Thestrals and the Holidays.

I loved the Harry Potter books. I ALWAYS pre-ordered the next in the series, and every year, I’d “prepare” for the next book by re-reading the prior version at the beach down the Cape, where my aunt and uncle, my godparents, used to vacation.

It was one of my favorite traditions.

Books are my escape. When I read a good work of fiction, I’m am never aware of reading the words. I see it happen, in my head. Coming out of a book for me is akin to being woken up from a deep dream; it takes me a lot of time to shake off the experience of the book and come back into my real life.

Getting unbroken time to read, these days, is rare.

So I have such fond memories being on the beach, with the white noise of the waves, the salty tang of the ocean on my tongue, immersed in a whole other world – it was one of my favorite places to be.

And it was where I read in horror as Cedric Diggory died.

And then, a summer later, Harry could suddenly see the creatures that pulled the carriages from the train station to Hogwarts.

Thestrals, Luna Lovegood tells him. He’s not crazy – only people who have seen death can see them.*

* * * * * *

I started my first blog in 2006, and I found a community of women out there who were just like me. Back then it felt like we were all connected; I met some of the people who have become my soul sisters.

And I KNOW things change, but lately I feel like everything you put online has to be perfect; the perfect recipe, the perfect Elf on the Shelf setup, the perfectly staged selfie.**

There’s so many voices out there, so many people showing off how perfect their efforts are… it can be so isolating to be surrounded by Perfect sometimes.

* * * * * *

For a lot of years, I justified not allowing myself to grieve over my cousin’s suicide. Because, I intellectualized, my grief wasn’t as valid as my aunt’s, or my cousins’ – they lost a daughter, a sister. I felt like I didn’t have any right to attach myself to her death because my pain was nowhere CLOSE to theirs.

I played the pain olympics a lot, too, when we were trying to have a baby. At first, I’d say, at least we hadn’t been trying for 2 years – wow, that’s a long time! And then, when we were going on year three, I’d tell myself we had it good because at least I didn’t lose babies. And then, when I lost babies, I told myself that at least we had Owen, because wow, there were so many people who wanted a baby and didn’t get one.

It’s taken me a really long time – a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, and finally a lot of accepting the validity of my emotions – to realize this.

Death and loss comes in all different forms.

Not just losing people to death – like Harry did with Cedric, or my aunt and cousins did with their daughter and sister, or I did with pregnancies.

Loss can be also about the death of your dreams, too. Losing the dream of getting married, or being a mom someday, or having as many children as you dreamed of, or saving the world, or making a difference in someone’s life, or playing basketball for Duke, or being rich and famous… it’s loss, no matter what the dream is.

Loss is loss. Period.

* * * * * *

Christmas is supposed to be the best wonderful time of the year – the songs say so. The pictures on Facebook say so. The stores tell you buying more, more, MORE will make Christmas the best time of the year. I feel like I’m surrounded by all this noise – perfect people doing perfect things and having perfect Christmases.

I should be, too.

And, of course, I AM enjoying my Christmas season. I love writing my cards out, listening to holiday music, relaxing in front of the tree with eggnog, playing Santa, seeing family and friends and spreading the proverbial Christmas cheer. I found the VERY BEST version of a Christmas song (which: I didn’t actually like this song until I listened to these guys do it. Go check it out – seriously amazing. I’ve been listening this on repeat on a daily basis).

But it’s NOT perfect. There’s also loss in there, too. I miss my aunt, and I grieve that it’s been almost 20 years since we lost Amy, and I feel the sting of broken dreams when I hang up three stockings on our bannister, instead of the four we had hoped for.

So for me, what I see on social media perpetuates this idea that maybe I am the only one who feels this way. Because around me so many people are baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, and playing Santa far better than I am. Happy, HAPPY! my Facebook feed screams at me when I log in. HAPPPPPPPYYYYYYYYYY!!! NOW WITH EXTRA SMILEY FACE EMOTICONS!

It’s not until I have conversations with people or read blogs that I hear about the loss, too. The friend who is still mourning the loss of his mother. The friend living childfree who is reminded at Christmas that she wanted a very different experience. The friend with a newborn who is mourning that nursing didn’t go the way she had wanted. The friend dealing with uncertainty of an IVF cycle and whether she’ll make her son a sibling. The friend who struggles every year with buying presents because money is hard to come by. The acquaintance whose 5 year old daughter with cancer doesn’t have much time left with them. The parents who lost their children a year ago to devastating violence at the elementary school. The victims of the Boston marathon bombings, who lost their old way of life and are having to forge a new life for themselves.

It’s not just me.

Loss is everywhere.

And that’s what we need this Christmas – a reminder.

We’re all in this Being Human thing together. What we see on social media is life PR – life the way we WANT it to be. But real life is messy and chaotic and full of complications like loss and grief.

So for those of you who are struggling with this holiday season – for whatever reason – and feel like you’re alone?

You’re not crazy.

I see the thestrals too.

*I never understood this. Didn’t Harry see his mom die in front of him when he was a baby? So why couldn’t he ALWAYS see the thestrals? Probably me taking things too literally – and yes, I’m aware that it is a work of fiction that has to do with wizards and witches, so there IS some relinquishing of reality which must go on. But still.

**My good friend Mel wrote about this too. Worth a read.

Being Clear(er).

So I want to start this post off with an apology.

As a blogger, I often feel as if I don’t post enough. SO when I DO find time and something to write about, I want to hit the “Publish” button quickly. Last week on vacation, I was trying to post from an iThing, which is not compatible with wordpress. It was a pain in the ass to write much of anything. But I had the time and desire, so I hit publish on my post about my career and my new idea.

Except I broke my own cardinal rule: DO NOT, under any circumstances, vagueblog.

Rule #1: If you’re going to write about it, THEN WRITE ABOUT IT.

So please, please accept my apologies.

And let me start over.

I have mentioned before that I’ve spent YEARS now thinking about my career path. And with all that ruminating, you’d think I would have come up on this idea sooner than now. But this has come up in the very same way you put together a puzzle. You know, when you are looking at one or two puzzle pieces without any real understanding how it fits in the whole. But then,  you find that ONE piece that makes the pattern clear, and all of a sudden the pieces fit.

Back in 2003, when I started working in public accounting, I had about 6 months where I absolutely loved it. I loved the fast pace, loved having to step up and learn, loved putting the theories I learned in my Master program to use.

And then reality set in. I’m not naturally a detail oriented person. Where I excelled at auditing was really on MANAGING an audit: the planning of procedures and budgeting, the utilizing of the audit team to get stuff done. I was decent with my own tasks, but I really didn’t LIKE auditing. What I liked was the audit room – the asking of questions, discussion of theory, walking the new associates through the theory and procedures of how to test an area, talking the partner through his review.

Teaching. I have, in one form or another, considered being a teacher – for most of my life now. When I was younger I would have told you I was either going to be a famous Broadway star – or a teacher. For my high school career day, I shadowed a high school English teacher.

I made the decision in college, when I was a clarinet major, that I didn’t want to teach music.

And I am not sure why I opted out of education altogether when I went back to the English department. I think it had something to do with feeling like I needed to be a different person after my cousin’s suicide – I needed to distance myself from, well, myself.

Anyway, I ended up graduating with an English degree and figured I needed a practical career. Enter a MBA, then a CPA.

I have looked into teaching a few times over the course of the past couple of years. But I’ve always thought I needed to teach high school. My English degree was 15 years ago. I’m a CPA, but there is no way in hell I’d be able to teach high school math. I do not have the interest in doing that, either.

Not to mention the schooling I’d need to  complete in order to get certified in Massaachusetts. Yet another freaking Master degree – my THIRD.

So I gave up on the idea and have been trying to figure out alternatives, where I can use my CPA but maybe can do more fulfilling work. I’ve been spinning my wheels over this for a long time now, with no real solution.

The reason: I really just don’t like accounting. I can do it just fine. But I don’t like it.

Enter thoughts of drama and guilt over having a job which provides well but I don’t like it. Really, is it awful to work a job you don’t like if the rest of your life is fulfilled? Isn’t work, by definition, well, WORK?

I’ve mentioned before I don’t believe that there’s a soulmate equivalent of a career. And truthfully, I’ve had two different careers already – once in marketing, once in accounting – and haven’t found that happiness I am looking for. What really makes me think that yet ANOTHER try would be different?

But when I started thinking about Owen going to school, I started thinking about the things we could do at home to augment what he learns in school, and thought about the stuff I might be able to do with volunteering in his class. I had a schedule set in my head – when he gets off the bus on Fridays, we’ll go to the library and hunt for books that match what he’s learned about that week.

And then I started remembering my own grade school years. How my fourth grade teacher made me feel special and smart, even though I struggled with my organization and study skills.

The thought struck me: maybe I should teach elementary school. Literacy – books. Math – accounting is, essentially, grade school math. Science – since Owen has kind of a scientific mind, we’ve already had some experience teaching him everyday science. I could learn how to teach social studies through the more schooling I’d need to teach.

So here it is: I think I want to teach elementary school.

And the thing is: it is such a small, shaky idea right now. It’s a tiny sprout in a garden overrun with weeds.

So many reasons NOT to do anything: Education is hard. It includes entitled kids and even more entitled parents. Special needs. Mandated curriculum. A new career in at 40. Dwindling energy. Wasted money on a MBA and CPA. More schooling. Less money.

And the biggest worry: what if I invest the time and money into this, and figure out in ten years I don’t like it either?

But it’s the what ifs that keep me up at night.

What if I DID like it?  What would it be like to feel fulfilled in my career, to really like going to work every day, to do work I enjoy?

So I’m researching. Talking with people. Looking into the schooling I’ll need; I found a program that requires only one weekend a month for two years. (Ha. “Only.” Right? But it seems a hell of a lot less overwhelming than one or two weeknights every week for a couple of years.) Navel gazing.

Because if I’m being honest, this is the first time I’ve ever thought about doing something I WANT to do, rather than what I should do. My MBA and MSA were practical decisions; I needed more schooling and the money was in business – and stability in accounting.

A career change at 40 is not at at all practical. It’s terrifying, actually, to contemplate.

But. What if?

One. Enough?

I know, I know. I wish I had a good reason for not blogging often. It’s time! I have lots of ideas, but not enough time to get it out.

I promise I will update you all on my 30 Day No Yelling Challenge. Which is almost over, and has been, overall, a good exercise.

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We get questions from people, sometimes.

Just one child?

Is he your only?

Most people don’t know that it took us three years, one chemical pregnancy, two surgeries, three fresh in-vitro fertilization cycles, however many frozen cycles, and ten embryos to get pregnant with our son. They also don’t know that after he was born, we spent another two years on three more fresh IVF cycles, a couple of thaws, and ten MORE embryos. Which, this time, resulted “only” in two early miscarriages. No baby.

Last fall we found ourselves in a place utterly without hope. And so we walked away from fertility treatments.

Since then, we’ve been working on getting more comfortable with the idea that Owen will, in all likelihood, be an only child.

Changing our focus on our one son has been good for us in so many ways. Instead of the fail of all the years we spent trying for the family we dreamed about, it’s really made us focus on the family we DO have. I will often look over him and be struck with this thought: we are SO lucky to have him here with us.

And really, there are so many benefits to having a family of three. We’re closer. More focused. Owen doesn’t have to share a room, or his space, or my attention with another sibling. Jeff and I get to parent to HIS personality, his quirks, and we can focus on him when we need to. We can also switch off and get space when we need it.

Which for me, is a big deal. Me time, space, I’m finding, is important.

But it’s also tough in a lot of respects.

Like with fielding the above questions.

People mean well, and often they will ask us if we have more children because they’re interested in learning about us. I do it myself, when I meet people. And arguably, I could be sensitive to the question simply because we’ve struggled so much with family building over the years.

But I have also noticed how it’s phrased. The words “only” and “just” are used; which, to me, infers that there’s something wrong with the choice to have one child.

A couple of weeks ago, good friends of mine forwarded me links to op-ed pieces by Lauren Sandler. Honestly, until I read the articles, I had never heard of her. It seems she has a new book: “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

In each one of her articles, like the one I read here and here and here, she takes apart, bit by bit, the myths surrounding only children.

Further than that, though, she goes on to propose that having an only child can actually make parents happier.

Since I’ve spent the six months sitting with the idea of Owen being an only child, trying to sort out how I feel about it, this is an issue that’s fairly close to my heart.

First of all, I like how Lauren Sandler addresses what I, too, have noticed. There is this idea out there that only children are lonely, and not well adjusted, and socially awkward. Only children are missing out on something.

I mean, hell, *I* have struggled with this idea. Whenever Owen asks us if we can play with him, kind of longingly, or remarks, Mommy, you NEVER play with me! I wonder. Will he grow up to be lonely? Should I do MORE?

This kind of thinking makes it hard for me to balance fostering his imaginative play – I feel strongly that my adult intervention in his playtime unwittingly teaches him rules that he maybe doesn’t need to learn until later in his life – and making sure I give him the attention that he needs.

And then there’s the worry that I’m giving him TOO much attention. I often joke about being THAT mom, the one my future daughter (or son) in-law would loathe – being too involved in his life, having him orbit my life too closely.

And then there’s the fear that I’m somehow robbing Future Owen. I feel so lucky to have siblings. Maybe not everyone feels like this, but I feel like the three of us have this bond of years of shared history. All of us are similar, yet different – and we have a relationship that will always be there, regardless of distance and history and life.

Owen has his cousins, and Jeff and I, but I worry that he’ll feel like something’s missing.

So I take great comfort in the studies done that reassure me that only children are intelligent, engaging, HAPPY people as adults. Because I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, I read the studies Lauren Sandler mentions in her articles with relief.

The issue I have with her stance, though, is where she talks about the choice to have one, and that parents of only children might be happier than parents of multiple children.

I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have CHOSEN to have my one son, if my hands weren’t tied, medically speaking. I still struggle with feelings of being forced into our situation by circumstances not within our control.

That said, I cannot understand how she can suppose that she is happier than any other person, all because she chose to have a single child. Because happiness is relative, and it’s based on criteria that isn’t the same from person to person. Perhaps a career-oriented woman who loves flexibility like she does might be happier than a woman who finds happiness in taking care of people. Maybe she’s happier because she had an element of CHOICE, where we did not.

But it’s not for her to say that she’s better off than any one else.

Ultimately, I’m glad that someone is raising the discussion about the unspoken bias we have as it relates to only children. I feel it whenever anyone asks me if Owen is our only and we answer in the affirmative – that the click of judgment happens in that moment and the person thinks of Owen: Ah, poor lonely, maladjusted child. I love the reassurance in the DATA that my only child will be FINE as he grows.

But I disagree when she says that deciding to have an only child will make you happier.

Because for me, that is not the case.

For the Love of the Run.

I signed up for my redeux 5k in a moment of weakness; borne from disappointment that I had to walk some of the last mile of my Mother’s Day 5k.

I couldn’t focus on the fact that I ran the fastest 5k I’ve ever run. Instead, all I saw was Fail.

And then I ran a 5 mile race a week later, one where I thought, you know, I don’t expect I’ll do much of anything at this race. I’ve run it for the past three years, and it’s a favorite. I kind of wanted to run it for FUN. It had beer at the end, and Jeff and I made a day of it in Boston.

Ironically, I ran a personal best, there, too. In fact, I shaved five minutes off my best time there.

Which, if you’re keeping track, is three weeks of races and three PRs.

The thing is, though. What made the race so amazing for me?

Was mile two and three. Where I felt AMAZING. Light. Happy. In control of my pace, smelling the sea breeze, feeling the sun on my shoulders. For two amazing miles, I was SO happy. Practically danced to my music.

And you know something?

I want more of that.

I want to get back to rediscovering my love for the run. I want to run and feel strong, to run because I love it, not because there’s something on my schedule that tells me I have to run 5 miles at a 8:00 pace.

I want my zen back.

So when I woke up on Sunday morning, and it was rainy and cold… I skipped my redeux 5k.

Instead, I went to the gym, and swam for an hour. And yesterday, I ran my own 5k before a strength workout.

And I feel GREAT.

For the love of the run.

Yes.

Anniversary.

I’m awful with dates. I don’t know why, but I just have some sort of mental block where I don’t connect dates to things.

I forget birthdays and holidays and anniversaries.

Within a couple days of the date, I’ll remember. But on the day of? I forget.

So this past Saturday came and went like any other weekend day.

I remembered Monday night, when I was driving home and Aaron Copeland’s piece Appalachian Spring came onto the classical channel*. Which reminds me of high school – my indoor first color guard show ended with Appalachian Spring.

Which then reminded me of living with my aunt and uncle when my parents moved to New York.

And all of a sudden, I remembered. It was a year ago my aunt died.

And I’m not sure how I feel about missing the first anniversary of my aunt’s passing.

Part of me thinks that she would want it that way. Then I wonder if I’m just justifying my inability to remember days and make myself feel better about missing an Important Date.

I suspect that she would tell me that it’s really no big deal, that she knows how busy we are, and that she’s thankful that I spent time thinking about her at all.

Because man, my aunt was awesome like that.

Growing up, she and my mother were really close. We lived in the same town, we had weekly dinners and spent all holidays together.

Since my cousin Amy was only 2 years younger than me, I was there a lot.

My aunt, to me, represented freedom. The chaos of her house contrasted sharply with my mom’s obsessively neat and clean house. I mean, Amy could keep her door shut and never put ANY of her clothes or toys away!

So when my parents moved to New York when I was a sophomore in high school, I stayed with her and my uncle for the rest of the school year. And she told me that her only rule was that I needed to be home by 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends.

For a girl who had a limited social life because her parents “didn’t like” for her to go out? The freedom was dizzying.

I loved every moment of living in her house.

And Judy was always feeding us. That was how she showed her love. Always, if you showed up at her house unannounced, there was plenty of food to go around.

She once had enough food to feed the football team one night, when my cousin brought them all home. Completely unannounced.

I’m not even kidding.

It became the joke – whenever we visited them on vacation, we’d go out to dinner, then come back and she’d “fix us a snack.” Literally as soon as we got home. Even though we were all stuffed from dinner.

But the thing is:

Some of my favorite memories of her were in the kitchen – she wearing her apron and bustling around the cramped space, me sitting at the kitchen table.

It was there I told her that I STILL felt guilty about Amy’s suicide, even 10 years after it happened. And how I felt like I should have done more.

It was in that kitchen where she looked up from the chopping or stirring or bustling she was doing at the time, and she told me that they had found Amy’s diary after her death. And in every journal entry Amy wrote that she wanted to die.

Every day. Every entry.

It was in that kitchen where she told me that she was so angry with Amy for making other people feel like it was THEIR fault when it was something Amy wanted. And that it wasn’t my fault, not at all.

There was so much more I wish I had told her.

I wish we had TALKED more.

Like the day she and I spent at the beach on the Cape, reading, just the two of us a number of years ago. Where I so very much wanted to tell her that Jeff and I were having problems trying to have a baby. But again, I didn’t want to burden her with our fear, when she had gone through so much. So I didn’t say anything.

I wish I had told her how much she meant to me.

I wish I had told her how much she anchored me in my childhood, knowing that I had a my godmother, another mother, who loved me because I was me and didn’t try to make me into someone else.

I survived my childhood, in part, because of her love. And I got through Amy’s suicide mostly because of her love.

She was one of my favorite people in my family.

And even though I forgot to remember the date, the ache of her passing isn’t any less.

Nor my love for her.

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* Yes, I’m a classical music nerd. I love listening to it on the way home from work; it brings me to my center and calms me down. And in the case of Appalachian Spring, it reminds me of times past.