The Moment

The moment the realization struck me is still vivid in my memory – much like any other life-changing moment.

It was the summer of 2003, and I was in Germany. My fiancé (now husband) was stationed there and had just moved there a couple months prior. Instead of planning a wedding, I was there preparing for married life. I wasn’t just marrying someone. I was moving to another country. I was leaving my life behind for something new and unknown. I was there to test the waters. To help set up the house. To basically get everything ready for me to move there for good.

We were at a party. The weather was beautiful. Everyone was outside, enjoying food and conversation and laughter. And here I was, playing with the hosts’ new puppy. Avoiding people. Especially children. The kids were loud, screaming, getting on my nerves.

It occurred to me, then. I’m happier with dogs. I don’t want children of my own.

L found me, then. I realized I had to tell him. We never discussed having kids, to be honest. It’s so much part of the status quo … it’s just expected. So, I actually never knew his honest feelings about having children. How had we never discussed it?

I just took a deep breath. A lot was riding on it. And then I told him the truth. “I really don’t want to have kids. I want dogs instead.” He didn’t even hesitate. He told me that he didn’t see himself having kids either.

It was decided, then. We were not having kids.

We told our families just so there wouldn’t be any questions after the wedding about when we were going to start a family. Regardless, I still got a lot of criticism, especially among the other military wives.

“You’re not a real woman unless you’re a mother.”

“How can you be so selfish?”

“It’s different when it’s your own.”

Etcetera, etcetera …

I think I’ve won this childfree BINGO game several times over.

I had a difficult time making friends once I knew my own mind. I was a pariah among most military spouses. (There were a few who had interests outside of their children and would deign to socialize with me.) I can’t tell you how many times I would meet a spouse, and the first question she would ask is, “Do you have kids?” Once I said no, she would end the conversation right then and there and have nothing more to do with me.

Whatever. I don’t want to waste my time with people who don’t care to know me for me.

It even impacted choices I tried to make over my own body. Male doctors would never entertain the notion of me getting my tubes tied because “that’s not fair to your husband.” Nice of them to assume he wanted kids and I was a selfish bitch depriving him of fatherhood.

Anyway, I’ll be 45 next month. It’s actually been a really long time since anyone harassed me about not having kids. I guess that’s one of the delightful perks of getting older.

So, do I regret not having kids?

No. I don’t. Despite numerous people telling me that I would. They were all wrong. L is also perfectly happy not to have kids. We often discuss how content we are with our life just as it is, and we don’t feel like we’re missing anything.

That said, we love being an aunt and uncle. We don’t hate kids (as many people wrongly assume). We just don’t want any of our own.

Since I’m writing about this subject, I want to thank everyone I’ve known on my journey through this life who has been understanding and accepting of our decision. For some reason (even though it is nobody’s business but ours), I’ve been judged (way more than my husband has), and some people have been really offended by our choice not to have kids. This has always baffled me.

I guess the takeaway from this is live life on YOUR terms. Who cares what the status quo is … what culture and society expect from you? You are the one living your life, and you need to live YOUR truth. You will get pushback if you go against expectations. If people are offended by your life choices, that is THEIR problem, not yours.

Just remember that when things get difficult. Take a deep breath and be grateful that you are being honest with yourself.

The Unnatural Optimist

angel cemetery
I don’t want to wait until the afterlife to find peace.

I evidently was born not to look on the bright side of life. Critical, cynical, pessimistic … glass half empty. I can’t tell you how many friends I lost over the years because, at different points in my life, I became toxic. 

“This is just who I am,” I would tell myself. And if people couldn’t accept that, fuck ’em.

Until I couldn’t accept myself. Though honestly, maybe I never accepted myself. I didn’t love myself for most of my life. I’m not going to get into the years of emotional abuse I endured. I’ve alluded to it before. And I think that’s largely responsible for how I felt about myself growing up.

And then, once I rid myself of the source of that abuse, not liking myself was basically a habit. (Depression and anxiety don’t help either, but that’s beside the point.)

I’ve been on a journey since then (late 2011, in case you’re wondering) to turn myself around. To find gratitude and joy in my daily life. I will never be Susie Sunshine — I am too much of a realist for that. But I am learning to love myself, warts and all. And now I think my default font is set to upbeat.

(If that’s not a real font, it should be.) (HA! It is!)

That’s not to say I don’t slip up. I was in a really dark place two years ago, primarily because I was in a horrible job at an office with a toxic culture. It drained me. I relapsed into negativity and became as toxic as my environment.

Since I left that place, I’ve been doing better. I practice mindfulness (including meditation), which helps tremendously. I try — as advised in mindfulness practices — to let go of things that no longer serve me. Doing this has helped so much with my depression. And I still get anxious, but I think I have a better handle on it than I did before.

This current global crisis has been a true test for me. Do I give in to despair, as I see so many others doing? Do I freak out and start hoarding everything in sight in case this really is the apocalypse? (I don’t believe it is, but clearly, a lot of people do.)

I’m fine. Really. I’m calm.

I’m working from home. I’m avoiding going out, except for walks through my neighborhood because I need fresh air. There is still the occasional trip to the store or getting carry-out from a restaurant — I want to continue supporting local businesses because they need it right now. But I’m careful and following the CDC recommendations.

I still have a job, and so does my husband, so we are truly fortunate right now compared to so many others. And even if the worst-case scenario occurs, we’ve been prepared for it financially for some time. (People have actually accused me of being negative because I think about the worst-case scenario, but honestly, it’s just good sense!)

We still have our health. Our families are still in good health. I am doing what I can to help out — I donated blood last week because there is a critical need for it, among other things. (Please consider donating blood if you can. It’s badly needed.)

I am grateful. And blessed.

When things get back to “normal,” it will be a different kind of normal. Some things may be better, and some things may be worse. But this isn’t the first time there has been a monumental shift in normal, and it won’t be the last. Humans are resilient. We will adapt.

And on that note, I hope, dear reader, that you are well. Both physically and emotionally. If not, I send you light and wish you peace.

My First Summer as a Grown-up

 

Twenty years ago at this time, I was in England, studying abroad for the summer in Bath. It was my first time outside the U.S. My flight from Columbus to St. Louis (and then to London) was the first time in my life I’d even flown on a plane. (TWA, and that airline hasn’t been around for how long now?)

A lifetime ago, and yet it also seems like only yesterday.

For me, this study abroad experience was an adventure of a lifetime. We visited London, Glastonbury Abbey, Stonehenge, Stratford-upon-Avon; saw Shakespeare plays at the Globe and Royal Shakespeare Theatre; spent a weekend in Dublin, Ireland. I had no idea that four years later, I’d move to Germany to live for four years – an even bigger adventure.

The trip was life-changing, as any study abroad trip should be. Not only because I was living and studying in a different country and experiencing another culture, but because I proved to myself that I could actually make my dreams come true. Until that point in time, I doubted myself constantly. I had poor self-esteem, and this went a long way toward changing that.

I was the one who applied for the program and somehow found the funds to pay for it, once I was accepted. I went through all the steps to get the travel arrangements made, get my international student ID card (which I still have), my passport, and all the other things required for this trip. I needed to prove to myself I was capable of making this happen. There was always that voice of doubt in my mind telling me this wouldn’t work out, that something would go wrong. I ignored it.

Another reason this trip was life-changing: My beloved Grandpa died less than two weeks after my arrival in England (that anniversary is coming in a couple days). I had to quickly shift gears and make arrangements to get home for the funeral and back to England afterwards to finish the program. I had a lot of help from my classmates, professors, and an English friend to get me through that time, and I am tremendously grateful, still, for their support.

(Aside: Tea really is a tremendous comfort in a time of sorrow, so the English definitely are on to something here.)

I came back after a week or so, incredibly sad, exhausted and with food poisoning. I spent nearly the entire flight from Cleveland to London so sick I wanted to die. (No hyperbole here – there are few things worse than having food poisoning on an international flight, I think.) And yet when I arrived at Gatwick in a weakened state (but no longer throwing up), I managed to find my way to the right train. I had enough presence of mind to switch trains at the right station. And I made it back to Bath. I got a cab at the train station and collapsed in a heap when I finally got back to my dorm.

The remainder of that summer helped me overcome my grief, probably more so than if I had stayed in Ohio. Grandpa was never far from my thoughts (I lit a candle for him in every cathedral we visited), but I was distracted enough by everything I was experiencing that it lessened my sadness significantly. He would have wanted me to enjoy it, so I did.

It was both the best and worst summer of my life up to that point. (That sounds a bit Dickensian, but it’s true.)

My takeaway from that experience was that I had way more mental fortitude than I ever gave myself credit for. I think that summer, 20 years ago, was the first time I felt like an actual grown-up.

Grit and Determination: On Ultrarunning and Life

My brother, Marcus, is an ultrarunner. He has finished (and not finished) several long-distance trail runs over the past decade or so, with the maximum distance being 100 miles.

Two weeks ago, he came back to Ohio to run the Mohican Trail 100. Mohican is a special place for us. We went there frequently as kids. So, I understood why this run was important to him. He attempted it in 2015 and didn’t finish. The weather conditions made the trails treacherous, and he was concerned about injuring himself and being unable to do another 100-mile race later the summer.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, it has some applications to life outside of running.

I was part of his crew for this most recent run. It was me, our mom, our aunt, and my husband. I have never crewed before. None of us had, except my Mom (Mohican 2015). My sister-in-law, Marcus’ wife, was also on the crew during the daytime hours, but she paced him at night during the worst part of things. Just calling her crew really does her a disservice, but she was there. And she is experienced at crewing, which helped us a lot.

Let me tell you, it’s WORK. If you have never crewed an ultrarunner, well, here’s a brief summary of how that works:

You haul the runner’s gear to every aid station you have access to. This means a cooler filled with whatever they choose for nourishment, and a bag filled with extra shoes, clothes, anti-chafe products, etc. You do this AROUND THE CLOCK. The runners don’t stop, so neither do you. You check at each aid station to see what food they have available there, in case your runner wants pizza or a cup of hot broth.

There is a lot of waiting at the aid stations. You watch runners get medical treatment (and sometimes leave in ambulances). You cheer for other runners as they come in. And when your runner comes in, you get them whatever they need to keep going – a bottle of Ensure, a grilled cheese sandwich, a leg massage. And above all, you stay positive and encouraging. It’s a mental game even more than a physical one.

And because things aren’t hard enough, we got torrential rain overnight. Bad for the runners. Bad for the crew (because parking wasn’t always right by the aid station, flooding was widespread, and keeping his gear dry was a challenge). Bad for everyone.

To make a long story short, he finished. The rain made the trails slick and muddy. There was poor visibility throughout the night. He told us that he could hear trees falling somewhere in the forest during the night, so conditions were even dangerous. His clothes and shoes were soaked through. Hypothermia was a very real possibility. The conditions slowed him down enough to where we were concerned he wouldn’t finish by the cut-off time (32 hours). But he pushed through, and he picked up the pace when daylight came. He needed that finish.

img_20190616_115416

Pure grit and determination.

That’s the takeaway from this.

I’m not a runner. I couldn’t even run around the block unless I was being chased by a machete-wielding maniac. But watching him finish was a victory for us, his crew, as much as it was for him. We were all invested.

And now I have my own long-distance run (metaphorically speaking) to finish. I’m starting grad school in the fall. This is my second attempt at grad school. I didn’t finish the first. I’m not going to get into the reasons for that – a lot of it was beyond my control.

But this time, I will finish. And I have a support system to cheer me on and push me forward. I can even visualize my graduation day. I need to keep that vision in my head. Eyes on the prize.

I wonder, at this point in my life, if I’m too tired to do this. If I’m too busy to do this. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time with adult responsibilities, and now I’m piling on another one.

Grit and determination. If ultrarunners can get through what seem like insurmountable obstacles to get to the finish line, I can surely do this.

Life, Death, and Donations

October 9, 1989 – I was a freshman in high school. I was at my locker before homeroom, preparing for the day. A friend approached me, her face very serious and sad.

“Sherry died last night,” she announced.

I raged at her. Told her to shut up. It couldn’t possibly be true. Sherry was only 14.

And yet, I knew it was true. On some level, I expected it.

In homeroom, I listened to the announcement of her death over the intercom. Most of my classmates came from other middle schools and didn’t know her. I was one of the few who cried. Later that day, I got a note from a friend saying that this was the worst day of her life. I had to agree. Losing a best friend is brutal at any age, but it’s incomprehensible at 14.

Sherry was one of my best friends in middle school. She had an illness – the name of it escapes me now – which weakened her lungs and made it difficult for her to breathe. When we first met, she could do most everything that healthy kids our age could do. Birthday parties, school dances – she even played clarinet for a time.

I think it was around 7th grade when her illness became more apparent. As her heart and lungs weakened even more, she stopped participating in normal activities. Every day, her father would carry her up the stairs at school for classes and then down again at the end of the day. Since she couldn’t take the stairs, my friends and I would take turns getting her lunch tray and taking it up to her. We’d all have lunch together.

She started appearing in the local news. There were spaghetti dinners and other fundraisers to help the family with medical expenses. She was on a wait list for a heart and lung transplant.

In 8th grade, she no longer came to school. She was too sick, so she continued her education at home. Meanwhile, everyone waited and hoped for a donor.

I wrote to her often that year. She never wrote me back. To this day, I don’t know why. Did my letters upset her? I wrote about events at school – a life she could no longer participate in. Did she know she was dying? Probably. Maybe she was trying to pull away from all her friends, thinking it would make things easier for us. I will never know.

Just a couple days before she died, I wrote her another letter. I remember walking into my bedroom later and seeing it. I crumpled it and threw it away, thinking she would never write me back anyway, so why bother? I’m so glad I didn’t send that letter. Her parents would have received it right after she died.

I didn’t go to the visitation later that week. I couldn’t bear it. There was a finality to seeing her dead in a casket that I couldn’t handle. The funeral felt safer. The casket was closed. I remember the funeral being on Friday the 13th.

Since that time, I’ve been advocating for organ donation. I signed up as an organ donor when I got my driver’s license a couple years later.

Today, on this 29th anniversary of her death, the bloodmobile came to work. I have no intention of donating organs any time soon if I can at all help it, but blood, I can donate. It seems fitting to do it today.

img_20181009_122324_847

Thinking of you, Sherry. And today, I’m wondering who you would have been if you had only gotten that organ transplant that would have saved your life. You never got the chance to grow up, but hopefully I can give a chance at life to someone (or multiple someones) when my time comes to an end.