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Reboot

Java Mom and the Java Kids

Our new “happy family of three” photographed by Amanda Rodriguez of Then Again Photography. (www.thenagainphotography.com)

I’ve been absent for  awhile.

Not just the complete dearth of posts over the past several months, but even before that. My blog is a labor of love, a place to be genuine, and if I can’t write from my heart, if I’m just dialing it in, then I feel like I fraud. And I couldn’t write from the heart because my heart was hurting. Rather, it was hemorrhaging.

My marriage collapsed.

Time of death: December 10, 2013. 11 years, 1 month, 1 week, 1 day.

It’s been collapsing for a long time — I’ve told all of you that before. We separated in 2012, for three months. And I had high hopes when we reconciled after that. But that, apparently, was short-lived. This time, the separation is permanent. We are divorcing.

I’ve had difficulties writing here because of course the premise of the site had evolved to being about having fun as a family and I felt like a complete fraud at that. How dare I write a word about doing anything to maintain a happy family when my own family seemed anything but. In fact, going through old posts made me sad as I realized how much we had strayed from the family we used to be. Or at least thought we were.

When your marriage fails for reasons other than the obvious ones (there was no cheating, gambling, addictions, etc.) you find yourself grasping for any explanation. Even dumb ones. “Should I have been more like those women who makes everything so Pinterest perfect? Is that what went wrong?” No. Pinterest would not have saved this marriage. Nothing would. We fought a valiant fight.

When you believe in marriage and it still doesn’t work:

You go through the classic seven stages of grief. (This by the way, goes on for quite a while and is still going on.)

You fear rejection from your friends and peers. (Divorce is a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than I’ve been disappointed.)

You want to curl up and die. (I never opened the Christmas cards. I have a backlog of emails I just never looked at. I couldn’t — I had to turn inward for a while and only focus on the kids and I and just live day by day. Day by freaking snowed-in day.)

And then you realize you have to just pick up and move on.

I am reminded of a story from my own childhood. The minister of my church was going through a divorce — I was too young to know the details, but it is my understanding he had not initiated it. Broken-hearted, he turned in his resignation, feeling that if he could not make his marriage work, how could he stand at the pulpit each Sunday? But the church board rejected his resignation. They surrounded him with love, and reminded him that he was a child of God, imperfect like the rest of the flock, and that his experience would only make him even more compassionate to those who were facing similar struggles. They knew he had done his part in his marriage and that the circumstances causing the divorce were beyond his control. I heard this story years later, when I was older, and I’ve always loved the church for the grace they showed in that moment. He was a wonderful preacher who later remarried and has always been devoted to his wife and kids.

We are all flawed human beings. I write this post in the hopes that my readers will forgive me for the past year (or longer) of holding back and disappearances and will bear with me as I get my feet back under me again. I love my blog and my readers and want to return to it, renewed and refreshed. I couldn’t write about my failing marriage as it was happening for many reasons. Embarrassment. Denial. Hopes that it would turnaround. And… because it wasn’t only my story to tell — there was another party involved. But what happens from here forward, that is my journey, and it is okay for me to write about that if I want to. There are some people who are not going to be comfortable with that, but there are always some people who are not happy with what I do. (Anything relating to the kids is shared with their permission.)

I’m rebooting my life. Even prior to the actual separation, I’ve been working on a new degree, which was another reason you haven’t seen much of me on this blog. I’ve been taking pre-requisites in order to apply to nursing school. Something I’ve wanted to write about, but I just haven’t. It’s been quite a journey for me to go from not having had any science classes since my junior year in high school to taking Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, and Microbiology!

Other changes include finally putting some of my personal needs first — following up on long-delayed doctor’s visits and such. And then far simpler things such as getting rid of things in the house and rearranging things to my liking. I bought a $16 terrarium at Home Depot simply because it made me happy. Little things like that.

It’s a strange time, learning how to go from being a wife to a… well, I’m in limbo. I’m not an ex yet but I’m sort of “not a wife.” I remember how odd it was for me when we first got married as I tried to learn how to become an “in-law.” I guess now I’m trying to figure out how to not be one. How to be just the “mother of the grandchildren.” Disentangling lives is complicated stuff.

The worst of it, frankly is that I have had to make all of these changes during the seemingly endless winter — trying to establish a “new normal” when there was absolutely zero chance of a routine was pure hell, not just for me, but the kids as well. But I have walked through the fires of hell and have come out stronger and so have they.  And yes, there has been a LOT of caffeine and a LOT of prayer through all of it.

So, if you’ve managed, to stick around with me long enough to still read this post, I appreciate your loyalty. Like the rest of my life, this blog will go through some changes. And yes, it’s probably going to be neglected a few more weeks as I wrap up the last of my pre-reqs for school. Middle-aged brains are not as great at all-nighters as twenty-year-old brains!

I don’t have all the answers to having a happy family and I hope I never gave the impression that I did. I’m just on a journey like you, but sharing mine publicly and willing to laugh at my imperfections quite publicly in the hopes that it will make other people feel okay about their own trials and tribulations. The kids and I are learning to be a “happy family of three.” (They will also have to learn to have to be a happy family of three with their father.) That hemorrhaging heart? I’ve stemmed the bleeding a bit. Yes, I still hurt, yes, I still “go there” and wonder where things went so very wrong. But I also look ahead and I am making the best of the life I have now. The uncertainties are a bit daunting, but aren’t there always uncertainties? The only certainty is uncertainty.

Like most of my life right now, I’m really not sure what happens next for this blog. But the backbone of it — the part about being strong no matter what, embracing imperfections, facing fears head on, and finding humor whenever possible, that will remain. That part will never change.

So if you are willing to bear with me, I promise to come back, more consistently, and not hold back any more. Life is a full spectrum — highs and lows, but it can be lived with zest and vigor, as long as you have a cup full of caffeine and some prayers in your heart!

Thanks for sticking with me! Your loyal readership is a blessing in my life and I hope to be a blessing in yours.

J.J.

Readers – Please Bear With Me, Fixing Hacks

Hello Readers,

Please bear with me. For the first time in almost 5 years, my blog has been hacked and if you viewed my recent Nintendo Wii Post in Google Reader, you saw a lot of spammy links that I did not put in there. This is the result of a recent spate of hacker attacks on WordPress blogs. I have been working around the clock digging through code to fix it, but it is difficult to tell if I’ve fixed it without some deleting and reposting to Google Reader as you cannot see the malicious code elsewhere.

Please bear with me and know that I take the integrity and security of this site very seriously not only because of the time and money I invest in it, but because I don’t want to expose you or your machines to anything risky or risque!

Thanks for your support as I work to undo the unkind work of these hackers.

J.J.

 

 

Shot@Life Vaccination Campaign Celebrates One Year of Changing Lives #BirthdayBash

Disclosures: Photos provided by Shot@Life and Lindsay. Statistics for this post provided by the Shot@Life campaign and to the best of my knowledge are accurate. I was not compensated for this post, I just think this is a great movement.

 

Some ideas are so elegant in their simplicity they are awe-inspiring. For example, the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign. In a world where one child dies every 20 seconds from a preventable disease, the solution practically writes itself. Get those children the life-saving vaccines they need!

The Shot@Life movement focuses on just four diseases: pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and polio. These are diseases that can easily and inexpensively be prevented with vaccines and are widespread enough to merit targeting.

“Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two biggest killers of children under five, and account for more than one-third of childhood deaths worldwide. Polio has recently re-emerged in areas that had been polio-free for years and measles still kills an estimated 450 people each day—the majority of whom are young children,” according to the Shot@Life.org website.

Shot@Life’s first birthday — they like to use the term birthday rather than anniversary to mirror the act of a child reaching his or her first birthday — coincides with World Immunization Week. If you’d like to know more about the organization, you can see what I wrote about them after attending a local media briefing.

But in this post, in honor of Shot@Life’s own milestone, I was given an opportunity to interview one of their “Champions” — a blogger who took things up a notch, received training at the Shot@Life Champion Summit, and has blogged, tweeted, and spoken about the cause for several months. Lindsay from Laughing Lindsay kindly allowed me to interview her via email last week.

E-Interview with Lindsay of LaughingLindsay.com

Lindsay at a Shot@Life event.

JavaMom: How did you first learn of Shot@Life? Was it at the  Type-A Parent Conference 2012 in Charlotte North Carolina?

Lindsay: Yes, it was at Type-A. I visited Shot@Life’s booth and grabbed a blog prompt and then viewed their video on the last day which was very touching.

JavaMom: On your blog you said your Masters in Education compels you to stand up for all kids, but what convinced you Shot@Life was the right campaign to get involved with?

Lindsay: Healthcare is something that is very important to me… My dad had been in bad health for years. He was always worried about me developing some of his conditions and always made sure I received preventive care. Sadly, he passed away back in December. Since then, I’ve wanted to give other children the opportunity to survive and thrive, like my father did with me. I want to stand up for those children who aren’t as lucky as me.

 JavaMom: You went to the Champions Summit in DC — what was the most interesting or life-changing takeaway from that event?

Lindsay: The Summit was my first time traveling away from home since dad passed (I still live with my mom). The Summit forced me to finally talk about my dad and his passing (I hadn’t done it much prior to that). I still haven’t spoken much about it to people outside of my immediate family as it’s still hard to discuss. However, this cause has allowed me to discuss and deal with losing him around strangers.

 JavaMom: What was it like meeting the other Champions? Any surprises?

Lindsay: I’m initially a pretty reserved person. So, I didn’t say much when I was grouped with the other folks from Virginia. However, they called me on it and one of the first things I told them was about Dad. Those women instantly went from being strangers to some of the best ladies I’ve ever met. I didn’t think I would bond with other people so quickly there, but I did. The Summit was about learning about the cause/organization but also about connecting with other people right there.

 JavaMom: What have you been able to do as a champion to help further the cause of Shot@Life?

Lindsay: I blog and Tweet about it pretty often. I also spoke at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in West Virginia state conference last month (which also forced me to talk about Dad).

JavaMom: What more would you like to do with the Shot@Life movement?

Lindsay: I would love to do an observation trip, like some other Champions have done. Also, I hope to get a mention in the local newspaper someday. Really, anything to get the word out there and get more people involved.

JavaMom: Please provide five key facts you like readers to know about Shot@Life and what they do.

Lindsay:

Five Reasons to Support Shot@Life

  1. 1.5 million children die each year of a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. We can change this!
  2. Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries.
  3. Around the world, some moms walk 15 miles to get vaccines for kids. Shot@Life can make it easier.
  4. $20 can vaccinate a child against four deadly diseases.
  5. Immunizing a child helps us build a healthier world for everyone.

JavaMom: What would you like to challenge readers to do this week?

Lindsay: Here are three easy ways to help:

  • From now  until May 2, share a relay post from the Global Mom Relay on Facebook or Twitter to unlock a $5 donation (up to $62,000 per week) from Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to benefit Shot@Life.
  • Signup to join the cause at: http://shotatlife.org/join.html
  • Or donate here

 JavaMom: And since we’re talking about birthdays and milestones… Do you have any birthday traditions?

Lindsay: I must have cupcakes (preferably either chocolate cake with buttercream frosting or red velvet cupcakes).

 JavaMom: Did you reach any key milestones during your time as a Shot@Life Champion?

Lindsay: Well, the Champion Summit was my first trip to D.C. and while there I got to have my first ride in a taxi cab.

<end of interview>

The Shot@Life campaign has stressed milestones — what milestones can children reach if given the opportunity to when given a life-saving vaccine.  Throughout the campaign, we as US mothers have been asked to think about what milestones we dream of our children having and to think of what we hope their counterparts across the globe should be able to reach as well. One more child to lose a tooth. One more book reader. A shot at riding a bike. Doesn’t every child deserve the same? Of course they do!

In the past year, Shot@Life has ensured that thousands of children around the world reached the milestone of celebrating a first birthday by receiving life-saving vaccines, sent over 26,000 letters to Congress, and grew this movement to over 190,000 supporters. As if that weren’t accomplishment enough, as you can see by the interview, this movement not only changes the lives of the people it is trying to help, but of the volunteers as well. I appreciate Lindsay being so open about her father’s passing during our interview – obviously still a difficult topic to discuss — and want to point out the gift that this campaign has given of giving her something to help carry on the legacy her father gave her of feeling compassionate towards others and a forum for reaching outside of herself into something larger so that she could keep moving forward even in her time of grief and mourning. She not only continued to feel a sense of purpose, she found a supportive community. As someone with a long history with volunteer organizations, I feel this says a lot about the Shot@Life organization.

Please visit their website for a list of additional ways to get involved, follow the #BirthdayBash hashtag on Twitter to see more stories and tweets about this week’s activities, download the mobile app for a fun way to document your child’s milestone while raising awareness about the global vaccination movement, and spread the word about the Shot@Life movement with friends and family.

Daughter Knows Best

Before I became a mother and knew better, I thought I wanted two girls. Instead, God blessed me with a son and then a daughter. I learned to embrace all things boy with JavaBoy and while not holding to purely traditional roles (he cooks, he owns a tea set), I am not one to dress my son in princess costumes – those I saved for my daughter. I had hoped my daughter would share my love all things glittery and glitzy. The screaming over tights in baby ballerina classes may have been my first clue what the future held.

My daughter will look you square in the eye and say, “I am not a princess type of a girl.” Instead her dress-up outfit of choice is the knight costume from LEGOLAND — with its helmet, sword, shield and cape. She is a dragonslayer, running through the house on her invisible steed protecting us from an onslaught of scaly, fire-breathing monsters.

She has many beautiful princess dresses and costumes — gifts from well-meaning friends and family and things I bought before fully understanding her. When we had tickets to Disney on Ice, I made sure her Cinderella dress was in good shape to wear for the evening. Instead, it remained on the hanger. She had no interest in dressing like the princesses — even after seeing hundreds of other little girls doing so.

However, she’s not your classic tomboy either. As much as she loves digging for worms and playing with amphibians, she is quite vain about her fingernails and likes to sport a purple manicure and pedicure whenever possible. She enjoys her glittery lip gloss from a birthday party favor bag and has definite opinions about fashion. She’ll wear beautiful dresses — but only when she feels there is a reason to — for example she believes “fancy” dresses are only appropriate for church on Sundays.

This is perhaps why I have been so slow to understand the complexities of her strong anti-princess-and-the-like conviction. She likes purses and jewelry, enjoys picking out her clothes and trying to “match” things (though we’re still working on the difference between coordinating vs. monochromatic attire).

The social ramifications of her preferences come up more often than one would think. She politely declined to wear a tutu for an Angelina Ballerina party. When her friend was over and wanted to dive into her dress-up clothes and pretend they were princesses at a masquerade ball – JavaGirl finally declared firmly, “I don’t want to be a princess, but I will be a princess’s horse,” and began whinnying while walking on all fours. Upon learning about another friend’s princess party she bargained, “I’ll come as long as I don’t have to dress like a princess!” The girls worked out a deal between themselves and everyone was happy.

As much as I wish sometimes she’d just go with the flow, I have admired her immense self-confidence. When she was four, we entered the beauty salon in the Playseum and I asked her if she wanted to try one of the fun wigs. “No thank you,” she said. “I like my own hair. I like myself just as I am.” Wow. I remember silently praying that she’d always feel that way.

I try to remember that — the importance of liking one’s self — whenever I find myself wishing she’d be more like some of the other girls. And yet, another birthday party came up — a tea party at a tea parlor with a Fancy Nancy theme. I tried to cajole JavaGirl into wearing one of her beautiful dresses and accessorize as crazily as she would like. She’d have none of it. Instead, she got a Fancy Nancy book, paged through, and seizing upon what the character wore for a soccer game, decided to construct an outfit of her own.

She started with a Gymboree sequined whale shirt, because I had told her a few days ago when she had changed clothes for us to pot some plants that the sequined shirt was not “play” clothes and was too “fancy” for digging in the dirt. She added a pair of jeans and a ribbon skirt with jingle bells on the ends. Several plastic necklaces. Finally, as a concession to me, she agreed to wear a rhinestone tiara.

I looked at my daughter and her funky, jingly, glittery outfit and wondered if she’d look like a complete outcast at the party. I couldn’t help but flash back to a time when I made a poor choice of outfit as a young teen. I was in a local beauty pageant (the only one I was ever in) and having won for my town, I was now in the larger competition. I won my title in a very conservative pleated skirt and blouse — something not pageant-like at all. My mother tried to convince me to get a different dress for the next level, something more along the lines of a party dress. But I remained firm in my conviction, feeling like I had won in the first outfit, I should stick with it. I placed fourth — which meant I had no title or duties. First place of course had the title, second and third were essentially fill-ins who made appearances and rode on the float.

It got back to me that I would’ve placed higher had I worn a party dress like the other girls — although we were not judged on our clothing choice, the fact that I was not dressed like the other girls was jarring to the judges.

That is the first time I remember questioning myself and my judgment. So as JavaGirl and I discussed her wardrobe choice, I teetered between not wanting to damage that inner self-confidence and yet also wanting to shield her from a moment of feeling like she should have just gone with the flow. Don’t get me wrong, I was never one to bend to peer pressure and I don’t want her to either, but there are lessons to be learned about getting along in society as well. If we are always swimming against the current, we are too tired to fight when there is a real reason to. If we are always counter-culture, sometimes people are less likely to listen to us when we stand up to say that the current culture is wrong in a particular instance.

I asked her to try on a red party dress “just to see” in the hopes that she’d choose to wear it to the party. It’s a dress that she wore for a Christmas concert and felt quite confident in. But on this day, it merely made her frown. I could see her emotions on her face — she was fighting back tears and though she tried to hide it, the sadness was breaking out all over her face.  She was torn between wanting to please me and not wanting to wear the dress. I was equally torn between wanting to protect her from potential scorn and not wanting to make her miserable.

I hugged her and reassured her that I didn’t want her to be miserable. I told her I loved her just the way she was. I explained that she might be the only girl in jeans at the party and asked if she was going to be okay with that. She was.

We arrived early at the party as I was taking the birthday girl’s big brother out to an event with JavaBoy. The birthday girl opened the door and squealed with glee.

She was wearing leggings, a t-shirt, a tutu, jewelry, a boa and a feather tiara. Putting them side by side they had on very similar outfits.

My daughter is wise beyond her years. Some days, I try to learn from her.

Living a Year in Honor of Susan Niebur #WhyMommy

Susan speaking 2010 BlogHer NYC

I think of Susan daily.

And nightly. With every moon. Not only because she was an astrophysicist, but because the day she died, there was a glorious moon.

There will be many posts about Susan today. This one is less so about Susan herself, and more so about the impact Susan’s life — and death — had on me. Because I can say that both have changed the direction of my life forever. That is one thing we all strive for, isn’t it? To make an impact on someone’s life? I know Susan has impacted hundreds (more likely thousands) of lives, and I hope that she is smiling from above with that knowledge.

I carry with me the pain that I was never as good of a friend to Susan as I wanted to be, though Susan was always gracious to me, to the very, very end. In her final year, I was in a hellish stage of my marriage and my life, something I was not openly sharing with people at the time. I was stretched so thin emotionally that I was barely making it. So while I could text and email with Susan, I just couldn’t drive the distance to see her very often. I was barely able to pull it together to make sure there was a dinner plan for my own family, much less to get meals to Susan. When I could, I would send a contribution for take-out meals to the friends coordinating them. But attempting to provide comic relief through emails, texts and the occassional phone call was all I could manage in terms of “visiting,” and I always felt like that was far too little.

I also felt like I shouldn’t complain about my life to anyone, because what were my problems in comparison to Susan’s? Here she was dying, and yet she was still writing a book, being such a fabulous mother, attending conferences, and still found time to do things like send Christmas cards. Susan was simply awe-inspiring.

Part of my healing process in losing Susan, and in dealing with my guilt over not being able to do more for her, has been to honor Susan by attempting to be “more like Susan.” I have lived very intentionally over this past year, which is not to say that I have lived perfectly, but with more focus and purpose. Losing a friend (and I lost more than one last year) has a way of shaking you up and causing you to question your purpose on Earth, your priorities, and your very existence — all things I had discussed with Susan at various times. This year, all those things were at the very forefront of my mind.

I’d like to say that I was extremely organized about this process and wrote things out and was very Gretchen Rubin-esque in my process, but I wasn’t. It started out as a very reactionary part of the grieving process and then became a little more formal, but here are some of the elements of what my year of living intentionally and in honor of Susan included.

Recognize that Life Is Short

Life is finite. We don’t know how short, even those who have cancer and have been given a time frame don’t know for sure. Susan beat cancer many times. But life is a limited resource. Live life out loud, every day, and to the fullest. Today could be your last or it could be one of a million. Make it count. It’s a small thing, but I did one of my “bucket list” items — ride on a zipline — this year. Watch out world — shark cage diving is next…

But in all seriousness, that means that taking care that our words to each other are kind, and that we don’t squander our days doing things we don’t want to or need to do. Of course few of us want to do laundry, but we need to. But don’t do volunteer work you hate out of obligation. Don’t read books you don’t like unless you have to for homework! In other words, QUESTION EVERYTHING. Maybe you are doing something because you “have always done it this way,” but you don’t really need to? Or even need to do it at all? I became very sick with pneumonia this Christmas and it is amazing how many “traditions” got tossed out the window because I couldn’t sit upright — and how few of these the kids even noticed. Life is short. Do what is meaningful and important. Add in what is fun. Take away the rest.

Establish an “I Don’t Take Any Crap” Policy

Pardon the inelegant phrasing. I don’t know that Susan had such a policy, but I do know that she would establish boundaries when she needed to and I realized I did. This phrase comes from a friend tell me about how if a social or volunteer group gives her too much crap (grief) she quits participating because “it’s not my job so I’m not getting paid to put up with that!” I spent so much of my life being a peacemaker, I would make myself unhappy trying to make everyone else happy. I don’t do that any more. When people are unreasonable, I let them know that I have an “I Don’t Take Any Crap” policy and they basically have the opportunity to get on board or get left behind in the dust. I no longer twist myself in knots wondering why the people who are unkind to me don’t like me. I do a quick internal inventory to see if I’ve done anything to be unkind or inappropriate and unless I have (in which case I try to make amends), I move on. It’s amazing how much happier I am.

Open Up and Be Vulnerable

In this past year, I opened myself up to be a little more vulnerable and let more people in. Susan shared with the world her joys and her heartbreaks. Her hopes and her fears. Susan lived fiercely and out loud. After covering up for a quite some time that my husband and I were struggling in our marriage, I stunned everyone in October by posting a very forthright post on my personal Facebook page that we were going through a trial separation and asking for everyone’s prayers and support (for all four of us) during that time. I received an incredible amount (more than 100) of encouraging responses to that post, as well as private messages, emails and phone calls. I received only two negative responses and I’m sure there were some silent, non-responses that weren’t favorable, but overall the amount of support was frankly, overwhelming. I heard from people I never expected to hear from and couldn’t believe how supportive people were. It was terrifying to post, but it was the only way I knew to rip the Band-Aid off and not have to explain over and over again why I couldn’t do certain things (volunteer for a billion things, etc.) or why certain things were happening (i.e. why my husband’s car was going to be parked in front of a neighbor’s house). The unintended yet wonderful outcome was that it made some women who were going through similar experiences feel like it was okay to talk about it. Which has always been one of my guiding principles — to help people talk about things and feel safe about it.  Susan made me feel like it was okay to be “real” online and in turn, I apparently helped a few others feel like they could talk about what was going on with their families. Thank you, Susan. I must say, there is nothing like baring your soul like that to find out who is really your friend and who is not. (And if you missed the previous post, JavaDad and I are back together, and yes, the Take No Crap policy helped with that!)

Make Time for “Soap Bubbles on a Summer Afternoon”

In the past year, as I have worked on establishing boundaries, I’ve kept this part of Pinterest’s interview with Susan in mind.

Finally, we talk a lot about inspirations on Pinterest and you’re a role model for finding beauty and joy in life no matter what happens – what are your top “little things that count”?

Thank you!

Children’s laughter. Soap bubbles on a summer afternoon.  Reading books together in an easy chair.  Family meals.  Cuddling.  Taking time for a night out with friends — even when there is other work to be done.  Stargazing or watching the clouds pass by. Asking a child a question, and listening — really listening — to her answer.

Although Susan worked hard, she understood the importance of play, as well. Having had the pleasure of working with author and cultural anthropologist Dr. Cynthia J. Smith earlier in my career, I know that there are many, many benefits for ADULTS in “play.” I simply allowed myself to push it too low on my priority list for too long. I remember a day in February about a week after her memorial service when it was unusually warm and sunny and though the kids had a million commitments, I cancelled everything and said, “We’re going to play outside and enjoy this day.” That was in honor of Susan. Because typically I would’ve said, “Oh, what a shame it’s a gorgeous day and we have all these other things to do.”

Many times I’ve caught myself with hands stuck to a keyboard or touch device and realized I need to stop and reconnect with the kids. And I try to focus on the “really listening” to my children — because they have AWESOME answers. These have always been principles of mine, but Susan was always better about keeping these front and center than I was, so I try to channel my “inner Susan” to be a better mother. Susan always had cancer in the time I knew her and basically since her second was born (she was diagnosed not long afterward), so I never asked and I’m not sure if she’d know the answer, if her ability to focus on her kids had to do with knowing that she had cancer and that time was precious or not. But, as we know, none of us really know how much time we have on Earth, so I’m trying to live as if each day with my kids is precious. This year it has been amazing to me to see just how many “forces” I have to fight off that try to get me to change that priority.

Spend Time with Girlfriends

As Susan said in her quote above, we need to make time to see friends. I lost another friend shortly after Susan. My very first friend in Northern Virginia, Julie Ingram Tryon. Yet another friend with whom I traded far too many, “We need to get together soon”s with. Her birthday would’ve been this week. Julie was also an amazing woman and I’m sure she and Susan would’ve got along famously. She was gone mere weeks after I found out she had pancreatic cancer.

It is so easy for us to get “too busy” to see each other. Yes, men need to see their friends too. And we need friends of both genders. But I can tell you that there is something very special about the bond between girlfriends. I could not have gotten through this past year without girlfriends and I know that there are some girlfriends who needed me very much this year. Because I was able to (and more willing) to be more honest with them about what was going on in my life, I was able to (and more willing) to be there for them with what has been going on in their lives. Our friendships have been even deeper and more meaningful. I have been able to say to a friend, “It sounds like you need a friend, my house is a wreck, I have a deadline, but why don’t you come over at least for an hour?” When we are volunteering together for something and working hard, I’ve become the social coordinator, the one who says, “okay, who is up for drinks afterwards?” And at first everyone says, “Oh, I have to go to the grocery story” or “But it’s a school night” and similar things, but eventually, several of us gather and we discover we all really needed it.  We needed to connect, to share our joys and concerns, to do more than the school-pick-up-smile-and-wave. Facebook is great, but real-life friendship is better.

I wish I could see Susan today. I miss her a lot. I want to go up to her and throw my arms around her (oh how many times I had to be careful not to squish her when she was feeling fragile) and say, “Susan, I am a stronger and a happier woman because of you. I am a better mother and wife because of all that you taught me. And because I’m willing to share honestly what’s going on in my life, I have the strength and energy to be a better friend.” I cannot ever presume to speak for her. Please don’t ever interpret anything I say as speaking for Susan. All I can do is to try to apply what I’ve learned from Susan and hope to be the kind of person she would have kept around as a friend had she remained walking around on Earth today. She was a friend, a mentor, and a role model. With a beautiful smile and a wonderful laugh!

I have a long way to go in measuring up to being anything close to Susan, but she’s on my mind and in my heart every day. I consider our friendship ongoing and my faith allows me to believe that one day I will see her again and perhaps she will know that where I fell short as a friend to her in life, I tried to make up for afterward. We shared a passion for STEM and getting kids excited about it, and I think of her every time I volunteer in that area. I try to promote her cause — bringing awareness to Inflammatory Breast Cancer — the breast cancer without a lump, whenever I can. If you loved Susan and all the good that she brought to this world, please consider helping spread the word about this disease and the work of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. If you are able to make a donation, that would be wonderful. Let’s try not to let another wonderful woman be stolen away by that terrible thief, cancer.

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