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

I’m done being a Relationship Chameleon.

As seen in elephant journal:

I looked at my phone and read the messages full of blame thrown in my direction.

I immediately noticed that the man writing the words was demonstrating a total lack of accountability. In that moment, I knew it was over and I shouldn’t spend any time looking back.

I could no longer see him for who he once was to me—a gentle, sweet, soulful man who seemed to find such promise in my love for him. In that moment, I forgot the feeling I had only months prior when I gazed into his eyes, believing with my whole heart that he would be looking back at me for years to come as our children grew and our bodies aged.

I realized then that the fairytale never actually starts in Chapter One. Chapter One is easy. Chapter One is the start of every love story. It is the touching of fingertips across a restaurant table. It is dressing up when all you’re doing is meeting for coffee. It is nice pajamas, matching underwear and bras, and shaving your legs every day.

I yearn for the chapters beyond One.

Chapters where vulnerable moments are not met with the slamming of doors or the projection of insults or threats.

Chapters where I am met with eyes that are concerned and sincere when I talk about my fears, not those of someone with one foot out the door.

Chapters where the restaurant table becomes a bedside table where coffee is waiting while I’m in the sweatpants I still have from the eighth grade basketball team, riddled with holes.

Chapters where life is spent discussing illnesses, money problems, the death of parents, and the problematic behaviors of teenagers.

Chapters where we have small arguments over who is stopping at the grocery store for milk.

On the bookshelf of my life, there are many short stories—a few that ended before Chapter Two even began. Several that seemed to stop just when things were getting good. One where the pages were torn out because the story wasn’t worth remembering or re-reading. One a compilation of so many starts and stops that the reader is left dizzy as they try to determine where in the world the story is actually going.

These stories all star the same protagonist, but you would never really know it from the way these tales are told. I tend to disappear into the setting, hiding pieces of myself in order to fit into the plot.

I am a master of camouflage. I even pretended in one story to be okay with the lack of chemistry and physical attraction because I doubted I could do any better. I allowed myself to be repeatedly placed on hold while my co-star went off in search of a suitable replacement, only to return to me.

I always let him come back.

I’d believed the other characters’ opinions of me—nothing more than a waitress, chubby, ugly, simple, in need of a makeover, insecure, damaged, broken, overly sensitive, abnormal, a f*cking weirdo.

Each book has a different binding, a different length—but their beginnings and endings are strikingly similar. Girl meets boy, boy leaves girl.

With a simple stroke of my pen, I write “The End” on the last page of the latest volume and place it on the shelf. I turn to walk away, knowing it might be some time before another story is written. I bow my head in reflection, but suddenly stop in my tracks and turn around again.

I glance at the bindings, confused. I know I am the subject of these stories, but I notice for the first time that not once have I been the author. The names staring back at me on the bindings are the names of those I gave my heart to, not the name of the woman who was giving the love.

How in the world could I have allowed my stories to be written without using my own voice?

Where are the pages describing my love of music and literature? The number of nights spent praying? The cards sent, the letters written, the cookies and muffins baked?

Where are the starry nights at ballparks or on beaches, smelling the ocean and kicking up sand? Gone are the pages recalling sacrifices made as a mother all while maintaining a sense of humor, a blossoming career, meaningful friendships, and an enviable wardrobe.

The story about my heart, missing. The story about my bravery, missing. The story about my faith, missing. The story about my capacity to care, to remember birthdays, anniversaries. To know your love for Friday the 13th and the day you put your beloved pet to sleep, all missing.

It was then that I realized why the stories ended the way they did. Because I was only ever a character, never the author, the stories weren’t really my own to begin with. One by one, against my will, they are taken off the shelf and tossed. They are buried or burned. They are stowed away, never to be read or told again.

Not because I am ashamed of them or because they are historically inaccurate. Not because I wasn’t a willing participant in the moments shared with these characters. And definitely not because I believe I am meant to remain in quiet, unaccompanied solitude in which I never allow anyone else to grace the pages or chapters of my life.

It’s just that without being the author of our own story, chapters beyond One could never develop as they should.

We must love and honor ourselves enough to pay attention when something inside is calling to us and telling us to reclaim our power as our own storyteller. When life is chronicled from our own lovely perspective and with the true acceptance of who we are and what we have to offer, the Table of Contents is built authentically. It’s only then that Chapters Two, Three, Four and beyond can be written and evolve into stories for the ages.

We must believe we are capable of being that protagonist with the knowledge that when we are able to truly trust ourselves to write our own fairytales, it is then that the supporting character intended to walk through life with us will appear—and stay.

Knowing this, after so many failed attempts at letting others try to write my story, I pick up my pen and open to a blank page.

Author: Jenny Roman
Editor: Callie Rushton

Two Homes

They say that two is better than one.  I sometimes agree… two beers after a long day taste better than just one.  A two song encore is better than the stage going dark after only one.  A two day trip home to Ohio is better than a one-day cameo any day.xtwo-homes.jpg.pagespeed.ic.hyRxHq5oal  But in other areas, I love one.  Who wouldn’t prefer a one-hour layover over two?  I love being in a meaningful relationship with one person much more than dating two men.  And as much as I love happy hour with a couple of girlfriends, I revel in lengthy phone conversations with that one friend who is perfect for you in that moment of need.

Sometimes, there are circumstances in life where one becomes two and while you may have always known, as I did in my situation,  it was a possibility, knowledge doesn’t always appropriately prepare you for impact.  Our transition to life in CT at the end of last summer was refreshingly smooth at its onset.  Sam seemed to easily gel to life in two houses.  In the beginning only I really struggled, but my own circumstances changed in the winter and that led to me not only relaxing and easing into our separations, but (gasp!) enjoying the adult time I was growing accustomed to.  Yes, I felt guilty about this.  But the guilt didn’t come from anyone telling me I should feel guilty because I was enjoying my life, but in evidence revealing that Sam’s adjustment to two houses was going in the opposite direction.  Instead of becoming more comfortable with life lived in both Shelton and Milford, the confusion grew.  The resistance grew.  And it’s growing.  And I am clueless here.  I am heartbroken to hear a little voice that says from the backseat, “I don’t want to go to Daddy’s house anymore.  I want to be with you all the time.”  I am totally down with the fact that I’m dealing with a 3 year-old whose opinions and feelings change like the weather. Regardless, he struggles to understand that no, I’m not going to be at Daddy’s house when he gets there after school on Tuesday.  Or this coming weekend when his nana is in for a visit.  I am the biggest cheerleader I can be – I tell him how awesome it will be to spend time with his sister and his new kitty.  I remind him of the super cool swing-set waiting for him in the backyard.  And I tell him that Daddy and only Daddy can magically throw a ball on the roof and have the roof ghost throw it back to him.  It settles… for 5 minutes and then it’s repeated – “Mommy, can you come to Daddy’s house?”

There are books.  There are message boards.  There are articles and Facebook posts by others who’ve gone through similar things.  But in the end, you are trying to create a seamless transition for a person too small to understand anything more than that they are no longer with their mom every day and in those every day days that spanned his first two and a half years, Sam and Mommy went through so much together.  RSV and bronchiolitis hospitalizations and roseola outbreaks.  Milk allergies with exploding diapers.  First steps, haircuts and that time he propelled himself out of his crib but somehow landed square on his butt.  A plastic swimming pool in the little backyard for hot afternoons followed by a walk over a hill to the best playground a little boy could ask for.  Sunday drives to Papa and Bebe’s house for donuts and playtime with cousins.  Thursday night dinners and wine nights with our friends.  It was two and half years of just Sam and Mommy.  It’s quite possible that I am trying to hang onto that life more for my own sake than his because it was so good.  It was challenging but cathartic because it showed me I was capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. Making this huge move has still shown me that I have strength, but it has also shown me how little I can really control and that’s probably why I am struggling with this.  I don’t know the answers.  I don’t know how to make him feel more comfortable.  I can only promise him that we will, even in two homes, find our way, baby boy…

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

You Do What You Have To Do

I forgot to wash the dishes this morning.

As I was standing in the bathroom curling my hair and thinking about what Sam would have for lunch today, it dawned on me that I had completely forgotten to wash his cups and containers and would have to do so or pull out new ones in the short time he wolfs down breakfast.   This isn’t a tragedy and if this was my greatest challenge today, it was a pretty good day.  Until I realized why I forgot to wash the dishes this morning.

Gannon wasn’t there with me.

It was our daily routine.  Gannon could sense I was waking up before I opened my eyes.  I would hear him stand up in his bed, shake himself and walk over to my side of the bed and begin his wake-up call.  I would ask for more time, but I never got it… I’d find my glasses, zip up the sweatshirt and downstairs we went.  He’d go out the back door and I’d fill his water bowl, his food bowl, pull out a treat and change the faucet from cold to hot.  I’d look over the bar and he would be sitting patiently waiting for me at the door.  I let him in, gave him his treat and begin the ritual of washing Sam’s cups, plates and school lunch containers from the previous day as Gannon lay at my feet.  And off with the rest of the morning we went… in recent months, Gannon would wait to hear if Sam was also awake and would run to Sam’s door ahead of me, wanting to greet his brother and start his day.  Which is why I’m even more troubled by the aggression and fear he showed towards Sam at other times and in other ways.  It doesn’t make sense that a dog who for four years showed me love and affection like none I had ever known could be so afraid of this little boy who just wanted to be his friend.

I had such dreams of my boys growing up together, even though Gannon was 10 and wouldn’t be around forever.  I could see Sam throwing Gannon a tennis ball, laying with him on a blanket to watch TV and feeding him his dinner.  The beginning of their brotherhood was sweet – I can still vividly recall the day my dad brought Gannon home after Sam was born.  I held my breath… would Gannon bark?  Would he be curious or frightened?  Would he fall in love?  He ran into my bedroom where I held a week-old Sam and immediately jumped on the bed, licked his brother on the cheek and laid down with us… a sigh of relief.

The following months were a mixed bag and once Sam became mobile, life became a constant state of management in our home.  Gannon cried and begged for food and sat at the foot of Sam’s highchair like a seal waiting for fish.  He began to show his teeth to Sam and growl, putting me on edge.  I read the books and listened to the experts who told me that Gannon could sense my energy and if I continued to operate from a place of fear, then Gannon’s behavior would worsen.  I tried patience.  I tried gates.  I tried rewards and encouragement, but in my worst moments, my frustration got the better of me and I became angry with Gannon in a way I didn’t know was possible.  I wanted him to love Sam.  I wanted him to snuggle with Sam.  I wanted him to kiss Sam.  All Gannon wanted was his mom back.  He didn’t want to share and didn’t know how… and in the end, the fear won out and left a little boy with a bruised face and a mother whose heart is completely broken because of the outcome.

Gannon tore his ACL in April while playing in my parents’ yard.  It took a few months, but just before his passing, he was completely healed and walking on all surfaces with all 4 legs.  On Monday, as my dad and I walked him into the vet’s office, he slipped going up the steps and tore his other ACL.  This dog, an amazing snuggler who had the ability at 35 pounds to take up 75% of a queen size bed, would never in four years sit on my lap.  I tried again and again but his growls told me it wasn’t a good idea.  On Monday after re-injuring himself, I was able to pick Gannon up and hold him like a baby for the first time since he became mine.  I sat in that waiting room, weeping openly, apologizing to him profusely, and promising this little miracle of mine that better things were ahead of him.  A heaven where he no longer would live in fear, and would never be second best.  A place where all you can eat buffets are customary and walks can be as long and pathless as you want them to be because there is no stroller in charge.   He never looked away from me and breathed slowly and peacefully in my arms until he was gone.

Gannon, I’m so sorry.  I know the pain is fresh and I know I will feel better.  I wish I could have made everything work for all 3 of us.  I wish I could have given you more years.  I wish I had been better with you the last 6 months… I love you, my sweet Gannon.  I will see you again.


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Listen (Un)Like Thieves

When you’re in a deep conversation with a trusted friend or confidant, are you aching to share your story?  Are you sitting there idling like a car at the starting line of a race just waiting for them to finish their thoughts so you can tell them what you did in a similar situation, at a similar time, when something similar happened to you?

Did they ask you to share?

Did they ask for advice?

Did they tell you they wanted to know what you did and why?

I have come to realize over the last year or so that the following words can cause more harm than good when we support our friends and loved ones… “I know how you feel.”  In the game of life, we are all different people with different experiences and circumstances and the likelihood that I have gone through a scenario in the exact same way as another person is pretty close to impossible.  I have also realized that by taking the words of a friend and trying to relate their story to something in my life, I’m taking the focus off of them in their time of need.  So, I try to use these words instead:

“I can’t imagine how you’re feeling or what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.”

“You’re beautiful and wonderful and no matter what you’re going through, this will never change.”

“I am praying for you each and every day and with those prayers comes all the love in the world.”

“You’re ridiculously good-looking, hilarious and the best friend a girl could ever ask for.  I’m honored you trust me enough to share.”

At times, the greatest gift we can give is something that costs nothing and doesn’t need to be acknowledged.  It is our very presence.  An open ear, a calm heart and a warm hug.  Sometimes, being there is just enough.