't help but be distracted.

The park and surrounding side streets were a flutter of activity with people where powder blue Overnight shirts. The park was bustling with people - the crowd growing as we approached 7pm. I stopped at the Honor Beads table - taking an orange set of beads to indicate that I lost a sibling - and then headed to a small patch of park to sit with dad and wait. We had ice cream from a nearby truck, we decorated my shirt and waited.

When the event finally began, it was hard to hear the person on stage singing, but they eventually adjusted the levels and you could more easily hear the speaker behind the podium (especially when they spoke up). I think dad could hear most of it, but I was straining so I presume he was having a hard time.

Someone walked us through warm-ups - not enough.

Someone spoke about their battle with despression and suicidal ideation. The crowd cheered her for her bravery and the accomplishment of her coming to the walk in honor of her father and of herself. I started crying and didn't know why.

A woman spoke of the 7 people in her family who had committed suicide. I cried with my mouth open slightly and still didn't know why.

The CEO stated that AFSP is working toward lobbying antibullying laws and the 2,000 person crowd cheered.

The Keynote Speaker introduced people who were there for different reasons: Jane walks for her son. Fred walks for his brother. Amy walks for herself. etc. There was a family of 6 next to me - Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle, Aunt/Friend, and two young girls - one about 12 and the other about 17. The 17 year olds shirt read: "I walk for my mother" and as the keynot speaker shared the stories of the Jane, Fred, Amy, etc., the 12 year old began to sob, uncontrollably, rocked by her uncle who was also walking in The Overnight.

I at the crowd of people who were in front of me - their backs all to me - and began realizing that the great majority of those who were being walked for were men. Out of every 10 shirts that I saw for men, 1 was for a woman.

I realized that the honor beads we all wore informed each of us, from a distance, of the loss that we felt. You could pick out who they lost by the beads around their neck and so while you were surrounded with people who KNEW what you were going through, you could also understand the RELATIONSHIP that they had with the lost loved one. There was so much peace that came from this, for some reason.

The opening ceremonies came to a close and they signaled our start. Tearfully, dad and I said our goodbyes and dad started back to his car.

I stood there. Frozen and unable to move. Crying.

When I finally managed to take some steps (I didn't want to wind up at the back of the pack), I cried harder.

Here I am - the girl who never does anything by herself - walking an 18 mile trek through New York City in honor of her brother who took his own life.

And then the ton of bricks hit me hard. George is dead. He is not here. And that girls mother isn't here anymore. And all of these people represent HUNDREDS of lives lost to suicide. We are a walking protest. George is really dead. George took his own life. Why? Why couldn't he know how much I loved him? How much mom and dad loved him? How much the people who knew him loved him? Why am I in this fucking park in the middle of New York? What am I DOING!?

It was sadness mixed with grief, pain, anger, love, admiration, awe, happiness, and pride all wrapped up into a few minutes and I cried almost with wreckless abandon. Hell, I didn't know anyone there and I was all alone - so maybe some things are blessings in disguise.

As the cattle made their way accross the first street, I jutted ahead and got ahead of the crowds.

Miles 1-4 were simple. I had a great pace, the sun was up, the views were wonderful. Miles 5-6 were a little harder. I was lonely, getting a blister on the sole of my left foot and my hamstrings were starting to tighten up despite multiple stops to stretch them out. I stopped, stretched and changed my socks but the tightness wasn't letting up. At mile 8, tired of having only time to think on my hands, I decided "to hell with it", pulled out my iPod, turned it up and proceeded to sing - loudly - up the West Side Highway. Halfway through the Chorus Line soundtrack, I was approaching mile 10 and was feeling intense pain in my hamstrings and the sole of my left foot.

It was all downhill from there. The seed of doubt blossomed quickly and before I knew it, I was making the decision to stop walking. Failure swept over me - more tears - and this sense that I let everyone down - and most especially Big Guy (though there was a part of me that laughed at that fear because a) I knew that BG would have INSISTED that I not make a big deal out of this and honestly would have probably asked me not to do the walk at all and b) because he would have thought that I achieved way more than I should have as an undertrained overweight chic with a desk job.)

"Jenn! You raised so much money! That's an accomplishment!"
"Jenn, you raised awareness. Because of you and others a statement was made about the impact of suicide"
"Jenn, it's a priviledge to walk - you paid for the privledge to walk"
"Jenn - we didn't expect you to make it past mile 6!"

Yes, I know. But you just can't possibly know the sadness that comes over you when you feel like you couldn't do anything to save this person's life and you don't even have the physical fortitude to REPRESENT THEM in their death. You can't help but say to yourself "I can't even do THAT. This kid felt incredible pain and agony and you can't even finish WALKING". I know it's defeatist behavior and very negative, but it's what I was feeling at the time.

Depressed, sad, embarrassed and feeling defeated, I left the trail and found a cab to take me to Penn Station so I could get back to New Jersey.

When I woke up, I still couldn't "live with myself" for quitting, so when Josh's aunt and uncle invited me to go the boardwalk in Ocean Grove, I actually agreed to walk some more. Together we walked about four miles. And, when I returned to Tampa yesterday - I walked another 2.

So, maybe I couldn't do 18 in one shot - but Goddamnit, I am going to finish just one thing in my life. I have two more miles and hope to complete them by Friday. I could easily complete them by bike, but feel like I am cheating and really ought to finish them on foot.

At the end of it all, I feel in this very strange place - that I have accepted that my brother is no longer with us, but never mourned. I cry randomly.

Sometimes I feel like my parents are looking to me to "feel something", but I feel ashamed of being emotional sometimes - and other times I feel like I just DON'T want to talk about it. I am not repressing at all, I just don't want to talk about it.

And somehow, while working on this blog - I got to that same place. I don't want to talk about it anymore... so...

Jenn

Friday, June 3, 2011

Waiting in an airport

I'm sitting in a quiet wing of Tampa airport for the flight that will take me to New Jersey - one leg of my adventure to NYC for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness walk. I can't help, for some reason, to be slightly sick to my stomach. Am I really DOING this? Am I really flying 1200 miles to join others who have lost someone they love to suicide? I can't help but be surprised that this is a part of my life now. I can't help but be mad about a few things. I can't help but think of my brother more often than I normally would and cry.

I miss him so much. Why isn't he here anymore? Why couldn't he know how much we loved him?

I have been thinking long and hard for the past nine months about those awful days in September and how about so few people knowing "what happened". Yes, there are some people who know what happened... Some have talked to those of us that we're closest to the situation and there were able to glean some details out of us... But I consider my fair and balanced attitude a rare gift and something and the honesty with which I write this blog an equal rarity.

So.... It is my plan, leading up to the one year anniversary of George's death to write a series of blog entries about what really went down. Everything that I know - the last things that we said to each other, the events of those days, and anything else that strikes my fancy. This is not a decision that I have taken lightly... It comes from MONTHS of thinking about it.... But I feel like a year is more than enough time and I have gotten to a point where if need the closure for good. Without these entries I will just be holding on to a lot of stuff.

Some of you may choose not to read it ...that's ok.
Some of you may not agree wit it... Thats ok too.
Some of you may think that it's in bad taste... I don't really care. I love you. But I don't care.

So if you are interested, keep an eye out starting in august. In the interest of keeping everything short enough to read, I'm going to break it down into weekly mini chapters.

They are boarding My plane. Here goes nothing.

God give me the strength to finish this. I really should have trained.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Origin of My Manifesto

So it's been weighing on my mind that perhaps my ranting from last week caught some people a little of guard and that it may have even come off as the angry ramblings of a woman on the edge - so I thought perhaps some explanation would be appropriate.

About two weeks after my brother passed away I started seeing a therapist who specialized in something called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy. The basic premise of this therapy/philosophy is that we put too much pressure on ourselves and far too many expectations on other people. It was built around the Epictetus' theory 2,000 years ago that said: "Men are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them."

In its simplest form, Albert Ellis (the father of R.E.B.T) believed that we all want to be happy, but that our reaction to events which we percieve are hindering us from achieving our goals are actually what stops us from being successful - NOT from the event itself, but from our reaction to the event. Through this philosphy and mental training, you learn three important points: Unconditional Life-Acceptance, Unconditional Other-Acceptance and Unconditional Self-Acceptance.

Aka: Sometimes things do not go the way that you wanted them to - but it is not unbearable.

For the past six months I have been practicing the things that I have learned in REBT. In that time, I have been able to nearly erradicate my predisposition to obsessive perfection. I have been able to accept that I am imperfect without fear of other's opinions engaging my most neurotic behaviors. I no longer feel dissapointment when other's do not meet the expectations that I had for their behavior (for example: I sent so-and-so flowers on their birthday and they didn't even CALL me!).

I have gained patience and I no longer have anxiety attacks the way that I once did. I have learned to "manage" challenging events rather than "dealing" with them - by which I mean that if some new chellenge arises I am more adequately positioned to establish "what is going on" and come to a swift conclusion rather than getting upset about it, wasting my energy on the emotions that come with "HOW REDICULOUS IS THIS????" and then losing my sensability in my response because I was so wrapped up in the "can you believe it!!!??" of it all.

It is because of REBT that I have been able to mourn my brother, enhance my relationship with Josh, double and even triple the love that I feel for Olivia, and restore a relationship with my mom which had been very badly damaged over the last 10-15 years.

What's more, I have been able to establish something I have never (ever) been able to do: Boundaries.

I have been able to say "this is what I am comfortable with and this is what I am not comfortable with".

I have been able to feel like I AM entitled to happiness... and I AM just as important as anyone else.

So its with all this combined that I wrote the Manifesto last week. It was my breakthrough - when 6 months of work "clicked" into place in the jumbled mess that is my brain and poured onto the page at 95 WPM.

It felt great. I felt free. And it's been a new world ever since!

Love always,
Jenn

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Whom It May Concern

It's been a while since I last posted - my apologies to those who actually look forward to my blogs - things have been really hectic and I just simply haven't found the time to write.

Its been a very long week for me - and by "week" I mean the last 5 days collectively.

And so - today I offer you my "Letter to the World" - to the people I surround myself with - to the people who are in my life and the shananagins that make me mad... consider this my formal "fuck you very much letter".

To Whom It May Concern:
This is what you get with me. You may not believe it, but I have no agenda. I am not secretly plotting against you for my own personal advancement. I make no qualms about thinking I do good work, that I am committed to excellence, but I will no longer torture myself for perfectionism.

I make mistakes. I will be HAPPY to own up to them (and even apologize!) but I will not take responsibility for things beyond the reach of things that were my fault. If you ask for anything beyond that from me you can go fuck yourself. I will not be bullied into taking more than is mine to take.

I wear my emotions on my sleeve - its one of the things that makes me who I am so if it doesn't work for you - I. Don't. Care. I will do my part to have more rational beliefs in what is going on around me, but it won't stop me from getting sad or mad from time to time and crying about it.

While I may have, at one time, been insecure - I don't care what you think. I will not be so cliche as to say "Life is too short to blah blah blah..." but I will say that I want to be HAPPY far more than I want your approval and since I have learned that my HAPPINESS is in no way hinged on your APPROVAL - we seem to have reached a crossroad, my friend.

My priorities are my priorities - your priorities are your priorities - we don't usually share the same ones and I will not help you meet your priorities at the expense of my own.

I will not look to people for support, so don't be disappointed when you look to me for support and it isn't there. I've spent most of my life going to bat for people who, in my mind, were given the short end of the stick with the unspoken hope that one day I would be in a similar position and they would do the same for me. But I have news for you - I am still beat up, spit out, and undefended. Shame on you, Jenn, for living with so many expectations of other people - sitting in judgment on whether they did or they didn't meet your expectations.

But here's the double-edged component of it, people. If it is not appropriate to live my life expecting things of you, it is just as inappropriate for you to do it of me.

I am not interested in whether you like me or not. I am not interested in your acceptance. I don't care if you think I am too direct. I don't really have an opinion about whether you believe that I play fair or not.

I am who I am.
I am proud of my accomplishments.
I apologize for NOTHING unless I have hurt you - because my intention is NEVER EVER EVER to hurt anyone.

Ever.

And if you don't know me well enough or can't take the time to know that about me, then that's YOUR problem - not mine. Because you sat on it. Whined about it. Talked about me behind my back and withheld from me (and yourself) the opportunity to come to an understanding and to apologize for it.

You poor thing. You victim you.

I will not live my life feeling shamed or fearful or scared or manipulated.

I am in control of myself - what I choose to live with and what I do not choose to live with. Your game is going to change because you lost the leverage you once had in interacting with me but I am no longer concerned about whether I am making your life harder.

And lastly, BACK OFF. I don't need to babysat, watched, micromanaged, guided, instructed, or taught. I am happy to ask for help and have learned (finally) that it isn't a weaknesses - so when you shove it at me, its just fucking annoying. It's disrespectful and it shows that you presume I don't know any better. Well - here's a little note: It makes you look pushy, controlling, and opinionated. What does that mean for me? It means that at one time - when I just couldn't keep my "pearls of wisdom" to myself, I was pushy, controlling and opinionated - so I am not saying ONE thing to you that I haven't acknowledged in myself.

It definitely feels better for people to ASK for your opinion.

I stubbornly refuse to make myself miserable about practically anything. But I got some decisions to make.

Love always,
Jenn

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where's Home?

I sit here a week shy of my daughter's 2nd birthday - reflecting on the last two years and, more broadly, the experiences that Josh and I have had over the course of our relationship.

There have been many things pop up in my life the last few weeks that have made me question "Where Home Is". Growing up, "Home is where the heart is" became the cliche term for where you can call home.

There are times when I see Florida and I realize that there are so many who count me lucky to be living in a state that rarely sees 50 degree weather. But if there is something that Josh and I have learned since we moved to the Tampa area in October of 2006, its that there is so much more to home than temperature. Don't get me wrong - the weather in Florida is wonderful MOST of the year. Summer weather, however, usually arrives around April and doesn't let up until sometime in late October. It can be more than a little oppressive.

For my northern friends who think there is a lot to envy about Florida weather, let me tell you that htere is GOOD reason why so many people "snowbird" in Florida. During this extremely hot time of year, it is rare that you can actually enjoy being outdoors between the hours of 11am and 6pm. What this means is that if you intend on enjoying the beach, you may want to do it first thing in the morning. As a northerner, I am still not adjusted to the incredible heat and while I have met many people who have transplanted themselves to Florida from the northeast and they assure me that they would never go back if given the chance - I am not one of those people.

There are a lot of things that you take for granted growing up in the Northeast. For one, the northeast has a little something called "character" - and let me be clear that "character" and "charm" are very different words. "Charm" is the word that you would use to describe the warm, tree-lined streets of small southern towns. "Character" is the word used to describe New York City alley-ways riddled with graffitti. "Character" is the word you use when you want to talk about the facades of apartments, townhomes, or single family homes which are varied and unique. The facade of a house tells the story of the family living in it.

Its easy to take the northeast's accessibility for granted - to not realize that you have New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and even Washington D.C. in your back yard. You live in a state like New Jersey and say "I am not driving an hour away to see... (insert ANYTHING here)". An hour by car in New Jersey is a lifetime - where in Florida, an hour in the car is nearly standard for most visits.

You take for granted the melting pot of people who populate the Northeast - but then wonder why you can find a decent Thai place within an hour of your house.

You whine and complain about needing reservations to eat at your favorite restaurants until you live in a state that doesn't believe in reservations and you rarely eat out because you don't want to wait an hour and a half for a table just to enjoy dinner with your husband.

You become impatient with the "kids" who populate the town you live in, but don't realize that they are the vibrance that makes your town interesting. Until you live in an area where they drive souped up golf carts to the grocery store and the Walmart has specifically designated golf cart parking, you really don't know what value 20-30 somethings can bring to a town.

As you step away from the northeast, you realize how rare exposed brick is, how hard it is to find a cafe or a diner, or the enjoyment that can come from admiring the works of a local artist - and MOST especially the work of an artist who speacializes in something other than seascapes.

And don't even get me started on the savvy, personalities, and sense of humor inherit in Northeasteners.

When I was visiting Pennsylvania for my brother's memorial this past March, I asked my father "where home was for him". I asked him if there was a place that, from the moment he put his feet on the soil, he felt like he was where he was meant to be - because that's what home is to me.

As I got off the plane with Olivia in Newark airport, I felt as though I have brought my daughter home. While Florida has been able to afford Josh and I things that we would have or may never have had the opportunity to have or pursue if we had stayed or moved back to New Jersey, in the same respect there are many things that money cannot buy and that no amount financial peace of mind can replace.

So while my heart may lie squarely wherever Olivia and Josh are, I can't help but think that Josh, Olivia and I are mostly in the wrong location. At some point we are going to have to assess whether we are limiting Olivia's exposure to many many many things in the interest of her college education and a few family vacations. It's an arguement we have been tossing around for well over a year and it's one that we will continue to have until we really begin to face her entering elementary school.

For some reason, I can't shake how much I miss my family, art, music, theatre, food, friends, and seasons.

Can't I just transplate my house, my mom, and my dogs in the middle of a tiny corner of land in South Jersey? Can't we just make that happen?

Let me tell you, my Northeastern friends - until you are retired, the grass is NOT greener on this side. Think long and hard about what you have before you think that you'd be better off outside the rat race. It's a different way of life, down here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jealousy

Yes, I know. It's been a while since I have written a blog entry. Things have been very busy in Jenn-land. I got back from vacation in time for a business trip that took me out of town for just about a week and then got home to a husband-free house as Josh joined his family in California for his cousin's wedding. It's left me little time to write.

Also, I found myself struggling with my motivation. Coming up with content week after week is more daunting that I originally thought. What I never thought would happen is that I would be discouraged by decreased readership. While I will not pretend that my blog was read by hundreds per week, it was interesting to see a steady 60-person population was reading each week. When facebook changed its Newsfeed format, fewer people were being notified that I was posting new blog entries and I saw a 60% decline in readership. Eh - it is what it is... and I am reminded of "why I started this blog in the first place" - it was never about who read it but about my opportunity to do it.

So what is my title ("Jealousy") all about?

There has been an increase in the number of friends who have joined the party of mommy-dom recently. At my job alone, we have had 4 pregnancies in the last few months - 2 babies have already been born and 2 are expected in the next 30 days. Among my facebook friends, it seems that a baby is born each month - 6 that I can think of off the top of my head, in fact; another 4 are expecting in the next few months.

I love reading my friend's updates with the news that they are now expecting or that they have recently added to their family. It's so amazing and I feel like I have 2 years on the "welcome to the mommyhood" circle.

But the thing I can't seem to shake is the jealousy I feel when people post about their new, tiny, little ones. But the reason why I am jealous is not for the reasons that you might expect. You might expect that I would be jealous because I want another one - that's not the case.

While I don't believe that adding a second is out of the realm of possibility in the next couple of years (we are having too much fun with one to complicate it with two), I am actually jealous of the mom's who post how much they love their tiny little beans. They are over the moon with love, adoration, and pride. They are enamoured with their every facial expression and being close to them.

As a mother who survived post-partum depression, my experience with Olivia was so different. I didn't love her. I didn't feel connected to her. She was an (asked for) imposition in my life. I believed her to be inconsolable, only to have my husband or my mother soothe her almost immediately and my feelings of inadequacy were so great that I was wracked with guilt and hatred for myself that I wasn't able to soothe my own child. I chalked it up to my fierce independence and said "that's not the kind of mother I ever thought I would be anyway!" (which was true). I was not the mother to engage a kid at all times. I believed that parents were too "hands on" with their children and created dependant infants and children. Olivia's lack of daytime naps only escalated the problem. I never wanted to be the parent to get down on the floor and play, laugh, rock, etc. with my little one.

I have written about post-partum in a previous blog entry - and those of you read my blog regularly know that my position on parenthood has changed dramatically. I love every moment with Olivia (even the ones in which I lose my patience). I love engaging with her and often find myself coming up with family-friendly trip ideas just so I can watch her explore and engage with her surroundings. I LOVE to make her laugh. I LOVE hearing her laugh (it's pretty rediculous). I love teaching her things and I am overwhelmed with pride when she figures something out or repeats a word for the first time.

But I can't seem to let go over the first few months we had together and how I wish I could go back and enjoy all her little imperfections, nuances, and her development. I never called her "my angel". I never told her "I love you" and ever meant it. I never hugged her just because I loved her (as opposed to hugging her to make her feel better). I never looked at her and cried because of her beauty or watched her sleep.

I am so jealous of those who have had the opportunity to enjoy their children when they are most innocent and perfect. I so happy for each mother that feels that why for their children, but I can't help by feel an incredible amount of remorse and sadness for my own shortcomings.

Next time, should their be a next time, I will know what to look for - and I will know intellectually, that there is so much more that can be experienced at that tender age.

I just wish I got that time with the amazing little girl I have - because if there is no "next time", what a chapter I missed out on.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Amazing Adventure of a Traveling Toddler

It was the night before our departure and my chest was tight with anxiety. My palms were sweating, I couldn't focus, and I was filled with dread. How, in God's name, was Olivia going to handle a 9 day trip to Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania? What about her schedule? What about her naps? What about her whiny-ness?

Well, after nine days, 3 flights (6 hours), a three-hour layover, three states and 12 hours in the car I can tell you that we survived with flying colors. In fact - as stressful as it was (and don't get me wrong there were definately moments), I actually had fun.

So here is what I learned about travelling with a toddler:

1) Buy THIS THING. It may seem a little steep in price, but believe me when I tell you that this thing paid for itself in about 10 minutes. Olivia LOVED it. It also acted as a great toy for her when we were waiting for our flight because she got to push it all over the airport (she would put her pig in it and give him a ride). The best part of about this is I could keep Olivia strapped in, pick it up and carry her on the plane while sitting in the seat - then just buckle her in (with the wheels still on!) and off we go. When we landed, unbuckle the seatbelt, pick her up, get her off the plane, and we we are OFF AND RUNNING. It was truly AWESOME.

Just be prepared to get some looks - both from those who think "wow - that's so simple!" and those who think that you are carting your kid around like a piece of luggage. I have news for you, people - I AM carting her around like a piece of luggage - and she loves it. And I'm happy. And we are having a great time together.

2) Be over prepared. You really can't have enough snacks - for both of you.

3) Invest in a backpack. This was the best thing I could have done OTHER than the Go Go Babyz scooter thing. I put our snacks, a few toys, diapers and wipes, our travel documents and my purse all in the backback and didn't have to constantly worry that I left something behind. Plus, both my hands were free which is pretty invaluable. It wasn't heavy, either. Definately worth the money I spent and I think I will probably use it for everything now.

4) Take the time to enjoy the adventure. I didn't even know that Olivia knew how to say "choo choo train" until she saw the monorail at Tampa Airport. We laughed. We treated ourselves to McDonalds (she LOVES the apples). We learned how to say "plane".

5) Admit to yourself that a vacation is a vacation for the both of you. You can still be the sensible parent you have always been but it will be a lot easier on both of you if you "let up" a little bit. For instance - I am NOT a fan of Olivia watching hours of television - but when I have her buckled into a seat for 3+ hours and then visiting people who may or may not have many toys for her to engage with - I just want her to be happy. Enter - the iPad. Thank you Steve Jobs for keeping my flight and subsequent car rides with my kid more than bearable - they were actually enjoyable. A big shout-out to the creators of the Bubble Guppies as well - the show is killer.

So Olivia watched a lot of tv. She ate a lot more than she normally does. She got off schedule and, on some nights, didn't go to bed until 930. She was also a DREAM to be around. It doesn't mean that I stopped parenting - she heard "no" plenty of times. Climbing on the furniture isn't allowed at home and its not allowed at Grandpa's either, but - well - it's Grandpa's. It's supposed to be about indulgences and staying up late.

So that brings me to number 6...

6) ENJOY YOUR VACATION. If you stay flexible and continue to pay close attention to your kid's mood, you will have a truly amazing time. If Olivia started whining and being destructive, I knew immediately that it was naptime.

The best thing I did on this trip was break my own rules. Olivia, for instance, normally sleeps in her crib all night. On this trip, we shared a room.. so in the wee hours of the morning while she was still very much asleep, I picked her up and put her in bed with me. There was nothing more AMAZING than waking up, first thing in the morning, to my little girl whispering "Hi mommy" very very softly in my face.

Life is good.