Some Days Are Like That…

When my children were young, I would read to them every night. It was a great way to connect with my kids at the end of the day. I enjoyed revisiting books of my youth and was also introduced to new book series that Justin loved. One of our favorites was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. If you have read the story, you know it is about a day in Alexander’s life that does not go smoothly. He falls asleep with gum in his mouth and wakes with it in his hair. He trips on a skateboard getting out of bed. He accidentally drops his sweater in the sink with the water running. He wants to move to Australia because he is convinced days like this do not happen there. His day proceeds to go downhill. Alexander can’t seem to catch a break. That night his mom explained that some days are like that, even in Australia. The point is he is not a unicorn. We all have days that are more challenging than others. No one is exempt from challenges and some days are harder than others.

This past Monday was one of those days. I was feeling accomplished to have completed my blog on Sunday. I was up before the sun to edit my writing. It was exciting to be using my new laptop in the comfort of the living room while the rest of the family slumbered. Ah, the joy of a peaceful morning. I did not have a mouse set up on my laptop. I was using my finger on the pad to move the cursor around. I have no idea how I did it, but I deleted my blog. I tried to Command Z. I tried all the undoing I could think of, but nothing brought my writing back. (I probably could not do that again if I tried, nor do I plan on doing it again.) I decided to look for the positive. Monday was Martin Luther King Day and I was off work. This gave me extra time to re-write the blog. Maybe the new blog would be better. 

Feeling a bit defeated, I decided to take a break and charge my laptop. I went to my room to get the charging cable. There it is on the floor broken into pieces! My sweet Ben had decided it would be a great chew toy. I can’t figure out how he reached it. I yell at Ben, knowing he has no idea what he did. How long is a dog’s memory? Longer than a goldfish and shorter than a cat’s? I digress. Rather than sitting around dwelling on the problem, I take the advice of Elizabeth Benton and start working on a solution. I logged into the Apple store (on my cell phone) and ordered a new charger for pick up at the closest store. Yes, I am solving problems. I got a confirmation email that reminded me to bring my government ID when I pick it up. I planned to send Justin and Emily to pick it up. Now what? I call the store and make arrangements for Justin to pick up the cable. I am slaying it.

While Justin and Emily are running errands for me, I take the time to get back to writing. Off to the office to work on the desktop. The mouse won’t connect. Is this happening? I restarted the computer. Breaking out my trusted cell phone, I look for solutions on Google and YouTube. I tried a few more things that didn’t work. Well, this debunks my quote: “All things are possible with God and Google or Yoda and YouTube.” I went into my room and put on a Pause Breathe Reflect meditation on Insight Timer. I was losing my cool and needed to take a break and gain some perspective. I must have dozed off. The next thing I hear is Emily screaming. Ah, back to reality. 

I unwrap my Apple package enthusiastically (like a child on Christmas morning). I get it unpackaged and realize I ordered the wrong charger. Running out of daylight, I decided that getting the correct cable had to wait until tomorrow. I open the iPad and get to work. I have a blog to write and a deadline to meet. I set the deadline. I know I could change it, but I have not missed one yet. I am committed to getting this blog done and scheduled to publish. It was not better than my first draft, but it was finished. I did not quit and faced each obstacle.

As I was journaling at the end of the day, I was filled with gratitude. I was grateful that I managed my thoughts. There was a time when a day like this would have had me crying on the sofa with popcorn, wine, and the remote control. I was grateful that I have learned that sometimes walking away from the problem and meditating is the most productive thing. I was grateful that tomorrow would be another day. I was grateful that I recalled a children’s book that reminded me that some days are like this…even in California.

Note: Thank you to the friends and family that suggested that I write about my mostly (because there is something GOOD in every day) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I appreciate your support. I am forever grateful that you take the time to read my posts and give me your thoughts. 

Apply Grace and Grit Liberally

Recently I created a short video for We Are Brave Together. The prompt was to share a piece of helpful advice for moms with children diagnosed with a disability. It was easy to talk about the two things that have helped me the most on my journey. I am talking about grit and grace. These two principles are critical in every area of my life. My marriage, personal goals, health, and raising children have all benefited from applying grit and grace liberally.

When you tell someone that grit and grace are critical, it can seem abstract or vague. What does that even mean? How do you explain it in a 60-second video? The answer is, not well. I gave an abbreviated application of these words. Today I want to explore these concepts further. I guess a good place to start is a simple definition of each term:

Grit: Courage and determination despite the difficulty of the situation. 

Navigating through obstacles with determination and perseverance is grit.

Grace: Approval or kindness shown. In Christianity, it is explained as showing kindness and favor that is undeserved (as in God’s blessings we do not deserve).

We can offer grace to others even if they may not deserve it. I am grateful for the grace others show me and I try to do the same. Life flows better with grace.

You may not know which one will fit the situation. I think it is best to have both available and ready to apply. This week I was making doctor’s appointments. I have been having some health issues and my primary doctor ordered exams. I called to set up the appointments and the receptionist told me that the earliest appointments were in March. I was not happy to hear that. My uncensored response was, “I could die of a heart attack before then.” Now, I do not think that is going to happen. Honesty, I was not proud of my response. Her response did not temper the conversation. She said, “that is what the emergency room is for.” Really? I thought preventative screening and exams were to prevent an emergency. 

I was not happy. I had two choices. 1. I could lose it and respond with anger (I really wanted to do this). 2. I could let it go and give her grace and let her response go. I chose the latter. Maybe she was having a bad day. I proceeded to be kind and request an earlier date if possible. We began to have a conversation. I was no longer the rude patient. Alice was no longer the flippant receptionist. As I softened my tone, she softened hers. We were able to get one exam done next week. The second exam is scheduled for March and I am on a call-back list for any cancellations. Waiting patiently to get these exams done, calling to check for cancellations (not waiting for a call from Alice), and pushing for a faster appointment will require a little grit. 

Most things require a bit of both grit and grace. Here are a few examples:

  • Slaying the day at work or home after a sleepless night caring for your loved one.
  • Forgiving your son for not moving the car on street sweeping and paying the ticket with gratitude. Thankfully, you have the money to pay the bill. (Recalling the days when you didn’t.)
  • Spending the day cleaning up repeated messes of bodily fluids (if you know, you know) and then having a Zoom call with your client in the evening.
  • Spending hours on the phone to get appointments made or services covered that your loved one is entitled to, but the system is not set up to make it easy.
  • Extending grace to family or friends that do not offer support. Accept that they may not know how to support so they simply retreat. 
  • Give yourself grace when you lose your patience with your loved one. This is a big one. We are not always going to show up as our best selves. We all have days and our job is tough. Give yourself grace. Apologize to your loved one. Move forward. 
  • Caregiving day after day. Showing up when you are tired, moody, frustrated, lonely, and any other emotion. The going is tough and you keep going. You don’t quit. That is grit.
  • When we advocate for our loved ones and look for ways to improve the world for them and others that follow. (You are gonna need some grit and also grace!)
  • Having grace when people say something that is offensive or rude because they just do not know any better. Finding ways to educate others takes grit.
  • Grace with your loved one that is testing your patience, your energy, your sleep. You are not always going to love how they show up, and that is okay. (This one is on here twice because it deserves repeating.)

I believe grace and grit work well together. When the going gets tough, add some grace. The grace will help you muster the grit you need to persevere. I know I can get through even my toughest days. How do I know? I have all the evidence in getting through every challenge I have faced. Grit is the courage to keep going no matter what. Grace gets me there from a place of gratitude. I will arrive much happier by activating grace than if I used only grit. I can achieve a task with grit alone but I may arrive bitchy, unforgiving, resentful.  If I utilize only grace, it will impede progress and growth. 

As you do this thing called life, I encourage you to practice using grit and grace every chance you get. The ride will be smoother and more productive. 

Consistency Over Intensity

As I write this, we are already a week into 2022. I am not someone who charges into the new year at warp speed. I like to ease into the year. I take time to reflect on the year that has gone by. I slowly assess what I accomplished in the previous year and what areas I want to develop in the future. I operate from a place of continuing at a steady and sustainable pace. I watch my social media feeds full of people slaying it. It seems like everyone is going full throttle at work, home, and with health. When I think I am behind, I remind myself that consistency is the key. I continue to work on habits that I have been building in the prior year while slowly adding new ones. I am not sending my brain into freak-out mode. I am also not going in hot, only to fizzle out by February. I tend to do things slowly and maintain consistency over intensity. You will probably not find me participating in a 75 Hard Challenge anytime soon (or ever).

I was listening to an advertisement today for guitar lessons of all things. I took guitar lessons for a few weeks when I was about seven. I do not remember anything about playing. What I do know is I was not consistent. I started taking the lessons. Then I quit. It did not come easy. The result is I gave up. The advertisement pointed out that the only people that learn to play are the ones who are consistent in practicing the skill. They practice the skill week after week. Those that start and quit never gain any traction. They have to continue to start at the beginning and fail to maintain skills that they can build on. They basically keep starting over again and again.

Consistency is essential when working towards a goal. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow your progress is. As long as you don’t quit, you will eventually get there. It is inevitable. Consistency, not intensity, is the predictor of success. A combination of intensity and consistency will help you to your outcome faster. Intensity without consistency will not help you cross finish lines.

I was unwinding in a warm bath when an example of consistency over skill became evident. I used to get pedicures every few months. Each time the technician would work hard to get my feet smooth and file off the rough skin that built up. I did not go regularly. My inconsistent pedicures made the job tough for them. I judged the quality of my pedicure by how well they restored my feet to optimal smoothness. During the height of the pandemic, nail salons were closed for close to a year in California. My feet were neglected. Inconsistent pedicures became nonexistent ones.

When nail salons began reopening in March of 2021, I set up pedicure appointments every two weeks. I started going every other Tuesday like clockwork. After each pedicure, I would come home and complain to Todd about my dissatisfaction with the result. I love my nail technician but always feel the technician that does my pedicure rushes through the process. She does not do a great job smoothing the rough patches. Todd encourages me to go somewhere else, but I stay. The staff is all wonderfully kind. I have been a regular customer here since they opened in 1986. Most of the technicians are still the same. When we had our plumbing business, the owner was a loyal customer. I settle for mediocre pedicures because I do not have the heart to go somewhere else. I pick the people over the quality of the work. 

As I was soaking my feet in the tub last week, I noticed how smooth they were. My feet have never been so healthy and soft. It was like one of those life lesson moments. I complain about the mediocre pedicures I have consistently received for almost a year, but these pedicures have improved my skin. My feet are healthier, prettier, and smoother than they have been in years. It was a tangible and visual example that consistency will get results. You don’t have to hit it hard or be perfect to get results. The key is to show up and keep taking small actions until you get there.

I tell my family, friends and clients the importance of developing consistent habits. I realize the benefits but this tangible example delighted me. My mediocre pedicures still give me amazing results after consistently doing them for almost a year. Isn’t it cool when we get evidence to support things we know to be true?

Throw a Fish Some Flake

I tell everyone I am a caregiver FIRST. Caring for others brings me joy. I am proud of my ability to care for my family. I have also realized that my ability to care for others is dependent on how well I am caring for myself. When I take care of myself FIRST, things flow. While I know this, it was challenging to accomplish in 2021. Managing my time and energy was difficult. In my opinion, it was more challenging than the prior year. I did not have sufficient support. My self-care was not always at the top of the list. When you are responsible for the care of others, sometimes it is necessary to have time where you are only responsible for yourself.

Knowing I was reaching a point of burnout, I went through my calendar to find a weekend that I could plan a short getaway. A weekend of respite. In December, I decided to take a trip to Austin for a long weekend. The caregiver I use regularly was out of the country. I had limited access to additional support. I knew making this trip happen would take some flexibility and creativity. Todd would miss work to get Emily ready for school. Justin and Todd needed to work as a team to cover my responsibilities. They would be in charge of Emily, Ben, Coco, the chickens, and the fish. Yes, we have a fish. More on this later.

I planned everything. I set up a caregiver to give the boys a break over the weekend. I saved the money to cover the cost of the flight and rental car. I used banked RCI points to book a resort near Travis Lake. For the record, there is nothing true in this sentence! It was NO resort, and it was NOWHERE near water! (That is a story for another day.) I had all the trip logistics planned. I made arrangements for connecting with friends and maximizing my time away.

I made sure the house was stocked with groceries. I prepped as many of Emily’s meals as possible. I had Emily’s outfits set out for each day, including her accessories. I checked and rechecked the weather daily. I adjusted clothing or added outerwear based on the weather. I made sure her medical cards, identification, and letter of conservatorship were accessible to Todd. I put notes in her school journal to inform staff to reach out to Todd if there was an emergency. I reached out to a few friends and asked them to be “on-call” if the guys needed support.

I left notes everywhere. I took videos of how I do Emily’s hair. She has become resistant to having her hair combed, so I recorded my tricks for Todd. I had instructions for street sweeping and days to take the trash cans to the curb. Shouldn’t the men know how to do this without a note or reminder? I left nothing to chance. I put the jar of fish food for our solo goldfish, Guacamole, right in front of his tank where it could not be missed. I put a post-it on the tank that said, “feed me.” I reminded them to water my poinsettia and feed the chickens. I was proud of myself because I left my family with tools and instructions. The toolbox was stocked.

The date came for me to travel to Austin. I had a fantastic weekend meeting friends and connecting. I enjoyed the break. I trusted things would go well while I was gone. I did not worry about anything at home. I knew I planned. The rest was out of my control. All the preparations and planning paid off. I came home with a full battery and abundant joy. I was full of gratitude.

My husband missed me. He picked me up from the airport and brought Ben with him. Ben was so excited to see me. Todd took me to lunch before we went home. It was delightful to sit outside with Todd and Ben and enjoy a meal. Justin was waiting at home. He had cleaned out the pantry and organized it for me while I was gone. The house was clean, and all the laundry was clean. I was impressed. I unpacked and got settled back into the home. 

The boys and I discussed things that happened while I was away. I found out Emily did not get a bath while I was gone. They assured me that she doesn’t smell and looks clean. Okay, I let it go. I added giving Emily a bath to my things to do that evening. I walk into the kitchen. It does not look like the fish food jar has been touched. It is in the exact spot I left it. Guacamole is at the surface telling me, “Feed me! Feed me!” There is urgency in his movements. I fed him and asked the boys if they had while I was gone. Justin’s reply, “We have a fish? I always forget about that.” I throw my hands in the air. “Come on guys, neither of you bothered to throw a fish some flake!?!”

Emily was happy to get a break from me, and full disclosure was thrilled to skip her bath. She hates her self-care routine. She protested as I washed her and cleaned her that night. I completed the task from a place of service and no obligation. When I meet my needs first, I care for others from a place of service. When I start to feel resentful about taking care of others, that is my cue that I am not fully caring for myself. In 2022, I have already planned to widen my care circle for Emily. I will also teach the men to throw the fish some flake. 

Dear 2021

Photo by Polina Kovaleva 

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to express this week. Some weeks I have many ideas, and I have trouble deciding what to write. At other times, the words flow as I sit to write. This week I decided to do something a little different. I love to reflect on the year as it is closing. In fact, it takes me a few weeks into the new year to fully absorb the year that has closed and be ready for goal setting. I take time to appreciate, embrace, and reflect on the past twelve months. This week, I will share my letter to 2021. (Well, most of it.) 

Before jumping into 2022 with both feet, I encourage you to reflect on 2021. There are lessons, successes, and milestones you don’t want to sweep under the rug. Things to celebrate and things to learn about ourselves. I hope that my letter will inspire you to write one of your own. You may be surprised by what you discover.

Dear 2021,

I was apprehensive when you started. California continued to be on lockdown. Emily was still at home and had zero access to outside services. The fallout from 2020 continued. Many thought the new year would bring some normalcy, but my intuition told me 2021 was going to be challenging for our family.

As the vaccine became more available and the case numbers decreased, Todd was able to go back into the office daily. Things began to loosen up around March, but Emily was still home full-time. Caring for Emily took a majority of my time and energy. I worked hard to make time for myself and devote myself to self-care. I was not always successful, but I never quit trying.

My foot continued to cause me grief. I had multiple visits with two podiatrists. I was also referred to a neurologist to get some clarity on my damn foot. I got fitted for custom orthotics. Doctors told me I could get the same results from over-the-counter options. They were wrong. Trusting my gut and investing in custom orthotics is definitely one of my biggest wins. While I still have pain and issues, my foot is  50% better than in 2020. 

My self-care was mostly “boring”. It consisted of doctor’s appointments, acupuncture, and physical therapy. I did not have a single spa day and only a handful of massages all year. I am happy to say I have two massages scheduled for January and am planning more “me time” and self-care. My caregiver network was slim in 2021, and I am working on improving that in 2022.

April was a turning point in the year. Fully vaccinated and restless, Todd and I made plans to go places and see things. We started with a short trip to Las Vegas. We met my friend Koko for dinner one night. She asked if we knew anyone interested in purchasing a toy hauler her mom was selling. A toy hauler is exactly what we wanted. In fact, on our drive to Vegas, Todd and I discussed getting a toy hauler “someday”. Because they have the ramp in the back, we could easily wheel Emily in and out without lifting her. They also have ample floor space that would allow Emily to crawl and play. Although our plan was not to buy one right then, the opportunity was there. It was perfect.

Todd and I took a long road trip with Emily in July. I wrote about this in a prior post. It was challenging but rewarding. It is said that things that require the most effort are the most rewarding. I would definitely agree. Todd and I ended up visiting 17 states and driving over 5,000 miles. The memories we made were many. The trip was an opportunity to meet many of my accountability partners. Some for the first time. Emily thrived on the road. Her ability to adapt and adjust to a different hotel each night delighted me and exceeded my expectations.

I also decided this was the year I was going to speak up. I was going to use my voice. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started posting more on social media. I shared how changes I made to improve my health and well-being have made me a better caregiver. A weekly blog soon followed. I was coaching clients regularly. I sent my first pitch to be on a podcast in 2021. That was scary! The result was I made another connection that opened my world to a group of amazing people impacted by genetic disorders. I also decided to put myself out there and interview to be a support facilitator for We Are Brave Together. Again, expanding my connections and finding ways to support caregivers. My focus evolved as 2021 progressed. My goals shifted more than once this year.

I successfully reached my financial goals. I continued to work on self-development and self-love. I had to pivot often this year. I did not accomplish everything I desired. I am disappointed. I will decide if I will work toward those things in 2022. I will evaluate if I will add to my 2022 goals or not. My main focus will be on my health. As I assessed 2021, while I did a great job maintaining my health, I did not experience growth in this area. It was more of a status quote. 

There were some low points in 2021. Remaining objective and curious was not always easy. I caught myself fighting against reality more than a few times this year. That never works out well. I know this work is life-long. It is a marathon. I will continue to show up less than my best at times, and that is okay.

I was successful at connecting this year. I met and connected with so many people this year. Whether through Zoom, Discord, Clubhouse, or real life, I made time to connect. I am proud of that. I traveled to meet and see people. I made time to camp with the family and spend quality time with Justin this year. I worked on my relationships. I value my friends and family. I exerted the effort to let them know. Connection is something I desire above anything else. I enjoy learning about others and growing my relationships beyond the surface.

In closing 2021, you were a mixed bag. You offered more challenges than I was prepared to face, but I handled them like a boss (most of the time). You offered unexpected gifts, joy, and love. You brought new people into my life that are such a blessing. You reminded me often that I am not in control of much. You gifted me lessons that are helping me visualize my course for 2022. 

Thank you for another year. I do not take the gift for granted and am grateful to have another to learn and grow.

Action Lessens the Fear

The last few days, I have not slept well. I have been tossing and turning. Waking up often and having bad dreams. I think Oprah said, “When you know better, you do better.” Well, Oprah, I disagree. My toolbox is full of techniques and protocols to optimize sleep. You can have ample knowledge, but if not used, it is useless. You cannot drive a nail without picking up the hammer.

What routines have impacted my sleep? Why is the Sleep Number App underwhelmed by my sleep readiness? I started watching a limited-run series, The Shrink Next Door. I was intrigued by the trailer for this show and decided to add it to my list of programs. It is about a therapist who has unorthodox and insidious relationships with his clients. The show is dark and twisted. The program is not violent, but it is creepy. After getting Emily to bed each night, I would watch an episode or two. The result was I stayed up past 9 pm each night. I did not follow my evening routines. My protocols were ignored.

The Shrink Next Door is the type of show I generally avoid. Through years of experience, I have learned that I react negatively to these shows. They generate negative emotions. I begin thinking about humanity and injustice. The feelings linger for days after the show ends. My thoughts race.

I finished the series last night and was feeling sad. I was distraught with emotion for a show that has zero impact on my life. I just couldn’t shake my negative mood. The mood lingered as I drifted off to sleep. The result was a series of bad dreams. I awoke at 3:30 am upset and shaking. I was unable to go back to sleep at this point.

The last dream scared me. Todd and I were volunteering at a shelter. It was set up by his work. Several of his coworkers were there. Emily was with us. While we were busy serving meals, Emily disappeared. Panic set in. One of Todd’s coworkers told me one of the volunteers has a shady past. My mind went to a dark and scary place. Because Emily is non-verbal and unable to effectively express herself, I was scared we would never find her. She does not have a cell phone or a way to reach out. I had her identification. Even if someone found her, how would they reach us? How would they know who she is?

I often mention my ability to pivot and adapt. Apparently, I maintain this skill in my dreams. My mind went to work to solve this dream in a positive way. I hopped on the city bus to try to find Emily. I surveyed the passengers. There she was perfectly content with my sister, Carol. My sister tells me she is taking Emily to Knott’s Berry Farm. Carol did not feel the need to let me know. (There is probably more to unpack there.) Just like that, Emily was found. She was safe, and that is all that mattered. I did wake up mad at my sister for something she did in my dream. Have you ever done that? Well, I do. Todd hates when I do that!

As I lay in bed for the next hour, I was thinking about what action I could take to alleviate the fear that I was having for Emily’s safety. I knew the show I watched triggered fear. There is so much I cannot control. I cannot be with Emily every moment. I have to trust others, and I have to live life from a place of safety, not fear. We are safe. Most people are good, and others will protect her when I am unable to. While this is difficult at times, living in fear is not healthy.

I was spiraling in my thoughts, unable to slow them down. About that time, I realized a Pause Breathe Reflect meditation was starting. I am an early riser, yet, I rarely catch the 4:35 am room. I grabbed my earbuds and joined the room. I enjoyed the meditation that was about JOY. Michael invited us to recall a memory that evokes joy. As I visualized a joyful memory, I moved past the fear. I changed my state of mind. As the room ended, I was able to fall back to sleep for an hour. When the dogs got me up to feed them, I was back in action mode.

I bought Emily a bracelet from Road ID a few years back. I quit putting it on her because she did not like it. Today I was determined to locate that bracelet. Road ID is a company that makes identification bracelets for athletes. I discovered it from another parent raising a unique needs child. The identification bracelets are easy to use. There are many band color options, so Emily can match her bracelet to her outfits. I want Emily to be clean, well-cared for, and matching. Hey, it is often the little things on this journey that matter. I believe Road ID is a company that understands that, even if Emily is not their target demographic.

After the rest of the family was awake, I went on a bracelet hunt. I located the bracelet and all the bands. Once Emily was dressed, I added a matching Road ID bracelet. The moment I closed the clasp, I could feel relief. I felt the weight of fear lift. I stepped away from fear and stepped into action. This little action, along with a short meditation, was all that was required to change my mental state. It is amazing the power of our thoughts and the gift that action is to our brain.

Tonight, I am back to my regular bedtime routine. I will turn off my electronic devices by 9 pm. I will set my phone on “Do Not Disturb”. I will follow the evening routine that helps me optimize my sleep. In the words of Donavon Frankenreiter, “I’ll be sleeping good tonight.”

Be a Unicorn or a Craig

Effie Parks, the amazing woman behind the Once Upon A Gene podcast, recorded a special Thanksgiving episode: Turkey Soup for the Soul. This year’s episode was focused on people who went above and beyond to help a family caring for a child with a rare genetic disorder. While Emily is not diagnosed, yet, I submitted a story about a family that supported us in a big and life-changing way when Emily and Justin were small.

In this episode, Effie and her co-hosts refer to these special people as unicorns. I am blessed to have encountered many unicorns in my life. Emily’s disabilities have opened our world to many angels, unicorns, and helpers. The story I submitted is just one of many. Below is the story I shared about the Feldhacker family:

There is a Walker Hayes song called “Craig”. I cannot listen to that song without crying. The song is the epitome of going above and beyond to help out a family in need. The Short family was blessed by a “Craig” in the early years of our journey.

By the time Emily turned 3, our world was upside down. I had quit my job to care for Justin and Emily full-time. With all the doctor visits and therapy, it was not feasible for me to maintain a job. Todd was struggling to run our family plumbing business. He had begun to battle anxiety and depression and we were dealing with a child that had developmental delays. We ended up filing bankruptcy for our business. It was a difficult season, to put it mildly.

Fortunately, Todd is a great plumber. He was able to find a job quickly. It was a Monday through Friday gig and the pay was great. The only issue is that he had to use his own vehicle. We were a one-car family at this point. This would leave me home with two toddlers without transportation. I had no idea how I was going to get Emily to her appointments. I was also scared to be without transportation in case of an emergency, but I told Todd we would figure it out. We needed money to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

The Sunday before Todd started his new job, our friends stopped by after church. Anna was in one car with her two toddlers. Her husband followed behind in an old, Honda Accord. They got out of the car and told us they had a car for us. We told them we could not accept a car. Ken said, “We aren’t giving you a car! We are selling you this Honda Accord for $1. There was a time we needed a car and a friend sold this one to us for a buck. The only catch is once you are done with it, you must do the same.”

I was speechless (which is rare for me). After some convincing by Ken, we accepted the car. We signed the transfer and paid him $1. That car was not pretty on the outside, but she got the job done. She never let us down. She carried us safely from one appointment to the next for the next two years.

One day Todd came home from work and said, “Billie, there is a guy at work and his mom really needs a car.” Well, we just happen to have one available for the low price of $1.

Thankful for the Memories

My wedding 9/6/1992

Our memories are not confined to square footage. They are not limited to a physical boundary. Infinite storage capacity is included with our brain’s processor. Rarely do we have to delete files to make room for additional ones. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? We don’t have to decide which ones we are going to save and which ones we must delete to make more room.

As I struggle to process your loss, my mind recalls countless memories buried in the archives. The news of your passing has them bubbling up. The rapid flow of memories reminds me of watching Old Faithful in action. The slow bubbles and steam gradually expand. Growing until they are no longer able to be contained. They rise towards the sky in a beautiful display.

We traveled a long season together. Through the teen years, we were attached at the hip. I wonder how many notes we passed during our years together in high school? I know we both still had some the last time we talked. We passed a lot of notes in biology class. I have so many memories from that year. Maybe because it is the only class I remember getting in trouble in. I was a great student, except in biology, but you and Brad Nowell had my back. I sat between both of you in class. We were often chatting and goofing around. Dr. B. knew I did not know the answer (he was correct). Usually, he would call on me in these moments. You or Brad would whisper the correct response into my ear and save my ass. I smile as I recall.

High school was tough for me. On the outside, I came across confident and secure. The truth is I was insecure about my body, my weight, and my economic status (to name just a few). You always had words to encourage and support me. You saw things in me that I did not see in myself. You accepted me. At parties, you would drag my self-conscious booty out onto the dance floor. I have so many memories of us dancing and laughing. You had a way of coaxing me out of my comfort zone. Dancing is something I still love, thanks to you.

There have been weddings and funerals. Trips to Catalina, Las Vegas, Laughlin, Mexico, Mammoth. Camping in the middle of the desert. I am sure there are other destinations that I am excluding. For many seasons of my life, you were my person. When my dad passed, you and Todd helped me process my grief. You and Todd were my anchors.

Throughout our teens, twenties, and thirties, we traveled closely. We celebrated our weddings together. The birth of our children. Traveling to Mammoth with all the kids. We attended dance recitals, concerts, pillowcase-making parties, and birthday parties. As the kids got older, we gathered together less often. It became tougher as Emily got older. The gap between the girls expanded. Our paths separated but we gathered for life events. We were there to support each other when we both lost our moms. While we may have gathered less, love for our families was always present. The Hardy Boys and their families will always be part of my chosen family.

I have much gratitude sprinkled in the grief and sadness. I am grateful that I took that call from you last October. I am thankful we spent hours talking and texting that day. I am glad we shared a deep connection one last time. Nothing was left unexpressed or unsaid. I feel peaceful and grateful for that day. Lastly, I am thankful for memories. The memories we shared never fail to bring a smile to my face.

I will always consider you a friend for a lifetime and beyond. We made so many memories over the decades. I have them to lean on when I miss you. Rest In Peace, Mark. You are a Forever Friend.

Note: The sudden loss of my friend hit me hard. It reminded me of the fragility of life. “Life is short. The world is wide. Make memories.”-Mama Mia

Mark Hardy
April 29,1968 – December 3, 2021

A Badass Woman I Called Mom

Thanksgiving always reminds me of my mom. Her birthday is November 27th. I remember it would be extra special when it fell on Thanksgiving day. She passed away almost six years ago. It is funny that it feels like it has been a lifetime and like it was only yesterday. I am not sure if that makes sense?

Until recently, I held onto a lot of anger and resentment towards my mom. Choices she made or didn’t make. Family dynamics and sibling crap. It’s complicated. I am not sure when I let go of the resentment and anger, I just know it is gone. Maybe as I grow older, I can relate to her more than I did in my youth. Now, as I reflect on the things she did, I feel respect and admiration. 

Pat, my mom, was the first badass woman in my life. She met and married my dad shortly after high school. She never had the opportunity to go to college. I remember my mom loved to write, and she loved learning new things. I was in 4th grade when she decided she wanted to attend college. My siblings and I thought it was a joke. My dad disapproved and told her she could not enroll. He said there was no way she could care for us, the home, and go to school. 

That didn’t stop her. She signed up to take journalism classes at the local community college. My mom did not tell my father. She enlisted a friend to pick us up from school. She taught me how to cook a few meals. I was in charge of making dinner on the days she had class. (I mastered her meatloaf and Greek chicken and noodles recipes.)   She did not tell my dad she was going to school until she finished her first semester with straight A’s. His response, “The kids are alive, and the house is still standing. I guess you can take classes.”

The following semester she decided she wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle. She signed up for motorcycle riding and safety courses through the college. My dad fixed up a motorcycle for her to use. Once she passed her class, my tiny mom could be seen riding to and from classes on her bike. My friends would tell me, “I saw your mom on her motorcycle with her backpack on.”  I was embarrassed. I thought they were making fun of her. 

I was young and self-absorbed. I was mortified by anything my parents did that might embarrass me. Let’s be honest, when you are a teen everything embarrasses you. I did not appreciate the courage it took for her to go back to college in her late 30’s. My mom was the oldest person in all of her classes. Heck, she was older than most of her professors. She completed her AA in Journalism in two years while raising a family and without the support of her husband. 

I suspect this was not easy for her to accomplish. Setting out to do something new can trigger fear and uncertainty. I imagine she was not confident she could get her degree. If my dad found out (and eventually he would/did), he might pressure her to quit. I bet insecurity and doubt rode along with her during the journey. The obstacles she had to overcome, both real and imagined, were massive. I am certain the backpack she carried on the back of that bike was heavy in more ways than one.

My heart swells with emotion as I recount this season in my life. It may have taken me years to get here, but I am so proud of all the things she accomplished. My mom showed me that anything is possible, despite her age, sex, and economic status.  I am honored to say, “My Mom was a badass woman ahead of her time! When I grow up, I want to be just like her.”

When Gratitude Eludes You

Photo by Yura Forrat 

We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States in November. Stories of thanks and gratitude are abundant. But what if gratitude eludes you? What if in the storm you do not see any clear skies or rainbows? When the world seems high on life, and you are not, then what?

I saw a post that read: If you are having trouble finding something to be grateful for, check your pulse.

There is always gratitude in our journey. I believe that is true. Sometimes gratitude is difficult to access. I empathize with those unable to find gratitude in a situation. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. Sometimes it is difficult to see beyond the hardship.

Three years ago, my strength was tested. I was unable to see anything positive in my situation. I thought the pressure would crush me. I could not find a silver lining. At the time, that was my truth. As I began to write about gratitude today, the memories of that time rushed through my mind. I knew I had to change directions. I decided to be vulnerable. I would write about a time I was not grateful. I feel anxiety about sharing this as I type. As I muster the courage to show the ugly bits, fear and anxiety join the party in my mind. Fear and anxiety have kept me from opening up. Today I decided to be brave and vulnerable. Look at me channeling my inner Brené Brown.

In 2019 my husband was hospitalized. Todd has battled with anxiety, and depression since Emily was a toddler. With proper medical care, his condition was manageable. This time was different. I was terrified and felt alone. I have never discussed the impact the event had on me. I held in the trauma and sadness. It was as if releasing my pain would betray him.  

Todd was in the hospital. Justin was living away from home. Justin had just finished a year at UCSB. He had decided not to continue his studies but was locked into a lease for another year. He was working at UPS and learning some tough lessons about responsibility and commitment. We knew Todd was going to be out of work for an extended period. I was caring for Emily alone. I was doing my best to maintain my duties for my employer. I did not have family members that could help care for Emily.

I was unable to sleep. As my head hit the pillow, the chatter would commence. I was worried about Todd and Justin. The guilt I was carrying was overwhelming. I was too busy caring for myself and Emily. I did not see that Todd was in decline. I had let them down. I was not doing enough. I was not able to be there for everyone. I was failing at everything.

I was concerned about paying bills and the long-term impact of all of it. Todd and I have always worked well as a team. We have worked together caring for Emily. We both had times when we were down, but never at the same time. When one was down, the other would pick up the slack. We both had nothing to give, and Emily needed us. I wasn’t sure how things would progress. Everything seemed fragile and uncertain. I was not able to see all the things to be grateful for that were around me. I could only see the struggles.

As time passed, my perspective shifted. I was never alone. I had the support of the staff from AbilityFirst. The after-school program allowed me to visit Todd at the hospital after work. Staff volunteered to bring Emily to my house if I was running late to pick her up. The company I work for was extremely supportive and flexible. Todd’s supervisor was compassionate and understanding. We had money in the bank to pay our immediate bills. Todd’s brother helped us out financially while Todd was out of work. Todd’s brother flew out immediately to support Todd and Todd’s parents. Justin was not at home and did not have to experience the event firsthand. Emily’s intellectual disability prevented her from comprehending the magnitude of the situation. I had started taking great care of myself in the months prior. I was in the best mental, physical, and emotional state to handle the added stress.

I recently read there are 3 phases of gratitude:

  1. Recognition: When you realize it will be okay. The situation is difficult but you can handle it. You begin to see things from multiple points of view. You recognize how you are in a better position to handle than you may have initially thought. The realization that “things could be worse”.
  2. Acknowledgment: You see some hope or relief in the future. The concept of the light at the end of the tunnel. This gives you some energy to move forward and take steps you may have been unable to take before.
  3. Appreciation: You see who supported you through the experience. You realize you were not as alone as you may have thought. You recognize the people and things that got you to the other side. 

Looking back I recognize that I did go through the phases of gratitude. I experienced all of these. It did not happen with perfect timing. It did not flow with ease, but the gratitude did flow. Beauty and healing grew out of the dark storm. Todd is stronger and healthier. Our family is more resilient and compassionate. Gratitude is always available. Sometimes our focus on the hard makes it difficult to recognize AND that is OKAY.