Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Mother of a Day

I’m honestly not big on holidays – any of them, really. To me, some of them, like Mother’s Day, seem like they were made up by a group of people from Hallmark and FTD on a conference call brainstorming ways to make more money during the offseason.

I know, I know. We should recognize mothers. And fathers. And grandparents. And sweetests (really, who celebrates that day?) But for some, it’s pressure. And obligation. And sometimes, sadness.

This will be my fifth motherless Mother’s Day. Back when my mom was alive, we’d get together for brunch or dinner, I’d get a lovely card from my kids and a gift usually picked out by their dad. Again, not complaining. But when I think of mother’s day, it’s not obligatory cards, gifts and meals that come to mind – it’s the days I was well-mothered and the days I mothered well.

When I think of a mother’s day, I think of the times something “significant” happened in my life – “significant” being a relative term that ran the gamut from a breakup with a boyfriend to a new job to a life-changing issue with a child. I think of how my mom was always there for me – she was a rock star when there was a crisis. She was my go-to person – the one I thought of to call first, whether it was to cry or yell or seek advice. (Honestly, I never really had to ask for advice; she readily offered it whether I wanted it or not.) Regardless of whether she told me to suck it up, encouraged me to look on the bright side, sympathized, discussed my options or helped me find a solution, she was the comfort I usually sought when the going got tough.

I miss that – so much. There are still many times I reach for the phone to call her when something happens, good or bad. She would have been a source of support when my older son put me through hell as a teen. She would have wanted to know who I was dating and would have continually reminded me how I dodged a bullet getting out of my last long-term relationship (I don’t think she ever liked him anyway.) She would have encouraged me on my career path and pushed me to do more writing. She would have called me every day for the past month after my son’s serious accident for updates - she adored my kids. She would have helped me redo my family room that I’ve never gotten around to painting because I don’t trust myself to pick out the colors.

Lots of people feel this way about their moms – I know I’m not the only one. There are people who haven’t had their mom around for years; others have lost them more recently. Though your life adjusts, there’s plenty of instances when you think, “Wow. I wish my mom were here to see this/meet you/help me.”

I was well-mothered. Sure, we had our issues. But now that I'm a mother myself, I know she did the best she could. I know this because she taught me well, and I’m doing the best that I can.

I was well-mothered, and I’m trying to mother well. I’m lucky to have a pretty solid relationship with both of my kids – a few years ago I could not have said that. Now I seem to be their go-to, and I love that. I love that they trust me, and I love that I am sometimes the first person they want to call to talk to, whether it’s about a job, a relationship, a problem or just life in general.

Those are the moments that are my mother’s day. Sure it’s nice to get a card, but only because the powers that be designated a random Sunday in May as a day to celebrate mothers. I don’t need flowers or gifts or a special day – I just want my kids to keep calling, keep close and keep loving me.

I’ll stop by and “visit” my mom this weekend, but there will be no brunch or Mother’s Day trinkets – just one-sided conversation in the hopes that she hears me. Miss you, Mom. Happy mother’s day - every day. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Warrior

Have you ever known that one person who seemingly has it all? Great looks, winning smile, hilarious, talented, always positive, tons of friends, awesome husband, adorable kids ..... ugggghhh.

I first admired her from afar. She was that crazy mom who came sprinting up to the elementary school to pick up her kid just as the bell rang - usually wearing spandex workout capris, a tank top with some inspirational workout saying on it and a brightly colored bandana covering her vibrant auburn hair - yes, always the bandana. Her constant smile and laugh was infectious, and when her son ran up to meet her, it was apparent that this was probably the best moment of her whole day.

I was intimidated and envious - and I wished I could be her friend.

I discovered that as a fitness instructor, she was vigilant about having a healthy body - not a skinny body - but a healthy, strong body, and wanted nothing more than to wrangle others into jumping on the exercise bandwagon with her. I saw friends and admirers flood her Facebook page with comments when she announced the next time she'd be teaching, and her after-class selfies dripped with genuine praise for her students for "crushing it" once again.

She chose a vegetarian lifestyle, which may have been somewhat of a point of contention with her husband, who is maybe not quite as health-conscious as she. But in a style that is true to them as a couple, they poked fun at it by creating a hilarious video called, "My Wife's a Vegetarian" - her husband on guitar and both of them on vocals - it's probably out there on YouTube somewhere.

As I got to know her better, I realized that this woman has a HUGE circle of friends - and not just fair-weather friends. Real friends - like from childhood, high school, college ... all over the United States - and they all adore her. She is quick to love them back; in fact, I've never met anyone who is so filled with love for her husband, her children, her family and her friends. Her gift is her love, which is evident for anyone close to her. She will tear up talking about her magnificent husband, her kids who are growing up way too fast, her incredibly supportive parents and her veritable treasure trove of friends.

All that said, somehow, some way, I got this amazing woman to be my friend - and finally realized what all the fuss was about. She DOES have it all. Great looks, winning smile, hilarious, talented, always positive, tons of friends, awesome husband, adorable kids ...

And cancer. She also has cancer.

It was no secret she was a survivor of breast cancer - every year she celebrated her cancerversary - the fifth year being the big one - and she was an avid participant in Race for the Cure - the running part, of course - did I mention she's a runner? Surviving cancer got her into fitness. Surviving cancer caused her to change her eating habits. Surviving cancer made her realize even moreso what was really important. Surviving cancer made her outlook on life such that she considered every single day a gift.

She was told years ago that she was at her one child max. Ten years after her son was born, she went to CVS and bought a six pack of beer and a pregnancy test - and eight months later, a beautiful, free-spirited replica of her came into this world. In my mind, it was because the universe realized that the world needs more people like her - so they made one.

We laughed at the fact that she was "starting over" - having kids 10-plus years apart. We adored the spunkiness of her daughter - "just like her", her mother proclaimed - and the baby pictures prove it. We were envious at how she so quickly reclaimed her post-baby body. True to form, the woman went through pregnancy and those baby years like it was a walk in the park - now, we all know it wasn't, but you know what I mean. She did it all like a warrior.

A warrior.

She did everything like a warrior.

She does everything like a warrior.

The cancer is back, and she's a motherf*cking warrior.

She continued to teach the fitness classes despite the chemotherapy. She lost her hair and dyed it red. She takes bets on how much fluid will be drained from her swollen tummy. Her posts about her progress are blunt and full of her unique humor: "My liver is being an asshole but if I can get it to cooperate I'll be the mayor of healthytown!" She is fighting, reminding me of one of her favorite phrases of recent years - "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Never in my life have I known someone as inspirational, as vigilant, as strong and as superhumanly powerful as this woman I am so incredibly humbled to call my friend. She is the epitome of a true warrior - and as her friend, I am so privileged to be a part of her extensive, worldwide army that has been assembling itself since the day she was born. I have never seen a more supportive, generous, caring "tribe" - as she calls us all - who I honestly think would do ANYTHING for her. I know I would, and I do not have the longevity that most of her friends have with her.

I know at times she feels weak. At times she's so tired. If she only knew that even when she feels tired and weak, she is still stronger than so many of us. I KNOW she knows that when she feels tired and weak, she still has us - her army - her tribe - supporting her, loving her and STILL being inspired by her every single day.

Here's the thing. You cannot have someone like her walking this earth without acknowledging her amazingness - in fact, we should be shouting it from the rooftops. She should be on a poster somewhere with an arrow pointing to her that says, "WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE THIS." There needs to be a "How to be a Warrior" class - and she needs to teach it.

Make no mistake, here - she was a warrior before cancer, but she's in the fight of her life right now, and I think every member of her tribe feels helpless. We can stand by her side with our arrows and swords, but in the end it is the lead warrior who does the most fighting - it is her battle. If forming a circle around her to shelter her from the blows of this disease would keep her safe, we'd do it. If finding some way to defeat this enemy for her was within our powers, we'd have done it yesterday. If there was a way to bottle her strength, spirit and determination and give it out as a cure, we'd do it tomorrow.

We'd do it - for our warrior.

Update: Our Warrior, Amy Poirier Bjornstad, passed peacefully at home surrounded by her loved ones on Tuesday, March 27th, three days after this post was written. Rest now, my love.

Help a warrior; be a warrior. Give to the Jimmy V Foundation and let's get a victory over cancer.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Validation: Bringing Confidence to Insecurities Everywhere

Everyone has insecurities. I don't care if you are the most successful, most confident, luckiest, most blessed person in the world - you have insecurities.

Ever. Just pretend.
Be a cyborg. 
They're considered weaknesses, insecurities are. It's not sexy to have them. You're not going to land the corner office with insecurities. You're not going to get a chance with that awesome man or woman of your dreams by listing your insecurities in your dating profile. And you certainly don't want people memorializing you at your funeral by saying, "I remember her as being so insecure."

In looking for some quotes for this blog, I was surprised to find that most of them treated insecurity like a horrible vice. "Insecurity kills all that is beautiful." "Nothing holds you back more than your own insecurities." "Insecurity kills more dreams than failure ever will." Wow. Now not only do I feel insecure, I feel HORRIBLE about it.

But I'm going to put that aside, because I'm pretty sure that even the people who were so secure as to pen those quotes have insecurities. My question is, what separates those who rise above them with those who feel like they're going down with the ship? I'm not sure. Maybe it's their personalities, or how they were raised, or what they've been through, or even just their DNA. But I do know what helps in some cases: validation.
Well if that doesn't make you feel
insecure, nothing will. 

There are few worse things you can say to an insecure person than "You're wrong." I don't mean in those words exactly, but how many times have we refuted something someone has said instead of validating it? When you're angry at your spouse, does he or she say, "Oh, honey, don't be angry."? When your child tells you he's worried about an upcoming event or test, how many times do parents say, "Don't worry."? Or how about when you finally tell a friend what's really been bothering you and they reply with, "Oh, get over it!"?

At that moment, it doesn't matter if what that person has said to you is right or wrong in your eyes. They're expressing a feeling that is valid to them, and the appropriate, compassionate response is not to completely negate what they just said. I learned this firsthand when my son once told me he was worried. My knee-jerk response was, of course, "Oh, honey, don't worry!" He looked at me and said, "Mom, you telling me not to worry doesn't make me not worry. It just makes me feel bad about myself for worrying."

It's human for us to want to fix things - or at least to make uncomfortable things go away. It's human for many people to not want to have awkward conversations that involve tender subjects related to anger, worry or controversy. But when someone conveys a feeling to you and you tell them not to feel that way - intentional or not - you've just completely invalidated what to them WAS a completely valid feeling, which can - and does - lead to insecurity. And over time, if that person feels invalidated long enough, his or her insecurities can get the best of them and they can start second-guessing their own feelings. "Why do I always worry so much?" "What am I getting so angry about?" "Why can't I get over this?" to the point where that person can't even validate their own feelings anymore.

That's one way to become insecure, right?

Validation also comes in the form of what I call "getting a win." We all need to have a win every once in a while. That can come in a physical or emotional form. My son is on a track team, which is of course very competitive. He's good, but he's never been the best (except, of course, in my eyes.) There's always been someone faster, with a better time, or on a better relay team. I try to remind him that a win can also be besting his own time, but I know (validation) that what he really wants is to beat his competitors. Now, he's bested his time on many an occasion, but there is NOTHING like the look on his face when he's won a race. 

Pretty sure even the Virgin Mary
had insecurities. 
But what if wins aren't quite as obvious? What if you work in an office day after day? In my case, I write - primarily for other people on subjects that for the most part are not of my choosing. Not uncommon. I'm also edited - unceasingly, unendingly, and sometimes mercilessly. Again, most of the time the final product of what goes out under my pen isn't under my name, so it has to be perfect in order to have that other person's stamp on it. And as in many people's jobs, others are quick to criticize when they find something wrong and slow to praise. (In my case, people love to find typos in my work - like they've beat me at my own game.)

Though I understand that what I write has to live up to a high standard, it wears on me at times. I work hard at what I do, and an "i" left undotted or a "t" uncrossed weighs more heavily on me than most - sometimes like a pair of concrete shoes. And I think to myself, every once in awhile, it would be awesome if someone would tell me that I'm doing a good job. Even if it's, "Thank you for making me look good!" or "I appreciate you making my job easier." Sometimes it gets to the point where my challenge is less about my craft and more about this unending quest to send out a product that will get an unexpected email response of "Well done" than the incessant "I made some changes..."

Valid point. But not the only reason.
I understand it's nobody's job to make me feel good about mine, but it is people's job to make sure I do mine well. But every once in a while, I'm sure we would all like to feel a little validated that that we're doing well in our careers. In my case, I fear that my insecurities about my writing are starting to be reflected IN my writing. In short, I need a win. And I'd venture to guess that there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way.

Insecurities aren't something people are proud of. I'm not sure why they seem to terrorize some people, like me, and how others are less affected, or able to at least mask appearing affected so well. I'm sure people who struggle with insecurities are way more sensitive to a lack of validation - to them, it's just one more brick in the wall, and the taller it gets, the tougher it is to break down. And it doesn't help that insecurities are seen as a sign of weakness. You shouldn't be penalized because you want and need validation. Some people are in positions to receive it more than others. If your kid has a 4.0 GPA and is going to an Ivy League school, you're probably feeling pretty validated as a parent. If you've been with a company for 10 years and were just appointed a vice president, you're probably feeling pretty validated in your career. If your husband or wife lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are the best thing that's ever happened to him or her, you're probably feeling pretty validated in your marriage. Sure, everyone has areas of their lives that make them insecure, but lack of validation in any part of your life that is important to you is bound to touch off uncertainty and self-doubt. 

My point here is that we all need to know that who we are, what we do and how we feel has meaning, and in many ways, validation is a key player, no matter how much any internet quote says otherwise. So just think about it. When someone tells you how they're feeling, whether you think they're being insecure or not, validate their feeling. If you're in a position to tell someone they've done a good job, validate what they've done. And if you're one of those insecure people out there, try and look at something in your life that at which you're doing the very best you can to do - regardless of how it turned out for anyone else. Sometimes the key to overcoming some of your insecurities is giving yourself a break - and validating yourself.