Life Was ‘Rich’ When I Was Poor

Growing up as an 80’s kid

The most interesting thing about growing up poor is that I didn’t realize I was poor. As long as I had food in my belly and a place to sleep, life was good.

I loved my childhood. My mother was a waitress and my father was a car mechanic. I don’t have many childhood memories of my father because my parents separated when I was five years old. We moved from a trailer in the hood (although I had many tricycles as you can see), to another trailer located in Hollywood, Maryland with my to-be step-dad.

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My step-dad worked in Washington, DC, near the Capitol so he was a bit of a celebrity in my eyes. I had only visited DC once on a school fieldtrip. My friends used to ask me: “Hey, where does your step-dad work?” I’d respond: “He works in Capitol Hill with very important people.” I felt good about my standard response but I’m sure it confused many kids considering we lived in an unflattering trailer. I laugh when I think about that now. My step-dad looked more like a Bounty Hunter than a Capitol Hill employee. Imagine: A trailer in a lonesome field, a big guy living in it who could kick your ass, a German shepherd named “Axel,” and a few beaten down vehicles. Oh yeah, baby.

The trailer was tiny – brown and off-white in color. It wasn’t pretty, certainly nothing to brag about but it was “home.” My bedroom was like a human sweat locker, just big enough to squeeze in a single sized bed and a tiny dresser. Dark brown paneling surrounded me. Didn’t everyone have paneling in the early 80’s? It was hideous yet nothing made me happier than being with my family. I especially adored my little brother, Michael. We didn’t have much but we had love and togetherness. Today, lots of families live in huge homes even though most only use a handful of the rooms. Why do people need all this space?

No one complained there wasn’t central air conditioning or a dishwasher. Nobody whined that there was only one TV console with no remote control. Funny thing is I don’t know how I’d survive today without a remote control. If my remote died in the middle of the day, I’d rather run out to Walmart for new batteries than get up and change the channels.

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Who remembers the TV Guide? It was awesome. I used to sit down and circle every show or movie I wanted to watch. If I missed the opportunity to see a good movie, I might not see it again for another year. That ain’t no joke.

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The Wizard of Oz always left me in “awe.” I didn’t believe dwarves (or little people) were individuals I’d ever see in real life. After all, I did live in a small town. As a kid I felt amazed that TV producers found so many of them for one movie. Am I the only person who thought this way?  🙂 Now, there’s several reality shows starring little people and I love it.  I’m a fan of Little Women LA and The Little Couple.

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Another thing I find thought-provoking is that I didn’t hear sexual or foul language on regular TV channels back then. Today, children can turn on the TV and learn more about life’s vulgarities than I knew of at 25 years old. Actors and reality stars can say “ass,” “dick,” “bitch,” and insult others because it’s considered funny to so many people. I don’t get that? Why? I guess saying “Take a step back, jerk!” isn’t as cool as saying “Take a step back, motherf**ker!” Haha.

I remember the enthusiasm I felt when the fat Sears catalog was delivered around Thanksgiving time. I put my marker to work circling a thousand items I wanted, knowing I’d only get a few of them. But that was okay because just the book alone made me feel happy inside. I loved looking at the many colorful pictures. Who feels that way anymore? There are no catalogs for kids any longer. Now children are on Amazon asking their parents to order them things all year long.

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School days taught me a lot about different cultures. My most influential educator was my 5th Grade Teacher, Ms. Betty Brady. She went above and beyond the typical 5th grade education. She actually cultivated us about life. We wrote poetry and talked about our feelings. We took picnic lunches in the woods, sat in a circle and named positive things we liked about each other. Another cool thing we did was write down our name/address on a piece of paper of which we attached to a balloon. All at once, we released our balloons into the sky hoping someone far away would receive it and become a “pen pal.” A few kids were lucky and it worked! Can anyone imagine doing this now? That’d be like giving a possible child molester your full name and location.

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Hollywood, Maryland was so small that we only had one African American in our class. His name was Jermaine and he was super cool and friendly. I didn’t understand until I was older that racism is something that’s taught by adults to children. It doesn’t naturally exist on its own. We also had one disabled boy in our class. His name was William. I don’t know what condition he had but he wore a sturdy back-brace daily and struggled to walk sometimes. My classmates were helpful and kind to everyone. No one was cruel or obnoxious acting.

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I didn’t have a miraculous wardrobe, and I owned just a few pairs of shoes yet I felt okay with that. None of my buddies made me feel inadequate over it. I’m not sure the same applies in today’s world.

Our elementary school had a special program called “Grand Pals.” It was an incredible experience. Each 5th grader “adopted” two elderly persons living in our local nursing home. Our grand-pals were chosen by drawing names out of a jar. Although I don’t recall their names, I vividly remember who my grand-pals were. One was a blind black man and the other was a disabled veteran (both legs amputated at the knee) who carved wooden ducks as a hobby. I was fascinated by both of these gentlemen. They were so welcoming and kind to me. They shared stories about their lives with me and my letters were posted on their bedroom walls. Those two men will never know how much their wisdom and friendship meant to me. How many elementary kids in this generation can say they’ve had this type of experience?

When I had a school assignment I turned to the Britannica Encyclopedia set in our home. Those books were amazing, filled with color portraits and easy to understand. My parents took out a small loan to buy them. Now, schools basically require you have a computer/Internet at home to research projects and essays. Oh, and a printer.

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In middle and high school, a fight was just that… a fight. A kid worked off his or her aggression, spoke to the assistant principle, then went home for a few days. Today, most schools have cops permanently located within the school “for your safety.” Now a child could be smeared with a criminal record if he/she gets into a fight. Did bullying become worse or was it there yet ignored because social media didn’t exist?

I wrote letters to friends and boyfriends in school. In class or in the hallway, I passed my note to my recipient with a big smile upon my face. Also, back then people wrote addresses down in an actual address book. What have we gained since social media and email began? Swiftness of communication. And for this generation, speed is everything. What have we lost? Closeness, voice contact, the intimate communication of actually knowing what a person is feeling, and that can only come from presence. I don’t know any families that are actually closer as a result of email or social media.

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I remember the enjoyment I felt when my favorite song played on the radio. I owned a stack of 45-records and a few albums.  Then cassette tapes came out.  Major improvement! I discovered new music at a local record store called “Can’t Stop the Music.” I eagerly awaited the release of new albums. There were no piracy issues because people were allowed to record songs straight from the radio.  Imagine that!  Who else thought it was incredibly annoying to play their favorite song on their cassette tape? Fast forward. Stop. Play. Rewind. Fast forward. Stop. Play. God forbid you tried this out with your “Walkman.” It was ridiculous. Now a person can just turn on their iPod and hear their favorite tunes whenever they want. The “thrill” is over.

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House phones: I’m reminded of when “call waiting” first emerged. My friends and I were so excited! I told my girlfriend, Sheri: “Okay, call me at exactly 6 p.m.” Then, I’d have my boyfriend call me at 6:05 p.m. just so I could hear the BEEP and try it out. Mission achieved.

If I met someone I wanted to talk to, we exchanged home phone numbers on a piece of paper. If paper wasn’t available I wrote their number down on the back of my hand. If I wanted to ask a guy out, I didn’t start communicating via texting or IM’ing. I called his house. ‘Ring-ring…riiing-riiing…riiinnngggg-riiiinnnngggg’ (Please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone… please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone…) Then I’d talk to that boy for HOURS on the phone. Time just flew by. What the hell did we actually talk about? Who knows…

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I kept my sanity after breakups because back then there was no way to keep tab on your exes. Then the Internet came. Yikes! “Oh no, girllll… He was tagged in a picture where he’s hanging all over some chick. You gotta see this.”

A 35mm camera was the happening thing but if you were poor, Fujifilm invented the modern disposable camera. When I wanted my film developed, I had to take it to a store, drop it off and wait a few days. There were no do-overs. I photographed what I photographed. If I didn’t like the picture and wanted to redo it, too bad. The moment was gone. It’s printed now. If my eyes were closed, my hair was a mess, I had red-eye… oh well. Now, a smartphone takes better pictures than some digital cameras on the market. Constant do-overs make people appear flawless and it takes away the humor of an ugly photograph.

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Renting a movie was an adventure! I strutted around the movie store looking at all of the boxes of beta/VHS tapes available. I read the covers from front-to-back and glanced at the actors’ fashion statements. I dreamt of becoming a beautiful woman like the many featured on the movie covers. Who remembers “Be Kind. Rewind.”? Haha. A person had to rewind their tape or else the rental store charged a fee. I was sneaky too because I used to wander into the X-Rated room in the back to check out the naughty porn collection. That is how I learned about porn as a kid since there was no internet at our disposal. It scares me that a kid can easily access a porn site without their parents knowing.

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If I wanted to play a video game I went to the arcade armed with pockets full of quarters. I stood at a big boxy thing squeezed in next to a lot of other big boxy things, put in quarters and played the hell out of the games. And then I went home happier and poorer. Now there’s X-Box, PlayStation, games on our phones… you name it… endless entertainment available right at your fingertips.

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I spent my free time outdoors. Nature was my life. As kids, my aunt, Kristi, and I loved playing on the old railroad tracks behind her house. We caught tadpoles and held them in our hands without thinking “ewww….. gross.” I’ll admit I was afraid to hold a frog in my hand because I was told it would give me warts. I must have some kind of wart-fighting-power because I never did get any warts.

We rode in the back of my step-dad’s pick-up truck. There were endless bicycle journeys; Kickball; Tag; Candy cigarettes; Mello Yellow; Starburst; Scraping change from the couch cushions; fruit flavored Chapstick. We used make forts in hollowed bushes and re-hammer rusty nails into makeshift signs or we made mini sailing vessels with old pieces of wood. We flooded the narrow hillside of my yard using a garden hose and like magic, a “flowing river” appeared for my sailing vessel. Speaking of garden hose, I used to drink water straight from it without hesitation. Now, I’d probably need an immunization shot before pulling such a stunt. I was easily amused with a dirt driveway and a few small rocks to carve out Hopscotch blocks.

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On pretty days, we’d try to catch butterflies. This is totally unrelated, but I have a confession. I’m 42 years old yet I’m still haunted by an act of violence I committed once on a butterfly. I saw a wounded butterfly on the ground and instead of putting it out of its misery I took one wing and ripped it off. I have never forgotten that horrible act, as if it were some Jeffrey Dahmer shit or something. I have no idea why I did it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Butterfly. Please forgive me.”  😦

In the evenings, my grandmother gave us old mason jars and we’d run out in the front yard trapping lightning bugs. We poked holes in the metal lids and kept them overnight. I loved how they lit up the room at night. Some of the breathing holes weren’t big enough so many of my lightning bugs suffocated and died as a result.

Come to think of it, I’m starting to feel like a bug murderer… WTH.

Honeysuckle bushes lined the right side of my grandparent’s yard and we picked many of them for a taste of sweetness. Raspberry bushes were located in the woods right beside my house. Kristi and I picked huge bowls of them. It took hours and the chiggers we were totally worth it because the berries were free and delicious in exchange for the labor.

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I roamed the back streets throughout my neighborhood until sunset without concern from my parents. I wore a watch, the only way to tell time – A Swatch Watch.  Now, if a person doesn’t know where their kid is at all times, there is possible cause for panic — and a call to 911 may be in order.

We used yarn for ‘string art’ – ‘Witch’s Broom’ or ‘Cat’s Whiskers’.  Endlessly, we tried to come up with new string tricks.

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I had multiple bundles of colored string of which was used to make friendship bracelets. I pinned the knotted end to a pillow and then braided until it was long enough to fit my wrist.  I loved seeing the final outcome.

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Kristi and I choreographed dance acts to our favorite songs and performed our synced moves in front of our family in the living room. We looked ridiculous but it was fun and it killed time.

Often times, my grandparents took Kristi and I to the flea market and we loved it!  We frequently came home with multicolored rabbit foot key chains. I wouldn’t want one of those now – how depressing… “Let me cut off an innocent rabbit’s foot and color the fur. Children will love this.” Hell, I’d have PETA beating down my door today for owning such a trinket.

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Yard sales were fun. My mom and I used to hit up every yard sale in town. I’d always come home with a cute top or VHS movie. I wasn’t embarrassed to wear hand-me-downs. Before we left our house, we used to scrape up change from all around the house to treat ourselves to McDonald’s after yardsaling.

My parents used a map to go somewhere… Yes, it’s called a map. Crazy, isn’t it? I bet if I handed my adult son a map today he’d have no clue what to do with it. I recently watched an episode of 20/20 where a college student decided to spend her Spring Break on a solo road trip. She followed her Yahoo Maps app all the way to a dead end dirt road in the blistering desert. She was stuck there for nearly a week without gas or cell phone reception before someone finally found her.  She could have died.  Why aren’t we using maps as backup to GPS?

When I started working at my first job I had to either balance my checkbook or visit the bank to know how much money was left in my account. Pretty wild, isn’t it?

I had to teach my adult child how to write a personal check just last year:

Matt: “Mom, how do I write out a check for the security deposit on my apartment?”

Me: “You fill out who it’s going to, the dollar amount, and write the cash line out as (ex.) “One Thousand two hundred twenty-five dollars and xx/100. Date it. Sign it.”

Matt: “What? I don’t understand.”

Me: “Re-read what I last texted.”

Matt: “Can you just send me a picture of a voided check and pretend you’re writing this out so I can see?”

Me: {Laughing out loud} “Sure.”

If I left my house I didn’t care if someone couldn’t reach me. If I needed to reach out I used a pay phone booth. They were gross but it got the job done.

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Nearly everything I did in my childhood for entertainment was cheap or free. That’s the intriguing part. What kid can say that now?

Killing time never involved me texting, taking a selfie, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, or Twitter… seeing how many “likes” I had… Instead I took time to think… really “think.” Boredom made room for me to reconnect with myself.

Did technology take over? The Internet came with a lot of knowledge but it also filled our heads with plenty of junk and fluff like YouTube, endless porn, social media, and crimes. It gives people an excuse to stop speaking to others in person. It provides individuals with online bravery to insult or bully other people.

Life seemed simpler and healthier to live with less communication technology than we have today. Most would agree that it creates a sense of dependence that we did not used to have, not only in the form of separation anxiety from the people in our lives, but also from the separation anxiety we have developed for information and technology itself.

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Brave Girl Battles Two Rare Diseases

Chloe’s Hope: Stop the Burning

What does a juvenile disability look like?  Some might envision a homeschooled child or perhaps a wheelchair user. What if a child outwardly appeared normal yet their insides were screaming in agony?  Try to imagine a child who’s never known a life without horrendous pain and suffering.

That is the case for 11-year-old Chloe Louise Kuschert of Corowa, a town in the New South Wales in Australia. She oftentimes cries to her mother, “Why me? Why can’t I have a normal life? I hate this so much.”  But all her mother can do is comfort her and wipe away the tears streaming down her face.

Chloe was just two years old when her health began rapidly deteriorating. It started with a sensitive area that some people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about. Debilitating symptoms of bleeding, swelling, redness and pain developed in her vulva (female external genitals) area. As her condition progressed, the burning became so excruciating that Chloe could no longer function. Her life became overshadowed by throbbing pain and discomfort. After visiting numerous doctors over a 4-year period in Australia, doctors were still unable to diagnose Chloe’s condition. The doctors decided to have Chloe’s medical chart reviewed by a pediatric group based out of the United States where a genetic specialist finally made the diagnosis.

Chloe had a rare disease called Erythromelalgia (EM) which not only affects her vulva area, but also her face, ears, and hands.  The condition affects 1.3 in 100,000 people, and there is no cure.

EM causes unbearable burning pain, noticeable redness of the skin, swelling, and increased skin temperature. The exact underlying cause of EM is unknown. It’s thought to result from vasomotor abnormalities or dysfunction in the normal constriction and dilation of the caliber of certain blood vessels, leading to abnormalities of blood flow to the extremities.

There isn’t a typical treatment for EM, and sometimes nothing helps. Chloe has tried many prescriptions and supplements, and dealt with dreadful side effects. She is on a strict ‘cooling’ regime to prevent overheating.

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EM flares on Chloe’s face and ears

“Managing her EM pain is incredibly difficult,” said her mother, Jacqui. She  went on to say that every day is a battle in which Chloe fights for her joy and freedom from pain. Since the condition also affects her private area there is no way of knowing the impact it will have on adulthood with sexual activity and childbirth.

Chloe’s health continued to worsen over the next several months after her EM diagnosis. She began experiencing vaginal bleeding, frequent toilet needs, urinary incontinence and burning along with bladder and stomach pain. After seeing several doctors, going through more examinations and cystoscopies, a gynecologist diagnosed Chloe with interstitial cystitis (IC), a condition that results in recurring discomfort or pain in the bladder and the surrounding pelvic region.

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“I felt helpless as I just sat there crying. I wanted to take all of her pain away,” Jacqui said.

Chloe has been repeatedly tested for everything you could possibly imagine and still no doctor can provide answers.

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Just a few months following the EM and IC diagnoses, Chloe developed more unbearable symptoms. Her joints began aching and swelling, and she bruised more easily. She had trouble walking due to the pain in her knees and ankles. Ultimately a rheumatologist diagnosed Chloe with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of inherited disorders marked by extremely loose joints, very stretchy skin that bruises easily, and easily damaged blood vessels. EDS affects about 1 in 5,000 people globally.

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Most parents couldn’t fathom their child dealing with one rare disease let alone two.  The effects of having all three conditions has caused Chloe to have fainting spells, abdomen pain almost daily, dizziness, and low blood pressure.

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“To manage her many combined symptoms Chloe regularly sees a local general practitioner, pediatrician, gynecologist, neurologist, and a cardiologist. Currently she’s taking 11 pills a day plus a pain reliever in an effort to give her a somewhat normal life. Of all her conditions, EM is the most painful for Chloe,” her mother said.

Chloe is in the fifth grade. She battles through the pain most days because she loves attending school. Her teacher is very kind to her, and her classmates are supportive and understanding. She’s sad to miss school days when she’s overwhelmed by pain.

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An emotional Chloe as she struggles with daily pain

EM causes the body to quickly overheat during physical activity so Chloe is unable to participate in any outdoor sports. Although it’s disappointing, Chloe maintains a positive attitude. Instead she enjoys reading and doing arts and crafts.

Chloe enjoys spending time with her family — mother, Jacqui, father, David, and brothers, James, 18, and Caleb, 14.  She also loves hanging out with her dog, Molly, and her rabbit, Gizmo.

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Chloe with her brothers, James and Caleb

“The unknown is scary. I don’t know if my daughter will ever live a normal life, free from pain and misery. I want her to be happy, and not just have ‘happy moments.’  This is all very devastating.  I also have to accept that she may never experience the gift of pregnancy. I’m heartbroken inside,” her mother said.

Disabilities aren’t always recognizable to the public. So when you see a child who seems carefree and happy, please think of Chloe. There are children out there like her whose lives are a lot harder than they appear to the outside world.

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If you’d like to support Chloe Kuschert, you can do so by helping spread awareness.  Please Like and Share her Facebook page titled Chloe’s Hope: Stop the Burning

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Chloe and her mother, Jacqui

To see this story on The Huffington Post:

Brave Girl Battles Two Rare Diseases

To read more about Erythromelalgia, please see the following blog:

Burning for Hope

Jacqui and Chloe are active members of the “Parents of Little EM Warriors” program where they communicate and share their experiences with other families in need of support. Join “Erythromelalgia Warriors” on Facebook to learn more.

EM Warriors on Facebook

Chloe has also joined the “I Am The Face of Erythromelalgia” campaign.

Please Join Our Campaign here

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EM Awareness Video:

The Wilted Sunflower 🌻

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Overlooking a field of sunflowers,

A few appeared out of place.

They tried to stand tall but couldn’t,

While others more lovely filled their space.

Gravitating toward the beautiful ones,

As the wilted were quickly passed by.

Few people desire to view the weak,

And this group of flowers is soon to die.

The wind blew the pedals to the ground,

Changing them from golden to brown.

A little more rain and sunshine is needed,

Especially when ‘living’ is bringing you down.

But aren’t they pretty too, these flowers…

Who looked stranded in a crowded field?

For not every blossom can be flawless,

And there are some that may never be healed.

Healing isn’t the same as ‘fixing’ or a cure, 

But rather to ‘accept’  and mend the soul.

So love ALL the flowers to cross your path,

Even the sad blooms that don’t appear whole.

With a new season a fresh life will begin,

And a new journey will soon be told. 

‘Unique’ is still special and worth seeing,

Because eventually all living things grow old.

Written By: Melissa Curley

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Third Time’s A Charm

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When I said, “yes” to getting married for the third time I often wondered where the saying, “The third time’s a charm” came from. I heard it constantly from people.

It’s the belief that the third time is lucky because a person is more likely to succeed than the previous two attempts. It’s considered a good luck charm. The term originates from a phrase in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Letters addressed to R. H. Horne, 1839:

“The luck of the third adventure” is proverbial.

It is listed explicitly in Alexander Hislop’s The proverbs of Scotland, 1862:

“The third time’s lucky.”

The phrase “try, try, and try again” also identifies “three” as the right number of times to try. (This makes me feel good because I’m a 2x divorcee. PLEASE don’t follow this advice if you’re doing well in Marriage #1 or #2. Again, STAY with your current marriage. Don’t follow in my footsteps).  Think of every time you’ve seen a drama in which a character tries to unlock a door with a set of unfamiliar keys. The first key fails, the second key fails – it is always the third that works.

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After two failed marriages, I thought I was doomed to never find love again.  It’s easy to think, “I suck. Life blows. I must not be marriage material.”  But then I realized, it’s more about emotional growth as a human being… and everyone is deserving of love, and forgiveness.

My first marriage didn’t survive for multiple reasons. We were young, naïve, and I thought the grass was greener on the other side. Shoooot. That grass had long been dead with weeds growing uncontrollably. I had postpartum depression but I didn’t realize it. Nobody understood that condition back in the 90’s. Because of my immaturity, I had convinced myself that a marriage should just “work” naturally. When I look back, I laugh at how dumb I was… But I still view that marriage as a blessing because we share something special between us – our only child, Matthew.  I never truly grasped love until my son was born.

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My second marriage failed because my ex was crazy. I felt like I awoke one day to find “Fire Marshall Bill” lying next to me. Did I just get punk’d? He used to be handsome but he took a wrong turn somewhere. He abused me, and there is no magic pill for “nuts” I finally realized. After our divorce, I spent years reiterating to people that I’d never remarry again – almost bragging about it.  I became a temporary man-hater. I never wanted to put myself through that kind of vulnerability again.

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By 2011, I had reached a point in my life where things were good, and I was happy being single. Nothing felt rushed and my days were whatever I wanted them to be. I had my son every other week. On kid-less weeks, I met up with girlfriends, went to bible study, church, co-ed soccer, hung out with family, and watched marathon television shows. Although I hadn’t surrendered ALL hope in finding love again, I still had no desire to ever get remarried. I’d rather drink a tall glass of 100% pure lime juice than do the “M” word again.

I had been exchanging emails with this guy “John” for a few months through a cheesy dating website. I hadn’t put any effort into my dating profile because I was using it to scroll for potentials, and not the other way around. I had no time for some weirdo hitting me up with pics of his lower anatomy. My profile picture was a blonde-haired anime angel, and I’ll admit she was creepy looking.  I found two potentials and emailed them both but John was my first choice.  His profile was kindly worded and well put together.  This guy had it goin’ on.  My first thought had been, “What’s wrong with this guy? Why is he single?  He’s a good catch.” It’s that moment where you wish you could speak with their ex to get the real scoop. All I knew was, I wanted to meet him eventually.

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The other potential guy was quickly squashed after talking with my girlfriend, Michele. I sent her pictures of both men and she was like, “Girllll, you don’t want to date that guy. I know him and he’s a total weirdo who doesn’t even own a cell phone.” I don’t know why, but that made a lot of sense to me. I mean, if he didn’t own a cell phone, that had to mean he was a tight-wad.  Who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?  Needless to mention I wasn’t into the Weekend-White-Guy image (as referenced in “Undateable”). You know – the office guy who breaks away on the weekends by wearing high-waisted, pleated khaki shorts with a leather belt, white running sneakers, and a polo shirt.  Even worse would be a Hawaiian or Tommy Bahama shirt. Stop the madness. I just couldn’t deal.

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If you’re a guy, ^^^ and this is your personal style, I am so sorry!

It was a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day when my brother, Michael, asked if I wanted to head out together for drinks.  After all, we are Irish… even though I rarely drink. But I am funny as hell when I do have a few drinks. I turn into an instant comedian. My brother actually looks like a leprechaun, and I don’t mean that creepy, sadistic one that goes on killing rampages, searching for his beloved pot of gold.  Michael is more like the Lucky Charms leprechaun. He’s adorable, and wants everyone to be happy. If only I had a rainbow for him to slide down right now…… *sigh*  Anyway… I asked John if he wanted to meet up at the bar, and he said yes. I had no idea that a single week would change my outlook on love for the rest of my life.

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The bar was packed, indoors and outdoors. There were so many people there celebrating, I had no idea if I’d even find John. To make matters more interesting, Michael decided he wasn’t going to head into the bar with a clean-shaven wholesome image. He decided to slip on his furry-orange-bearded “hat” set to look like a leprechaun. He didn’t even forewarn me. He just snatched this “thing” from the backseat and slipped it over his head. I was kind of jealous. I would have dressed up too had I known he was going for the “gold.”

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We walked in and within 10 minutes I spotted John. He was wearing a navy blue New York Yankees ball cap. I found that to be humorous considering I was wearing an Orioles cap. (We’ve never resolved this dilemma till this day).  He had freckles across his nose and cheeks, a genuine smile, and beautiful blue-green eyes. He was tall, and although he acted totally confident, I could see he was a little shy under the disguise. He also had the cutest little Ukrainian chin I had ever seen. (Image below is not from that day but still… same hat).

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It was an instant attraction for me. I didn’t know if he felt it too but I was determined to make sure he felt something… even if it was, “Man, this chick is not my type, and her ball cap sucks.” We chatted and laughed the entire time. I wanted to latch on to him like a blood-sucking tick. Okay, that was a bad analogy. But he was perfect for me, and I knew it.

Michael had a few friends there and we all went to Cheeseburger in Paradise (CIP) for snacks. Following, I volunteered to let John drive me home. I lived five minutes from CIP, so it’s not like I was setting myself up to star in “48 Hours” or something. I knew I’d be fine. Michael pulled me off to the side – “Miss, I don’t know if this guy should drive you home. I mean, we don’t really know this dude.”  Oh, here Michael goes again being that overprotective little brother that I argued with for years. There were some days he wouldn’t even let me leave the house when we roommated together because he didn’t approve of my attire.  I started having flashbacks. He used to block our front door, demanding I change my outfit into something more appropriate. Yeah, hilarious… especially considering what I see girls wearing these days!  I was in my late-30’s and Michael had been worried that “John” could make me his latest victim. My defense was: “Michael, he drives a minivan for Pete’s sake, and it’s not the rapist type of van advertising free women’s shoes or candy. It’s like a family van.”  Do rapists drive family minivans? I don’t know, but luckily I wouldn’t have to find out.

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We got to my driveway and I decided I was going for it. I said, “Hey, do you want to kiss to see if there’s a spark? Why waste each other’s time if there’s nothing here.” He had to think I was crazy but I do believe that saying is true – “It’s in his kiss.”  His response threw me for a loop. He kindly said, “Oh no, we don’t have to do that. We just met a few hours ago.” I thought to myself, “Seriously?” I persisted. “John, c’mon. We need to see if there’s interest here.” He rejected me again. Finally I said, “Okay, I’m getting out of the van now… ” As I opened the door, he yelled, “Okay! Waitttt!”  …AHA!  Sucker. This was my lucky day!

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In that moment I knew we had something special between us.  I still didn’t believe in marriage but he convinced me otherwise with sweet letters, cards, and kindness. I came home one day to gluten free brownies on my doorstep. And it wasn’t like he just left a recycled grocery bag with a plastic container inside. They were beautifully wrapped in a heart-shaped gift bag.

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We went for a motorcycle ride that next day to a local park. We stretched out across the tall grass, feeling the breeze against our skin… just talking and laughing….

The humorous part had been trying to keep it away from my teenage son. He was at an age where he knew my subtle laughter and when I had been sneaky. John and I tried video chatting on the weeks I had Matthew because I wasn’t ready for our kids to meet each other just yet. Saturday night rolled around I scooted toward the opposite end of the couch while watching TV with Matt. I felt giddy like a love-sick teenager. Finally Matt goes, “Mom! What’s up? Who are you talking to?!”  He yanked away my laptop, and said, “I knew it was a dude!  Who is it? I want to know!”  It was hilarious. The secret was out!

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The rest is history. Time stood still yet it flew by. Months felt like days, and here we are today – 5 years later and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. I always thought the word “soul-mate” was ridiculous… an over-played, dramatic title for someone who didn’t exist in the world. Now, I’m a total believer.  When I’m old, and ready to take my last breath, I pray to God my love will be sitting next to me holding my hand. I’ve had talks with God, and he’s well aware that I want to go first. I’m just sayin’.  Call me selfish, but hanging out several decades later alone doesn’t sound appealing to me.

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John is the one and only true love of my heart.  He makes me want to be a better person… and the best part is, he can never divorce me. I told him he’d have to bury me in the backyard. I don’t do divorces anymore. I mean, heck, if I got divorced a third time I might not even be marketable at that point… and that’s not fair to me. Who wants to be the broke version of Elizabeth Taylor?  Not me ~

~ Our Wedding Song ~

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How Robin Williams Changed My View on Life

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As an extroverted, fun-loving person, I’m the type who can barely get through telling a joke without laughing before the punch line. I’ve always viewed myself as a comedian at heart. While I enjoy making others feel happy, Robin Williams’ death made me realize I hadn’t truly focused on my own inner happiness. Laughter had been the drug that distracted me from feelings of sadness. Although I’ve never been clinically depressed, I was surprised to learn that even the funniest people have struggled with depression.

Drew Carey released an autobiography which told of his bouts of depression and two failed suicide attempts. Jim Carrey, one of my all-time favorites, said he went through cases of depression during his career in an interview with 60 Minutes back in 2004. Even Ellen DeGeneres overcame depression.

After hearing of Robin Williams’ death, it’s not uncommon to think, “Wow. Why would he commit suicide? This is a guy who had it all.” But did he really? Just because someone is famous, wealthy, and/or a comedian, doesn’t mean they’re living a perfect life. I started looking into the events prior to Williams taking his own life. He had become gradually more ill with Parkinson’s Disease before ending his life. He was also suffering from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), which was discovered during his autopsy. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, grow in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement. It is believed he may have been encountering hallucinating thoughts during the days leading up to his suicide.

Williams wasn’t the only funny person who couldn’t find his way out of the darkness. Ray Combs, former stand-up comedian and host of Family Feud, committed suicide after his long battle with depression. Other comedians such as John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Richard Pryor all led troubled lives battling substance abuse behind their comedy acts. All of them died of involuntary drug overdose.

Chris Farley, cast member of Saturday Night Live, was a very unhappy man hiding behind his humor. Farley long carried a replica of a poem “A Clown’s Prayer” in his wallet. It read, “As I stumble through this life, help me create more laughter than tears, dispense more happiness than gloom, spread more cheer than despair.” Laughter and tears go hand and hand for many comedians.

 

I realized the miracle of “happiness” doesn’t magically occur by laughing, or by making others laugh. Being funny isn’t the same as being happy.

I’ve been through short periods of expected depression when life threw curve balls my way – divorce, financial struggles, moderate health issues, and so on. But the real challenge came when I received my chronic illness diagnosis of Erythromelalgia. It’s not as if the doctor said, “Okay, you have a life-long chronic illness, but here’s a therapist to help you deal with the mental aspect of it.” I felt like a homeless cat trapped outside during a thunderstorm. I had no clue how to deal with my physical and mental anguish over it. Suddenly my prior stints with depressions felt like a cake-walk in comparison to this.

After the diagnosis, I spent about a year mourning the loss of someone very special to me – “myself.” It’s that moment when you realize “you” are never coming back again, and you must carry on with your new life. It may not be the life you dreamed of, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an uplifting, and rewarding journey.

 

Robin Williams’ death made me appreciate how precious life is, and how essential it is to find your inner happiness. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself I realized there were others suffering with my same condition. I decided to turn my chronic illness into something positive: advocacy. I focused my energy on learning more about my illness, and spreading awareness in hopes of a cure or better treatments in the future. Now, I feel empowered to help others like I’ve never felt before. It’s been a blessing.

I found my laughter again, but mostly I’m glad I found my inner happiness. It’s kind of like comparing your disposition to a car’s transmission – You go from being an “automatic” before chronic illness, to a “manual” after chronic illness. Both engines work but one requires a little more effort.

 

The Erythromelalgia (EM) Awareness Video:

 

From Stepchild to Stepmom: What I’ve Learned

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Merriam-Webster.com defines a stepmother as: “a woman that your father marries after his marriage to or relationship with your mother has ended.” Is it just me, or does that sound completely unflattering? There’s nothing in that definition about “mothering.” However, the website defines a mother as: “a female parent; maternal tenderness or affection.” That sounds lovely, yet depressing when you compare the two.

The older we get the more likely we are to date people who have children from previous relationships. The interesting part is that becoming a stepmother isn’t a role that’s earned, or even awarded for that matter. A woman is granted the title as soon as she marries her sweetheart.

Being a stepmother has had many rewarding and sentimental moments, but it’s also a hard position to figure out sometimes.

Here is what I’ve learned from growing up as a stepchild; and being a stepmother of five children:

1) Hold off on giving your opinion: Undermining a parent’s authority in front of his children can cause chaos in your marriage and the family. If you disagree with something, I’ve found that it’s easiest to discuss those matters in private then the topic can be approached again with his child after he’s heard your advice or opinion.

2) Keep your marriage strong: It’s imperative to keep a solid marital foundation, particularly when you’re having issues with your children or stepchildren. If you can’t reconcile a problem, seek therapy soonest. Don’t let issues pile up so high that you end up feeling resentful. Protecting your marriage will benefit the entire family.

3) Don’t argue in front of the children: I can’t reiterate this enough. When couples argue in front of their children and stepchildren it can cause kids to question the marital stability. Adult issues, no matter the topic(s), should be discussed in private. No exceptions.

4) Don’t be their ‘best friend’: This was a tough one for me. I spent years being my twin stepdaughters’ best friend, and it backfired on me. Stepchildren will freely love you if you show them the way through kindness and understanding. Moreover, being the ‘best buddy’ makes it emotionally hard on the marriage because it makes one parent (dad) seem like the ‘bad guy’ sometimes, even when that wasn’t the intention.

5) Mom holds a special place: It’s a blessing if life flows naturally with your stepchildren’s mother. But even if their biological mother has been in and out of the picture, the chances are great her kids will always welcome her back with open arms, particularly younger children. She is their birth mother, and it’s important to embrace your stepchildren’s choice in maintaining a relationship with her.

6) Don’t expect your blended family to ‘blend’: If you have stepchildren and your own children in the mix, you can expect some commotion in your household eventually. It’s impractical to presume your family will blend together as if they’ve been friends their entire lives. You’re talking about multiple personalities all living under one roof. Sometimes all your children need is a good mediator-parent to help them work out their differences.

7) Forgive yourself: As long as you’re giving your best, let it go. You can’t blame yourself if your relationship with your stepchild goes a little haywire for a while, especially if they’re teenagers. Just keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the best job you can.

8) Never trash the biological mother: It’s not a good idea to bad-mouth your stepchildren’s mother to them no matter what. Nothing good can come from this. No matter how mad or annoyed you feel, criticizing her will not improve a situation.

9) Don’t expect loyalty: It’s not only unfair but it’s unrealistic to expect your stepchildren to be loyal only to a stepparent or biological parent. They’re kids, and they should be allowed to love freely without feeling as if they’re ‘betraying’ someone.

10) Equal attention for all children: I’ve made this mistake without even realizing it. I directed my attention toward the child I felt needed me the most. My other stepchildren felt left out, and it hurt their feelings. It’s critical to show your love and attention equally to each family member as best you can.

11) Give yourself a break: If the drama gets to be too much, take a break. It’s okay to spend a day alone or with your friends, releasing all of the negativity and chaos. And then you’ll be a more rested, happier person as a result.

There is no handbook for being the perfect stepmother, and it’s a very tricky role. I’ve always been an overly lenient parent so I’ve found it best to compromise on parenting decisions when it comes to our blended family.

We learn as we ‘grow.’ I can’t fix every problem that comes through our front door, and our family is still a work in progress. But I feel the hardest days are behind us. And the bad experiences actually brought my spouse and me closer together.

This blog is also on The Huffington Post:

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/10248432

 

 

Time Waits for Nothing

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It’s free yet it’s priceless. You can use it but you can’t borrow it. It can be your friend or your worst enemy.  You have no control over it, and you can’t move it forward or slow it down.   What is it?

It’s called TIME – a simple four-letter-word with such powerful meaning behind it.  “Time = Life.”  Time is the only unpredictable measurement that comes between the moment you’re born, and the moment you take your last breath.  But what is time to you?

The word “time” creates an image in my mind of an Olympic athlete racing against a clock toward the finish line. Nothing matters more in that moment than time itself; every fraction of a second counts.  Another moment I envision is watching the countdown of the clock during a football game, and the opposing team is down by just a few points.  When you think about it, one could say there is no such thing as losing; they just simply ran out of time. Regardless, “time” is not only about winning or losing.  It goes far deeper than that.

When the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, it made the world question many things, including the meaning of time, and how invaluable it is. Typically, you wouldn’t foresee a national tragedy to have a theme song, but on how many occasions did you hear “Only Time” by Enya playing on the radio during that heartbreaking era?  Employees’ working in either trade tower that were running late that morning thought time wasn’t on their side. On the contrary, time is what saved their lives. Same goes for the passengers who missed their flights that day. Just think if only one person didn’t make it on time to their metro station stop; or if someone stopped to tie a shoelace on the sidewalk; or the coffee shop had an unusually long time that morning.  All of those examples of time could have meant the difference between life and death that day.

Time is everything when a loved one is dying. Imagine a Hospice nurse’s role in helping patients with their end-of-life care. “Time” is what they represent to grieving families. The nurse measures the patient’s pulse beat per minute.  When the time has come, the nurse peacefully says, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”  Just like that, their time on earth is done.  Life in human form is gone forever, and a permanent date and time is marked on a death certificate.

Just as time can take away a life, it can also represent the spirit of bringing a new life into the world. Most mothers could tell you the exact time their child was born.  After nine months of anticipation, excitement, and curiosity, time is no small thing to a mother.  Many expectant mothers can’t wait for “time” to reveal their baby’s gender before it’s even born.

The only time one person’s life and another person’s death play a role together, at the same time, is through organ donation. Organ donors make the ultimate sacrifice in saving another person’s life. Matching and compatibility are everything when it comes to saving a life.  Will the recipient receive the organ in time?  Only time will tell.

There are moments when “time” feels like an unattractive word:

  • To a coworker, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the promotion.  It just wasn’t your time.”
  • After a loved one dies, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Time makes things easier.”
  • Once a relationship ends it’s usually accompanied by, “Love takes time to heal.”
  • When a student hasn’t finished taking their exam before the teacher yells, “Time’s up!”

Just like the old saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” it can also drag when life sucks. Prisoners and insomniacs probably know this better than anyone.  For insomniacs, it’s unbearable to watch minutes tick by while you’re lying there wide awake.  Waiting on medical results is a time-dragging experience as well.  Also, chronic pain sufferers know how slow time can move. Time may not fix anything but it does teach us how to live with the pain.

Regardless of whether you use it wisely or waste it away, time keeps on ticking.  And we shouldn’t question the days we’re stuck in traffic or got up late for work.  Perhaps there is bigger meaning behind those moments saving us from a misfortune?

No one would be able to recognize good times without having bad ones.  Time is a part of where you are, what you do, and who you’re waiting for.  Until the moment we die, “time” makes us all equal in that we each get twenty-four hour days.  How we choose to spend it is what determines our future.

As Michael Altshuler said, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”