This is Ruining Our Summer Vacations More than Ever Before.

As published in Elephant Journal:

How to make the out-of-office reply your friend:

Recently, I stood in a lovely condo in Southeast Florida around 8:00 in the morning as my son was eating and my parents and I were getting ready for a day on the beach.

In that moment of perceived relaxation, I almost had a full-blown panic attack as I looked at my iPad and saw the emails rolling in.

Questions—that could best be answered by me, but were being handled by others because I wasn’t responding—filled the screen and anxiety filled my brain. My heart started to race as I sat down to type, with the hope that my answers would be sufficient enough to not bring on follow-up questions. My pulse sped up as, within moments, an additional “ping” filled the air, mixing with the sound of breaking waves.

Then, my son asked me a question and I still regret the tone of my voice as I answered, “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?”

Ask me how many memories I have of being on vacation with my parents when I was a child, and watching their heads buried in their phones. The answer is zero. I have zero such memories. I know that history is on their side, as when I was a child in the mid-80s, the only person with a phone on the beach was Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”

I can’t tell you how many times I wonder if my son is going to grow up with memories of the top of my head instead of my eyes. But I kind of already know the answer. At school, he prepared a lovely All About My Mommy book for Mother’s Day.

Here are a few of the highlights:

“She likes to work.”
“My mom is as smart as work.”
“My mom is as busy as working.”
“I love my mom because she works so hard at work.”

I love to work. There, I said it. I like my job and the people I work with. I like creating training modules and writing contracts. I like contributing to an organization that is trying to help others better their lives, and I can freely admit that I would make a terrible stay-at-home parent.

Regardless, the last time I checked, the show can absolutely go on without me.

Here are some tips I’m going to remember the next time I turn on that out-of-office message in my email. I hope they help you too, if, like me, you are worried that work can’t work without you:

1. You can’t get fired for using vacation time that you’ve earned. I don’t care if you don’t respond to one voicemail or email while you’re gone. If you are on approved time off, you should not be receiving a “Dear John” letter upon your return.

2. The work will get done when you get back. It will be waiting for you, and it will get done. After my last vacation, I returned to work and guess what? I answered every email and returned every call. It got done.

3. A “heads up” can serve you well. Send a message to your regular contacts in advance of your time away and let them know you’ll be gone and that you will not be responding. You deserve these boundaries and the people you’re vacationing with do, too.

4. Remember how you treat those you work with when they’re on vacation. If you’re like me, you want them to enjoy their time away. They want the same for you.

5. You’re just not that important. This isn’t harmful self-deprecating talk here. This is the truth. This is a solid reminder that life (and work) goes on, but that your children will not always be small and will never again have their first convertible ride in a red Camaro along A1A. Be here now. That’s where you matter.

May vacation time be the time you dreamt it to be when you spent hours picking the beach where you would leave your footprints, the mountain you would climb, or the music festival where you would high five strangers from all 50 states.

You deserve it.

Author: Jenny Roman
Editor: Catherine Monkman

True Love Is Watching Someone Die.

As seen in elephant journal:

We come into this world as a bolt of lightning.

Screaming and red-faced as we announce we’ve arrived. The elation of that hospital room, bedroom, or bathroom is at a peak—something not often re-experienced as we move through our lives.

We grow until we start shrinking. We build memories until we start forgetting. We raise children until they move out of the house and their bedrooms are overtaken with scrapbooks and toys getting dusty in between visits from grandchildren. We build 401ks and IRAs until we need to withdraw from them. We trade in our four bedroom colonials for townhouses in a 55+ community where we do aerobics with the gals or play shuffleboard with the gents. We walk until we need a wheelchair. We cook until we rely on Meals on Wheels or a visiting angel. We get up to use the bathroom several times a night until we finally surrender to a bedpan or catheter.

Our hearts beat until one day, they stop.

If we are lucky, we will live a grand life and succumb to the “great beyond” at an old age. If a different path is chosen for us, we may not reach our time of gray hair or ear hair.

Oftentimes, not much thought or conversation occurs as the years pass by. We should really start building a plan for how we want to be cared for when the time comes that we can no longer manage ourselves.

Caring for the young is tiring, but babies are cute and need us to survive. Our feelings about being caretakers change when the ones we’re responsible for are our parents, grandparents, elderly neighbors, or friends. Something about the obligation of wiping the chin of a 90-year-old slurping soup just doesn’t feel the same as a toothy nine-month-old needing the same assistance.

In the former scenario, we may think of our own schedules and demands; how we have other things to do and people to take care of. These circumstances can lead to decisions where instead of allowing the ones who gave us life to end theirs peacefully, in the comfort of their homes, we hire others to take care of them, simply because there is not enough time or hands to do so without outside help.

I have seen the last moments before death—they are haunting, but beautiful.

There is a sense of serenity and peace that is void from so much of our busy lives. Passing over comes with a certain aura around the person, almost like they are bathed in their own departure. Depending on their clarity and means, those preparing to die may want us to just talk, sit, and laugh with them.

I laughed with my dying friend, 43 years old and leaving behind a beautiful wife and toddler, as my own baby sat on his bed in a bright green onesie and stole fruit from his bowl. I laughed hearing stories about my 91-year-old grandfather who saw visions of long-passed pets and relatives. He told my family to take care of my grandmother because she was “trouble.”

It was difficult to muster a laugh when I saw that same man 24 hours before he left the Earth. Once strong and capable, he was shrunken into a shell of himself, laying incoherently in a portable hospital bed. I could smile because my grandmother, parents, and siblings gave him the chance to end his life at home on his own terms.

Their efforts opened my mind to seeing the process of death in a much different way. They made me realize that honoring those who paved our way to die with dignity and comfort means so much more than personal agendas or inconveniences.

I know it isn’t always possible. I know that family circumstances sometimes don’t allow this to happen for many understandable reasons. But I hope when it’s my own parents—and honestly, when it’s me—that the chance is given. If I live out as many years as I hope to, when the moment comes, I hope it’s in a familiar place with people who mean the world to me. I hope my son can tell his children the story of my death because he was there, not because someone from the nursing home called to tell him I have passed.

Regardless of whether or not you’re contemplating the best source of care for yourself or a member of your family, I encourage you to spend time with the dying.

Sit with them and listen to their stories, their lessons, and their regrets. Watch their faces light up as they recall the moments they met the loves of their lives, or the births of their first children. Listen to their advice about pyramid schemes, whether or not you really need that fancy car to be happy, or the best place they’ve ever watched a sunset. Ask them what they would do differently and what they wouldn’t change.

At all points in our lives, we’re seeking relevancy. We want to matter and we want to touch others, even in moments when we may believe we have little to actually offer.

Giving someone who is about to leave the physical world an opportunity to matter will stay with you long after they are gone.

To be in the company of a child entering the world is breathtaking; to be in the company of someone about to leave it is humbling.

To experience both is to be blessed.

Author: Jenny Roman
Editor: Danielle Beutell

I Am Every Mama.

As seen in elephant journal:

You don’t think I see you, Mama…

Standing at the car door, watching your baby walk into the building—venturing into preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school alone, as you get ready to go about the rest of your day, your mind whirling in thought: Did I pack a good lunch? Are those pants too short? Am I smart enough to actually understand their homework, let alone help them with it?

I see you as you pull your baseball cap down over your hair because there just wasn’t enough time for a shower. I see you write “Wash Me” onto the back window of your minivan with a smile. I see you get into your car and drive away, with the day at home or at work ahead of you.

You think you are invisible. You don’t think I see how hard it is to let them go into the day without you. You think I can’t see the break in your heart knowing that they’re getting picked up later by Daddy, and you won’t see them for 48 hours. You don’t think I notice as your brow furrows with the knowledge that you have so much left to do in your day: Clean, cook, organize, work, fill out permission slips. Oh yeah, and shower.

But I see you.

I see every single piece of you.

Because I am you.

I feel these highs and lows, the laughter that turns into tears as I pray ever-so-silently that these moments don’t go unnoticed or unremembered. This isn’t a social-media-post moment, but an imprint-on-my-heart moment.

The way my little boy smiles when he tells me that I’m the best mom ever in the history of the whole entire world. The way he cheers for my favorite baseball team like he’s their only fan. The way he sticks his finger in the muffin batter, brings it to his mouth to taste test, and then kisses me with banana lips.

I am you.

I am every mama.

I am a birth mother, an adoptive mother, a widowed mother, a stepmother.
I have one child.
I am pregnant with my fourth.
I am Catholic, Buddhist, and Agnostic.
I am a college graduate.
I am about ready to get my GED.
I can braid your hair in three minutes.
I rely on online tutorials in order to figure out how to actually create a fishtail.
I am adorned in tattoos.
I have porcelain, ink-free skin.
I have a garden full of daffodils and tulips, that we pick from lovingly.
I have a thumb as black as a permanent marker.
I make delicious, vegan meals.
I bake cakes full of butter, sugar, milk, and eggs.
I stay at home while you grow.
I leave my babies in the care of others while I work.
I put Pinterest to shame.
I can’t find time to create Halloween treats for school that go beyond a prepackaged candy bar.
I spend my mornings at the yoga studio.
I haven’t worked out in three years.
I have a standing bi-weekly manicure appointment.
I have roots that are at least an inch long.
I am the PTA President.
I couldn’t make it to the talent show because I work late to provide for our family.
I’m in a beautiful marriage.
I can’t remember the last time I was in love.
I read bedtime stories each night.
I send the kids to bed without dinner because of sassy mouths.
I watch CNN and wonder what kind of world we’re creating for the next generation.
I cut the cable cord.
I have regular nights out with my closest friends.
I moved far from home and don’t know anyone.
I take regular vacations.
I am living paycheck to paycheck.
I won’t leave the house in the morning without the beds being made.
I go to bed at night with dishes piled in the sink because I’m too tired to wash them.
I dream of retiring on the beach and waking up to the sounds of the ocean.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop working.

I look at other mothers and feel like they have it all figured out.

I feel depleted of the energy needed to take care of my family, yet somehow find the time to make sure they have everything they need.

I am so hard on myself, never feeling like I am ever going to get it right, and if I do, the feeling doesn’t seem to last very long.

I sometimes think that love and guilt have blended into one colorful emotion, leaving me hopeful and scared all at the same time.

I am doing the best that I possibly can in order to make sure my children have a happy, comfortable, and beautiful life.

I am you.

I am every mama.

Author: Jenny Roman 
Editor: Taia Butler