What I Learned Watching The Girls Next Door as a Grown Woman

Originally appearing on Huffpost on October 1, 2017.

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 The Girls 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.

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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.

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Recalibrating the Reality of a Mother-Daughter Relationship

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.

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The Reason Behind Millennial Summer Nostalgica

Originally published on Huffpost on 7/27/2016

IMG_7900_2 (1)Being an adult with unavoidable responsibilities, the majority of summertime is spent at work with occasional PTO sprinkled throughout the season. Whenever I pass a group of children riding their bicycles home from the local pool while driving home from work, pangs of nostalgia hit me harder than a Buzzfeed article recapping the best pop songs of summer 1999.

My childhood summers look drastically different compared to what today’s children will one day fondly reflect on when they reach the age to be plagued by nostalgia. While I am one of those widely frowned upon millennial who could operate a computer before being able to double knot her shoelaces, being born in May of 1989 allowed me to enjoy an entire decade of life without being tethered to mobile and social technology.  
My twin-home backyard, only 10 feet by 10 feet, was an incubator of my creativity. My
Fisher-Price red and yellow ‘Super Sandbox’ served as a sanctuary where I sat for hours with plastic buckets and old pasta strainers making up stories. After brushing off the grains of sand that could always be felt for hours afterwards, I would close the foldable sides of the sandbox to convert the lid into a personal stage where I belted out The Little Mermaid and Annie songs until my parents told me to give our neighbors a reprieve from live entertainment.

691313796_tpWhen the heat became too much, my Little Tykes Paddling Pool (identical to the one in my Fisher Price Doll House), was set up ready to provide sweet relief with ice cold hose water. Throughout the summer, my mother repurposed empty ketchup bottles and over worn plastic cups as pool toys, along with the specially designated pool Barbie dolls.

Other days, after a sufficient amount of soapy, bubble mix had drenched my clothes and coated my fingers while trying to fish out the thin, not-quite-tall-enough wand inside of the bottle, it was time to rinse off in the sprinkler, creating a whole new level of fun. Laying my belly on the wet grass, I would get eye level to the sprinkler then scream with delight as the water pressure tickled my freckle-kissed skin. I alternated between awkwardly jumping through the shooting water feeling like a ballerina and catching the shooting water in my mouth. After sunset, I spent that hour before bedtime collecting lighting bugs in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked through the lid. Catching the flickering lights was often a challenge, often inducing laughter brought from the tickling sensation of the fluttering bugs wiggling inside my cupped hands.

When I was old enough to cross the street without adult supervision, a good portion of summer days and nights were spent in taking part in constant activity with other kids on my block. It was during that time I learned about hand games and card games. I learned the pain that is inflicted when flinching prematurely during a game of slapises, and how much it hurt to be the table during the arm wrestling portion of a fierce game of Down By the Banks.

11223951_10155925962625063_5036220573801237829_n The soles of our flip flops were worn out from running during intense games of Freedom, and the only worry during a game of Red Rover was if our arm chain was strong enough as the biggest kid from the other team came charging forward. Head on collisions with each other to the point of needing ice packs were common while scrambling to catch a ball during a fierce game of Suey (or depending on your neighborhood, Wall Ball).


Every one of us has childhood summer memories that will be cherished long after growth spurts and puberty. And each generation can argue why their era was different and more preferred. Will the children of today one day reminisce about how summer of 2016 was spent searching for super imposed cartoons around their neighborhood while playing
Pokemon Go?

Perhaps my fellow millennials, especially those born around 1987-1992, and I experienced the gift of a unique hybrid summertime consisting of old-fashion fun along with technology available at the end of the 21st century. 10400480_43596165062_3566_nOur childhood summers felt endless with days blurring together because days were filled with every kind of activity imaginable. Outdoor freedom of hopping on bicycles without worrying about texting our parents to check in once arriving at our destination.

The ability to occasionally over-indulge on video games and cartoons, eventually boring ourselves to find another activity rather than having to be policed by screen time concerns. For a brief period in time in a pre-9/11 and texting world but post-dial up households and Gameboy systems, my generation was made of the children that straddle this brief time, truly providing the best of both worlds.




Redefining a Mother’s Love

Originally published on Huffington Post

Happy-Mothers-Day-716527Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.

The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.

Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.

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Severing The Ties That Bind

Originally published on Huffington Post

Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.

 

detail-of-left-mirror-car-while-driving-on-a-rainy-day-highway_e126zjuh__S0011Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.

 

At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.

 

51Zu5zbzWDLWithout a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.

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Untangling Myself from an Emotional Rock Bottom

Originally published on Elephant Journal on 1/28/2016.

 

RG-Mermaid-2Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.

A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.

Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.

Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom. Continue reading

33 Articles Published in 365 Days

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For me, 2015 can be described as wordy – literally! Over the past 365 days, I have had 33 essays published across multiple outlets- 20 syndicated and 13 original. Having the opportunity to allow my work to be introduced to new readers has been the best thing to happen this year.

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365 in 365- Kinda, Sorta, Let Me Explain

il_570xN.483656551_25qxAlmost exactly a year ago, I had decided to embark in an ambitious endeavor of completing 365 things 365 days. At the time, it was a creative way for me to continue to try new things while regaining a new life balance, something that was lacking in 2014. The original list was full of mini road trips, photography projects, wish list items and many, many, many random to-dos

Forgive me if this sounds cliche, but there is no other phrase that can describe why all of the items on the list did not get completed. The unexpected happened in my life early in the year, placing me on a winding path for the rest of the year. Instead of focusing on this list that was sure to bring me enlightenment, circumstances caused me to rise to the occasion at work, where I had barely been for four months. An unintended Master’s class was upon me, expanding my industry knowledge and skills sets in a baptism by fire way. Somehow I blinked, and 2015 is in the final stages. In total, 95 items have been completed on the original 365 list. Yet there is no doubt that over the past year, the amount of new experiences, purchases, projects and skills developed total that target number of 365.

doallthethingsWhile all of the items are not included on here, each one has impacted who I am. From discovering my uncanny ability to multitask high priority tasks, to exploring my strengths as a professional, the direction of my future is clearer now than I had anticipated it would be this time last year. In respects to my writing, in 2015 I have had 33 essays published including 20 syndicated pieces and 13 original. My mind is still reeling about that reality. The gratitude I have in my heart for the opportunity to share my stories to help others feel less alone cannot even begin to be explained. Personally, the items that were completed (both planned and spontaneous) served as additional crumbs of insight leading me the path of learning more about myself. Self acceptance and inner peace is still a daily struggle, but maintaining an undistorted viewpoint has become more manageable.

To check out my favorite moments of 2015, including a photo gallery, click here!

To check out a photo gallery of my favorite photographs that I’ve snapped in 2015, click here! 

To check out all of the 33 articles I’ve had published in 2015, click here! 

Below are the list of the 90 items checked off the list, as well as a few of the additions: Continue reading

A Legacy of Life: The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

Originally published on Huffpost Impact on 12/8/15

2015-12-06-1449371218-1875698-325717_2615726525313_1133717942_o-thumbThe staples that mark the essence of the holiday season occur like clockwork on an annual basis-and are not dependent on any particular person. Despite any aversion to the holiday season, it will take place all around you just like every single year of your life. However there never is a guarantee on how it will feel from year-to-year. This Christmas season, the thought of taking part in any merriment may be intolerable if you’re in the middle of grief. Or perhaps because of a recent life event such as a new baby or relationship, Christmas has taken a new feeling. The holiday season never changes, for it is truly tried and true. Our receptiveness and experience are the triggers that impact how the holidays are acknowledged throughout the years. Loss, change, acceptance, additions- all are moving parts in how we experience life, which includes the holiday season and all things associated with it.

Exactly two years ago this week, a pair of families underwent a life-changing event that forever alter their perception of the holiday season. On the same day in 2013, both families faced unexpected uncertainty, and desperately hoped for miracles that would put their lives back together. Two sets of parents kissed their babies outside of an operating room. Two children took their last breaths with the heart and lungs that brought them into the world. Two sets of surgical teams performed procedures that changed Christmas for everyone involved. Continue reading

Public Mass Shootings: The Terrorism That Needs to Be Tackled

Originally published on HuffPo Politics on 12/3/2014

Arriving home from work last night, a strange sense of deja vu came across me while putting on the national evening news. Coverage of the San Bernardino shooting showed eerily similar scenes of prior broadcasts. Law enforcement swarming a public area with terrified bystanders running with their hands above their head. Emotionally charged individuals jumbling words during interviews as they await word of the fate of their loved ones turned victims.

Stuffed animals, helium balloons and candles placed outside a building of the newly-minted crime scene. And finally, a flurry of empty promises of action by legislators fueled by the outrage of Americans. Somehow public mass shootings and their aftermath have become as predictable as a Hollywood romantic movie, but are occurring on a more frequent basis than reruns of Law and Order: SVU. Continue reading