Friday, December 16, 2016

A Middle Child and the Tin Man Walk into a Bar...

The scariest movie ever made was the Wizard of Oz. Between the horrors of the Munchkins, the flying monkeys, talking trees that throw apples, the green faced witch and a deadly tornado there is little evidence to support claims that this is a children's movie. Because of this I will turn to the less terrifying version of the story and refer to The Wiz as the movie from which one of the most beloved characters serves as both a hero and a coward to me: the Tin Man.

The proverbial "middle child" plays two roles: "The Fixer" and "The Helper." When someone is both a fixer and a helper they find themselves caring too much. Now one would venture to say that it's impossible for a person to care too much and that it's a trait that's honorable. But on the other hand it complicates your life on levels you didn't know existed until you find yourself face to face with them. The middle child feels compelled to over-achieve, to push themselves past the line drawn in the sand, and to continuously prove to others their ability to "fix" situations that are actually out of their control. They're the mediator. They're the caregiver. They're the introverted extrovert. They're the first to say, "What's wrong?" and the one to immediately say, "What can I do?" All the while they ignore the caution signs and emergency cones set up to protect them from impending danger because their focus has blinders. In an effort to fix and help the middle child is blind to the destruction they cause in their path or the toll they take on their own heart. I guess it should come as no surprise that the one who desperately wanted a heart, the Tin Man, out of the three characters Dorothy ran into on that yellow brick road, was the middle one.

Growing up, the middle child tries to out perform their siblings in an effort to stand out. This doesn't change with age it just takes on a different form within different relationships. As an adult the middle child will be in relationships where they do their best to be everything their partner's exes were not thereby standing out against the others. Within their family the middle child will try to play interference between new sister in laws and siblings or between parents and children. The middle child feels obligated to defuse situations. They fear they're burdens and will outstay their welcome yet they see no limit in what they can give to others and have an open door policy. The middle child is fearful of loneliness yet terrified of commitment.

When the middle child falls in love with someone who is broken on the inside they do everything in their power to fix them. They put their own emotions and needs on hold to dedicate that energy to the one that they love. As any overachiever does: they overdo everything. They love too much. They overthink. They hold too tightly. They blur the line between helping the person they love and losing the person they are. And when that relationship inevitably ends the middle child stands there dazed and confused. They don't see that in their effort to mend a wounded person they applied too much pressure to the wound, wrapped the bandage too tightly, and gave too much of themselves to heal someone that couldn't be healed. There's not enough glue or love to fix that broken soul. But the middle child doesn't see that until it's too late. And even then, standing in the wake of their own fractured heart, the middle child will look at the person they love- the person who hurt them- and say, "Are you ok?"

The middle child will look at all their friends, their parents, and their siblings and constantly wonder how they can help or fix or love them through something. With their own broken wing needing attention they ignore their wound and give of themselves until there is little else to give. And when things fail or fall apart the middle child can't help but take responsibility. When siblings stop communicating, when parents divorce, when friends lose contact, and when boyfriends end things- the middle child won't look at the other person and say, "This is what role you played in this ending." The middle child will look in the mirror and say, "You failed."

So you can't hold it against a middle child when she starts to think the Tin Man had it made before Dorothy came along and ruined everything for him. He is covered in protective armor and he's completely unaware of the heart that's inside of him. Because he doesn't use it he doesn't know what it feels like to have it broken. He doesn't know disappointment. He doesn't know loneliness. And he doesn't know empathy. He just protects himself within a metal shell and lives his life without scars or wounds or tears. And a middle child can't help but envy him... To find comfort in his defensive exterior and his hardened interior. The Tin Man never cried himself to sleep. The Tin Man never felt the air physically escape him when he heard the words "I met someone else." The Tin Man never once would have to worry about spending holidays alone or letting someone they love down. The Tin Man doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve... he protects it. This imaginary character that exists only in a fairy tale is everything a middle child wishes they could be... And everything they are thankful they are not.

Despite the damage that it causes, the wounds that never mend, and the nights spent alone I don't think I could ever go without having a heart. I don't think I would give up those moments where loving too much or holding too tightly meant I was happy even if for a brief moment. Without a heart I wouldn't have the job I have dedicated my life to. I can't imagine the Tin Man out there in a red vest at one o'clock in the morning wrapping someone in a blanket outside of their burning home. I can't imagine the Tin Man getting paid to ask the question, "How can I help you?" I've made a career out of the one thing I was told was my biggest weakness: Caring too much. Yet I wouldn't change that for all the unbroken hearts in the world. My life is filled with loved ones, life long friends, and a best friend for whom my heart knows no limits.

But my heart is tired. It is covered in bruises and band-aids and scars that time just doesn't want to heal. Yet I can't justify not using it or not having one because there is no shame in loving someone even if they don't love you the same way back. There is no shame in giving your all when that amount given can never be adequately reciprocated. There is no shame in being a fixer and a helper. There is no shame in setting yourself up for disappointment. There is only shame in giving up and not giving your all. And that is something the middle child doesn't know how to do. There is always more to give. There is always more to share. There is always more to love. So the middle child will take the time to rest their heart and prepare it for another round. The middle child knows... I know... the potential consequences of my actions but that will never stop me. I'm bound to be hurt again but I'm not truly living my life unless I'm giving my all.

The Tin Man wanted a heart and he got it. But I truly hope it came with a warning label and he read the fine print. Because once you use that thing it's inevitably going to break. And you can't return it once you've opened to someone else. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

To My Niece...

Dear Sweet Pea,

Has anyone told you today that you are special? If they haven't yet let me be the first to do that. Because you are so special. I need you to know that.

I wanted to write this letter to you because there are some pretty crazy things going on in the world today. And I'm worried that if you turn on the television or you listen to the radio or if you overhear grown-ups talking that you may become confused. Or you will hear something that you shouldn't have heard and wonder why those words were said or what they mean. And I think the best solution to that problem is to tell you some things you need to know.

You need to know that you are a girl. I'm sure that made you laugh because you already knew that! But there is more to being a girl than you "already know." You are a girl and because of that you are going to be told there are things you can't do. You are going to be told that there are things you can't be. And there are people who are going to tell you what you should be and what you should do. But the only voice you need to listen to is the one inside of you that says, "I can be anything I want to be." But it's not going to be easy Sweet Pea.

There are some boys out there that think being mean to girls is ok and they will laugh about it. There are some girls out there that think being mean to other girls is ok and they won't think twice about doing it. And I will let you know: Neither behavior is ok.

It is not ok for a boy to make fun of you. Don't ever let anyone tell you that it is. Some grown-ups may say "He is picking on you because he likes you." That's never ok. There are so many ways to show someone that you like them and hurting them with words or with hands is not one of them. I want you to know the word "no." Now don't get me wrong... When mom says to do your homework or your teacher says to listen in class you can't just say "no." But there is that little voice inside of you that will say, "This isn't right." I need you to listen to that voice. If someone wants a hug but you don't want to give one... Then you have the right to say the word "no." And remember that "no" means "no." Don't let anyone make you do anything you don't want to do. If someone in your class or a grown up makes you feel uncomfortable or you get a weird feeling inside that makes you think, "I don't feel this is the right thing" then you have the power to say that word: "No." You may be laughed at. You may be called names. You may be teased. But you just did one of the most powerful things a girl can do: You stood up for yourself. And no one can ever take that away from you. As a girl you have the power to stick up for yourself. That's important.

It is not ok for a girl to make fun of you (or to make fun of boys). There are some girls who don't understand this and they will say hurtful things to you. They will say mean words about other people and you won't understand why. You would think that other girls would know "the rules" that all girls should live by (be nice to one another) but some girls have reasons why they choose to be mean rather than be friendly. Please don't let these girls cause you harm. Their words are only that... words. And you have the power to say "no" to these girls too just in a different way. You have the power to say "No! You can't say those things to me because I deserve better than that." And you know what? You do! You deserve respect and kindness. There will be some girls who will do their best to make you think the worst of yourself. And that's not fair. You'll think, "I thought we were on the same team." It's in those situations I want you to remember these words: "Love wins." You may want to call them names right back. And you may want to hurt them as much as they are hurting you but the best thing you can do is hold your head up high and walk away. Use that pain that you feel and turn it into love. For every bad name they call you and every mean thing they do towards you do one act of kindness and love to even the score. They won't understand why you did it but I promise you that your heart will smile.

There are people on the news right now that are yelling at each other because they have different colored skin. There are two people who are fighting and saying horrible things because they each want to be President. There are people who are deliberately hurting other people because of what they believe in or the uniform that they wear to work. And you will see this and it will try to change your heart. But I don't want you to change because the world around you is full of chaos right now.

I want you to get lost on the banks of Plum Creek with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I want you to pick dandelions and make wishes on their seeds as you blow them into the wind. I want you to stare at the clouds and find all the animals and shapes that you can see. I want you to do cartwheels and catch fireflies in a jar. I want you to have heroes like Clara Barton and Moira Smith. I want you to have scraped knees and scabbed elbows but a tiara on your head if you want one. I want you to sing into a hair brush and put on concerts in the living room. I want you to admire the colors of nature like Anne of Green Gables and love your neighbor like Audrey Hepburn. I want you make mistakes and fall down. And then I want you to stand up and try again. I want you to have the confidence and strength of Rosie the Riveter and the style and grace of Holly Golightly. I want you to draw a line and then leap right over it until the boundaries you set for yourself are gone and all that awaits you are new challenges. I want you to grow up to be whatever your heart desires (even if that means changing your mind when your 32 years old). I want you to fall in love and I want you to fall out of it too. I want you to dream. I want you to succeed. I want you to be happy. I want you to love you. I want you to see the beauty in this world around you and to know that love will always win.

I don't know what this world holds in store for you Sweet Pea. I wish I did. But I can tell you that if you hold onto your sense of wonder, your respect for others, your sense of humor, a spirit fueled with strength and a heart filled with love then you're going to be ok. It won't be an easy journey but it will be a beautiful one. You are a girl and that is a wonderful gift you have been given. Don't let anyone dim the light that radiates from you. Like I said at the beginning of this letter: Has anyone told you today that you're special? I want the answer to that question to always be yes. Because you are. And every day when you wake up you need to look in the mirror and tell yourself "I am special and I am loved." And then I want you to go out and change the world in the wonderfully powerful way that you were born to change it.

Like a girl. 


Friday, September 2, 2016

Kristen in Wonderland

I've been hesitant to answer the question "How has your summer been?" or "What did you do this summer?" I shrug people off by giving short, brief answers and then pointing to something shiny to distract them from the conversation. Honestly, if not for someone making the comment to me that "You seem to have your life put together!" I probably never would have sat down and wrote this entry. But the reason I write these posts is to provide some sort of comfort for those out there that may be struggling with their own issues and somehow I can give them a voice. This summer though, I didn't have much to say. Life on the other hand... Had plenty. 

Summertime has always been my favorite time of year. An almost magical time of year. The sun is out until almost bedtime every night. There is always something to do because there is always pool to be sitting next to or a lake to be jumping into. Baseball is in full swing and all other sports are on the back burner. I love the 4th of July and my birthday just happens to fall on the 7th. I'm a summer baby. A child of the sun. A lover of fireflies. And the owner of more sundresses than anyone could ever wear. But something about this summer was different. I could feel it. I didn't know what was coming or what to expect but I just knew: Things were never going to be the same again. 

And I was unfortunately correct. 

We all remember Alice from Alice in Wonderland. In the beginning Alice was bored listening to her sister read about British History and so when she saw the white rabbit run by her in a little coat holding a pocket watch she followed him down the rabbit hole. I don't exactly remember seeing it myself but I'm confident that right before midnight on my birthday, as the 6th of July turned into the 7th, I saw a white rabbit frantically run by wearing a little coat and holding a little pocket watch. And the only explanation I have for the next course of events that occurred: I followed him down that rabbit hole. Because within hours I would find myself scared, confused, heartbroken, and inconsolable. And within days I would be looking at my reflection and hoping it was all a dream.

When the rabbit jumped down the hole on July 7th and I made the unconscious decision to follow him he brought me to my birthday dinner. I sat around the table with my family, friends and boyfriend. The four men at the table were police officers. The four women at the table loved them all. I could tell though that something wasn't right. That the winds were shifting and this rabbit hole I had unknowingly jumped in to had taken me to some place I never wanted to be. And that night, after dinner, I watched horrified as the city we called home came under attack. And the victims of the attack were our own brothers and sisters in blue. I sobbed uncontrollably as the magnitude of what was happening in the city of Dallas began to sink in. Life as a police officer was officially never going to be the same again. But life as a loved one of a police officer? The damage was irreparable. When Alice realized she was lost she cried enough to flood the entire room with tears... If at all physically possible I could have done the same there in that living room.

There was little sleep that night. The next day I knew I had to watch the men I love walk out the door, in uniform, to go to work. And in that place you find yourself between asleep and awake I found myself carrying bags and bullet proof vests to the car. Hugging them goodbye but under my breath saying, "Please stay." Looking at their faces and seeing changed men. Men who didn't know what to expect when they got to work but men who knew they were entering Hell. And I saw their loved ones shaking with fear, putting on brave faces, smiling through tears, and saying "goodbye" as if it was the last time they would see each other. Because in reality, given the events of that night and this Wonderland I had found myself in... We didn't know. 

As I ventured further into the rabbit hole chasing this elusive white rabbit, I found myself in my living room. Sitting on the other end of the couch next to me was my boyfriend having finished a 12+ hour shift. We talked for almost five hours. When he walked out the door I was single. But not an angry word was spoken. Not a word of hate or ill-will was uttered. He simply walked in the man I was going to marry and walked out the best friend I could never live without. With a hug goodbye the man that had broken down all my walls held in his arms a woman in a million pieces. The tears were mutual. The love was evident. The friendship was strong. But the two people were broken. And there was no elixir, no cake, and no potion Alice could have let us borrow that would have put the pieces back together. 

The next several days were filled with mostly with the same colors: A red vest. A black hearse. A blue uniform. The day was different on the calendar but the activity was the same. And when life was supposed to go back "to normal" and I returned to work at the museum I learned yet another harsh reality amidst the chaos and confusion of this Wonderland. I learned that my time at the museum had come to an end and it was time to move on elsewhere. Like a bad riddle and every other aspect of this place there was no point in trying to make sense of it. Everything had fallen apart in just a matter of days. Every twist and turn I took through this new world that the rabbit hole had brought me into was filled with sadness. Every place he led me to was cluttered with heartache and darkness. 

Except one place. Somehow the white rabbit had shown me a magical hideaway where when I entered, I could hold my head up, wipe the tears away, and escape... If just for a little while.  

It's a big house on a little street and inside lives a special little character. He's about 20+ pounds and has a smile with two little teeth in the front. He lights up and giggles when he sees me and he never turns down cuddles. I never thought a six month old baby boy could have so much power but nothing else in the world seems to matter when he looks at me with his big eyes and laughs. There were stories that need to be read. Songs that needed to be sung. And games that needed to be played. He filled the deafening silence of the world around me with laughter. The heartbreak in Dallas, the pain of a breakup and the fear accompanied with unemployment were powerless against that little smile. 

But he wasn't alone in the cast of magical characters that found their way into this Wonderland I was living in. There was the best friend of almost 20 years in California who let me call every night and say, "Goodnight sweetheart. I love you." because I didn't know how to go to bed without saying that to someone. There was the brother who spent his days at funerals and his nights on patrol yet somehow still managed to say witty remarks to his "little sister" to make her chuckle. There was the other brother who sent hourly texts to make sure that even though I felt so alone I wasn't truly alone. There was the Dad that dropped by with a huge box of goldfish crackers and a mom who brought a beloved dog by for company. And there was a sister who, despite a heart so broken in the wake of the shooting and a fear for her husband's safety, gave her time, energy, love and company to a girl who didn't wear real pants for over a month. They were my Mad Hatters... My Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum... My March Hare... My Dormouse... My Caterpillar... and My Cheshire Cat. 

Days would go by this summer where leaving the apartment seemed impossible. Where staying awake until the sun came up and then sleeping throughout the day seemed the only way to avoid pain. If ever there were a dark place to be in this rabbit hole I had found it and the light pointing to the exit was anything but illuminated. But every day I tried. I tried to do something, just one thing, every day that would bring me closer to the Doorknob. Whether it was meeting an old friend for dinner or applying to a few jobs or even going to the grocery store there was something to do in this strange and incredibly un-magical new world that would eventually let me go home. And every day I made the vow that no matter what life had planned (broken air conditioners, erroneous eviction notices, or failed job interviews/rejection letters) I was going to leave this place that the white rabbit with the little jacket and the little pocket watch had led me to. There was a way out of this rabbit hole. But it was up to me to find it. So even though it took all the energy I had I made sure to make every day count. If for nothing more than to say, "It made me stronger." 

I know that Alice left Wonderland by realizing she wasn't really there in the first place. When she looks through the keyhole Alice sees herself asleep in the park. And after repeatedly telling herself to wake up she awakens from the dream and takes the time to look back on her adventures in Wonderland and analyze their purpose. The difference between me and Alice is I know I am not sleeping. I know that the "Misfortunes in Wonderland" that I have experienced are real. That Alice was a cartoon and a beautiful story. But that Kristen is a real person and a beautiful mess. I know the day will come when I will get to leave this place and I too will get the chance to look out a keyhole and see my exit. And then I will have the opportunity to reflect on why the events that occurred happened and how they shaped me as a person. But I'm not there yet. But today, for the first time in almost two months, I am able to say, "There is a way out." And for the first time in just as long I'm able to say, "And it's going to be ok." 

Alice said, "It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change." But she's also guilty of saying, "If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" The way I see it here through my looking glass is that something will make a sense one day soon. And the world I want of my own will be filled with the perfect balance of happiness and heartbreak. An almost harmonious blend of nonsensical magical moments and rational logical lessons. Because without magic mixed with the logic nothing truly makes sense. 

We all need to have those birthdays that break us and the happy un-birthdays that rebuild us. And I'm ready to celebrate the latter. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

I Accomplished Absolutely Nothing (and yet Everything) in the Past 10 Years

I have a friend (no seriously, I do... This is not like the times I ask for a band-aid "for my friend" even though I'm the one with the wound) who has begun to spiral into what I can only refer to as a complete come-apart as she evaluates where she is in her life. She is questioning her career. She is unsettled at her single status and frustrated with her dating prospects. She is unhappy with where she lives. And she fears that, even though she is only in her early thirties, that she has failed to make something of herself yet. There are not enough phone calls, text messages, inspirational quotes, funny comments, sarcastic antidotes or "snap out of it" outbursts that will change her opinion. In her eyes being in your early 30s without a husband, children, a house, a job you love unconditionally, the ability to travel and an indelible imprint already made on society is cause for not only concern but complete panic. And every time I hang up the phone with her I just think to myself... "Ouch." While she may not know it her words echo loudly in my ears (almost at deafening levels) because everything she believes is a failure in her life mirrors mine. And I don't think I have failed (yet). So what's the difference between us? 

In May of 2006 I graduated from college. The day I graduated I made a list of things I was going to accomplish by May of 2016. It was my "Adult To-Do List" and I was so confident after I pieced it together, put it in an envelope and wrote OPEN MAY 13, 2016 that I was predicting the future perfectly. 

I needed a bag of popcorn, a cold beer and a VERY good laugh to read the contents of that envelope last month. 

There is not one accomplishment on that list that I completed. Not one I had even come close to completing. 22 year old Kristen thought she had it all figured out... 31 year old Kristen gave her a harsh dose of reality. 

* Be a size 6
* Be married with have 2 kids (a boy and a girl) 
* Drive a Lexus RX 
* Live in the house on 2404 Tyne Boulevard (Nashville)
* Wear designer clothing only 
* Published a book
* Be running for Tennessee State Senate 2016 

Reading this list is exhausting to me. My head actually spun and I could feel the contents of my lunch rising up just a bit. The dreams of 2006 Kristen who just donned her cap and gown and went out to fight for a place in the world by shattering glass ceilings and wearing expensive (size 6) business suits with children, a husband, a Lexus and a successful political career got hit over the head with the largest dose of reality. Because in her graduation stupor 2006 Kristen forgot one minor detail while planning out the next ten years of her life: You can't plan life. 

* I wear a multiple of 6 which means 6 is in there but you just have to do some math to get it.
* There is no ring on my finger. But I do have two kids- a boy and a girl. The boy is 12 and he spent the afternoon jumping off the fridge repeatedly in desperate attempts to remind me to feed him. The girl is 8 and she is curled up on the floor licking my flip flop and her paws. 
* Ford. I drive a 2012 Ford Escape named Olivia Benson. I couldn't point out a Lexus RX in a parking lot even if someone put an arrow on it. 
* According to Zillow the market value of my Nashville dream home is $1.3 million. I currently reside in a 640 square foot apartment outside of Dallas where I have a good view of the water tower and books stored in my oven. Rent is due the first of the month and that means we don't eat until the fifth. 
* I don't know the last time I bought a piece of clothing. And with that if it didn't come from Target I probably don't own it. The only designer I wear "exclusively" on various occasions says "RED CROSS" across the back. 
* I published a thesis. A thesis that I was told is the greatest thing since Ambien to put my family and friends to sleep when their insomnia kicks in. 
* Not only am I not running for Tennessee State Senate- I ran from the state of Tennessee and my political career altogether.  

So essentially all of the goals that I had set for myself ten years ago were never accomplished. My last name hasn't changed, there's still an apartment number on my address and I search daily for a full time job as I attempt to make ends meet through three part-time ones. I wasn't asked to speak of my wonderful life and monumental contributions to society at the ten year reunion of Belmont University. If I had attended my reunion I would have seen former roommates and classmates with wedding bands on their ring finger, talking of their children and homes in the suburbs, their lucrative jobs and the actual food (they use their ovens) they put on the table. They travel to exotic places and have special towels in the bathroom for only guests to use. According to my friend this means as I stare in the mirror at a soon-to-be 32 year old I'm a failure. If I use her litmus test on what success is and what milestones I should have already reached at my age I should be absolutely miserable with my current lifestyle and I should look to my former classmates with jealousy and resentment for all they have accomplished and all I have failed to do. 

But I don't see it that way. I'm happy for those who's path in life brought them to where they are today. I can't use their life as a measurement of success for my own. And no matter how many times I listen to her tell me how disappointed she is as she stands at this crossroads in her life I firmly believe "I'm just so glad to be here." I never imagined at 32 this would be the life I was living. I thought I would have those fancy guest towels too but alas I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich off a paper towel tonight for dinner. Superfluous towels aren't a priority. I thought I would have traveled the world by now having thrown coins into the Trevi Fountain, kissed the Blarney Stone, and chomped on some bamboo with giant pandas in a Chinese forest (I don't know if you're allowed to do that exactly but it's a risk I would take if the opportunity presented itself). I haven't used a passport since 1999 and I don't foresee myself getting a new one any time soon. The last trip I took was a road trip to Palo Pinto, Texas to assess flood damage and hand out supplies. I didn't throw coins into a fountain... I threw sandbags onto a levee. I didn't kiss the Blarney stone... I kissed the cheek of a scared little boy at our evacuation building... And I chomped on some MRE's with the National Guard as we took a break in the shade. And although I didn't need a passport to do any of those things I found the experience pretty eye opening, cultural and educational all at the same time. 

We all own calendars. We own planners that we meticulously write down times and dates into as a way to organize our life and outline our future. But no matter what we write in those little squares or type into those calendars... Life always has other plans.  Some of the greatest accomplishments you make in life don't come when you've checked something off of your laminated to-do list. Rather: It was a storm system that wouldn't stop dropping rain... A goodbye you just couldn't see the "good" in... An x-ray you didn't schedule that lead to a surgery you never planned...A co-worker you barely knew who became the man you can't live without... A failed presidential election that brought you from the height of your career to stacking warehouse boxes... A Nashville dream that turned into a Texas reality... And a fear of falling that lead you to fly with a broken wing. 

So to my sweet friend that questions her self worth and her place in this world because those around her seem to have so much more than she does: You're richer than you think. You're loved more than you know. Your happiness is in your hands. For all those shortcomings you believe you possess count all the blessings that you have. For all the failures you take inventory of on a daily basis stock your life with words of confidence and positivity. Those around you may look like they have achieved more and met the societal standards people our age are "supposed" to meet. But just think about it... When we left that tiny town to go out and face the world as 18 year old kids we were the crazy ones. We were the ones breaking the mold and going against the grain. Find in you that spirit of "what if" and "you never know" and run with it. 

You're never a failure unless you stop trying. And even then... You have your friends to pick you up the next day, brush you off, and put your feet back on this path called "life." We would give you directions but none of us know where the heck we're going. We're just happy to be on this journey together. We may all be at different places in life with husbands or kids or jobs or homes but we're always striving for that one thing in life we all deserve to never fail at: Happiness. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mr. Gorbachev.... Well, You know what to do.

1,047 days.
2 years, 10 months and 12 days.
1,507,680 minutes.
688 mile move.
433 Yankees games.
1 Gladys.
Infinite cups of coffee.
Immeasurable pounds of frosting.

You could count days or you could use metric tons of whipped Funfetti frosting to calculate the duration of time between when I hit the "single" button on Facebook to when I accepted the "in a relationship" request. No matter what you use to measure the time between the two dates though one thing can be said without question: The person I was watching the tail lights of a pickup truck drive away from my Nashville apartment is not the same person sitting here writing this with a sore face from always smiling.

Like Berlin after World War II, after my last relationship ended I put up a wall. And not just any wall. I constructed a wall with such height and width (and a moat thrown in there for good measure) that nobody would be able to get over or under it to hurt me again. The wall was high enough that scaling it would be impossible and wide enough that going around it would be a waste of time. And after the wall was constructed I began a beautiful yet tumultuous relationship with someone I had never really gotten to know before: Me.

If I had known how crazy that girl was from the beginning I may have tried to run the other way! But I gave her a chance and I'm so glad that I did. I got to know what made her happy and what pushed her to her breaking point. I got to see her at her worst moments (carrying the last box out of her office at the Opry with tears streaming down her face)... her bravest moments (smiling at the doctors as they wheeled her into the operating room to take our unwanted friend Gladys out of the relationship)... her happiest moments (standing on the field at Yankee Stadium singing Frank Sinatra as she waiting for David Robertson to come greet her)... her saddest moments (watching the Nashville skyline disappear into the distance as she drove away to an unknown future in Texas)... her proudest moments (trying not to stumble over her words or feet as she shook the hand of the 43rd President of the United States while he thanked her for a job well done at the movie premiere)... her sincerest moments (when she looks at her reflection in the mirror and sees the scars from a body fighting an invisible enemy and she whispers, "Don't be embarrassed... They're battle wounds you beast.")... her scariest moments (walking the streets of what was left of neighborhoods thanks to Mother Nature's nasty side in a shiny red vest) and her oddest moments (pretty much every minute of every day and definitely when she's driving)! I saw her fall apart and pick herself back up. I saw every tear, heard every laugh, felt every bruise, tasted every piece of cake and experienced every Yankees win like it was their first. I got to know this girl I had put on the back burner for so long while I stayed in failing relationships and fought so hard for others when I should have been in her corner the whole time. I grew to know her and appreciate her for everything she was and all of her imperfections. I learned to love her. 

When I moved to Texas I made a friend at work. And soon afterwards I realized I had made a best friend. The kind of friend that you will have the rest of your life. The kind of friend that makes you a better person for just knowing them. He had a contagious smile, a strong heart, a beautiful soul and a broken wing. Yet, even on my worst days he could put a smile on my face. His friendship proved invaluable in my adjustment to my new life in Texas and my new relationship in learning to love myself. He was someone I could always count on to have my back and someone who I could rely on to believe in me even when it was really difficult to believe in myself. I considered myself beyond lucky that I had been blessed with this once in a lifetime friendship. And while everyone around asked "When will you guys date?" I thought to myself two things: One, he's my best friend and you don't date your best friend. And two, I'm in a pretty committed relationship with a crazy baseball loving brunette right now. It was important to get to know her and accept her before I dated anyone again. I owed it to her and I owed it to whomever I was going to date next. They needed the best version of me and that version of me included someone who knew who she was... and loved every ounce of fabulousness and every single flaw.

Then one day in the midst of ringing in the New Year in a Red Cross shelter, a nephew being born and craziness surrounding both of us... I looked across the restaurant table at my best friend and felt a crack. I froze. It was that expertly constructed wall I had spent so much time and energy building up around me. It was a small crack but it was the first one I had felt in the years since I had put it up. And even though the restaurant was loud and waiters were talking and the booths around us were filled with people laughing and eating... I could hear a pin drop when he smiled at me and I thought to myself, "Well... this changes everything."

Perhaps in learning to love myself I learned that I would never fall in love with someone I met on a blind date or someone that I met at a coffee shop. Perhaps in learning what makes me the person I am I learned what kind of person I need in order to compliment me. Perhaps I learned that Little Miss Independent has the ability to love again but it takes a certain person who not only knows her crazy side... her stubborn side... her fanatical side... and her vulnerable side BUT appreciates them all at the same time. Perhaps in learning to love myself I learned that the only person I would allow to break down that wall was someone who already loved me.

Someone who knows not to talk to me during a Yankees game (especially if we are losing). Someone who knows to ask the waiter if there is Cajun seasoning on the food because I always forget and wind up having a bottle of Benadryl for dessert. Someone who knows I'm scared of the rain even if it's not going to be that bad and doesn't judge me. Someone who knows I sing at the top of my lungs to music in the car (and shower) and although I may not sound like Kelly Clarkson... still smiles at my high notes and joins right on in. Someone who knows my blood is blue and I know no other life and he respects that. Someone who knows my scars and my imperfections and loves me through it all. Someone who is my best friend. Someone like him.

So after that initial crack at a random dinner one night I started to hear a few more as days and weeks went on and we spent more time together. And then I heard a few pieces of the wall actually fall and break into pieces. And I knew it was time. I knew that I loved myself enough to finally let someone else love me the way I deserved. It was time to tear down that wall. And so I did.

The comparisons between my life story and his life story when mirrored with the Reagan's has caused us to laugh numerous times. His broken wing is so similar to the one that Ronald Reagan had when he met Nancy. And while I will never be as dainty or feminine as Mrs. Reagan I know that the two of us together is a love story I think can hold up to theirs. And as he has said to me several times... They may even be dethroned.

So as President Reagan brought down the Wall of Communism... I found a man who could tear down the Wall of Kristen. And he did it with a smile and absolutely no bribing me with frosting in the process :) 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Some girls wear little black dresses... Some girls sport little red vests

I'm 31 years old. I'm technically verging on 32 (but that is a thought I won't entertain for more time than it takes to type this sentence). To put this into perspective: When I was born it was "morning in America" with Ronald Reagan as the President of the United States. It cost $2.50 to go to the movies. The first Apple Macintosh computer went on sale and the ColecoVision Console sold for just $129.99. Also, Stevie Wonder hit the air waves in full force with "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (a legitimate jam still to this day). 31 years is a really long time. People get 30 years in prison for killing someone because that's the amount of time it takes to "think about what you did." It takes Saturn almost 30 years to orbit the sun (which I follow up closely with how long it takes me to run a mile these days). So many things can be accomplished in three decades yet when I say my age I think of all the things I have yet to accomplish.

Yesterday was my first time as a Red Cross "captain" in charge of her own disaster response team. That meant I was in charge of driving the vehicle (they truly didn't think that decision through properly); I was responsible for the well-being and safety of my team (again, they had to be short on volunteers); and I was to make all of the big and final decisions (including how many hugs I deemed necessary for each storm victim). When the team assembled and we got into the vehicle I was asked by a timid voice in the backseat, "Do you know how to drive safely in the rain?"

The "K-Team"
(Because all our names started with "K" and I'm clever like that)

Me? Ha! Is that question directed at me? Girl please. I drive with a life vest in the front seat if there is the slightest chance of a drizzle. I am ten and two the entire way and I talk to myself, constantly, about how well I'm doing with every mile marker I pass. Sometimes I put my flashers on just to let other driver's know that it's raining and I'm driving in it. Then I realized that this girl had known me for about 4 minutes and everything that makes me who I am was a complete mystery to her. So like any good, composed and professional disaster captain would do I began telling my life story... Instead of teaching her how to fill out the paperwork she would be using for the very first time.

I only had about 45 minutes and it was pouring rain so I skipped the parts about it being a really hot summer in New York the July I was born and I passed over my headgear phase and botched haircuts. (They were too young to know the trauma of 7th grade when you ask for a "Rachel" and instead you get a mullet). I told them about the Nashville Flood in 2010 and how that's when I realized volunteering was my life's passion. I told them about the pure destruction and devastation that I witnessed but also the beauty (and itchiness) of sandbagging the Cumberland River. I told them about responding to fires in the middle of the night and singing old NYSNC songs with a girl in a shelter who was scared. I told them about Tuscaloosa and the tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011. I told them about the immense joy you feel when you help someone but how sometimes you go out to the truck to physically sob where no one can see you because your heart hurts so badly. I told them about my last deployment after Christmas and how I rang in 2016 inside a recreational center on a cot surrounded by tornado victims.

I told them all of these stories to let them know: Although I fear it on unhealthy levels... I will drive (and do so safely) in the rain. That this one day of volunteering that they signed up for was going to change their lives forever because you can't just do a day. Like a can of Pringles, once you start you can't stop. And how the destruction they were about to see for the first time would be the equivalent of a punch to the stomach and a slap to the face at the same time. But the only way to get over the initial shock is to walk through it, find someone, and hug the ever-loving-hell out of them. I told them to prepare them. I told them my story so they knew that the person entrusted with their safety and well-being (again, not the brightest idea) had been in their shoes before. I told them because in retelling my embattled history with Mother Nature... I reminded myself why I was wearing that red vest.

I did not tell them my story expecting to hear the words that came out of the backseat when I was finished... "Kristen, I don't know how old you are but you've lived a crazy life in the short time you've been on this Earth. And I think you're my new hero." I immediately let out a nervous and embarrassed laugh and said, "That's crazy talk. I'm 31 so I've had plenty of time to go head to head with disaster. I really want to be Kelly Clarkson when I grow up because she's one of my heroes. And I am pretty sure I will go through an entire First Aid kit before we're done out here today so I'm in no position to be anyone's hero. But you're incredibly kind. And I'm incredibly lost. Seriously. What town am I driving to again?"

Hero. That's a word used to describe police officers and firefighters who run towards danger while others run from it. That's a word used to describe members of our military who dedicate their lives defending our country. That's a word used to describe doctors and nurses who save lives and scientists who find cures. That's a word used by Mariah Carey in one of her greatest songs to date. I'm not a hero. A hero is fearless. I volunteer because I'm so incredibly scared of natural disasters that if I didn't put on the red vest I would never come out of my safe place. I'm not a hero. I'm a hot mess who thinks if she hugs enough people, hands out enough water, throws enough sandbags and sets up enough cots in a shelter that perhaps she can officially erase the scars that the Flood and the April 2011 tornadoes made. It's a coping mechanism. It's not heroism.

The destruction that I drove my two brand new volunteers into was both flooding and tornado damage. As we walked through the yards, stepping over debris (falling into puddles... seriously, I warned them), covering our noses from the scent of wet sheet rock and the fumes of chainsaws, I watched closely as they came face to face with their first storm survivor. I watched as they stood in what can only be called "a doorway" where once a house stood. I saw the tears well up in their eyes but they didn't let a tear fall. I heard them ask all the right questions and provide the correct answers as to how we could help and why we were there. And then I saw them reach out to hug the older woman who simply said, "I'm alive. We're alive. I didn't think we would make it but we did. So we're going to be ok. Everything is going to be ok."

As we walked away from what was once somebody's home, I asked the two girls, "Are you ok?" And they answered that they were overwhelmed but felt like they had just did something that changed their life. I simply told them that not only were they warned I would at some point during the day fall flat on my face but also that they wouldn't be the same people by lunch that they had been at breakfast. And as we walked up to the car, climbed into our seats and shook the rain off our clothes I looked in the rear view mirror and said, "That woman you just met... That's a hero."

The rest of the day went according to plan. We assessed damage. We drove down the wrong roads and made numerous u-turns. We handed out supplies and we administered hugs. We cursed the navigation system and we repeated, "Tell no one this happened back at headquarters, got it?" I tripped over debris and failed at walking on water and they took notes and soaked up all the on-the-field training they could get. And when our work was done for the day we headed back to headquarters. I looked at their faces. They were tired. They were hungry. And they were changed. Just like I knew they would be... Because I was.

In my 31 years on this Earth maybe I have seen more disasters than most. Maybe floods and tornadoes and Jim Cantore like to follow me around for no other reason than they truly have nothing better to do with their time or energy. If I think of my age and what I haven't accomplished yet I start to think I'm living life incorrectly (financial stability, a family of my own, lasagna in the oven rather than paperbacks, a published book, a 401k, and less band-aid usage). But then if I think of my age and what I have accomplished I start to think that maybe I'm living life my way. Where the unpublished book, the car seat-less SUV, the microwaved dinner, the coins in a coffee can labeled "savings" and the Cosco-sized First Aid kit are the perfect bookmarks to this chapter in my life. Chapter 31... (With Chapter 32 quickly approaching).

My family is filled with heroes that wear a badge or a stethoscope. I wear a red vest. I am not a hero. Heroes run into danger while I run into my safe place. Heroes give their all without seeking anything in return. I give my all but thrive on the feeling I get when I give a hug. I'm not a hero... I'm a survivor. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Sweetness of X's and O's

When I received the phone call that my sister was being sent to Labor and Delivery early and it was almost time to meet my sweet nephew, I raced to the hospital breaking every motor vehicle law along the way. I had already packed my "hospital bag" which had everything from a change of clothes and a toothbrush to every make/model of a phone charger and coloring books to pass the time. (Little did we really know how much time was going to pass!) I got to the hospital with one mission: Do everything I possibly could to make my sister comfortable and to ease any form of stress that the two expecting parent's could experience. Also, not to cry. I can hug and cry like it's my profession. But there is a time and a place Kristen. Keep it together. 

I went into the room expecting chaos yet found my brother and sister completely calm and ready to tackle this thing called "having a baby." As the night carried on parent's left to get sleep and I was reconsidering my career choice as I had conquered reading the peaks/dips on the monitor and unplugging/plugging in all the wires and tubes after every bathroom break. (Then the thought of administering needles or seeing blood cancelled any ideas I may have briefly entertained!) 
Ice Chip Getter and Contraction Monitor Coach

When the nurse came in to tell Lindsay it was time to get some sleep before the big event the next morning I knew it was time for me to "go home" and get some sleep myself. But that's just not in my nature of course. So I told one person I was sleeping at my parent's house and another I was sleeping at my brother's house. And then, like a colonist from long ago, I said goodbye to the parents-to-be with a kiss and a hug and set up camp in the waiting room for the night. I moved around furniture, declared ownership of the television and settled in for the night. They would never know I was out there but if they needed me... They wouldn't have to wait more than a second for me to come to them. 

30 hours. My sister was in labor for 30 hours. That's 30 episodes of Law & Order: SVU or a road trip to Nashville 3 times or listening to George Strait's "Amarillo By Morning" on repeat 720 times. There was nothing easy about her labor process and there was definitely nothing easy or textbook about her delivery process. There is a groove worn into the hallway floor where I paced for 2 hours, back and forth, waiting for someone (anyone really- a doctor, nurse, aid, janitor) to come out and tell us that everything was ok. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would never sit anxiously and wait for a boy. From the minute the text came that it was time to push to the minute we finally had someone tell us what was going on I never once let go of my phone or stopped looking over my shoulder to see if someone was going to walk out those locked double doors. When the doors opened and my brother emerged I could tell two things: He was exhausted and something wasn't right. I could only imagine what my sister was going through back in the delivery room. But I smiled and ran up to him to congratulate the new Daddy. 

Hours went by as we waited to hear when we would finally get to meet this little baby who took his sweet time coming and then was rushed away for tests and observation. When the text finally came that he was ready to meet his anxious family... I was the first one allowed in the room to see him. I basically sprinted to the hospital room in record time. I opened the door, washed my hands, and pulled back the curtain to see my sister holding a chubby cheeked baby boy in her arms. My brother had a camera out to record my reaction of seeing my nephew... My Godson... for the very first time. As he was placed into my arms I wasn't prepared for the reaction I was about to have myself. 

Love at First Sight
As I held Xander William O'Hare for the first time I cried. I thought about all the moments in his life I was going to share with him: His first story book... his first laughs... his first baseball game... his first words... his first Christmas morning... and his first St. Patrick's Day. I thought of all his games that I would be ejected from by umpires and coaches. I thought about the laughs he would give me and the smiles he would put on my face. I thought about the murder I would happily commit if anyone ever tried to harm him. I thought about how proud I was of his parents. And I thought about how my life changed in a single second when I kissed his forehead and knew that I was asked to play a role in helping raise this little baby. It was more than a job... it was an honor. In just one look he had become one of the most important people in my life and my sense of purpose was renewed. He would learn about God and about right from wrong. He would learn about respect and love. But he would also learn about curve balls, frosting and the adventures in story books from me. 

The next several days all blended into one another. Xander got to go home but he went home in a special bed that required someone to watch him 24/7. I obviously took the night shift in hopes that the new Mommy and Daddy would get a chance to at least attempt to sleep. My chair was pulled up to his crib and I watched him for hours (illuminated in blue) and sang him songs. It seemed that each song I sang though was by Joey + Rory. And it struck me right through my heart. I was looking into the face of a brand new life while I played songs sung by a wonderful woman, wife, mother and friend losing her own. 

The irony nor the haunting beauty of the moment wasn't lost on me. As one beautiful life entered this world another was soon to leave it. And I knew that I had to make sure that as his Godmother I taught Xander not only the beauty of every day but also how short life truly is. We need to appreciate the small things and find beauty in the rough days. We need to live our lives so we have no regrets and can say we did everything we set out to do. Every sunrise is a reminder that we have a fresh start and every sunset is an acknowledgement that we made it through another day. There will be really bad days and broken hearts and there will be fabulous days filled with laughter. The secret to life is to find the balance and beauty in it all. 

Xander will never experience the goosebumps you get when Joey walks up on stage and starts to sing. He will never hear her laugh or walk the land on her beautiful Tennessee farm. He'll never taste her peach cobbler or see the light in her eyes when she talks about the love for her husband or her daughter. But I had the opportunity to do those things and I will take those memories and those lessons she taught me and I will pass them on to him. Because as I write this Xander is doing things for the very first time while Joey is doing everything for the very last. The birth of Xander has brought so much joy to my heart while losing Joey has broken it. But truthfully, I'm learning to live again as I say hello to a new life and goodbye to an old soul. There's a lesson to be learned in all things. 

And for someone who loves her sweets: Sometimes the sweetest things in life don't always come in a container with a spoon... Sometimes they can be found even in the saddest of moments if you just look hard enough. 

*This video was made for Xander after he successfully made it through his glow worm phase... Joey helped sing the words to express what we all felt those few days...*