I'm not 40

Why I don’t care that I’m turning 40

I am almost at “that” age.  The big 4-0.

Society tells me I should be freaking out right about now.  A few of the people I know who are turning 40 definitely are.  I have been there, I get it.  The realization that youth is in the rear-view and we are now bona-fide “middle-aged adults” can be scary.  We are at the so-called half way point of life.  And it’s gone by sooooo fast.

But as for me, I’m all in, totally embracing it this time around.  It wasn’t always this way though.

I was absolutely devastated when I was turning 35, I was caught up in the worry of the number, what it meant – if a leg would fall off when I tried to get out of bed or my face would suddenly become filled with wrinkles and sag lines.

While I was caught up in the worry that the world would stop spinning when my 35th birthday came, there was a divine plan at play.  That year would prove to be the most difficult I had ever known, and the one that taught me the most.   I learned to to embrace the time I am blessed with here on this earth, rather than to focus on regret.

The stories I’m going to share are very personal and chronicle everything from tragedy and triumph to love and loss.  I’m not sharing these stories to bring you down, but to lift you up, and encourage everyone to re-focus on what really matters – and it’s not the number of candles on your birthday cake.

The trials begin…

I was 34 when my newborn son was diagnosed with meningitis.  We spent 5 days in the hospital not knowing if he would live or die.  Those were, undoubtedly, the most difficult days of my life.  It was a very dark time, I remember the helplessness I felt, the constant fog of despair.  It was absolutely heart-wrenching.

By the grace of God, Brayden pulled through and is now thriving.  Even though several years have now passed, that remains a defining moment of time in my life.  I have never felt so helpless, never felt that kind of despair.  It forever changed who I am and how I view motherhood.  My baby lived, we were given a second chance.

I still thought about the fact I was turning 35 sometimes, but much less than ever before.  It started to become trivial.

And then….

A few months later, as I was inching ever closer to my 35th birthday, my father went into cardiac arrest.  We literally watched him die.  He collapsed in front of us, and was gasping for air.  His heart had stopped.  We made a desperate call to 911, and the paramedics happened to be around the corner.  I have always believed that to be divine intervention that they were in the neighborhood on a false alarm and were at my father’s side within 3 minutes.

The paramedics were able to revive him, but they also said they didn’t how long he would make it from here, that there were no guarantees he would ever regain consciousness.  I remember driving to the hospital with the realization that my father, as I knew him, was gone.  Just like that.  All the unspoken words, the unlived moments came crashing down on me.  I had so many regrets.

After witnessing my father’s cardiac arrest, my mother was hospitalized the next day.   Her heart was broken, literally.  We would later find out she had “broken heart” syndrome.

The security blanket that I had known for so many years, having two loving parents by my side, was suddenly in jeopardy.  All in the blink of an eye.  The ones who had gotten me through my rough patches had hit a rough patch of their own, and it was our turn to step up.

And that we did.  My husband, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – pretty much everyone you can imagine – all came out in full force to get them through, and together we found our way.  I was reminded of the importance and value of family and friends.  Those who are there for you in the darkest of times are the ones to keep by your side, always.

My father had a bypass surgery, from which he bounced back from amazingly.  It was a journey but he pulled through.  After some rest, my Mother bounced back to full form quickly, as she always has.

Around this time, I turned 35, and miraculously, I didn’t lose any limbs.  At that point, I was jumping up and down in joy that I had made it, there were times I wasn’t so sure I would.

What really mattered in life was coming into focus more than ever, and one thing that certainly didn’t matter anymore was that pesky number “35”.

I was settling in, and surely that had to be the end of the tragedies for that year, we had to have met our quota at that point, right?  Not so much…

A short while later, my Grandmother suffered a stroke that left her debilitated, which was another dagger to the heart.  Grams wasn’t your typical Grandmother.  She spoke her mind, she had her fun, and she really didn’t care what anyone had to say about it.  She lived life to the fullest, my kind of lady.

Grams tried her very best to recover after the stroke, but sadly she never returned to full form.  The lady who used to tell us stories and make us all laugh till we cried suddenly wasn’t able to speak anymore.  Now, she struggled to string the right words together to form a sentence.

She began withdrawing and shutting down.  It was her time to go.  She lived to 93.  She watched her children and grand-children grow up.  She had the chance to know all of her great-grandchildren too.   Hers was a life well lived.

I remember sitting with her in her final days.  She had told me months earlier exactly how she wanted her funeral to go, I think she knew what was coming.  As I sat with her, I promised her that her home-going would be exactly how she wanted it.  I told her all the details exactly as I remembered them, she squeezed my hand in reassurance.  It was my last gift to her.

In those final moments, I stroked her hair, and I told her how much I loved her over and over again.  As incredibly difficult as those days were, they brought me peace and comfort.  They still do.  She died with grace and dignity, surrounded by those who love her.  There isn’t a better way to go.  I still miss her terribly, but I know she watches over me, and that brings me peace.  To hold the hand of a loved one while their soul leaves their body is the most prolific reminder of the fragility of life, and the most powerful reminder to cherish what you have while you have it.

After her passing, I remember thinking back on how happy I was that I got to spend 35 years of my life with her.  35 had officially come full circle – what once was a curse was now a blessing.

Through tragedy comes triumph, and I carry these realizations with me always.

  • Age really is nothing but a number, so why waste even one moment of our precious time worrying about it. Live, laugh, love.  Repeat as often as possible.
  • The alternative to getting older is not a good one. Learn from your experiences and constantly reinvent yourself to be the best you can be.  Not everyone has 40 years of experience under their belt.  Use it to your advantage.
  • Be patient with older people. They have the best stories to tell, if you take the time to listen.
  • Life is short and those we love should always be a priority.
  • There are some relationships worth fostering and others that are not. When times are tough, you learn who your true people are.  Be there for them as they were there for you.
  • Things will always happen in life, it’s how we respond to them that defines who we are, and what we learn from them that defines who we will ultimately become.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your energy for the things that really matter.
  • Dance like nobody is watching. And make it one hell of a dance.

And when I lose my way, as we all do, I remind myself of that year and the lessons I learned, and eventually find a way to settle back in.

The big 4-0

Whether I’m 35, 40, or blessed enough to live to 90, I’m not taking a single day for granted.  So pass me a martini, go ahead and put all 40 candles on the cake, we can call it a bon-fire.

Bring it on 40, I’m just happy to be here.

My father has cancer, but it doesn’t have him

You know those bad days when you feel down on life and maybe you’re feeling a little bit sorry for yourself? Well this story is for you, and me, and anyone else that needs a reminder that no matter how bad your day is, someone else is probably going through more. And it’s time to pick yourself up and keep on keeping on.

This is a story of survival and triumph with resiliency, strength, and pride. This is my father’s story.

In the past 4 years my father has experienced more trauma than most of us will see in a lifetime. He never complains and rarely speaks of what he has overcome. That is just his way. He is the strong silent type and that means that oftentimes his story is not shared, but it should be, because it’s one we can all learn something from.

A little over 4 years ago, my father collapsed in front of us when he went into cardiac arrest. My son Brayden was just 8 months old at the time. He was sitting on the floor and my father leaned over to play with him. When he attempted to stand up, he lost his footing and fell over. What we didn’t know at that time was at that very moment, his heart had stopped beating.

The paramedics arrived quickly and they were able to restart his heart. I listened as the paramedics told us they weren’t sure if they would be able to keep him going. The doctors explained to us at the hospital that my father had gone into V-fib, a very dangerous heart rhythm, that many don’t come back from. The next 24 hours would be critical to see if he would make it.

He did make it through the night, and then he made it through a triple bypass just a few days later. He fought back and he regained his health. Only 4% of people survive this type of ordeal. It is not surprising that my father was amongst the 4%. A fighter by nature, it took some time, but he found a way through.

His life had returned to a sense of normalcy when he retired last December. But he was about to be rocked again with news that just didn’t seem fair to someone who already had to overcome so much. Just a few weeks after retiring, he went in for routine blood tests and found out that he had leukemia.

We had a trip planned to South Africa before he received the news. He didn’t yet know the type of leukemia he had, which stage he was in, or if it was treatable. But as he has always done, he rallied. He packed up his bags and planned the trip of a lifetime, a bucket list trip as he called it. They started in Johannesburg and the finale was a five star safari in Kruger National Park.

My Dad and Mom in front of FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

My Dad and Mom in front of FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I was also there in South Africa, but I was there for work. My parents stayed at the same hotel where me and my co-workers stayed. We had some really good times out at dinner, talking, and having drinks. Those types of moments leave you feeling so full, not just from too many South African steaks and red wine, but from being in the moment and enjoying every minute of it.

When you don’t know how much time you have left, every moment, no matter how mundane, feels like a blessing. We had many blessings on that trip, an abundance in fact.

Despite not having a definitive diagnosis, and not knowing what tomorrow might bring, my father was the life of the party. You can give this man lemons if you want to, but he will make lemonade. There is no denying his sense of calm when everything is against him, he perseveres.

Upon returning from South Africa, my father was diagnosed with CML (Chronic Myelogemous Leukemia). The good news was that there are medications you can take for this type of cancer. What we didn’t know was how he would react to them, how they would be paid for, or if they would even work. While they work for many, they don’t work for all.

He worked through the insurance quagmire to get the pills paid for as they can by upwards of $20K a month. Once he started taking his pills, he embarked on a different type of journey. These pills save lives and are the only known “cure” for cancer, but are actually small doses of chemotherapy that need to be taken daily. Sometimes your body works with them, sometimes your body works against them. Just like anyone else, there are good days and there are bad days. There are days you need a couple naps, some days you feel great, but it’s sometimes a challenge to get through.

He still continues to fight to see another day.

Many from the outside looking in would think he has lived a charmed life. While he has been blessed in so many ways, it has not always come easy. Just because people make it look easy doesn’t mean it is. It just means they are thankful for the opportunity in front of them each and every day, and they never stop fighting the good fight.

Some of us are born with it, some of us fake it until we can make it. A lot of us probably do a little bit of both. People like my father don’t even think about it, they just do it.

Last week, we joined my father as he walked in the Light the Night walk for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at the Reston Town Center in Reston, VA. Just after dusk, hundreds of us set off with various lighted balloons and glow sticks to honor the cause. Some were there in memorial to their loved ones. Many, like my father, were survivors. The lights lit the water as we passed by the lake. If you stopped to look around, there was nothing but lights in every direction, honoring survival, courage, and hope, remembering those who were lost, and standing in solidarity with those who continue to fight every day.

You play the cards you are dealt in life. And my father, Thom Garrity, has always played a helluva hand. No matter what happens, he keeps playing. In the wise words of one of his favorite singers, Kenny Rogers, ‘they’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealin’s done.’

The dealin may not be done yet, but we know he’s not either. Whatever the deck holds, we know from experience that the odds are in his favor.

 

(www.sportsworldnews.com)

Why Richard Sherman needs to stop running his mouth

Pretty girls don’t need to walk around telling everyone they are pretty, because if they are that pretty, they don’t need to tell you, it is plain to see.  The same is true for football, when you’re really good at your position, you don’t need to tell everyone about it, they already know through what you bring to the field.

So why is Richard Sherman constantly telling us how great he is and how everyone else sucks?  Simple, it’s because he’s not THAT great.  He might be really good, but not as good as he would like to have us all believe.

Mind over matter

Sherman has one clear advantage; he talks a lot of smack to take receivers’ minds out of the game.  He wants them to be frustrated; he wants them angry, so they are more focused on him than on catching the ball.  That is always his game plan and a lot of times it works, which is why he is able to put up the numbers that he does.  He is a master of the mind game, but is he really that skilled of a corner when it comes to raw talent?  Or is he simply surrounded by a really good defense that makes him look better than what he is?

Perhaps he is always talking to detract from his weaknesses.  Smoke and mirrors…

Whatever the case, the constant jabbering from Sherman undermines his athletic prowess and gives us reason to question his true abilities.  For once it would be nice to see Sherman pipe down and let his skills speak for themselves.

Garcon vs. Sherman

In the game earlier this week against the Redskins on Monday Night Football, Sherman held Garcon to two catches for 23 yards.  On the surface it looks like he did his job, but if you look a little deeper, Sherman only defended one pass all night long.  He was far from the shutdown corner we so often hear him about boasting that he is.  The thing that stood out the most about Sherman was him getting his hair pulled (totally legal in the NFL by the way).  Normally this type of behavior appalls me, it’s a cheap shot, but not this time.  There are times when folks have it coming, and Sherman deserved every bit of that.

During the game Sherman looked aggravated.  He wasn’t on his game because someone was messing with him as much as he messes with them.  ‘Sherm the worm’ did not approve.

(www.espn.com)

(www.espn.com)

The Seahawks were able to pull this one out, mostly thanks to their quarterback.  The Redskins lost, but they were not routed, it was a game until the end.  The Seahawks showed vulnerabilities, especially with the excessive number of procedural penalties, and the defense looked far from prolific against a struggling Redskins offense.  Nonetheless the Hawks walked away with the W.

Being the classy guy that he is, following the victory, Sherman immediately says to reporters, “Pierre doesn’t matter in this league”.   Umm, what?  When asked to clarify, he said “I mean exactly what I said.”  Looks like someone got under Sherman’s skin.  Well played, Garcon, well played.

Garcon posted a simple but poignant response on social media.

(www.twitter.com)

(www.twitter.com)

Can dish, but can’t take

During the Redskins/Seahawks playoff game early in 2013, Sherman was running around to all the fans at FedEx field telling us we suck and don’t have anything on the 12th man, going on and on with his nonsense.  I have been waiting for him to shut up ever since.

The only time he seems to shut up is when the Hawks lose.  When they do, he is nowhere to be found.  The takeaway; I guess Russell Wilson isn’t the only Seahawk that likes to be a bully.

Just play the game

There is no denying that Sherman is talented, it’s just that the talent is washed out by all the extracurricular activity.  Anytime I watch Sherman, I never leave the game remembering how well he played it, I always have one takeaway; this man really likes to run his mouth.

He is a good cornerback, a really good one in fact.  But he is NOT God’s gift to the world, and we are not all entitled to his opinion.  It is time this Stanford educated young man displays more of his intelligence and zips it up for a few.  Show us how good you are with what you bring to the field, and leave your mouthpiece in the locker room.

This is the NFL, not the Richard Sherman show.

 

 

Ebola Reston

Ebola Reston

The recently diagnosed case of Ebola in Texas is not the first on American soil.  The virus was first found in Reston, VA over 25 years ago.

Reston is a planned community about 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C.  My family lived very close to the facility that housed the monkeys that were infected with the Ebola virus.  We were in danger of being placed under quarantine, after one of deadliest viruses known to man was found in our backyard, and we never even had a clue.

The infected monkeys had been imported from the Phillipines.  The monkeys were being used for testing at Hazleton laboratories off Sunset Hills Road, an area surrounded by businesses, restaurants and residential communities.

Things escalated when the monkeys began dying rapidly at the rate of 2-3 per day.  Even when efforts were made to isolate the monkeys into separate cages, they were still becoming ill at an alarming rate, This confirmed scientists’ biggest fear, this strain of Ebola was airborne.

Ebola was not known by the masses back in 1989, but those in the science community knew the gravity of the situation.  If in fact this virus affected humans, the entire area would need to be quarantined, isolated from society, and then we would wait to see what would become of us.

Four lab workers were found to be positive for the virus and were placed in isolation and remained under close observation.  If they ended up falling ill, crisis mode would begin.  The known strains of Ebola at that time were fatal to humans 90% of the time.

Thankfully, they did not fall ill, and the strain was found to not affect humans.  Crisis averted.  At least it was that time.  This particular strain of Ebola came to be known as Ebola Reston.

Hazmat teams were brought in to clean up the mess, which was the first clue to the public that anything had occurred.  Even then, the details were not fully understood.

The building was torn down and a day care facility was built in its place, erasing all signs that anything had happened.

Years later, a book entitled “The Hot Zone” was published which detailed all of the events surrounding the Ebola Reston crisis.  Hollywood also cashed in on the plot, creating a movie called “Outbreak” starring Dustin Hoffman, which was based on what might have happened if the airborne Ebola strain was found to affect humans.

For those who saw the movie, remember the scene at the end where the whole town was about to be obliterated to stop the spread of the strain?  And then Dustin Hoffman heroically saved them at the last minute?   Sounds like Hollywood sensationalism, but the truth is, Reston was very close to being that place.

And the terrifying part was that we had ABSOLUTELY no idea.

 

Serial Killer in Charlottesville: Route 29 stalker

A few years ago, I remember watching the TV show, Disappeared, a show that tells the stories of people who mysteriously vanish off the face of the earth.

I was drawn to the story of Morgan Harrington, a 20 year old VA Tech student who left a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, on October 17, 2009, and was never heard from again.

She left the concert for unknown reasons, and when she wasn’t allowed re-entry because she didn’t have her ticket, she walked away into the darkness.  She was seen hitchhiking on a bridge not too far from the John Paul Jones concert arena she had just left, but she would never be seen alive again.

Her body was found on Albemarle Farm near Charlottesville 101 days later, in January 2010.

Fractured and broken bones were all that were left of her.  Morgan had not just been raped and murdered.  Poor Morgan had been ravaged.

More missing

Perhaps it was because I went to a Virginia university or the extremely tragic and mysterious nature of Morgan’s story, but this was one that stuck with me.  So in the years after, when I heard about more young woman who went missing, ranging in age from 17-20, along the same Route 29 corridor in Charlottesville,  I remembered Morgan.  And I frequently wondered if there a serial killer on the loose.

Not much was made of it in the media, and another man was detained in the abduction and murder of another young lady, Alexis Murphy, so I thought maybe police caught him.  Things got quiet, and left went on.  Maybe they did have the guy, or maybe not…

Morgan was the first to go missing off Route 29, and her story was far more widely publicized than that of the other missing girls, until Hannah Graham went missing on September 13, 2014.  The deluge of national attention thrust this story to the spotlight and shed light on the fact that Charlottesville, VA – the quintessential college town and home to the University of Virginia – may also be home to a vicious predator, a brutal rapist and serial killer.

(www.dailymail.co.uk)

(www.dailymail.co.uk)

What is even more disturbing is that while most of the disappearances are concentrated around Route 29 in Charlottesvile, if you take a broader look at the map, the missing and murdered girl span hundreds of miles.  The full map can be seen below and shows 14 missing girls across VA and NC.  Are they all related?

www.savethenextgirl.com(Morgan Harrington's site)

www.savethenextgirl.com(Morgan Harrington’s site)

Putting the pieces together

When Hannah Graham was last seen in the early morning hours of September 13, 2014, she was leaving a bar called Tempo in the downtown area of Charlottesville.   Under the influence, she appeared unable to walk on her own, according to the Tempo door personnel.  It appeared as if she was being held up by (Leroy) Jesse Matthew, who is better known in his circles as ‘LJ’.

On video, Matthew was seen moments earlier following Hannah.  One man came forward and reported that he felt like Hannah needed help and while watching her, another man came upon her and put his arm around her as if he knew her.   That man was LJ Matthew and it was a fateful meeting that may have cost Hannah her life.

Years earlier, in 2009, when Morgan left that Metallica concert, LJ Matthew was a cab driver in the same area.  Some reports say that he had been accused of being aggressive towards females while driving his cab, cat-calling them from the car, offering free rides to females walking alone, and generally making females feel uncomfortable (referenced in above Daily Mail article).

The cops say forensic evidence now link Hannah and Morgan, along with another rape that took place over a hundred miles away, in Fairfax, VA in September of 2005.  That rape was disrupted when the perpetrator was startled by passers-by and fled on foot.  The young lady there escaped with her life, but was still hospitalized for her injuries.  The below compares the composite sketch that the 2005 victim provided of her rapist next to a picture of LJ around the same time, before he grew dreads.

(www.theconservativetreehouse.com)

(www.theconservativetreehouse.com)

With the DNA link and the uncanny resemblance in the above photos, it appears the cops might have their guy.  This leaves many of LJ’s family and friends scratching their heads and trying to figure out how the ‘gentle giant’ they believed they knew could do this.  But to some of his friends, it falls into a familiar pattern of behavior of an aggressive and sometimes awkward man whose advances often were routinely turned away.

One friend even called him a prowler.

There is an article that details LJ’s actions from the time he left work to when he met Hannah Graham early in the hours of September 13.  It wasn’t an accident that he came across her.  He routinely looked for women who appeared to have been drinking or in some way incapacitated, according to an exclusive report by Coy Barefoot.

A history of violence

Earlier the same night, without cause or warning, he put a man into a wrestling hold and caused his to pull his hamstring.  He made advances towards women and was so persistent one woman had to cuss him out in order to get him to leave them alone.   The article shows a more sinister side to the ‘gentle giant’, on the same night he came across Hannah.

In 2010, after the police linked Morgan’s death to the rape in Fairfax in 2005, and police released the above sketch, some of LJ’s friends told him that he looks just like the rapist.  He shrugged it off, and immediately proceeded to grow his hair, gain some weight, seemingly efforts to change his appearance.

Serial rapists and killers will typically have experienced a traumatic event that make them feel spurned, sometimes hating or objectifying women as a result, and intensifying their need to act out their impulses.  Sometimes they were just born with the terrible affliction.  It’s hard to know exactly how this type of evil comes to exist, but it seems in this case, there were signs that were overlooked, ignored, or dismissed.

In LJ’s case, he was kicked out of Liberty college in Lynchburg, losing his football scholarship, after a young lady accused him of rape in 2002.  This dashed his hopes of going to the NFL.  The victim was hospitalized for the injuries she sustained.  He was not charged at the time due to a “lack of evidence”.

I wonder how many lives might have been saved if he was prosecuted.

He had a short stint at Christopher Newport University (CNU) shortly thereafter but was kicked off the football team there for undisclosed reasons, and then left school altogether, and returned to his hometown of Charlottesville.

He fits the profile of a serial killer.  Failed dreams, failed relationships, menial jobs, and a violent past.  And…he also had opportunity.  Most damning is that his DNA was also found at the scene of two of these terrible attacks.

While all signs are pointing to the police having the right guy, it’s important that young women remain vigilant because there is too much not known, and too many of the pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite add up yet.

Other abductions

A man named Randy Taylor was convicted of Alexis Murphy’s 2013 abduction and murder, but has always claimed he did not act alone in the abduction, and he did not commit the murder.  He has offered a plea to show police where the body is if they reduce his sentence from life to 20 years, but as yet the state has not agreed.  However, with all the missing girls in the last several years, we should perhaps consider that he is telling the truth, and there is yet another man that has yet to be found.

Another twist: There were two girls who survived an attempted abduction in Charlottesville during the summer of 2013.  It wasn’t just one man who was involved, it was two.  The details of their encounter, and the VERY close proximity to where Morgan Harrington’s shirt was found AND where Hannah Graham was last seen are all enough to raise further questions.  The ladies were unable to positively ID their attackers.  They fought back, screamed, and scared them off.  They were unable to provide identifications to the police, the girls stories differed.  The full story is detailed on this you tube video.

The varied reports of missing girls and the differing circumstances under which they were taken suggest there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye.

Stay vigiliant, young ladies.  Know who is beside you and behind you.  Report anything suspicious.   And never go out alone.

Top 10 Workout Songs

Top 10 jams to keep you going when your body is begging you to stop.

1. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor

2. Lose Yourself – Eminem

3. Just Like a Pill – Pink

4. Let’s Get It Started – Black Eyed Peas

5. Dirt Off Your Shoulder – Jay-Z

6. I Run for Life – Melissa Etheredge

7. You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC

8. Live Your Life – T.I. featuring Rihanna

9. Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson

10. Turn Down for What – Lil Jon

(www.dreamstime.com)

Adversity builds character: Allowing our kids to find their own way

I’ve often heard the old adage that life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.  There are no truer words.

In our modern day society, we have a tendency to fight our children’s battles.  I won’t lie, I struggle with this too.  Being the outspoken type that I am, I find myself often wanting to step in.  I constantly need to remind myself to hold back and to allow my children to work through their own issues.  Why?  Because if I don’t allow them to figure it out now, how will they know how to do it later, when I’m not around?

Those who have known me for some time know that I grew up an overweight child.  In sixth grade, I weighed pretty close to what I do now, and was 5 inches shorter.   I was a bit of a “rolly polly”.

As painful as it was, I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.

Surprising to hear that, I’m sure.  Who wants to be different and caused to feel different or left out?  It was very hard.  I remember feelings of inadequacy, being unsure of what to say and do, and being uncomfortable in my own skin.  I remember the heartache of feeling never quite good enough.

It was in those most difficult of moments that my character was formed.  I knew I would never treat anyone poorly based on appearance and I would never let anyone in my presence do that either.  At a young age, I was very vocal about equal rights for everyone – black, white, women, men – we were all the same and should be treated as such.

The moral code I grew to live by was determined in those early years.  When the outside world shuns you for whatever reason, you are forced to look within, you become stronger, and you become whole.   When your kid is the last one chosen, remember they are not just being left out, they are learning how to overcome.

My parents raised me in such a way that they instilled solid principles, but they let me lead the way.  And that I did.

As a young child, I remember reciting Martin Luther King, Jr. to some who chose to say ignorant things about people of color in my presence.  I remember picketing the streets with Mondale/Ferraro signs because I was so ecstatic that a woman was running for Vice President.

One story my mother loves to tell is when I was at a pumpkin patch.  There was a little boy who had been giving me a hard time in the hay stack.  My mother was trying to get me to leave and I wouldn’t budge, I was waiting on top of the hay stack and looking down intently.  The little boy finally appeared; I stomped on his fingers, and then turned around and told my Mom I was ready to go.  He had purposely done the same to me, and there was no way I was leaving until he knew exactly what it felt like.

We as parents in the modern age must remember that adversity builds character.  We must let our children find their own way.

It is probably not a coincidence that at the same time parents have stopped allowing children to fight their own battles, the incidence of bullying is on the rise.  Kids don’t know how to stick up for themselves, perhaps because they never had to.

Understanding our purpose and knowing our worth is something that can only be achieved by doing things on our own.  This is true for us adults, and true for our babes as well.

When you really know who you are and what you are about, there is not a soul on this earth that can tell you otherwise.

While nobody wishes for their children to endure pain or adversity, these lessons are the ones that shape young people’s characters.   These are the lessons that our children cannot go without.

So the next time you find yourself wanting to step in to right a wrong that has been done to your child, let your kid try on their own first.  You may just be happily surprised with what you see.

Balloons for Mimi: Helping children grieve

Balloons for Mimi:  Helping children through the grief process

My grandmother, more affectionately known to her great grandkids as Mimi, passed away nearly 4 years ago.  Each year on her birthday, we send balloons up to heaven for her.  Each one has a special wish attached to it.  Each one represents the love we have for her that will never fade.

My daughter, Maya, was 3 years old when Mimi passed, and my son Brayden had just turned 1.  Some say that is too young for kids to remember.  I know, and my kids can tell you, it’s simply not true.  They not only remember their Mimi, but they ask for her frequently, and still cry for her sometimes.

Just a few weeks back, we were playing with a mirror compact that my grandmother had given me.  Maya sat back and started to tear up.  She said,”I miss Mimi.  I miss her so much.”  I reassured her we will see her again in heaven.  Brayden chimed in to say, “But it’s taking a REALLY long time, Mommy!”

I reminded them that in a few weeks, we would be able to send our balloons up to Mimi for her birthday and she would get them in heaven.  They calmed down, and for the moment, it seemed to make it ok.

Mimi lived a full life, a good life.  There were some hardships as we all have, but all in all, she was blessed.   WE were blessed.  Knowing this helped me to move past my grief.  But how do you explain this concept to children?  Their world is black and white.  You’re either here or you’re not.  The shade of grey is lost on them.  But this is one concept they totally understand.

Each year, on Mimi’s birthday, we send balloons up to heaven.  The kids make their wish, they say their prayer and they let them go.  It’s become a beautiful way to remember a lady who meant so much to us, it is fitting and it is beautiful.

What might not be as obvious is that letting go of these balloons in some small way allows us to let go of our grief.  When we release that balloon into the air, we let it go.  We give it up to God.  She belongs to the ages now, and with the wind she shall be.

So if you happen see a balloon flying through the air, just know that what you might actually be seeing is a very special wish on its way to heaven.  And know that there might be two kids who are grieving just a little bit easier because of it.