After being bombarded with Hugh Hefner’s death on my newsfeed, I decided to revisit one of my favorite shows as a 16-year-old, The Girls Next Door, for a nice nostalgic venture down memory lane last Friday evening. Within ten minutes of settling into the first episode of the series, my expectations of a fond recall quickly turned into unexpected disgust. It had been about a decade since I actually watched an episode of TheGirls Next Door, which wrapped production in 2010. Watching the show became increasingly unsettling as a 28-year-old grown woman living in a society where women’s rights are constantly in jeopardy of being modified. These are the following observations made while watching the first five episodes of season one.
1. Kendra Wilkinson appeared to be the most genuine and the only one with a somewhat healthy sense of self-esteem.
Truth be told, Kendra was my least favorite girlfriend up until I rewatched the show. Now I realize her portrayed genuineness and excitability is something that only a 20-year-old experiencing the unthinkable for the first time could express.
Although I have been known as a chronic daydreamer and an outward over-optimistic person, my grasp on reality has always been firm. While this momentarily causes me to be figuratively and literally unsteady while recalibrating myself, it has been the reason that throughout everything that has erupted throughout my life, I have managed to stay upright. But at this point in time, more than ever, all I want to do is run as far as possible beyond the grasp of the reality surrounding my mother.
Right now it is a struggle to accept the person my mother has become, trying my best to learn to love her as she is now, but is beyond hard. It has been so fucking hard. Perhaps this appears harsh or selfish. Despite my best intentions to convince myself things will go back to the old, not-even-close- to-perfect normal, the reality playing before my eyes cannot be ignored.
This is not the first time I have had to reconfigure my senses regarding my mother. At barely twelve years old, I was forced to adapt with the changes our mother-daughter relationship endured under the strain of chronic illness, as her physical and mental health conditions became the fourth member of our household. For over sixteen years, more than half my existence, I’ve lived with this adjusted role as my mother’s only child. Now as an adult who is acutely aware of the gravity of what is happening, the realistic outlook for the future and the pain plastered across my father’s face, this shift to this new ‘normal’ has been absolutely gut wrenching.
At the end of December, I spent a laughable amount of time researching planners to make 2017 the year of doing. To help manage my goals in every area of my life, and trying to be more present by actually penciling in time to decompress.
The 2 untouched planners on my dresser remind me how completely unplanned the last 3 months of my life have been. Honestly, shit has been off the rails for the past year in the realm of being blindsided.
But back to the planners.
So I spent an absurd amount of money because can there really be a price limit on peace of mind and organization? They were delivered in fancy packaging in a box to pretty to throw out, and for an entire night I spent placing glittery stickers and mapping out important things I knew were coming up. With all of the other white blocks left to be filled in, the possibility of unknown felt exciting because it was centered on ideas like trying the recipes I pinned on Pinterest, and a writing schedule to revisit the writings I had shelved away since late summer.
Maybe the planners jinxed me, or perhaps the Universe decided to send me a wake up call that nothing ever will go as planned.
No sooner did I buy the planners, the rails of routine went rouge.
The only items being added to an ever growing list were the unimaginable situations that seemed to be popping up faster than I could deal with properly. Imagine a whack-a-mole arcade game, but replace the plastic rodents with emotionally charged situations springing up without rhyme or reason. Because it wasn’t feasible to take out my aggression with a rubber hammer, my only choice was springing towards each one at a rapid pace without any plan of attack other than dealing with as best as an unsuspecting person can.
Rather than share my list of big plan for the new year, I find myself only being able to share the list of the completely unplanned clusterfucks…I mean events…that were not penciled into my planners.
Yesterday when I went for a walk after work, I never expected to get upset when passing a bakery.
Taking advantage of the short-lived sunny weather, I took the long way to my doctor’s appointment taking in the sights of Rittenhouse Square. I’ve worked in the Rittenhouse Square area for the past 2 ½ years, but my memories of the area go back farther. It’s the neighborhood where I spent many of brunches and dinners with the Keeton family. I can’t pass the park without remembering the evening where Julie and I ran from rats while Easton laughed at us. Or when I took six of the kids plus my own niece trick-or-treating alone, which somehow involved a cab ride.
The bakery was one of the rare times I was able to see Weston out of the hospital or Gift of Life Family House. I had just moved down to my first apartment in Fishtown in early 2013, and went over to meet Julie, Easton and Weston for breakfast. On the way back, Weston asked to ride on my back as we went to the Metropolitan Bakery to get cherry chocolate bread. He was so light on my back I could barely feel he was there, but his laughter and navigation could be heard a mile away.
So during my walk yesterday I found myself outside of the bakery, realizing it’s been four years since that day. And ever since the calendar flipped to March, the 23rd sticks out like an eyesore reminding me Weston gained his wings 3 years ago. Tears started to well up in my eyes as I quickly fumbled through my purse for sunglasses. The ache of time passed just hit me in that moment, and the disbelief that it has been 3 years since March 23rd became the day I want to punch in the face the most out of any other day of the year. And with the countless of lives Weston has touched, I know there are others who will be dealing with heartache this month.
Despite feeling the moments of grief and sadness attached to this month, I am also choosing to celebrate Weston’s legacy honoring his biggest heroes- firefighters.While there are many others who would also like to punch March 23rd in the face, they will be delivering baked goods, meals, supplies and love to firehouse & service workers across the country. All as part of the 3rd annual ‘Feed the Fire’ day of service in honor Weston Keeton’s 3rd year angel-versary. Feed the Fire is a call to action for people from across the country to adopt their local fire house or a group that provides service. Weston adored firefighters & dreamed of being one when he grew up. During his lifetime, firefighters from across the country took time to send him letters, photos, gifts & even to make special visits. Julie & Adam Keeton made the decision to honor Weston’s heroes, and asked that all of those who had been touched by their son’s story to do the same.
Since 2015, hundreds firehouses were adopted nationwide with local heroes being treated to potluck dinners, donated supplies, and care packages full of treats (including Weston’s favorite, Hot Cheetos). Even more firehouses & heroes will be honored tomorrow, which is an incredible achievement for the 3rd year of Feed the Fire. While March 23rd will still be a difficult day for so many that miss that sweet little boy, there is comfort knowing that his legacy continues to bring the best out in people. Without a doubt Weston changed the course of my life for the better. I often say the little boy with the broken heart taught me how to love again. Forever, I will be grateful for the Miracle on 34th Street.
The most frustrating thing for a writer to experience is the inability to transcribe the message from the heart onto paper. Sometimes we struggle about what to write about, staring at the blinking cursor unable to come up with a string of sentences worth reading.
Other times, the content is there- jumping around our subconscious screaming to be let loose on the keyboard. But the feelings bubbling up inside just are too strong, too raw, too vivid to translate. They’re often times too intense to even sort through without having a physical reaction.
And sometimes life and situations require a hyper-focused period of time in life where it takes all of your energy to continue to stay afloat. When adulting requires your energy to be focused on the writing and projects that, for the moment, pay the bills. And by the end of the day after spending all day writing other messages, working to push other projects and spending the last waking hours of the day taking care of personal needs like summoning up the energy to wash your hair- there is nothing left to give to the process of teasing out the ideas floating around the writer brain.
As much as I feel like a failure for not writing more essays or for taking a brief pause from writing my book, I have to remind myself- nothing lasts forever. In the not-so-far-away future, the pace of other areas in my life will return to a trot, rather than a fierce gallop that leaves nothing left for me to use. The holidays will not always be poking or irritating my barely scarred over emotional wound of dealing with family chaos. And the tiredness of life in general, from just having myself pulled, stretched and grown in so many ways this past year, will subside. While everyone knows about growing pains, what often times isn’t communicated well is the overall fatigue that accompanies it. The tired feeling after being in survival mode to adapt, often times unwillingly- while your muscles begin to unwind and your mind is trying to process ‘what did we just live though?’
But things I have done since over the past 3 months that will eventually be written about when the pace begins to even out in other areas of my life include:
At this moment in time, I am content. Not this day, not this hour. This moment at 8:42 am. The sun is streaming in from the floor-ceiling window with a gentle breeze causing my fly-away hairs to move. Despite the threats of terrible weather predicted all week, rain is nowhere to be found.
Sitting at my laptop with a large mocha iced latte beside me, I feel more at peace than I have in the last month. Maybe this sense of calmness will only last for the next few minutes. But being able to be in the moment, soaking in the slow introduction of fall and the realization that I infact made way through a rocky month of August, is a gift from the universe I am embracing with open arms.
Another reason I’m grateful for this moment in time is that my body finally feels like my own again. It only takes a short bit of time to know me until it becomes apparent that part of my sparkling personality involves a splash of hypochondria. Okay maybe a few liters or a gallon.
The night before making my First Holy Communion in the 2nd grade, I kept my parents up throughout the evening because I was positive that chicken poxs were going to appear and prevent me from finally getting to eat Jesus.
In college when my hands would begin to tremble, I had convinced myself that it was an early onset of Parkinson’s disease or ALS – at age 20. I totally ignored the fact that I was living off iced coffees and pop tarts, forgetting to eat several times a day while working on the student paper and juggling 20 credits.
And I’ve lost track on how many times I have been convinced that my headaches were a warning signs of a brain tumor or impending aneurysm. Forget the fact that I was dehydrated/not wearing the glasses/forgot to take my medicine/was over tired.
So when my stomach began to feel increasingly bloated early last month with cramps, my anxiety began to skyrocket. My doctor listened to me as I rattled off potential diagnoses, which I then took a breath and asked her if I had ovarian cancer. Why ovarian cancer? Because I read the preventive pamphlet in the waiting room lobby and took it as a premonition.
This was all before she had a chance to exam me, order or any tests, or get out any words besides ‘Hi there, so what brings you in today,’.
From being my primary doctor for over a year now, she smiled and knew that this was typical for me. After poking, prodding, a pelvic ultrasound and a blood test, I was given a clean bill of health with the caveat of keeping an eye on the pain as it could be an early sign of gallstones.
Basically the reason I was so uncomfortable was that I was full of shit. Literally. Of course knowing it was nothing more than a back up, my worry subsided. Ha….wishful thinking!
The next phase of my hypochondria was figuring out why I had this sudden back up in my plumbing. Of course, working in healthcare marketing does not help a hypochondriac manage fears. My job actually fuels my fears similar to the pumping a child with pixie sticks- it can get ugly fast. Part of my work involves capturing patient stories, learning about their sudden onset of illness that caused them to almost lose their lives out of the blue. These diseases and diagnoses swirl through my mind, while I google despite being banned from it from both my primary doctor and my therapist, Dr. R. In the midst of this anxiety all while managing to work full time, I embarked on operation get my shit moving again.
Things I learned during this unpleasant tasting discovery:
Prunes smell horrible, and taste just as bad
Prune juice now comes in a 6 pack
Miralax tastes best in apple juice
Kashi cereal has more fiber than prunes
It is never a good idea to take 6 stool softeners at one time
Anytime when buying laxatives, it is a rule of the universe that at least 2 people you know will magically appear in the checkout line, causing you to have to awkwardly hide the poop pills
An all natural colon cleanse supplement will make you cry out of horror of what is coming out of your body, and joy that shit is FINALLY coming out of your body.
While this ordeal was enough of a shit storm (pun totally intended) to derail a positive frame of mind, I also was alone in my apartment for 2 weeks while my roommate was traveling, and because of scheduling issues, I was unable to go to my weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R for 3 weeks.
Needless to say that this was the perfect setup for a spiral of self pity, worse case scenario planning, and a not-so-compassionate inner dialogue.
But the last week of August brought both cool weather to Philadelphia, and much needed relief to multiple areas of my life. My body finally has working plumbing again, meaning my pants and shirts finally fit again.
Rather than stressing about what my body is plotting against me, my energy can now be redirected to doing productive things like cooking dinner, writing and not being a miserable toad.
I finally went back to therapy, which was like an hour massage for the psyche. And after two weeks, my roommate is in route home from abroad. As much as I love Annie the cat as a roommate, she is not the best person to watch Jeopardy with after work.
Now it is 9:22 am and I am still enjoying the moment of the coffee shop calmness. And that I am breathing. Because the thing that continued to help me move through the hot mess of August was the phrase ‘this too shall pass’.
Every moment is fleeting. The amazing moments of life surrounded by family members and friends. The terrible situations of grief and heartache that in the moment feel eternal. But no matter how joyus, how soul crushing a moment is, it shall pass.
Complaining that I need a decent vacation on a frequent basis isn’t uncharacteristic of me.
Doing hours of research & planning to take a vacation but never taking one isn’t uncharacteristic of me.
Actually booking a vacation out of state that requires airfare however is uncharacteristic of me.
And after years of lamenting, I put my money where my mouth is and booked myself an honest to god vacation.
For workaholic, digital dependent, single, childless 27-year-old, the assumption this get away would be on a tropical island with sandy beaches and quiet.
Good guess, but no.
From September 21 through September 24, I’ll be romping around Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. By myself. And I can’t think of a time I’ve been more giddy about something unrelated to my career in over 8 years.
Whenever going through the news feeds on social media where friends shared their latest photos chugging Butter Beer or posing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, a twinge of jealousy stirred up. It seems like the perfect place to be in a constantly, uplifting atmosphere almost a break from the reality of life. Earlier this summer, the planning of a possible vacation to Disney World with others fell through, upsetting me more than it should have. Through some reflection (thank you 7+ years of therapy & Dr. R), it dawned on me how badly I wanted to experience this trip.
Since money was set aside for a vacation that had been promised to be taken for months, I reached out to my good friend Jen, who is a Magical Travel agent. After she did some research for me, it came out that going to WDW and Universal during mid-September was ideal for a number of reasons. With school in session, there are less families willing to pull their kids from classes that just started. So crowds and waiting times for rides are the much lower than other times of the year. Since the timing is considered off-peak, ticket prices and on-site hotel accommodations can be book through a frequent promotional deal. For under $975, I was able to book a round trip flight, stay at the All Star Movie Resort for 3 nights, purchase 3-park hopper tickets for WDW, 1-park hopper for Universal Studios, book a WDW dining plan (So right off the bat, the majority of my food is covered) and get a special night ticket for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
While I do love a good beach day and the ocean, it would end up being an anxiety nightmare for myself. Alone with my thoughts in the peace and quiet would lead to over analyzing everything in my life, especially if unlimited liquor was available.
And honestly, this is a rare point in my life where I am to go on vacation of my choosing alone without being considerate of anyone else.
This sounds selfish, but it is true. If I was with a boyfriend right now, he may not be so gung-ho to schedule a vacation that requires 8-10 miles of walking per day. Because I only have 4 days, each day requires an early morning wakeup call, all day and night at the park, with little if any time to lay by the pool. If I was going with a group of friends, I would surely have to compromise on some of my dining choices of fastpass options.
But with this trip, I have been able to make plans to eat at all of the places that appeal to me, make reservations for fastpass rides that I like (which doesn’t include The Tower of Terror or Rock and Roll Coaster because I’m a wimp). And what most people don’t know about me is that I am a huge cartoon nerd. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved studying how different characters are drawn, their progressions over the years, how the voice artists bring the character to life. And I can nerd out as hard core as I want here without being afraid of boring someone else.
Also, I’ve always loved everything about Disney. Being born in 1989, I was right in the prime time to grow up with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Lion King and Toy Story all before I reached 1st grade.
In fact, there are a few fun facts about my ongoing love with Disney
I celebrated my 7th birthday at WDW.
In high school I was in Beauty & the Beast (Tap dancing napkin #7) & Peter Pan (Curly the Lost Boy).
My nursery was decorated with a Baby Mickey theme from Dundee Baby.
My first movie theater experience was The Lion King.
I Just Can’t Wait to Be King was my Kindergarten class’s graduation song- St. Luke’s circa 1995.
I was Pocahontas for Halloween in 1st Grade.
Ariel has always been my favorite Disney Princess, with Belle being a close second.
Without a doubt, there will be times during the trip I wish someone was next to me to experience certain things, like seeing Hogwarts for the first time or the Epcot globe. But with social media, I can send pictures to friends and family members back home. As a photographer myself, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to actually be in photos of my own vacation, with the purchase of the Memory Maker.
This vacation is a treat to myself that allows me to take a much needed break from the constant stressors of life, and to spend time doing exactly what I want, when I want.
2016 has been a challenging year for me so far. Going no-contact with my mother, helping my father navigate his odd health problems that popped up out of nowhere, and loosing my grandmom all within five months of each other was an avalanche of heartache. And as much as I absolutely love my job, 40-50 hours each is spent working to produce content that others want to see. These are not things specific to my experience: anyone who has ever breathed has been through these stressors. As my father would say ‘that’s life”.
For four days I will not worry about if I am offending someone, making a good impression, outputting enough work, being considerate enough, being ambitious enough or being flexible enough. My only worries will be making it to my breakfast with Donald Duck on time and how long should i wait to ride the Flying Hippogriff after ingesting several Butter Beers.
Like most of the nation this week, I have been horrified by the news story of the murder-suicide of the young Short family in Berks County, PA. As if the phrase murder-suicide is not gruesome enough, this particular one takes the devastation to an undescribable heart breaking intensity for a number a reasons:
3 children under the age of 8 were involved, along with their mother & father
The media across the country has put this family under a microscope during a time where their grieving loved ones are having enough time trying to function.
Before the tragedy, Megan was an advocate in the tight-knit Philadelphia Heart Mom groups and transplant. Back in April, she bravely shared her voice about the impact her youngest daughter’s heart transplant had on her family. She wrote from her heart in order to remind the other parents in similar experiences that they were not alone. Megan Short was brave enough to share her experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on Phillyatheart.com, an article that speaks the same life-altering struggles other parents have felt in the past, and will in the future.
But because of a senseless tragedy, Megan is no longer able to share her voice. To advocate for other heart moms, transplant families, or even herself. With coverage of the Short family spanning local papers like the Reading Eagle, to People Magazine– every comment, post, photo and interaction her Facebook page is being put into news articles where speculation is being made of the final moments of her life.
Some outlets have been heavily focusing on the role Megan’s bravely admitted PTSD may have had on the event, with internet trolls placing blame through comments about a situation they do not even know. However, Philadelphia Inquirer &Philadelphia Daily News reporter Ronnie Polaneczky published an article today that asked the question that is being asked by so many who knew Megan or have had PTSD is the past:Why is Everyone so Quick to Blame PTSD in the Berks County Slaying?
In the article, Ronnie shares the perspective of fellow heart mom and transplant mom Julie Keeton, a dear friend who I have written about several times. Julie is the mother of my little buddy Weston Keeton, the Miracle of 34th Street at CHOP. Throughout the story, Julie shares her own personal experience with dealing with the aftermath of a sick. dying child and the unfairness of using Megan’s PTSD against her. Says Keeton, “I want people to remember that Megan was a great mom. I want them to know it’s normal for any parent dealing with a chronically sick child to develop PTSD, because it is traumatic to live with the constant possibility of your child dying.”
There is nothing to bring back the lives of Megan & her children. But we can be inspired to share our own personal experiences so that others can feel less alone, and less stigmatized during struggle.
When entering your mid-twenties, changes will begin happening throughout your social circle at a rapid-fire pace. Careers will be established, moving trucks will be packed to set forth across the country, and friends will begin to take new last names.
There will be many engagement dinners and wedding receptions where you will be in attendance as just the date of their friend, or because of social courtesy for a co-worker. But then there be the weddings that involve your childhood friends, the group of women who continue to share a deep friendship after surviving puberty.
When the group of women who have known each other since elementary school meet for a weekend brunch, the world may see you as mid-twentysomethings who lead lives full of successful careers, motherhood, and marriage. But to each other a time warp still is in place when you reunite no matter how many weeks or months pass by.
In their faces, you see the eyes of a 16-year-old brimming with tears over her first heartache. You hear the uninhibited giggle of a 15-year-old sharing the first time she went to 3rd base during a sleepover.
The voice will always echo the days of when you would drive around in your mother’s car blasting My Chemical Romance, feeling the freedom of a driver’s license that can only be felt at 17-years-old. Your arms have wrapped around each other countless times, providing comfort for every situation from drinking too much at a college party at 20-years-old or sitting numbly trying to process the life threatening illness of a parent too young to be so sick in present day.
And sometimes your group will be in the midst of multiple weddings a month apart, while another is preparing for the birth of her first child several months prior to the nuptials. This means two bridal showers, two bachelorette parties, two rehearsal dinners, two ceremonies, a baby shower, and a christening. Oh – and having to change the last name of two of your two oldest friends in your cell phone for the first time ever.
In the midst of experiencing these life-changing events, you are tasked with coordinating schedules and to-do lists, which seemed harder to do than managing arrivals at Grand Central Station during rush hour. In the mix was dealing with future sister-in-laws and mother in laws that were new to your friends’ lives, but now would be bonded to their future in a more intimate way than we would be.While browsing the home good sections of Macy’s to find the perfect wedding gift in the registry, there may be moments of self-reflection involved. Moments of ‘when me’, that questioned if there will ever be a time in your life where the love of your life will be holding your hand while you wield the registry gun for our own wedding registry? Will there ever be a man that takes your breath away to the point where you are willing to commit your life to being his wife?
But those moments of self-pity and wonder about the future goes away the minute you walk into the room of festivities. Your heart will swell when she steps out from the dressing room of the bridal store, making the choice of her wedding dress.
And when helping her lace up the back of her wedding dress, a sense of deja vu will happen because not so long ago you were doing the same thing while getting ready for the junior prom. When finally sitting down after spending hours setting up for her bridal shower, watching your best friend open each bridal shower gift with glee makes every paper cut from hanging decorations worth it.
The twinkle in her eyes as she unwraps food processors and throw pillows is lit up by all of her future plans to create a home with her future husband. Then on the wedding day, you’re standing up at the altar, waiting, as the doors swing open for her to make the grand entrance. Out of the corner of your eye is her soon-to-be-husband, who was once just a guy your best friend called you about gushing after a first date. He is now just part of your friend group as she is and has already been present for his fair share of best friend moments.
As she walks down the aisle, the past 15 years scroll through your mind at warp speed.
There is the girl that walked the blocks of your neighborhood after school with knee socks sliding down, and a Jansport backpack tied around her back. Who provided comforted when your crush ended up being a jerk, while rinsing out your retainers in the bathroom
She is the one you cried hysterically with after saying goodbye the night before you both left for college, but the same one who is still able to provide a feeling of home when caught between two worlds. She is the one who will drink with you at the bar without judging when your life is so far from what you imagined post college graduation. And now she is a woman who is about to become a someone’s one, a matriarch of her own family.
Then after the post-ceremony group photos are finished and party-bus cocktails are ingested, you will stand proud to witness the first dance of the newly minted Mr. & Mrs. Her eyes are brighter than you ever have seen them before. Although her steps and twirls seem effortless while she’s dancing with her husband, you know it has been a hell of a journey for her. And that her first dance is inspirational. This is her victory dance, her reward for never losing her hope for true love.
Being able to be part of the process of weddings of these girls has given you lessons that will stick with you if there is ever day for it to be your turn to be the bride. But out of all the takeaways from standing beside them on their wedding, one is those important and meaning. When watching your best friends get married, it will take your breath away from how much love and pride swells inside your heart for them.