Charlie Blue: The Painting

Charlie Blue: The Painting

For years, I’ve lived by the belief that grief is like a rock in your shoe, an analogy shared with me by a friend only months after Charlie died. It was life-changing in the way that I remember exactly where I was and how my heart fluttered when I realized that YES! This is so true.

Grief is different for everyone. It’s always there.

But sometimes you find yourself surrounded by reminders. Little snippets of memories. They seem to be everywhere. Numbers, names, colors, smells…

*****

My newly joined family recently moved. The thing about being married to someone who wasn’t part of your life when your child died, is knowing how much “Charlie stuff” is too much. I have one photo of Charlie that has always stayed in my bedroom, almost looking over me. It’s the only picture we have, other than the one they took as he left the hospital, where his eyes are both open and he looks awake and alert and you can really SEE him.

This photo feels really private. Really personal. Really real.

So anyway, we moved. And the first thing I wanted to do was hang his photo. Why? Well, all our other kids were there, in the house, with their own spaces. He should be there, too.

But it felt weird. I didn’t want to make it feel like he was sneakily watching us. I didn’t want it to feel like a shrine to my dead kid. I didn’t want to make someone else uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be the person who brings the sad into the family.

So I carefully hung his photo on the wall behind the door and went to change out the laundry.

I felt immense guilt within 5 minutes and went back to my room, took down the photo, and hung it on a wall that faces the side wall but not the bed. It wasn’t something that would be seen all the time.

I felt much better. He’s mine to see and to share with my new husband and family. Right? Right. No more guilt.

*****

In March, my step-daughter turned 15. I knew that she and Charlie were the same age; I’ve known it since day one. She was born exactly 2 months before he was. But it never clicked until all of a sudden there was talk of driving and learners’ permits and college.

It didn’t really hit me until her birthday when I seemed to have Charlie Kisses* all week. The knot in my stomach that lasted a week was as intense as it was when I realized he should be starting kindergarten or turning double-digits.

It’s amazing looking at her interact with Henry. Most of the time I don’t think anything of it, but sometimes I see a glimpse into how he and Charlie would interact if he were here. But if he were here, would Henry be? Would I be where I am today? Questions…

*****

The Charlie Kisses haven’t stopped, and they had for a while. I missed them terribly.

I’ve come to believe there are times in my life when I NEED to know he’s there, hovering over my shoulder, nudging me to remember. To remember he was real. To remember he breathed and smiled and cried and ate and nuzzled up under my chin with his baby milk-breath and snored his tiny baby snore of happiness. I NEED to remember. I HAVE to remember. I don’t know the rhyme or reason behind when he shows up, but he does.

The other day I was poking around on Instagram, clicking on Stories which is something I never do. I’ve followed a woman named Bridget Foley for years, since I read her novel, Hugo & Rose, and fell in love with the characters and thus her. We’re friends on Facebook and have interacted a normal amount for people who kinda once-removed know each other.

See, Bridget is an artist as well as a writer. She’s brilliant at both, but that day a painting of hers, in her IG Story, stopped me in my tracks. It was a giraffe. With Charlie’s eyes. I know you’re like, “what does that even mean?” But you know when you see someone and automatically know who their grandmother is because they have the same exact smile or eyes or way they tilt their head? That’s what it means. I knew this giraffe.

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Photo: @wonderfoley on Instagram

A little back story: When I was in labor with Charlie, I was given an Ambien to help me sleep for a bit since my water hadn’t broken. Little did we know, I was allergic to it. I was one of the people who hallucinate and get violently ill. My hallucinations, before the violent puking started, were of giraffes who were not only talking about how filthy under my bed was, but they were cleaning under my bed. Their necks kept pushing my bed and making it bounce and I kept yelling at them to stop. They had brooms and mops and were yelling back at me, wondering why my area was so gross.

The giraffes had blue spots. It was so insane. They had what we now call Charlie Blue spots. Everything surrounding Charlie’s life made no sense and all the sense in the world. This color, and giraffes, has spent the last 15 years haunting me in a happy, magical way. Charlie Blue and giraffes show up when I least expect them.

Back to Bridget. Here was a painting of a giraffe. With my son’s eyes, staring at me. Big, almost black they were so dark, wide, aware. So very aware. Eyes that knew things. Eyes that knew they would never see past 24 days. Eyes that weren’t supposed to grace this world with the knowledge and beauty and soul that was behind them.

I messaged Bridget. I said, “Do you do commissions? I NEED this giraffe, but done with a different color spots.” I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, and I felt a little crazy asking. She answered with a simple, “Ha! Sure! What colors?”

A few days later, a painting appeared in my mailbox and left me speechless. It was the perfect giraffe. It was just like the ones under my labor & delivery bed. It was the same one I’ve had in my head for years, waiting for it to just appear magically in front of me. It had his eyes.

*****

I framed the giraffe and wondered where to hang it.

This painting felt and feels really private. Really personal. Really real.

I knew.

I walked confidently upstairs with a hammer and a nail, pulled the other picture off the only-see-it-if-you-want-to wall, and hung them both front and center, right beside my bed, so they could watch over me and my husband every night.

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If I can’t have him here to see, hear, touch, and love, then the best I can do, I can see him first and last thing every single day. He is part of this family, too.

*****

 

*Looking at the clock at 9:19, morning and night, the time he was born. Happens all. the. time.

Reassuring The Mom

Reassuring The Mom

I’ve never been a dreamer. I’ve never been one to look far into the future and imagine things like my own wedding, having babies, retirement. Once I had a wedding and had babies, looking to the future didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse. I’ve written before that while I was pregnant with Charlie, I dreamed of caskets. I never dreamed of first birthdays or graduations. Only very unhappy endings.

A side effect of losing a child is that you have a somewhat irrational fear of your living children being taken from you for any number of random reasons. Like dying from the same thing their brother died from. Like falling off their bike, not into the grass but into the road right as a car drives by. Like tripping down the stairs and breaking their necks. Like being bitten by a copperhead while mowing the grass. While eating popcorn at the movies. While … shall I go on?

I thought I was crazy. Until I realized I’m not. I’m grateful for friends who aren’t scared to tell me they feel the same way.

The thing is, this irrational (but very rational in my head) thought process doesn’t allow me to look into the future — the real one that is years or decades away. “The Future” to me is something that’s going to happen this week. I have a very hard time looking past my weekly view on my old school paper calendar. I just can’t plan any further out than that.

So imagine my surprise when all of a sudden, my elementary school-aged child was going to be going to middle school. Like, I looked up and he has teenager features and a tiny mustache forming and a voice that may or may not be changing a little. I woke up one day, late this summer and realized he’s growing up.

There was a middle school registration day on my calendar.

And after that, a 6th grade orientation day.

And after that, still shocking to me, the First Day of Middle School.

6th Grade - Peachtree Middle

I’ve worried myself sick since last Monday. About lockers and books and whether he was getting his meds at lunch. About what to pack for lunch. About whether he was remembering where to go for the 7 different classes he has. About everything.

Today, I emailed his group of teachers to ask a question about the 504 Plan he has to help him with a few ADHD issues. It was about homework — simple and to the point — and I thanked them for making the beginning of school a great experience. One of his teachers wrote back:

Teacher: Henry is awesome! For tonight he needs to study for his quiz tomorrow.

Me: Thank you! He adores your class and is enjoying it so far.

Teacher: He will prosper with us. He’s home.

I’d be lying if I told you that right then, reading his 7 word email response, I didn’t tear up and exhale like I haven’t in months.

Those simple words were all that were needed to reassure this mom that her baby was going to be just fine. Her baby, who isn’t a baby, was going to prosper and grow and become the young man he’s supposed to be. His teacher (all of them, I’m sure, but this one for darn sure) was going to make sure of it.

As for me? After exhaling 90% of the anxiety and nerves that I’ve been holding onto about middle school, I realized that I, too, would be ok. I’m going to prosper in this place in time. I’m home, too.

 

 

Some Things I Hate More Than Others.

Some Things I Hate More Than Others.

I dread exercise.

I basically despise healthy food.

I loathe what the scale reflects back at me when I step on it.

But more than any of that, I hate hate HATE how I look and how I feel in my own skin.

*Flashback to about 30 days ago*

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see the person I used to be OR the person I want to be. I see someone who has been comfortable just “being” and not someone who has a goal to work towards right now.

I was a dancer forever. I was thin with a great booty and fabulous boobs (sorry daddy). I was in shape and could contort my body all manner of ways. Then I hit college. And got married. And then I had babies. And life, and blah blah blah excuses blah blah blah.

After Charlie died, I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD, started taking an antidepressant and anxiety medication, and the baby weight just kinda stuck around. I didn’t care about anything, especially that. In fact, I jokingly called the extra 15 pounds I was carrying around “a souvenir.” The comfort food and dinners we ordered for delivery almost every night, combined with an overwhelming sadness made any desire to care about my looks just go away. I didn’t care about myself, just what I was missing with my son not here. 

And then you know what happens when you kept 15 pounds of souvenir baby weight from your first child and then you get pregnant again and gain 40 pounds? All of a sudden you are paralyzed by the extra weight you need to take off. Some came off naturally, and some from building a house and working outside in our new yard and then some? Some just stuck around. 

I became content and complacent and ok with where I was.

Four years ago, I woke up one morning, and like Forrest Gump, I started running. I was done being stuck. I was going to do something  My goal was to run a 5k and that very quickly turned into a goal of running a half marathon. I ran and ran and ran some more. 

I trained. I got fit (but not super fit). I felt amazing. And then I proceeded to run four half marathons and ten 10Ks and who knows how many 5Ks in four years. Hell, I even ran a 10K and a Half on 2 consecutive mornings. Something I never would have thought I could do. But I did it because I said I was going to do it. And maybe because I’m a little crazy.

GSC Finish

Then I quit. I quit running. I quit it all.

My knees hurt. My toes hurt. My arthritis was really bothering me. 

And then I got a divorce and became a single mom. The decision was mutual between us, but apparently, even if you KNOW that everything’s ok and happy and friendly, there’s still a sadness and grieving period that lingers over the newly divorced. 

And y’all, do you know how single moms (at least this one) eat? Well, ones who don’t want to cook two separate meals because their kid is a picky eater just suck it up and end up eating whatever junk is in the house. Or cereal. Or sometimes both. The easier the dinner, the better. And we all know that “easier” and “delicious” are slang for “pretty shitty for you.”

Ok. You can flashback to now. Flash forward. Whatever.

Anyway, now here I am. 40 and a half. Single, and ridiculously happy.

But I am so incredibly freaking uncomfortable in my own skin.

I’m pretty sure the last straw for me was somewhere around mid-April when I was ordering my Listen To Your Mother dress from eShakti and had to measure all over my body. When I saw the numbers that came back from a measuring tape, I literally cried because those numbers didn’t lie. I couldn’t fudge those numbers like I could the scale for things like “I’m wearing clothes” or “I’ve not pooped today” or any other reason to take 2 pounds off the number.

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That was when I realized how much weight I needed to lose. And how many inches needed to be gone. And how I really just wanted to feel more like myself inside my skin.

Here’s where I tell you my big secret: I don’t consider myself fat. I consider myself uncomfortable, a little fluffy, shapeless, and quite honestly, miserable. Now by some standards, I’m obese. By others, I’m still seen as normal. Whatever. It’s my body. I don’t like it.

I decided it was time to try something… anything. Just make a change.

Like they were reading my mind, I happened to receive an invitation to a take a VIP spin class at a new cycle joint in Dunwoody, CycleBar, and thought to myself, “Hmm. This is my chance to be like Jill Kargman on Odd Mom Out and all the UES women who sell their souls to the instructors at SoulCycle and beg to be yelled at and told to ‘man the eff up, warriors, so you can be thin and hot and sexxxxay’ and yes yes YES! I’m in!”

So I signed up for a free class.

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Well, my class just happened to be two days after I started the 21 Day Fix program my friend Sara told me about and sold me on. 21 Day Fix is a Beachbody program that basically tells you to “stop eating so damn much, girlfriend” and makes you exercise for a half hour each day. The first two workouts kicked my butt. Literally. My butt felt like it had been sno’nuff kicked by a zebra for hours on end.

So I saddled up at CycleBar for my class, alone and scared and so excited I could hardly stand it, but already unable to move from the 21 Day Fix workouts. I planned on sucking it up, going all in, and being the unicorn during the class so I could then going home to declare, “I LOVE EXERCISE!”

photo: WSJ

Jill Kargman, Odd Mom Out. Photo: WSJ

Only, ouch.

I was hungry and tired and so sore I couldn’t brush my teeth and I wanted my mommy. And then I realized, no. I don’t want my mommy. I want the body I had when I was 25 years old. So I did what any woman would do. I signed up for another class. And then another.

Now here I am. After completing a full 21 days of 21 Day Fix and 3 CycleBar classes, I can say that I am still not anywhere near my 25 year old body, but I’m down 5 full pounds and 17 inches (no, that is not a typo). If you feel like it, click HERE to see my before and after photos.

As far as cooking and eating right, while single, on 21 Day Fix? Well, I’ve started cooking my weekly meals on Sundays before Henry comes home and I’m ready for the week with lunches and dinners (for the most part). That gives me more time to spend with Henry during the week, to get in the daily workouts, and even hit the pool (because tan fat is better than pasty fat, right?) with the kid.

I still hate exercise and I still basically hate eating healthy because oh my gosh Krispy Kreme donuts are like little round bites of heaven and way better than a salad, but I love the direction this is going.

Because you know what? I hate feeling this way in my own skin WAY worse than I hate eating baked chicken and plain greek yogurt.

**Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and a link to my personal Beachbody Coach site. If you have questions about Beachbody or 21 Day Fix, feel free to email me at janasthinkingplace@me.com.**

Books I’ve Devoured Lately

I haven’t read as much lately as I have the last few months, but I thought I’d share a few books I’ve LOVED lately.

(contains affiliate links to support my Starbucks habit)

Sometimes I Feel Like A Nut: Essays and Observations from an Odd Mom Out by Jill Kargman

Letters For Scarlet by Julie C Gardner

Guest List: A Novella by Julie C Gardner

The Happy Hour Choir by Sally Kilpatrick

Bittersweet Creek by Sally Kilpatrick

The Girl In The Well Is Me by Karen Rivers

 

4 Things, About 4 Things, About Disney

4 Things, About 4 Things, About Disney

The weekend of February 18-21 was the Princess Half Marathon weekend at Walt Disney World. For the fourth year, I’ve been part of the weekend with Team RMHC — a charity team benefiting the Ronald McDonald House of Central Georgia in Macon. I’ve typically gone down with girl friends who are also running the race, but this year, I took Neil.

That made things a little different, but way fun! Since there were multiple angles to look at on this trip, I’m going to present it in a 4×4 form. Four things, about four things, about Disney. Follow me?

Teamwork

  1. Part of what I love about Princess Half weekend is running (ha) it with Team RMHC. For those who don’t know, The Ronald McDonald House of Central Georgia is an official runDisney charity and gathers a team from across the country to run with them. This year, we were honored to have 120+ team members and raised $100k+.
  2. This was my 4th year running with Team RMHC. I say running like I actually ran this year. No. I walked the 10k this time, though I did “run” across the finish line, simply for the photo! Over those 4 years, I (we — all of you mostly) have raised nearly $11,000 for the Ronald McDonald House in Macon. That’s unbelievable! Thank you!
  3. One of the most fun parts of running with Team RMHC is getting to finally meet all of the runners. I do the communications for the team and get to know the runners via Facebook and email, but it isn’t until we actually meet that we go “AAAHHH!!!” and get excited about putting a name with a face!
  4. I loved being able to introduce Neil to the Ronald McDonald House work I do. I don’t think he truly understood what I meant when I said “I have to work while I’m there” until we got there and greeted people in the Hospitality Suite. Then he got it. And then we did a lot of acting goofy in the hospitality suite! Like this:

Racing

  1. I LOVE racing at Disney. Mostly because it’s not really a race. It’s an event! An event with people (mostly women in this race) of all ages, all races, all sizes, and all skill levels. There are some slow runners/walkers and some are speed demons, but it somehow feels like an even playing field.
  2. Running at Disney is exhausting. There are 3am wake up calls and 5:30am start times and lots of walking and lots of talking and it’s so so exhausting. I wonder if “exhilarating” is a by-product of “exhausting” because at Disney, it sure feels like it.
  3. The Cast Members of the Disney Parks come out in droves to cheer the runners on. This is one of the most fun parts to me, other than seeing the costumes (I don’t ever dress up really). They’re out bright and early, well before the parks open, spreading Disney Magic around with clappers, big Mickey hands, high fives, and great signs!
  4. A Disney finish is a strong finish. Always. No matter how little you’ve trained or how sick from heat stroke you are. You ALWAYS feel filled with Pixie Dust when you’re done. Like this:

Romance

  1. Going to Disney World as an adult, with no children, is something every person needs to do. I’d go so far as to say, if you’re dating someone who hasn’t been to WDW since before Epcot was built, you should definitely do that! Because, hello! That’s so fun!
  2. Selfies around the World in Epcot? Perfect. Somebody (no names mentioned) said he hated it, but secretly loved it. I mean, it’s kinda cool when somebody takes you on a weekend trip around the world, right? Epcot Collage
  3. Magic Kingdom was the same as always: Magical. It was neat doing all the cheesy things there are to do there. You know, like riding the Peoplemover, sitting through the Carousel of Progress, going to the Enchanted Tiki Room, and seeing the compelling and moving Country Bear Jamboree. Really, those cheesy attractions are simply hand-holding avenues at Magic Kingdom. Kinda like the Haunted Mansion is.
  4. You know what’s super sweet and romantic? When your (Ok, fine, I’ll say it out loud) boyfriend who hates to get up early, wakes up and takes a bus to an insane race area and waits for several hours at the finish line of the 10k you’re running. Gold star for Neil, I say. Because it was so so fun to cross the finish line and see him while I was getting my medal! Here’s his capture of me: Finish

Inspiration

I always leave Disney feeling energized and inspired. Exhausted, but also feeling like I’m full of life and excitement! This time I left inspired to do the following:

  1. I want to run again. Not half marathons, but I’d love to be able to bring Henry and have us run the 10k together next year.
  2. I want to feel like I can write again. There’s so much in my head itching to get out, and yet it’s stuck in some other space between my brain and my fingers.
  3. I want to make a difference somewhere. I know I make a difference with Ronald McDonald House and GBS Awareness. But there has to be something else… something new and more that needs what I have to offer.
  4. I need to continue on doing what I’m doing. Living a low-key, barely scheduled, easy-going life. I want to love big and live simply. I want to continue to be me.

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