What I Learned from Bosses (The Good, the Bad & the Crazy)

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From the What I Learned Series

I’ve had a lot of bosses. Most of which were not really qualified to be anyone’s boss. In fact I’m not sure if some of them were even qualified to be human beings. From many of them I took away lessons of mostly what not to do.

First, I want to talk about the good. Mainly because there’s only two people to mention here. The bad and crazy are much longer. My first job out of college I worked in a litigation department of a now defunct manufactured housing company. It wasn’t an easy job. It was a lot of responsibility. And it was emotional work: plaintiff attorneys were nasty; homeowners were pitiful. But nobody ever treated me like I was a kid. They just threw me in and gave me the support I needed. My boss was an attorney who was both extremely intelligent and likable. My only criticism was his horrible handwriting. He saw something in me and helped me grow. He gave me the encouragement I needed to be successful. He taught me to always ask more questions and focus on facts.  I’m glad for that and know I’m better for knowing him.

My all time favorite boss goes to the guy who took a chance on me, hiring me after a brief interview. I didn’t know much about country clubs, but I was a good writer. He gave me the chance to learn and take on my first marketing role. He and I just clicked. I knew what he meant even when he didn’t. He praised me, challenged me and supported me. He was more of a father figure to me than my own father ever was. I know that if I ever really needed anything, he’d help me. Some of the happiest times I’ve ever had at work were with him.

So that’s the extent of the good. Now for the bad. I’ve had a lot of bad bosses. It didn’t start off bad necessarily. But there were red flags. Huge red flags. For example, if someone tries to talk you out of taking the job and you leave feeling as though you were interrogated, don’t take the job! But I did.

This man is not a horrible human being. I think he just doesn’t know how to interact with people or manage people. On one hand, he wanted to be respected and liked; on the other he wanted to be feared and intimidating. In my book, you can’t be both. Respect and fear are mutually exclusive. He didn’t think this way. Because I didn’t fear him and disagreed with him, he wasn’t sure what to do with me. So he set me up for failure. I wanted to reach goals but was unable to execute on projects to attain these goals. He just didn’t understand modern marketing and was fine with being status quo, but that’s not me. Even though I do believe he is a good person, he was very personally hurtful to me and others on occasions. He believed people needed to be publicly humiliated if they made a mistake or broke the rules. He was obsessed with ensuring that people didn’t make personal connections at work. He told me and anyone else that we were replaceable. It was often a really destructive relationship, one that made me doubt my skills and value. However, the worst thing he ever did was make a snide comment to my co-worker about my appearance.

It was hard to go through this because I really loved my job and my colleagues. But I had to leave. I forgive him for his cruelty. I think he’s a very intelligent man; however, I would never under any circumstances work for him again. It taught me so much though. It taught me to always set others up for success and not take them for granted. Sure, we are all replaceable, but saying that to your employees certainly doesn’t build loyalty. I hope maybe he learned some things, too.

So we are getting closer to the crazy! This boss is borderline bad/crazy. It didn’t start out that way. At first, I thought he was an affable guy. He listened to me. Gave me lots of responsibility. He seemed to trust me. Then I got in deeper and started to realize this guy’s morale compass was not only broken but he was the one who had stomped it into the ground. But he had this salesman smile. People liked him. His incompetence was astounding. He was smart in the sense that he knew the industry and knew how to work people. He had zero business acumen. I tried hard to establish processes and controls but had no support. I worked long hours and took a lot of shit from him and our customers. Finally, I kind of just snapped under the pressure. I felt like he wanted me to be untruthful to customers. That’s not me. I held onto my integrity. Ultimately I couldn’t work for someone that I thought to have zero integrity. One of the last things that really pushed me over the edge was a disagreement we had about what I can’t recall. Apparently it became a bit heated, and he said to my face, “Fuck you.”

I don’t hate this guy at all. I just don’t think he’s a great example of a businessman. For my sanity, I’m glad I left. But it taught me so much about being a boss and myself. It taught me that doing the right thing and the profitable thing are often very different. And I’m always going to choose the right thing. Sometimes you just don’t know until you are tested. It taught me how to listen to others when I’m the boss, not just listening to what they say about a project but about goals, ideas and more. Listening is about giving someone your attention and finding out what they are all about. Neither of these men ever listened to anyone about anything: not their employees, their peers or customers.

Now to the crazy. This lady turned out to be one of the most bizarre human beings I’ve ever encountered. She seemed perfectly normal during the interview process. However, it wasn’t long after I started that her crazy started to show. This woman had nothing in her life but work. But she wasn’t remotely good at her job. She seemed to know very little about marketing or communications. For the first few months, any ideas anyone had were shot down. And it wasn’t in a diplomatic way. She’d flat out tell you that your ideas were awful and so was every piece of work submitted to her. I’d get edits back and be shocked that someone could take a concise, well-written piece and turn it into something that didn’t make sense. She refused to get on board with how marketing was changing, telling us that blogging and social media were ridiculous concepts.

But it wasn’t just her ineptitude. This woman was vicious. She insulted everyone personally, made up lies to pit her employees against one another and watched us all to the point of stalking. We had to start parking on the other side of the building because she was always looking to see when we arrived, went to lunch and left. I never heard her say anything positive about anyone or anything except a computer once. She also made remarks that were borderline racist, once stating that all Canadians were lazy because they had a holiday (we had offices in Canada) and weren’t available.

While I was her employee, I had to take leave for an operation that was really serious. Some of my co-workers were aware but not all. Yet she announced it during a staff meeting. She seemed to go out of her way to make everyone around her feel insignificant and foolish. She was cruel just to be cruel. Look, I don’t really hate anyone. I’m just not going to carry that around with me. I chose to believe in karma, which came eventually when she was fired (long after I left). I don’t hate her, but I do believe you get what you deserve in life eventually, good or bad.

So most of the lessons learned were about what not to do. I’ve been on the other side as the boss. When I’ve been in this position, I have tried to be a leader, one that values the talent around me and nurtures it. The boss employee dynamic can be challenging. You can’t really be a friend, but you should be empathetic and open to suggestion. Guess what? Bosses aren’t always right! If you have good people around you who are experts, you should defer to them. Otherwise why did you hire them? One of the fatal flaws of all the bad bosses I’ve had was their own ego. It was their personal preference, not what was best for the brand. I just think there’s no room for ego in the workplace; it’s just going to fill up the room, leaving the boss to see only his own thoughts.

So how have good, bad and crazy bosses influenced your work life? I’d love to hear your stories! Share them by commenting below or tweet me.

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My Mom Wasn’t Perfect

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Mom & Me, 1984

My mom wasn’t perfect. She was an amazing person, teacher, daughter, friend and mother. She was also human and flawed. She didn’t always make the best decisions. She made mistakes. Of course, I didn’t always see things this way. It took time to realize this and accept it. I put my mom on a pedestal for many years. She was and always will be my hero.

I think it took me longer to realize her imperfections because I never really got to have an adult relationship with my mom. We were never really equal. I come from old school parenting. My mom said to me on more than one occasion, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.”

Because I didn’t get the chance to become my mom’s friend, I always saw her through rose-colored glasses. I didn’t want to take off those glasses. I wanted to remember only the good things, but in the end that hurt me, something my mom wouldn’t have wanted.

I never wanted to blame her for anything that happened when I was growing up – it was easier to blame myself. I did not want to take her off that pedestal. How could she not be perfect after her courageous battle against cancer? She was so brave, never feeling sorry for herself, never letting me see how scared she was. Very few people handle anything the way my mom handled cancer – with class and dignity.

It wasn’t until over a decade after her death and years of therapy that I began to see her as regular person capable of messing her kids up like every other parent. She would have never wanted me to see her as perfect; that’s now how she saw herself.

Listen, our parents fuck us all up in one way or another, even the great ones. We all know this is true. Parents are imperfect creatures trying hard to either be like their own parents or the opposite, depending on how they were raised. Guess what parents, whether you admit it or not, you’re going to mess up your kids so just own it.

Parenting today versus when I was a kid is drastically different. My best friend asked me if I thought she was a good mom. I said, “Of course you are. You are present. You play and entertain him. Did your mom play with you?” She shook her head no.

My mom didn’t really play with me either. She played games and cards with me. She gave me plenty of attention and filled my life with activities. But she didn’t get in the floor and play with me. She bought me lots of Barbies and books so I could entertain myself. That’s just how it was. I doubt her mother ever played with her either.

I’m not bitter about any of that. I never felt lonely as a child. I never was starved for attention from her. She was absolutely always there when it mattered. But there were boundaries. She did not coddle me or say I was always right. She was honest with me. She never treated me like a kid. I don’t really remember acting like one very much either. In a way, it felt empowering because I had responsibility and could make my own decisions. In other ways, it created big worries for a little girl. I worried about my mom a lot growing up. I remember worrying about her after my dad left. She was probably sadder about the situation rather than about him. I was really young when they divorced. I have no memories of them together. And to this day, it’s hard for me to picture them as a couple.

My worries for my mom never left and only got worse. It was hard for me to ever mention my stepmother in front of my mom. If I said anything nice, she would cry. I know she didn’t mean to be emotional. And she probably didn’t understand what it did to my little mind and heart. My loyalty was to my mom, which made be less than nice to my stepmother. This in turn caused even more of a rift between my father and me. Even though my father made a lot of bad mistakes and hurt a lot of people, my mom wasn’t helping the situation. It’s really hard to write about what it felt like to be a kid in this situation. Lots of kids have divorced parents. Some handle it better than others. My parents, due to the nastiness of what occurred between them, were in no way co-parenting. My mom was the parent. My father was just somebody I saw now and then. I can’t recall that he ever did anything that would register as parental.

It would have been more ideal if my mom would not have elevated me to adult status so quickly. I was always mature for my age. Maybe I wasn’t ever really a kid. It felt really great that my mom told me things. But it informed my opinion on everything – some good, some bad. This trust made it easier for me to share everything with her. This was until around seventh grade when I hated everything and everybody. Lucky for me, my mom was a teacher at my school. This was the ultimate embarrassment. I didn’t actually have her as a teacher, but my friends did. I couldn’t do anything without her knowing. I had this boyfriend that she adored. She was so mad at me when I broke up with him. I think I did it purely because she liked him. And thus the start of my rebellion!

My rebellious behavior got worse. I was no sweet, innocent girl by any means. Yet it was always important to me that she not know. She let me do a lot and get away with a lot. She trusted me to make decisions then deal with the consequences. She let me date at 14 and spend much unsupervised time with my 18-year-old boyfriend.

Me being open about my life and feelings had ended. I never told her when I lost my virginity or when I cheated on a boyfriend. I just didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. I wanted her to always have this image of me that I was her perfect little girl. I didn’t want to burden her with my worries; she had plenty of her own.

Maybe I did start to see my mom as more human during this time. It’s hard to see your mom sick; especially my mom because she was always so active and athletic. She was six feet tall and could hold her own. Until she couldn’t. Chemo made her weak. She lost a lot of weight and most of her hair. She didn’t look like the same person. So at that point, I knew she wasn’t invincible anymore. That’s a hard thing to learn about your mom, especially at 16. I try hard not to remember her that way. It’s difficult to erase those images. They are somehow burnt into my brain as a reminder of how fragile we all really are.

I know my mom made mistakes every day as a parent. She failed to protect me. She pushed me too hard sometimes academically without really ever asking what I wanted. She let me get away with probably too much. But she loved me fiercely and without condition. I’ve made a lot of decisions based on what I think she would have wanted both during her life and after death.

I still think a lot about the impact she made on my life and what she would do. But I’m my own person now. I’m not her. We are different, very different in some ways. Yet there’s still a lot about me that is absolutely her. I love those parts. I love it when my best friend tells me I’m making a face like her or if I say something that she would have said.

In the end, I think she would be impressed with how I turned out, despite those mistakes. I had an imperfect mother. She was wonderful and beautiful. I’m so glad I had her for the time I did. If I had to do it over again, I absolutely would even though I know how it ends.

I Don’t Have a Five Year Plan

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I’ve always had a plan. I am a planner. Not to say I’m not up for spontaneity, but you won’t find me waiting for a table on a Saturday night because I’d have a reservation.

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my future. Planning seemed the logical path. However, most of my plans have required revision and rerouting. It’s important to be flexible. Not everything can be planned for in life.

I was an ambitious planner in my teens and 20s. I had a vision. I knew what I wanted. I did everything I could to get there. I had lots I needed to check off my list. My young self never got tired (even migraines rarely slowed me). I was emphatic about what and who I was going to be: happy, successful, something.

I finished my second novel at 25. And was busy planning for more. I was submitting poetry and fiction to journals weekly. I was writing pitch letters to agents, researching everything I needed to do to get noticed and basically doing everything to say I’m a writer!

This was early 2000s. Online journals were fairly new. Pitch letters were mailed. Social media hadn’t really become a thing. Back then self publishing was not what you did as a serious writer. So for years, I was planning and working every day. I stayed convinced I could be something. I paid little attention to my own world; wrapped up instead in the worlds I had created.

Perseverance would get me noticed I thought. But it didn’t. There were small victories: short stories and poems were published. A few agents actually wrote me back. So I kept pushing until I had to walk away. Had to find a new plan and tame that dream.

By this time writing was my job. I realized that in marketing I could get paid for writing; it just wasn’t going to be my story to tell. So I rechanneled my energy. I could be a success in marketing. So I went to grad school. Worked all day and went to class at night. Those were long days, but it kept me busy. I needed to be busy. And needed to believe this plan would work. I would shape brands and make the money I deserved. Ambition suited me well; always has.

After grad school, I got a new job with unlimited possibilities. I threw myself into building this brand and increasing business. Work became all I was. My personal life was in shambles so I needed the diversion. Most weeks I worked 60 hours. There was no boundary between life and work. I answered emails late at night and calls on Saturday mornings. Because in my plan if I just worked harder and longer then I’d get where I needed to go. WRONG.

Life’s not fair. Rewards rarely come for the ones always there doing what they say they’re going to do. People will use you, manipulate you and disappoint you. I was burning out when another offer came my way. This opportunity had more structure and a chance to build a marketing team. It seemed like a win. I still had so much drive; so much I wanted to offer.

I did a lot in my time there. But there were still long hours and lots of miles traveled. What was worse was the wall of frustration. I couldn’t get excited about a project because I knew like the 100 before, it would go nowhere. When you don’t allow people to succeed and shine, you dim their passion. When passion is extinguished there’s no resuscitating it. So I had to go leading me to where I am now.

Which is me not really having a plan. I mean I do have a broad picture in mind. And I still keep lots of running lists of what I need to do to further myself. I’m not always motivated. I’m not always my own cheerleader. I could do more.

My plan looks different now. It’s not about money or status or titles. Success looks a little different now. I want to be excited every day about what I’m doing. It’s about loving writing again and not looking at it as a chore.

What will I do without that five year plan that every guru tells me I need? I’m just going to be a rebel. Look, I had plans. They didn’t work out. I waited patiently for that big break, for someone to tell me I was talented. I’m still waiting. Waiting for that one post to go viral or for one publisher to think I’ve got what it takes.

Yet I still feel like a failure 93% of the time. I still worry every day I haven’t lived up to my potential. I’m still haunted by things I should have done differently. I think these things, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Maybe I wasn’t ready for success earlier. Maybe my voice has to get stronger.

So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep believing that if it’s good stuff people will read it. I once heard that dreams can’t become more than that while you’re still sleeping. I’m awake now. Wide awake.

Summer Book Review

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If reading were an Olympic sport, I’d be on my way to gold this summer. I am beyond fascinated with books. I prefer them to most TV and movies. I think because I have such a vivid imagination. I like to imagine the characters in my mind. It’s often why I refuse to watch adaptations of stories I’ve loved. I do lean toward fiction, specifically literary and women’s fiction. I rarely read mass fiction or genres like mystery or science fiction – that’s just not my thing. I also love biographies and true crime.

I fell in love with reading early. My mom and grandmother were both voracious readers. I even used to read encyclopedias and dictionaries! I moved quickly from simple books to chapter books. I read a lot of stuff that probably wasn’t suitable for a kid, but I don’t think it corrupted me.

No one ever had to make me read, whether for English class or fun. I even liked the ones others grumbled about like A Tale of Two Cities or anything Shakespeare. Sometimes it wasn’t so easy to understand because we don’t really talk like that anymore, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

So as I said I’ve been burning through books this summer. I haven’t been to the beach or on holiday, but it’s been my escape from the heat. Here’s a quick review of my summer reads.

The Vegas Diaries – Holly Madison
She’s the former playmate who made her debut into fame on reality TV, but she ditched the mansion and headed to find herself in Vegas. I really liked Holly’s first book, which focused on her time at the mansion so I gave her second book a try. Holly has a really clear voice in this book; maybe more so than the first. There are certainly some funny stories, but what I loved the most was how she wove in Vegas history throughout the book. I could tell that the history of a place is important to her. I highly recommend both her books.

The Weekenders – Mary Kay Andrews
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but she has been a bestseller for quite some time. It’s definitely a beach read. It is actually set in NC so I appreciated that. It’s a bit of mystery meets chick lit. It was somewhat predictable. Most of the characters were either not very developed or were straight from a recipe of how this type of person should be. I was more interested in the main character’s best friend, but she was just the sidekick role. Sometimes we don’t want to work too hard to be entertained so if you don’t this is a good book.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
This is probably one of my all time favorites! A young professor accompanies her boyfriend for a summer vacation back to his home country of Singapore; only to find out he’s crazy rich. I had little exposure to Singapore or Asian culture before reading this, and I learned a lot while also being entertained. The characters are well drawn; the dialogue is spot on and the descriptions beautifully done. It’s a massive book, but so good, I finished in a weekend. The author grew up in Singapore so it’s truly authentic. This is the first in a series. Will be reading the next one as well. You must read this book!

We Could Be Beautiful – Swan Huntley
This is a debut novel. I read some good reviews so I gave it a shot. It features the ultra rich of NYC centering around a woman who lives off a trust, is unlucky in love and has a mother suffering from dementia. I was pretty turned off by the protagonist. She wasn’t someone I could with whom I could relate. I will say that in any good book, you don’t have to like the characters but be intrigued and interested by them. I was neither. But I’m a sucker for a twist. However, finding out who her new suitor really is wasn’t hard. I did finish the book. The ending tries to tie up everything nicely without making sense. It’s billed as a psychological thriller. I would say it’s more melodrama.

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva
The book starts with a survival reality show then something goes wrong. Something has happened in the outside world, but the main character isn’t sure if it’s real or not. This was a great read. Suspenseful but very character driven. The protagonist was richly developed, and I really empathized with her. I won’t give any more away, but I will say it ends on a bright note.

Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty
This is from the author of The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, both of which were great books. The author is Australian and the story is set in Sydney and its suburbs. Three families are having a barbecue on a Sunday afternoon when something happens. You don’t know what that something is until about 300 pages in, but the back story and the development of the characters is worth it. What the characters do and how they react makes sense because you feel like you know them. This was probably my least favorite of the three books I have read, but the characters were real and flawed. It certainly made me think of the consequences of even the smallest mistakes.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch
I first began familiar with this author when I watched the Wayward Pines last summer. I loved the show and thought I’d check out the books, too. I only read the first one in the trilogy. I preferred the TV show to the book. The book seemed to go on and on during this one scene where the protagonist is trying to make it up a mountain. Anyway, I decided I’d give him another try with his new novel. And I’m glad I did. This book was a definite improvement. It has tones of science fiction, but it is much more than that. The characters are the heart of the book. Also, the big ideas of quantum physics are explained simply so even an English major could understand! The story centers around a college professor who thinks about what his life would have been like had he not married and had a family. What were the other choices that he could have made? What if there are infinite worlds out there with many versions of ourselves that are different simply because of the choices we have made. This book was really well done. Highly recommend.

I also reread 1984 by George Orwell, which seemed fitting in these times. It’s a classic for a reason. Haven’t picked my next book yet. Thinking about non-fiction. I’m anxiously awaiting the publishing of one of my favorite authors Jennifer Weiner’s new book, Hungry Heart, which is a collection of essays. Have any suggestions? Would love to hear what your summer read was.

Happy reading!

Tales from a Food Cult

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I wouldn’t exactly say I grew up in a food cult, but it was the south so it’s slightly accurate. In the South, feeding someone is how you show affection. Consider it cuisine currency. Many times it takes the place of having to say “I love you,” “I’m sorry” or any talk of “feelings.” We’re not repressed in the South necessarily, we’re just more likely to say, “Bless your heart” than anything else.

Not to say I wasn’t loved growing up. I certainly was by many people. Many of those people just happened to feed me a lot. Whether things were good or bad, we would eat. Both of my grandmothers were amazing cooks (my mom was an okay cook, but she really didn’t love it). My Granny Faye was the queen of southern comfort food and baking. She made lots of cakes – birthdays, weddings, celebrations. She made homemade butter cream icing, which she often let me lick from the bowl. Interestingly enough, I really hate butter cream icing now. I never visited her without her asking me what I wanted to eat. She was a serious food pusher. This all seemed very normal to me. My other grandmother, Granny Helen, made the best mashed potatoes, apple pie and sweet tea. I was raised on sweet tea, the kind that would give you instant diabetes it was so sweet.

So I ate some really great food growing up. I was very active then so weight wasn’t really an issue. Until around fourth grade; that’s when I started to look a little pudgy. And I had a bad perm and glasses – not a good year for me. It was during this time that I was first called fat, and I realized that being thin meant fitting in.

The cakes kept coming though. On one hand, I began to understand that cakes made me fat, and on the other hand, people I loved gave me cake. It was confusing. Was food good because it meant someone loved me or was it bad because it made me fat? I can say that my friends and classmates never teased me about my weight. But I did get a lot of it in dance class. Those girls were brutal. I lost my desire for dance after this and stopped taking classes.

By seventh grade, I had grown a few inches and was suddenly thin again. I was told I had shed my baby fat. Boys started to be more interested, and everyone complimented me on my appearance. No one was telling me I needed to lose weight anymore. I was accepted again, praised for being pretty and thin. But there was still cake. Food started to become more of a comfort. I had learned it meant love, but now I was using it as a way to not feel bad. I couldn’t love myself or possibly have the awareness that I have now so food was an answer. It was all a balance – food versus being thin.

The pressure to be thin, of course, only escalated in high school. There was so much going on in my life outside of normal teen angst that I felt like I didn’t have control of much. I could control food. So began a long journey of trying to get out of the food cult. I could eat food and feel comforted but not deal with repercussions of it by throwing it back up. I could not eat and see how long I could go, how far I could push myself. This went on for many years on and off, depending on stress, hurt and waist size. I’ve also been obsessed with exercise; there were periods I worked out twice a day. I’ve gone months on 1,000 calories a day. I haven’t really been a fad dieter just a desperate one.

Over the years, I’ve been thin, I’ve been chubby, I’ve had muscles and I’ve been fat. I don’t thinking I was ever really happy with the way I looked even when I was at my smallest. I still didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. I still saw every imperfection. I don’t think I’m unique in this struggle. My feelings about my body aren’t just due to the experiences I had growing up. There’s also of course the beauty obsessed culture we live in. There have been some advances in thought about what is beautiful. There have been many courageous women who accept their bodies and are happy with the way that the look, even if it’s not the “ideal” that’s been set by magazines and Hollywood. Good for them. I’m not there yet.

Fortunately, even when I don’t feel good about the way I look, I have a man who doesn’t see my imperfections and tells me I’m beautiful every day. I love and trust this man, but I would never reveal my weight to him. I know he loves me regardless yet that doesn’t make me brave enough to be completely honest. I haven’t always been so lucky. It’s devastating when the one person who should be attracted to you suddenly isn’t.

Even though it’s wonderful to have acceptance from the one I love, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have it from myself. I wasn’t taught to accept myself as is – physically or otherwise. That’s not how Americans think. I grew up looking at Barbie, the most popular toy for girls and my personal favorite. She’s perfect, actually too perfect. I know they have new Barbies now that look more normal, but that wasn’t my childhood.

How can a woman sort out what’s important when she’s praised the most when she weighs the least? Food is, of course, necessary; it’s our fuel. I just wish I had understood from the beginning that food doesn’t mean love, and it doesn’t provide comfort. I’m still thankful for anyone who will cook for me because I don’t cook. But every bite of food I put in my mouth comes with this dialogue in my head.

I honestly want to eat healthy. And, for the most part, I like healthy foods. I am a bit picky, but I will at least try most things. But I also really love French fries and red velvet cake. Right now, we are in the midst of some serious dieting to prep for the wedding and honeymoon. We do have one cheat meal per a week. Otherwise, we’d go insane.

So I think it’s important to put any subject or challenge I have through a wider scope. The fact is people are still going hungry in this world. Yet obesity is rampant. It’s a strange dichotomy. Someone starves; someone overeats. Some suck their fat out at a cost of thousands of dollars while others scrounge in a dumpster. So in the end, people are dying to eat and dying to be thin.

This should make me have kinder eyes when I look in the mirror. I would think it’s a marvelous thing to look at yourself with love rather than disgust. This is a struggle happening every day in mirrors all over the world. We want to be happy with what we see instead of filled with doubt. All these years later, I guess I’m still in that food cult because when certain ideas become entangled, it’s hard to separate them. Food does not equal love. Being thin doesn’t mean you are a good person. But believing all this, however, is something really hard to do. I can only say that I will keep trying. And I will forever always want cake. 

City Girl

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I am a city girl. There’s no doubt about it. But I started life in a small town. And almost from birth, I knew I was in the wrong place, as evidenced by my role as the City Mouse in The Country Mouse & The City Mouse in kindergarten.

I grew up in the same town as my mom; even went to the same high school. She was happy there with her parents and friends close by. She did leave when she went to college but came back. I always knew I wanted out. I wanted to live in a city.

My mom took us to cities (well at least bigger cities than our small town) a lot growing up, regular shopping trips to Winston and Greensboro and occasionally Charlotte. I would often ask why we couldn’t move to a city. The city had stores and things to do! She thought it was funny, but I was serious. She’d remind me that my friends and grandparents were all here. But I knew I’d get the chance to leave when I went away to college.

Maybe I would have gone further and left the state had circumstances been different. I wanted to spread my wings but being close to my sick mom was more important. So I went to the school my mom wanted me to go to that was less than an hour away.

However, it was technically a city. Not huge but bigger than my small town. I’m glad I made that choice because for the last three months of my mom’s life that’s where she was hospitalized. I was able to visit her almost every day. I would not have had this time with her if I would have made a different choice. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices about what we do and where we live.

After that city came a bigger city then an even bigger city. I’ve now lived in Charlotte 12 years. And Charlotte is the real deal big city (17th largest in the US). It has grown amazingly in the last 12 years. I even recall from visiting here as a kid when no one went downtown (think pre-Panthers) and the major strip was Independence. But now downtown is uptown, and it’s where everyone wants to be.

I’ve lived in many different areas in these 12 years including a stint in the suburbs. And I hated everything about it. I’m not suburban. There’s not one shred of me that could cut it in a cul-de-sac (even if it was as exciting as Knots Landing – if you don’t know what Knots Landing is then ask Google – you’ll want to know!). But after marriage, it seemed like the path to take. White picket fence and all that ridiculousness.

So after my divorce I needed a fresh start so I moved downtown. I had never really lived in a downtown before. Even though I didn’t feel the tingle and energy like in NYC, it was still city life. And I thought this is for me. I could walk anywhere I needed to go. There was always something going on, and people everywhere. I loved the anonymity of it. Like I could disappear in the crowd. Maybe that’s why I’ve always craved the city. Because in a small town everybody knows your story. You can’t disappear. A trip to the grocery store could end up traumatic.

And I speak from experience. I do still visit that small town where I’m from because people I love are still there. But if they weren’t I don’t think I’d ever go back. Sometimes a place can have a hold on you, make you feel different. I don’t hate it like I did growing up. It’s just a place, a place where both good and bad things happened. It’s worth it for the amazing company.

We live just outside of downtown now, and I go to work there every day. Charlotte is still booming. And I can appreciate that it’s a good market. We stay here because this is where we have some roots, but it isn’t a place I love. My hope is that in the not too distant future, we can live in a city we love, preferably on the west coast.

In the end, I suppose where you live doesn’t matter as much as with whom. However, that doesn’t mean I’d go back to a small town or suburbia. Of course, I’m pretty sure we’d be ditch the city for a cottage on the beach in Jamaica. And anything is possible, even for a girl from a small town.

I Just Wanted a Choice

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We encounter choices all day every day. Some decisions are easy; others are hard. But we like choices (or at least the illusion of them). It makes us feel like we have control over our lives. Until something happens that leaves you choiceless. I’ve made lots of choices in my life; some good, others less than good. But there is a choice I never got to make: becoming a mom.

Look, I will be perfectly honest. I don’t  really know much about motherhood. I’ve certainly witnessed a lot of it. It’s hard work; not for the squeamish. But it comes with big rewards. Being a parent means you are responsible for this human being and that child must become your priority.

On the other side of motherhood, I can tell you that’s how my mom made me feel. I knew I was the most important thing to her. But we all know not everyone has that experience.

My mother and most of the mothers I know made a choice. The choice was to be a mom. Some got there easier than others. But it was a driving want in their lives.

I’m not sure I ever had that. I never heard any ticking from my biological clock, and I’m more likely to be maternal toward animals. And I’m not alone. I have many friends who have made the choice to not have children.

Because we do get a choice now. This probably wasn’t the case 50 years ago. You got married and had babies. That was the story. There weren’t many alternatives unless you were wealthy. And if you could not have children then you were damaged and unfit.

My road to my choice started as a child. I preferred Barbies to baby dolls. Barbies dressed up and went to work. Babies did nothing. I was not impressed.

Babies were not on my mind during my teenage years, but by chance somehow I ended up as a nanny in college. I spent a lot of time helping raise other people’s kids. I enjoyed it. Most of the kids I worked with were good kids. I tried to be fun, but I’ll admit I was strict. Good manners were expected. During the summers, I took them to museums, parks, the pool and on adventures. This was probably the first time in my life that I thought I want to do this for real some day.

Not long after graduating from college, I became serious with the man I would eventually marry. We talked about kids. He was less enthusiastic than me, but we were really young. We had plenty of time to figure it out.

Of course that’s not the way life works; things happen. I had less choices and time. Because at 23 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was major. I lost an ovary, but the doctor said I was young. I’d be fine. It wouldn’t come back.

But it did. And I had another surgery. There was still a slim chance I could get pregnant. My oncologist was saying that he couldn’t guarantee me any more time. If I wanted a baby I had to make the choice now. I considered freezing my eggs. I even made an appointment.

I still felt unsure. And I knew that having a child would not fix me or my marriage. Even though I thought a lot about having a little girl sitting in front of me looking like me, my mom and grandmother, we never tried.

Then I became choiceless. Because shortly after turning 30, my cancer was back. And this time, the doctor had to take everything.

So there I was: 30 years old in menopause going through a divorce. The physical pain was bad, but no matter how old you are, knowing that you are barren changes you.

It informed my thoughts about myself and my choices. How could I date again? The scars were bad enough but what was underneath was worse: nothing.

So my choice was not to say I can’t have kids but to say I don’t want kids. It wasn’t a lie. That’s probably the decision I would have made. I just never got the chance to decide. That’s what kills me the most; having no choice. Don’t wish for something you can’t have kind of logic.

Infertility isn’t a first or second date subject. But then I began a relationship with a man who knew of my health because he was a friend. Even though he was over 10 years older than me, I began to think that maybe we’d get married and want to have a family. He didn’t have any children. I thought we could adopt. There were options. But that was a delusional fairytale. He and I were not meant to be. There was a lot of hurt probably none more than the day he said, “I want to have children with someone who can have children.”

To hear this from a man you love is soul crushing. I forgave him. But everything changed for me after that. I stopped believing in our happily ever after.

So I made a choice to be on my own. And why did I want a baby anyway? No sleep, stretch marks, baby brain. No thank you. I was free to make so many choices and do what I wanted.

Then I found real love. And I knew all the baggage I had about babies could be discarded. His kids were grown. He wasn’t interested in anymore. He knew my situation and had no qualms. He only cares about if I’m healthy.

I still occasionally think about what choice I would have made. I think I would have been a good mom. But motherhood isn’t for everyone. And it isn’t fair either. I’m at peace with knowing I’ll never be a mom. I’ve grieved it and accepted it. Sometimes I linger on it, wishing I could have the experiences my friends have as a mom or longing to have someone call me mommy. I’m not sure if that will ever go away, but I don’t live a life of regret. This was not the hand I was dealt. I’m meant to do other things. And my heart and empathy go out to every woman out there who has experienced any type of infertility.
Having your choices stripped away, regardless of the situation, is hard to move forward from. But I can’t be stuck in the past. I can’t change what happened. What I have the power to do is make great choices every day about how I live my life. And my choice is to share my story so that anyone who reads this might find some solace.