Lesson #12:

BC Era = “Before Children” Era

My husband and I do not go out on many dates. I don’t mean that to sound whiny and I do not feel like my relationship suffers because we don’t go to the movies or out to eat. I very much enjoy spending my time together as a family and would prefer pizza and pajamas over a fancy dinner and a dress any day of the week. The interesting thing is that I love our “deck nights” more than any date he’s ever taken me on. A few times a week I will put my daughter to bed as my husband starts a fire in our backyard, gets the lawn chairs out, prepares himself a cigar or a drink and we just sit out there and talk. Not the superficial “how was work” talks, but we have some enlightening conversations out there about our relationship, our family, our careers and society. It sets up a very comfortable environment to discuss issues we may be having, or struggles we are internalizing or exciting dreams of the future. I find that when I leave these conversations that my “cup runneth over” and I feel closer to him. Believe it or not, he loves them even more than I do.

We started dating when we were children and so our BC Era is a span of almost 9 years. The boy I first started dating with a varsity jacket, a thin chin strap, acne faced and awkward is not the confident protector of man I lie next to at night. I think the entire point of dating when you are married is to reconnect outside of wearing the “mom” and “dad” hats. The point is that when your kids are off and living their own life that you don’t look to the man next to you and have essentially no idea who they are anymore. I think as a society we put unnecessary pressures on what that dating looks like. The first point I want to make is that dating is exactly what you make it. I’ve seen plenty of couples out at a nice restaurant just sitting on their phones barely speaking or touching each other. Secondly, a date is more about reconnecting and learning about each other rather than a location. Lastly, a date is about dropping the titles we carry around in our everyday life (manager, wife, mother, sister, daughter) and just seeing the other person for who they are.

I fell in love with my husband on a cold day in April 2008 at the Paine Estate in Belmont, Massachusetts. As cliché as it sounds, I walked away from that date knowing that I wanted to marry him. I look back at photos of that night, and you can just see it in our eyes. My husband absolutely loves astronomy and had convinced his astronomy teacher to let him borrow his telescope. We went to the Paine Estate late at night and he set up the telescope under the moon. It was a beautiful and chilly night. I think he spent more time getting the telescope ready to look at the stars than we spent staring up at the sky. We forgot to bring a blanket and after standing around for a while, I was freezing and wanted to leave. He wanted to stay under the stars so I took off my jacket and put it under us on the ground and we snuggled next to each other and he put his jacket on top of us. We were nose to nose and just talked for hours. I can remember this night so vividly. Nothing fancy, two silly children who forgot a blanket and were probably past our curfew.

To my second point, dating is about reconnecting and learning about each other. Full disclosure, there are times where we are so excited to see each other and have time together after our daughter goes to bed, and we end up sitting on our phones. Yikes! I know! So when we have our “deck nights” we make sure to say that phones are away so that we can focus on each other. Of course we make the exception to check the baby monitor, but other than that we dedicate our complete focus on each other.

Lastly, we make it a point to not focus on talking about our daughter or work the entire time. While it is one thing to blow off steam or reflect on the cutest thing our daughter did that day, when we come to each other for our “deck nights” we come as individuals – not just mom and dad. My husband loves his cigars and a nice whiskey so we make sure that he is able to indulge for our “deck dates.” It’s important that we remember and know each other outside of those titles. Sometimes we have to hold each other accountable for this one.

So, if you have a young family (or a large family) and coordinating time to go out on a date sounds more like a chore than something you’re excited for. Consider doing something the two of you, like a long walk after dinner or a fire in your backyard. A date does not have to be dinner and a movie, or a dress and fancy dinner – a date is what you make it. It changes with the seasons of life and is meant to make you feel closer to your spouse.

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Lesson #11:

It only takes 10 seconds to change your life

When I was pregnant, I probably watched every YouTube video related to women’s birth story. I talked to as many women that would share their story. I was anxious, having never given birth before and terrified of the pain. I knew it was going to hurt, I think I was just looking for something comparable to wrap your mind around. I went into labor on a Friday afternoon and the rest is history. At first I thought the pain was bearable. It felt like my body was completely tensing, from the tops of my thighs to my breastbone almost like a gigantic cramp. As the pain became more intense the only comfort I found was in the bathtub and I slept there Friday night. I focused on groaning through the pain, determined to give birth without any pain medicine. Like I mentioned before, I have some sort of thing about suffering for the things you want. I was in labor over 24 hours and finally told my husband it was time to take me to the hospital.

For as long as I was in labor, my body wasn’t relaxing enough to dilate so the hospital had me walk around the halls for a while. While I would stop and start to groan in the hallways my husband would remind me that each contraction was my body hugging our daughter. The imagine of my body welcoming my daughter by hugging her was extremely comforting to me. He may not even remember saying it, but with each strong contraction, that’s just what I kept telling myself. “You won’t be able to hug her this tight for a long time. Let your body welcome her with love.” When it was finally time to push I was now terrified. As your adrenaline starts pumping, your mind starts envisioning every possible outcome of this experience. At the end of one of my first pushes I told the midwife I was scared, and that I wanted her to be honest with me if my pushes were helpful or not.

She told me that the most amazing blessing lied on the other side of 10 seconds of bravery.

By God, was she right and 12 minutes later, my daughter entered the world. I remember when the dump of serotonin happened I started shaking and felt completely beautiful. I told my husband and my nurse that I felt so powerful, how I imagine someone who just ran a marathon to feel.

Fast forward to about a month later, my husband and I had to have one of the toughest decisions of our relationship. I wanted to go back offshore and finish my contract up until I was tenured with the company I worked for. Me going back offshore would be at 6 weeks post partum, and meant that I would be without my husband or daughter for 3 weeks. That also meant that my daughter would have to be at my mother’s house for 3 weeks so that we both could work and that my husband would be without us as well. I pumped and prepared for this, but the morning it came to leave, my husband and I cried and cried.

I can’t tell you how painful that morning was. I remember going to the heliport and getting out of the car and just thinking, “10 seconds. Just focus on the 10 seconds of bravery.” I had kept a brave face the entire day, until I heard the helicopter wheels come up and we were over water that I could not stop crying. I knew my life would be forever changed. I wanted to quit a million times over, but because I pushed through the blessings my family has been able to enjoy have been well worth it. My daughter will grow up and never remember me shipping out. I know that this experience speaks more to my character and a true test of my marriage.

My point being, since that moment in the hospital I remember what the midwife told me and apply it to my life every day. You can do anything for 10 seconds, even when completely terrified, exhausted and when everything in your body says you can’t. You are so much more powerful than you even know. When I was little and got upset, my mother used to have my count to 10. My daughter is not even 2 and she can count to 10. Those 10 seconds in your life will define who you are and what blessings come into your life. So chose bravery, chose for 10 seconds to believe within yourself.

Lesson #10:

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I mentioned previously all the terrible advice we were told as young newlyweds. I very much believe that when you get married, you become champions of other marriages. Pay attention to who you surround yourself with and what energy they are giving your marriage. Venting is necessary, but those friends who just say “you don’t deserve that” can get in your head. Those toxic friends are oftentimes why you don’t share the conflict with anyone, because you feel as if everyone tries to convince you to leave. If you ever need an ear to just vent, I am there – but just so if you’re looking for a friend to convince you to divorce him, I’m not the one.

My best friend’s mother, Julie, is one of my favorite people in the entire world. Julie is the closest I will ever be to meeting a real life Mary Poppins. She is someone who is so strong but full of such wisdom and poise, I could spend hours just listening to her. Julie married her high school sweetheart 30 years ago and they could not be any more opposite. Her husband, Mike, loves his tattoos and loud KISS music and motorcycle whereas Julie is so put together, loves her elephants and antiques. Of course I invited Julie to my bridal shower and I was dying to talk to her more one on one about marriage.

Towards the end of the bridal shower I was able to sneak off and talk to Julie and she imparted some of the most interesting wisdom that I needed to hear. I asked her, through 30 years of marriage what was something she would recommend I do to keep a happy marriage. Her answer? She explained to me that there are many different sides of people. Who I am around my family is not the same as who I am around my friends or my spouse. She said in the beginning of her marriage she wanted to be everything to Mike and it ended up causing an issue down the road. If you take on the burden of being the wife, caregiver and best friend, when there is a conflict in the marriage it leaves the other person feeling lost and alone. It also puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on me to be everything all at once. She told me to encourage my husband to spend guy time and for me to take time separately with girl friends as well. Absence truly makes the heart grow fonder and when you are happier, you are a better spouse. For someone who loved to spend every waking moment with my husband, I really thought about this piece of wisdom and wanted to share it with you!

If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you I am always pushing for a guy’s night and vice versa. A couple years ago, I told my husband I wanted to go to New Orleans with my best friend and he all but booked my ticket for me to go. We completely agree with Julie. If you haven’t had a girl’s night or a guy’s night out – call a friend and go enjoy! Trust me you’ll be a better spouse because of it. What do you think?

Lesson #9:

Grace is forgiveness that is not deserved

The ability to hold a grudge is not a characteristic I claim very proudly. It is without a doubt that it is an inherited trait, but one that I work diligently to be able to compensate for. My husband will tell you that my superpower is the ability to go “ice queen” on anyone in my life. What he means is that if I feel that someone has done me wrong or hurt my feelings, I have the ability to just shut down and shut off. I go completely numb and do not move forward until I am done processing and on my own time. That means no amount of apologies will make me change my mind – it has to be my own decision. While he lovingly jokes about my similarities to Queen Elsa, there is a lot of truth in it. In a fight or flight situation, I will chose flight every single time. I think my “ice queen” abilities is just a defense mechanism I had developed as a child that allowed me to turn off my emotions and become numb. 2015 was time for me to “Let it go” though. No pun intended.

I carried a lot of my hurt and anger for years towards people. People that I know were probably not missing my involvement in their life or giving me a second thought. The anger that comes with going numb can consume you to where it affects your every day life. In college I was a much different person than I am now and that is largely because I feel this overwhelming sense of numbness towards a lot of situations I had encountered. New Years Eve 2015 my husband and I sat around a fire in our backyard and talked about any resolutions we wanted to focus on and mine was that I just wanted to let go of all the “ice” I had been carrying around. I felt like I was carrying this heavy load.

Like I said, holding a grudge is a characteristic that I own about myself. So while this resolution sounded like something I could “poof” and make happen, it was very much a journey for me to overcome. At first I thought that in order to forgive, I had to confront the very people that I had suffered from. In the process of this journey I realized that to forgive someone, unlike what they taught you in grade school, wasn’t something that I needed to tell the person. I did not have to say “I forgive you” or wait for an apology. I needed to be able to release that anger within myself and come to peace with the hurt that I had experienced.

That meant I needed to extend a lot of grace. Grace meaning the forgiveness that people might not be deserving of and to extend grace released my ownership of the pain. There is comfort in knowing that you are forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it. Oftentimes when we talk about forgiveness we think that relieves someone the responsibilities of their actions, but what grace does is acknowledge that they are at fault, and that it is no longer a burden for me to bear. Grace is marriage is something I am looking at talking about more, so hang on for a future post.

I say this because everyone has pain and hurt they carry around with them every day. The release and freedom that comes when you extend grace is directly related to happiness. You know I want you to be happy. I want you to forgive whatever it is in your heart that is holding you back, whatever is causing you to feel like you are carrying a burden, let it go. You don’t need to call up your father and say “I forgive you for…” or call up your ex-boyfriend and tell him “I accept your apology” but what you DO need to is forgive them in your heart and release that energy back into the world.

I want you to write down names of people or situations you have yet to heal from. You don’t have to go in detail, and if the sight of their name makes you cringe then just do initials, but throw that in the fire. Maybe literally or figuratively but let the ice that is your burden thaw and extend grace to people who do not deserve it. We’ve done a fire in our backyard every single New Years Eve since then as a good reminder of how I want to start my year.

Lesson #8:

Happiness is not yellow, it’s blue

For more information: Reach out to Jackie Dawson at Totem Butterfly at http://www.totembutterfly.com

I feel that most people think about happiness as a feeling that is burst out of your chest, where your cheeks hurt from smiling so much and you feel so carefree. The feeling like you could walk on water and fly. It is effortless and easy. Even though the smiley faces we have become so familiar with are yellow, I have learned that happiness is actually blue. I want to challenge this way of thinking because I think it is creating an unrealistic expectation for happiness. I have been through a lot of pain in my life time, and I am sure I am not alone. Maybe you have gone through some pain yourself and feel like you are never going to get to that bright yellow smiley face again.

Last summer, I lied in the hammock as my husband, daughter and our dog played in the kiddie pool on a hot day. I looked at my family in front of me and felt so grateful. So grateful for the heat of the sun on my face, the laughter of my family in the background, the cool breeze rocking back and forth on the hammock brought and for the house that stood for all of the hours we sacrificed for this moment. I closed my eyes and just tried my best to take a mental picture and never wanting to forget this feeling. I was happy. Not in a burst out of my chest, felt like I could fly sort of way, but in an intense amount of peace that I felt in the moment. I realized that happiness is not yellow, it’s blue. It is the calming peace that consumes you. I think if we have a more realistic view of happiness, the pressure on chasing after the yellow smiley face is a lot more obtainable.

When we connect happiness with a feeling of gratitude it becomes a choice which can be scary for many people. Sometimes we associate happiness with something that happens TO us rather than something WE cultivate within ourselves. That means that if we are unhappy we have to confront an uncomfortable part of ourselves. If you turn on the television or listen to the radio, all too often we are consumed that happiness is a certain tax bracket or social status, when it is those people that are hurting the most. Last year I felt like I was on a bicycle headed down hill and I had lost control of the pedals. Do you remember the overwhelming panic that you feel and just have to hold on? It sounds cliché, but I really felt like I had no control on what was going on in my life and had a very “what else can happen” attitude.

In October I decided to participate in my friend Jackie Dawson’, Totem Butterfly 10 days of gratitude. In this, she had us fill out what would seem to be a daily journal of questions about ourselves, our fears, and finally listing things we were grateful for that day. I did a lot of self growth in that month. At first my gratitude’s would be very broad like “I’m grateful for my husband, my daughter, my dog, my job and my car.” Honestly, at first it felt forced to look around and find anything in my life I was grateful for. After doing this daily for a month, I found myself writing things like “I am grateful for my dining room table that has hosted many holidays, coloring projects, financial planning and arguments that lead to forgiveness.” The gratitude journals were not something we had to share with Jackie, if we didn’t want to but just getting in the habit of seeing the world through a different lens, lead to so much happiness.

When you think of your “happy place” where do you think of? Most people I have asked this say something to the effect of near the water or someplace outdoors. I think if you would have asked me 5 years ago I would have said the same thing. I love being on the water and always have. I have such an appreciation for the power of the waves, and the beauty of a calm day. Leave where your “happy place” is below! If you’re interested in transforming your soul and taking the first step to happiness through gratitude, check out Totem Butterfly. This isn’t a sponsorship, I just really loved how this transformed the way I saw my life.

Lesson #7:

Cinderella was right

I am shamelessly addicted to watching criminal suspense documentaries/series on streaming services. In one of our recent conversations, my best friend and I were talking about why we love it so much and I came to the realization that I am always actively searching for what predators know about me, that I don’t even know. In a strange way, I think if I learn something then I will be less likely to become prey. Let me explain, if you’ve ever seen “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” there is a line in the movie that has stuck with me for years. Martin says to Mikael, “it’s hard to believe that the fear of offending can be stronger than the fear of pain. You know what? It is. And they always come willingly.” I have only seen the movie once (it was hard for me to watch – beware!), but I remember those words because I started to frantically search through painful memories for all the times that my fear of pain had been overridden and came to the harsh realization that this was true. How could predators know more about me, than I noticed about myself?

Women were gifted with intuition and it is something that I very strictly try to follow in my life. When I say intuition, I am referring to my ability as a woman, to be able to assess a situation without knowing all of the answers and details. Before logic is ever entered into my brain, I already have an unexplainable reasoning for why I feel a certain way. I try to foster that within my daughter in the small ways that I can. Oftentimes our fear of pain stems from not trusting the person we are around. Last year she did not feel comfortable sitting on Santa’s lap and I did not force her to take the traditional crying baby photo. We walked up as close as she felt comfortable to Santa and she watching him as he spoke with other children. She was doing her own assessment of the situation; I never want her to override her fear of pain for fear of offending someone. You will never find me forcing her to hug or touch a family member (I always offer a high five alternative) because I want her to be able to trust her gut of who she can feel comfortable around.

Then there are other people who are just simply amazing like my sister, Samantha. Samantha has this amazing gift where she can feel people’s energy (stay with me, I promise it’s not all hippy dippy). You could have a beaming smile, come skipping into the house and she is able to pick up on your energy and will know if you’re scared, overwhelmed, frustrated all without saying a word. I hope it’s a trait she trusts as she grows older.

I bring this up, because I have found that time sin my life that I have gotten into the most trouble is because I went against my fear of pain. I didn’t want to offend the guy at the club that was getting overly touchy with me even though I was afraid he was going to hurt me if I asked him to stop. When the stranger came up at the gas station to talk to me and ask for money, I gave them money so they wouldn’t be offended if I just walked away. Because of this, I have a very strict 2:00am rule. If you know me in real life you know how strict I am with this rule. My close friends will joke that I turn into a pumpkin, like Cinderella, at 2:00am and vanish.

A couple years ago I went to Nashville to work on a certification for a week. That Friday night, everyone decided they would go out to Broadway Street to celebrate. Drinks were flowing, great country music was playing and like Cinderella, I looked down at my watch and saw it was 1:50am. I just left the bar, and did not tell any of the strangers in my class where I was going and then I was leaving. I know how irresponsible that sounds, I just felt safer leaving then going back into the bar and potentially stalling my steadfast “nothing good happens after 2:00am” rule.

I say this because I care about you, and through personal experience I can tell you that setting boundaries for yourself is healthy. Especially for my women reading this, think about the times in your life where you have put yourself in a compromising situation – do you find any truth in our human reaction not wanting to offend someone overrides our animal instinct fear of pain?

Lesson #6:

Comparison is the thief of Joy

I am writing this blog post, because this has been on my heart this weekend. It’s undeniable that we compare our love life, career path and financial status to people every single day. In a world of social media, how can you not? I want to write this to my husband who struggled with this recently. He had read on social media that a few of his friends were going out to a local brewery and my husband was not one of the men invited. As he told me about the get together that was going on, I could see that it bothered him. It really bothered him. We took a shower together, and the entire time he kept asking me “when did I become unfun?” My husband is a lot of fun, and he knows how to make even the most mundane tasks a party, so I know this is not the case. I told him that maybe they assumed he would say no? Maybe they had all planned this when he wasn’t around? But I could tell that it still bothered him. He started comparing where he was in life to his friends and it stole his joy. He spent the remainder of the night and into the next day really hung up on it. No matter how much I tried to talk him out of this comparison, it seemed to sink him farther and farther into self-doubt. I know he would not change our life for anything in the world and I also know that he loves our daughter, but when we see our friends going out and partying without us – it can hurt, right? There have been other times in our marriage where he compared our apartment, car, job title etc. to his friends and somehow felt less than or feeling pity for himself.

When I worked in the Gulf, I used to get these “envy bugs” occasionally. We would get a big bonus at work and I would see photos on social media of people’s side by sides and extravagant vacations meanwhile I was using these big bonuses to pay off our student loans. It felt like I wasn’t “adulting” correctly and I remember calling up my husband and telling him how I was feeling. He would remind me that we had a common goal that we were working on and that we don’t know what other people’s living situations are. We can only control our own and focusing on our future. He was absolutely right and I would get over myself. When the downturn of the oilfield came, I saw a lot of pain from those same people who I thought were living the best life. See, people only show you what they want you to see so when you compare yourself to someone’s filtered self you aren’t getting an accurate representation of the pain they are pushing through. I do not write these Life Lessons as a showcase of how perfect my life is, and in fact I want it to be very much the opposite. I want it to be a warning to anyone who is reading of lessons I have learned the hard way. My life is not perfect and that’s why I write this, in fact my life is all sorts of chaos which is why I feel like I am even more qualified to write.

On Sunday’s we spend a meal with my in-laws traditionally and this weekend we got BBQ at a local restaurant for lunch. My daughter is 1 year old and has no concept of personal space and is innocently curious; there was a little girl, named Charlotte, at the restaurant just a few months older than my daughter that she decided she wanted to play with. They played in that restaurant for the better part of 30 minutes until I had to (quite literally) drag her out. Charlotte’s parents gave me their business cards (why had I not thought of that before!) and said if we wanted to have a play date to contact them. We went out to ice cream later and there was another little girl there around my daughter’s age. My daughter approached this little girl who wanted nothing to do with her. The little girl just stared at my daughter and my daughter tried to be silly and tried to sit next to her. It did not hurt her feelings to not have the little girl run around with her, she returned to our table without a care in the world. She did not see herself as inadequate just because someone else did not want to play.

I want you to know that I see how strong you are handling the burden that you are going through. You are so loved and cherished that I hope you do not let any comparison steal your joy today. I hope you remain authentic to your struggle and your story and share it with those who need to know they are not alone.  I hope you know deep down of who you are and are steadfast in your worth.