The Good and the Bad

Life is full of contrasts. The other day, I was reading a book to one of the children I nanny, and it talked about how we shouldn’t hate the dark, because without it, we would never know when we had the light turned on. We have great things, and we have awful things, and sometimes we have average things, too. But life isn’t really life without all of them together. We need the dark to know what light is, and we need the light to understand the dark. And sometimes in these contrasts, we can find answers, or new ways of looking at old problems. We can gain context for interpreting them, for coping with them. We can grow through them, good and bad.


As some of you might know already, I am engaged! I will always look back on the moment that Shane asked me to marry him as one of the happiest moments of my life. It’s a level of pure, inexpressible joy that I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience. Every “congratulations”, every time I get to tell the story again, every spreadsheet we fill in as we start planning a wedding together, brings me another burst of this total full-heart happiness. My life is full of a new light, and it shines so bright alongside the contrasting darkness I have been learning to move through.

When I first moved to North Carolina, I knew that I needed to see a therapist. The experience of finally being in an emotionally supportive and healthy relationship forced perspective and allowed me to see how unhealthy other parts of my life had become, or maybe always had been. The contrast was undeniable. I started to share pieces of my life, of my story, that I had never shared before. Or that I had tried to, but unsuccessfully. And I experienced two more feelings I never thought that I would ever experience: support and validation. With encouragement from Shane, I found an amazing therapist, and after dumping my soul out into a puddle on the floor of her office, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For the first time in my life, I was able to be honest with myself about how truly awful and lasting some of my experiences have been. The emotional abuse and trauma I experienced, starting in childhood and carrying on until I stopped it at 23, was so impactful that I have this disorder, this label, that means my brain – my life – has been forever altered by the trauma I lived through.

I’m doing my best to learn about PTSD, as much and as often as I can, but I’m clearly not a doctor and wouldn’t call myself qualified to define it for anybody. I do know how it has impacted my life, though. It affects me in unexpected ways, sometimes small and sometimes overwhelmingly large. For one, I forget everything. I forget to do majorly important tasks, even with several reminders. I forget words in the middle of sentences. I forget names. I forget where I put the phone I’m speaking into. And, as it turns out, that is all because my hippocampus was actually physically damaged by the trauma I experienced as a child. My PTSD broke my memory. Literally. An overload of cortisol and noradrenaline (which occurs when significant and sustained trauma is experienced) have shrunk certain parts of my hippocampus, parts responsible for retention, memory, and language. I’m bad at remembering, and I’m never going to get good, because my brain is literally actually damaged.

And that is a very hard thing to know. Some days I feel like I am absolutely capable of overcoming this. I feel empowered, and strong, and like a total badass for surviving an awful childhood and coming out the other side. And then other times, I remember that a piece of my brain has quite literally shrunk. That I have a greater chance of dying due to a cardiovascular condition. That I’m much more likely to have gastrointestinal issues or musculoskeletal problems, or many more physical conditions. Not to mention the dramatically increased chance of suffering from depression or anxiety, of committing suicide, or of developing a substance-abuse problem. It is so disheartening to know that my body, my mind, and my actual brain are all irrevocably changed in harmful and impactful ways because I experienced awful things, things over which I had no control. It’s hard not to feel like my abusers are still here, still hurting me. The ramifications of their abuse lingers, and will continue to linger, and no amount of going to therapy or taking depression medication or doing yoga is going to give me back the missing pieces of my hippocampus.

And I know that’s not a positive or optimistic way of looking at it. I know I’ve just gone on about perspective, and contrast. About how we need the bad to feel how good the good is. And I promise, I’ll come back to that. But sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, when my google search is full of questions that have plenty of answers and no solutions, all I have left is to sit with the knowledge that I, like my hippocampus, am a shrunken version of what I could have been. As my brain and personhood were developing, my growth was stunted, squished, and diminished. And I can’t get it back. There’s no cure for a shrunken hippocampus, or for a stunted emotional development. And I can go to therapy, and do my endless painful worksheets, but at the end of the day I’m not going to remember why I came into this room in the first place. I’m going to realize that what I started writing fifteen minutes ago is not what I’m writing anymore. I’m going to apologize before thanking somebody, because I’m going to feel like needing anything worth gratitude is an imposition that necessitates remorse. And when somebody accidentally breaks a cup or a plate, I’m going to need at least fifteen minutes to take deep breaths and remind myself that I’m safe.

What I’m trying to say is that coping with this new diagnosis has been very, very hard. It’s jarring to move between the feelings of bliss I have when I’m thinking about marrying my best friend, and the feelings of hopelessness I experience when I have another incapacitating flashback. It’s strange to experience such strong and overpowering and totally opposite sets of emotions. But, in a way, it’s helpful, too.


When my fiancé and I have an argument that never escalates to yelling, that ends in a feeling of caring and resolution, I am thankful and proud in a way that I know I would not be if I hadn’t lived so long believing that kind of conversation was not possible. When I need his help, and he doesn’t tear me down, when he’s simply there and willing to help me however he can because he loves me, I feel overwhelming gratitude because this is new to me, and I didn’t know if I would ever have it. This joy that I feel when we are together, it fills me up. It explodes out of me in bright yellow fireworks. It makes me cry, and dance, and laugh. It is overwhelming in its depth, its completeness. And I’m not saying that I couldn’t feel this happy if I hadn’t experienced so much pain. But I know that I wouldn’t be so absolutely thankful for it, for every second of it, if it wasn’t a feeling I never thought I could have before now.

And it doesn’t stop there, with my fiancé, with our new life together. I am able to deeply feel the love and selfless support that my father and step-mother show me. I’m blown away each time they give so freely, simply because they want me to be happy. I am able to appreciate the innocence and laughter of the children I nanny, the wild and unburdened imaginations they possess. When I throw out my arms and pretend to be a bird, or when we go on a bear hunt together through the corners of the house, I am able to feel so grateful that childlike wonder doesn’t have to end when you grow up. I’m able to value each chance I have to play with them and feel like a child again. I am able to be so so thankful for my future parents-in-law and the wonderful, kind open arms with which they have welcomed me into the family. And, maybe more than anything else, I’m thankful that I’ve come through it all. I’m thankful that I have the resources to go to therapy, the support system to lean on as I learn to manage the symptoms of PTSD, the conviction to work harder every day to improve my mental health, and the voice and strength to talk about what I’ve gone through. I am so privileged to be standing where I am today, to be getting the help that I need to recover from my past, and I feel infinitely grateful to be able to share this experience and know it will not impact my safety.


            If I’ve learned anything from therapy, it’s that every emotion gets a seat at the table. I’m learning how to feel angry, how to unpack my sadness, and how to manage my fear. These are valid, and important. Ignoring them doesn’t make me happier, or make my life better. What does is learning to embrace them all, and then deeply, emphatically appreciate the happiness. Yes, I have experienced some awful things. I have felt deeply, overwhelmingly, crushingly sad, and angry, and hopeless. But when I gained the capacity to feel those things so fully, I also gained the capacity to truly appreciate how big and bright the happiness can be. Living with PTSD is always going to be painful, but living with the person I love most is always going to be wonderful. Putting in the work to heal will always be hard, but laughing with my fiancé will always be easy. Speaking out about my past and my mental health will always be terrifying, but knowing that I might just help someone else going through the same thing will always be empowering. And I think, maybe, I can live with the hard if it means being able to know that.

Moving. Is. Hard.

Moving. Is. Hard.

If you take anything away from this post, learn that moving is complicated and messy and emotional and crazy and just hard. Also, it’s wonderful.

In the interim between my last blog post and now, I packed up everything I owned, moved half into storage and half into the back of my car, and drove it across the country from Montana to North Carolina. As of today, I’ve lived in my new home for almost a month. I spent the first week settling in: unpacking boxes, getting my driver’s license, spending lots and lots of time reveling in the feeling of living with a person I love… I spent the following three starting my new job (more on that later), learning how to drive in a city, attending high school choir concerts, and just generally settling in to my new life. And I’ve tried, every day, to sit down and write this post. And, every day, I’ve shut my computer and found something else to do instead. Because really, how can I even put this experience into words? How could I ever tie it up with a neat little bow and a lesson about what I learned along the way? The answer is that I can’t. But I’m doing this radical new thing where I’m completely honest about my feelings, so I’m going to try anyway.

Packing up a one bedroom apartment is a lot more work than it may appear. For one thing, I lived on the second level of my building and was transporting everything down a hall, down the stairs, through a heavy door, down another hall, and into my first-floor garage. For another, I had apparently become quite the packrat, so each box that already lived in my garage (still packed from the last move I made, whoops) required being unpacked, thoroughly examined and decluttered, and repacked. When I gave notice with my job, I allowed myself a little under a week for these tasks, and thank goodness I did. My wonderful sister and brother-in-law helped me move the heavy pieces of furniture like my bed and dresser, but everything else was up to me. For a journey that ended in living with someone, the beginning was one of the most isolating and lonely experiences of my life.

I tried my best to stay cheerful. I was excited, so intensely excited, for this move. I had so much to look forward to. But I was also tired, waking up every single night with overwhelming nightmares. I was exhausted, too, from the heavy lifting and the bending and the endless, endless staircases. Muscles started to ache that I didn’t even know I had. I experienced a new wave of sadness every time I packed away a photo of me with my best friend, or a picture the kiddos had drawn me at work. All of that, and much more that I won’t air out here, made that one of the worst weeks I’ve ever gone through. Never before have I experienced a loneliness so acute as sitting alone in an almost-empty room, packing pictures of people I’d said goodbye to.

But it’s not all bad! The decluttering was brutal, but once I was done, it was so refreshing to know how little I had to move, and how much everything I owned truly meant to me. Gone were the piles of meaningless papers and magazines, the boxes of broken knick-knacks or random things I couldn’t even remember buying. My closet was cut in half, my book collection was pared down to four boxes (which, believe me, was a major accomplishment), and each framed photo or knick-knack I kept had a meaningful history. Not only that, but confronting the sometimes painful memories I had hidden at the bottom of various boxes and drawers became a cathartic and absolutely necessary experience. Leaving Montana was a choice borne of so many competing factors, but in those lonely moments, I was forced to truly confront the ones I had been hiding from. I had to face the painful reality head-on, and I was lucky enough to be able to tell it goodbye. When I locked my storage unit for the last time and drove off, the boxes of highest import stacked like Tetris blocks in the back of my car, I felt lighter somehow. Sure, my car probably weighed about a thousand extra pounds, but my life was lighter. I had gotten rid of some heavy, heavy baggage.

The trip itself was equal parts stressful and wonderful. I was lucky enough to spend three days in Colorado visiting family, and then another full day in Kansas City visiting one of my oldest, best friends. Taking this time in between days full of driving was absolutely vital for my sanity, and also for my butt (which was literally numb for a solid hour at the end of my longest day of driving). In Colorado, I spent some much-needed time with my Dad, step-mom, grandparents, and other family members. In KC, we had a great adventure at the zoo. The weather coming down through Wyoming and Colorado was great, as was the weather driving across Colorado and Kansas. Then, as I was leaving Kansas City, all hell broke loose. A blizzard in Illinois turned into a torrential downpour in the mountains of Tennessee that followed me until I stopped for the night in Knoxville. I may know my way around driving through the snow, but that was a kind of rainstorm I had never experienced before. I had no idea what I was doing. I probably should have pulled over somewhere and waited it out. When I finally made it to my hotel room, I broke down into a full panic attack the second I heard the door shut behind me. I called my boyfriend and, eventually, I calmed down enough to fall asleep.

The next day, though, everything was shiny and new. The sun shone brighter than it had since I left Montana. All of the dirt and muck from driving through snow and slush had been washed off my car. There probably wasn’t a single spot of Montana dirt that survived the rainstorm. I began to think of my previous day as less of a day from hell, and more of a trial-by-water. A baptism, of sorts. The stress and pain I had been carrying with me from Montana eroded bit by bit with every mile I drove, and the rainstorm forced the last pieces of it away. What little remained disappeared the second I crossed the North Carolina state border.

Moving across the country was an experience unlike any other. Maybe someday, I’ll write a post about the logistics: how to pack a perfect box, how to organize a storage unit, how to turn the trunk of your car into the Tardis and fit everything you own inside… But for now, I’m focused on recuperating from the most stressful drive of my life. I’m focused on unpacking boxes – those from my car, and those from my mind. I’m working on learning how to stop packing things away just because they’re hard to deal with. And most of all,  I’m focused on settling in to this beautiful new life I have in North Carolina, a life where even a trip to the grocery store is an adventure thanks to who I’ve got beside me.

Be More Chill

When I decided to write a book review for each book I read during the 2018 Challenge, I didn’t exactly think through the fact that I’ll be reading 50 books this year! Needless to say, between packing for a move and actually reading the books, I’ve gotten a bit behind. Nonetheless, I’ve promised book reviews, so book reviews you shall receive!

After reading Kondo’s book and being forced to reckon with the sheer quantity of things I own, I wanted something a little less… personal. So, I moved on to Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill, which filled the category of “a book that is also a stage play or musical.” It also filled my own personal category of a book my boyfriend has been asking me to read for forever. He had recommended it to me months ago, telling me that it was a YA novel about a teen dealing with high school. Those of you who have read this book are probably laughing now. I had no idea what I was in for.

I’ll provide a small synopsis here, but know that if you haven’t read it and want to experience the same shock I did, stop reading this now and go read that instead. It’s truly fantastic.

Be More Chill follows Jeremy, a high school student dealing with the same thing most high school students deal with: the desire to be cooler. He wants to get through high school unscathed and, perhaps, get the cute girl he likes while he’s at it. After a rocky beginning full of more second-hand embarrassment than I knew what to do with, Jeremy learns about something called a “squip.” It’s basically a pill that you take that activates a computerized voice in your head, which then tells you what to do and say in order to, well, be more chill. The novel is great about explaining the mechanics of this, from the inner-workings of the squip itself to the way that it interacts with the brain. I, however, am not great about understanding them, so if that’s your thing you will have to read it yourself. I could go on and on about all of the interesting things that follow the moment Jeremy gets a squip, but I sincerely do not want to ruin what is an intensely unique and surprising plot, so please just take my word for it, one more time, and read it yourself.

Sometimes when I read YA novels, I find myself making mental notes about how I would teach it in a classroom setting. This book was full of them, though it definitely deals with some mature content and language. It may be a tough sell to get into a classroom, but the overarching theme of a desire for acceptance is something all teenagers (and adults, really) can relate to. I mean, I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish for an instruction manual to get me through high school. 

This book is weird and wonderful, and I’d love to share more about it, but I genuinely want you all to feel the same shock and uncertainty that I did as I worked my way through the plot. If you have read this book (or even if you just want to), feel free to discuss it in the comments! I’d love to hear what you think. 

Challenge Accepted

As part of my goal to make 2018 the year of being kind to myself (because This One’s For Me, read more on that here), I decided to take on POPSUGAR’s 2018 Reading Challenge. I convinced my boyfriend to join in and help keep me inspired (though it didn’t take much convincing, he loves books as much as I do), and have roped in one or two more friends to embark upon this year of reading. For those of you who aren’t familiar, POPSUGAR releases annual challenges that help cultivate a more diverse year of reading. There are 40 basic prompts and 10 additional “advanced” prompts, bringing the possible yearly total to 50 books – a large, but definitely doable, goal. 

Spending time going through the list and assigning books is just as fun as reading them, at least it is for a huge nerd like me. I’ve already mapped out several, and am excited to start researching books in the remaining categories to finish my list. To bring a little extra adventure to the challenge (and to help with another resolution, to write every day), I’ve decided I’ll bring you all along for the ride by reviewing the books I read during the challenge. So, without further ado, I present my first book review of 2018.

I started with Mari Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book that’s lived on my Kindle for months now, thus checking off the category “a book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to.” I read it two short sessions, taking a break in between to put some of Kondo’s tips to the test. This book has been hyped up for so long, now, that I’ve been promising myself I’d read it forever. It seemed like the perfect book for the moment, though, because what better time to declutter your life than when you’re packing everything you own into boxes?

The book itself is a quick read, which made it a great jumping-off point for the year. As with many self-help and advice books, I know I won’t utilize everything she discusses, but much of what Kondo advises is a great baseline for organization. Her tips for decluttering made the biggest impact, and I’ve already begun implementing it in my closet. I removed each item of clothing from my closet (a process that took longer than I’d like to admit) and held them, making the active choice to keep or discard. Kondo says to keep what brings you joy when you hold it, so as I reviewed my wardrobe, I tried to do just that. It may seem a little hokey at first, but I can honestly say that it didn’t take long to actually work. Looking at each item of clothing I own and choosing to get rid of those that don’t make me happy was incredibly effective, and I ended up purging six garbage bags of clothes that either didn’t fit, felt uncomfortable, or just generally didn’t make me feel good when I put them on. Asking yourself what brings you joy is a great way to really honestly take stock of what you should and shouldn’t hang on to. However, I don’t know that I’ll apply the same principle to paperwork or kitchen utensils. My medical file doesn’t exactly bring me joy, but that doesn’t mean I should throw it out. 

The remainder of the book deals a lot with organizing and putting items away. This is where she started to lose me a little. Kondo advises putting everything away, all the time, no exceptions. Even down to emptying your purse or backpack at the end of each day. She also urges readers to thank your items for their service, telling your purse how hard it worked or thanking your socks for keeping your feet warm. I have a hard time seeing the practicality of this level of tidying, and I probably will not be trying it myself. As much as I loved her decluttering techniques, I just can’t bring myself to keep the shampoo I use every morning in a cabinet or to dry my kitchen sponge outside. That being said, I think the root of this advice is really fantastic. While I won’t be speaking to my clothes any time soon, I love the idea of being more intentional about feeling gratitude. I’m not going to thank my purse for working hard, but isn’t it great that I have a job that allowed me to buy a purse that makes me smile every time I see it? How wonderful is it that I live in a society that allows me to dress in clothes that bring me joy? How fantastic is it that I have a wonderful friend who so thoughtfully gave me a gorgeous ukulele? We all have so much stuff, and – for me, at least – it is so easy to lose track of how lucky we are to have so much, and to have so many opportunities to make the things we own useful, beautiful things that bring us joy. I love Kondo for the fact that I won’t have to ship half my clothes across the country when I move, but this lesson in gratitude was my favorite takeaway from her book. 

To start our challenge off right, this was also my boyfriend’s first book of 2018. I think I liked much more of the book than he did, especially in the second half, but I think he’s also excited to try out some of her suggestions.

All in all, it was a great way to start off the reading challenge. It inspired me to get a head start on my packing, helped me act on a resolution I’ve been making for years, and reminded me just how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many things (and people) that bring me joy.

Tips For the Best Solo Road Trip

Rules of the Road:

How to Have the Best Road Trip Experience When You’re all by Yourself

A while back, in an attempt to have a Great American Adventure, I took a road trip from Montana (the state in which I live) to Colorado (the state in which most of my family lives). It was my first ever solo road trip, and I was both terrified and excited at the prospect. Along the way, I learned a lot about the complicated love/hate relationship one develops with solo travel. I also learned a lot about the pitfalls that come from poor planning. If you’re planning on taking a solo road trip, save yourself some stress and learn from my mistakes!


1. Track your weather often. I made the mistake of waiting until the day before I left to do this and ended up having to postpone the trip because of a winter storm.

* If you live in a magical place that’s always sunny, this one might not apply to you (and also, I kind of hate you).


2. Don’t forget WATER. Snacks are obviously important, but please for the love of God do not forget to bring along water bottles. You’ll thank me halfway along a lonely interstate when the nearest gas station is hours away and the combination of the heater and the three bags of Funyuns have you thoroughly dehydrated.


3. Pack snacks that will remain edible after being knocked around in the car. You may think you’re trying to be healthy, but sooner or later you’ll find that bananas are not made for long road trips. I repeat, bananas are not made for long road trips.


4. TRACK THE FULLNESS OF YOUR GAS TANK. If you do not pay attention to this, you may find yourself halfway through Wyoming with no gas station in sight. I remain firmly convinced that it was the power of prayer fueling my car for at least thirty miles out there.


5. Bring sunglasses. They help keep the sun from blinding you, but they also lend you a stylish flair when you burst into a small-town gas station and buy their entire stock of Baked Lays Originals.


6. Don’t forget your entertainment! When you’re a flying solo, there is no passenger or copilot to entertain you through the long hours. Podcasts, carefully curated music playlists, and audiobooks are your friends.


7. Please keep your mother/father/aunt/uncle/cousin/bestfriend informed of your location and safety. If you forget this step, you will be attacked by a thousand voicemails and text messages. Also, you know, they’ll be totally worried about you and you’ll feel like a terrible daughter/son/niece/nephew/cousin/bestfriend.


8. In order to legally follow the previous piece of advice, bring a Bluetooth/headphone microphone set/fancy car system. Many states have laws prohibiting talking on the phone without a hands-free device (including my own), and even if the state you’re traveling through does not, it’s a good safety practice.


9. Plan your time well. The day I left, I was traveling part of the way to stay a night at my cousin’s house and planned on completing the rest of my journey the following morning. I left my house at six in the morning and ended up at my cousin’s hours before she was expecting me. I could have slept in! I could have driven the entire way! I could have stopped at all those Starbucks I passed!


10. HAVE FUN! For the first hour or so, I was so focused on getting to my destination on time that I both sped and panicked about the fact that I was speeding. The next hour was spent driving under the speed limit and panicking about that. When I finally let go and allowed myself to sing loudly and obnoxiously to show tunes or laugh out loud at an audiobook, I had the time of my life.

* Bonus tip here: Don’t forget that cruise control exists.


11. And finally, let yourself feel the feels you need to feel. I took this trip to get some distance from a hard situation, and road trips are fantastic places to process hard feelings. You can cry (though not too much, because you need to maintain a certain level of visibility), you can laugh, you can scream as loud as you want. You can feel. Let the road trip be your slow ride to healing, and arrive wherever you’re going in a better frame of mind. Arrive at peace.

Making Moves

I talk a lot about looking to the universe – for signs, for guidance, for instructions on how the hell to be an adult… I’m always looking, but I never really expect to see anything. Sometimes, though, the universe slaps you in the face.


As some of you may know, I moved to Montana about four years ago, after deciding to take a break from college and leave Florida behind. Since I grew up an hour from here in northern Wyoming, moving to Montana felt a lot like coming home. And while there were a lot of pieces of my childhood in Wyoming that I’ll cherish forever, going “home” was never something I wanted to do. I’ve been planning my departure for almost as long as I’ve lived here, staying as long as I have only because I love my family and I love my job. Like I said, sometimes the universe slaps you in the face.

A little while ago, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law all announced that they were planning on moving. The timeline wasn’t solid, but it would be soon, and they’d be gone. I reeled – sure, we were all busy and didn’t see much of each other, but what would I do in a city that I didn’t like without the people who made it likeable? I started thinking about this place I’ve called home for almost four years, about everything that had kept me from moving. Without my family, the only thing left was a half-completed degree (at a school I hate) and my job. My wonderful, exciting, life-giving job. My job that would be ending within the year, because of my college scheduling and because the littlest would be starting preschool. So, adding all of that up, I’m not left with much… a family moving, a job ending, a school that makes me – a lifelong nerd – dread going to school, and a boyfriend living across the country.

After telling him what was going on, he summed it up efficiently and insightfully, as only my boyfriend can. “The only thing keeping you there is inertia, and that’s not a very good reason.” Universe, thy name is Shane.


Over the past four years, I had become very accustomed to things not going my way. I got used to pieces falling apart just when I needed them to stick together most. But that night, on the phone with my boyfriend, all of the falling pieces started to take the shape of a plan. A very scary, very exciting, very possible plan. If all of the things keeping me in Montana were disappearing, why did I have to stay in Montana? I wanted a better education. I wanted a new adventure. And, most of all, I wanted to start my life with my wonderful person (and stop spending ridiculous amounts of money flying across the country to visit him). My feet had grown itchy long ago, and it seemed like the Universe was telling me to let them roam.

The thing about moving across the country, though, is that you’re moving across the country. There is no way to simply move 3,000 miles away just like that. For one thing, despite my dislike of the city, I’ve built a life in Billings and formed my own family here. Saying goodbye to the sisters I’ve found here, the kids I’ve helped raise, and the bosses that have become like family will be like tearing out a piece of my heart. For another, packing up my belongings and driving them across the country will be like tearing out a piece of my bank account. Or, like, all of it. I’m scared to say goodbye to my closest friends. I’m scared to pare down my life to what fits in the back of my car. I’m scared to disappoint the people I’m leaving behind. I’m scared to live in a new state, and I’m scared to take such a big step in my relationship.

But underneath all of that fear is something so wonderful. Underneath is the understanding that in life, sometimes you have to make big moves to get big results. It’s the idea that for the first time, I’m taking responsibility for my own happiness. I’m looking at areas in my life that do not bring me joy, and I’m choosing to put in the work to change them.

I made a lot of changes in the past year. I’ve worked hard to learn a lot about myself, and to grow and improve in areas that need it. I started this blog, started going to therapy, started letting people in… And as I look back, I’m realizing that all of those changes were leading up to this moment. Call it fate, call it a higher power, call it whatever you want – this entire year seems to have been orchestrated to prepare me for this moment. To stand at the edge of a new life, and take the plunge – not unafraid, but not unprepared either.

So here I go. Saying goodbye to family, goodbye to a job that’s shaped my adulthood, and goodbye to a place I’ve (reluctantly) called home for almost four years. I’m stepping into a new year, a new state, and a new life in a deliberate effort to change my world for the better. 

2018 will be a lot of things. It’s going to be the year I learn how to be a little selfish. It’ll be the year I say goodbye to the two amazing children I’ve been lucky enough to help raise. The year I learn just how many books I own when I try to fit them in the back of my car, the year I try not to cut myself with a packing tape-gun, the year I de-clutter my life, the year I cry because it’s so hard to make big changes, and the year I make them anyway. 

Resolutionized 2.0

Resolutionized2.0rovingstone.com_.pngA year ago, when I started this blog, I made myself a few New Year’s Resolutions. I resolved to write – and post – more regularly. I resolved to be better with money. And, last but not least, I resolved to travel more. I intended to keep the first and do my best on the final two, knowing that I would (in true Kaitlin fashion) likely let them all slide as the year wore on. Well, for those of you who follow me, you know I did sort of drop the ball here. I did my best to post with semi-regularity, but seven posts in one year is not exactly what I’d call a major accomplishment.

Here’s the thing, though. I killed it with the other two. Since July of this year, I’ve taken a trip almost every month. The silver lining to long-distance relationships, I suppose. I traveled to Denver in July (read more about that here) and had an amazing (if emotional) adventure with my boyfriend, Shane. We went to aquariums and ate Mexican food on the Fourth of July and he held me while I cried about losing my cat. Then, in August, he traveled here to visit me in Montana for my birthday. We celebrated and he met some of my family and we saw The Lion King at an inexplicable 9:00 PM showing at the movie theater. In September, I flew to North Carolina to visit him. We celebrated our six-monthiversary a little early (yes we are that gross, thank you) and went roller skating, and neither one of us fell down a single time. In October, he and I met my dad, stepmom, stepbrother and his girlfriend, and my grandparents in Utah to see a few shows at Tuacahn Amphitheater in Saint George. From there, Shane and I took a shuttle to Vegas where we spent a few days. More on that trip later (or perhaps not, it was Vegas after all). In November, I flew back to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with Shane and his amazing family. We ate a lot of food and I fought through my overwhelming nerves to get to know his incredible parents, brother, uncle, and grandmother. Shane came back to Montana to spend Christmas with me in December, and that rounds out the year.

I’ve also been working toward the goal of having an Adult Credit Score Number™, which has involved a lot of panic attacks, pep talks, and not stopping at Target for “just one quick thing.” With some help, I’ve put in a lot of work and am finally seeing actual results. There may come a day in my life where I can actually get a mortgage. Big stuff, people. So, for the most part, I’ve actually lived up to my resolutions this year, for the first time in maybe ever. 2018 has some big shoes to fill, but I’ve got a plan to fill them.

I’m a big fan of titles. I like the power behind a strong name, and the positive visualization it allows. In 2017, The Year of Travel became a mantra of sorts, and it carried me through a year of adventure, excitement, and total happiness. So, instead of focusing on big resolutions, I’ve been trying to come up with a name for 2018. I thought about The Year of Big Moves, The Year of Change, The Year of Kindness… Nothing seemed quite right until my boyfriend suggested 2018: This One’s For Me. Cheesy? Maybe. Will I be getting a custom-made t-shirt and bumper sticker ordered immediately? You bet.

So much of what I ended up working on throughout the past year (the traveling, straightening out my finances, starting therapy, etc.) was in the pursuit of becoming the happiest version of myself – I just didn’t realize that at the time. I never set out to be a happier me in 2017. I simply started the process of learning how to make choices for myself, rather than for the benefit of everyone else. Someone very wise told me that “selfish” doesn’t have to be a bad word, and that it’s okay to make decisions in my own best interest. So, in the new year, I’m going to take what I learned in 2017 and act on it more deliberately. This one’s for me.

When Vacations Go Awry

There are times in life when, despite hours (and hours and hours) of careful, thoughtful planning, things do not go the way they should. Regardless of your meticulously-bulleted itinerary, your well-researched list of restaurants and local attractions, and your overly-packed suitcase (okay, okay, suitcases), life has a habit of getting in the way. Which explains why, on my second-favorite holiday (because, you know, Christmas), I found myself writing this blog post from bed instead of eating hot dogs and waving sparklers.

I spent the Fourth of July in Denver with my boyfriend (Shane). He and I spent months planning this trip. Long distance relationships are rough, so we poured all of our restless energy and excitement into carefully mapping out our Denver Adventure™. I would drive down, he would fly in, I’d meet him at the airport and tackle him in a hug. We had several restaurants we wanted to try, along with a few local attractions to visit – most notably the zoo and museum, a pair that we planned on visiting back-to-back on a day we dubbed “Zoo-seum Day.” Yeah, we’re that couple. We planned on rounding out Zoo-seum Day with an evening of fireworks at Independence Eve, an annual Denver celebration. I packed snacks and sunscreen and a picnic blanket and a patriotic shirt and wine and – well, suffice it to say I basically filled the entire backseat of my car. I was ready.

When Zoo-seum Day arrived, Shane and I packed up my car and set out for part one of our adventure. We had planned on getting to the zoo as close as possible to nine (when they opened) so that we could beat the crowds. We should have known what the day would become when we finally pulled in to our fourth-level parking spot at 10:45AM and battled a throng of stroller-wielding families to exit the parking garage. After a few more kerfuffles piled on, we decided to abandon the zoo and visit the aquarium instead. The Denver aquarium was fantastic – they had a great mix of fish and lots of themed exhibits (everyone knows how I love a good theme). Most importantly, we made friends with some of the cutest otters in the world and I didn’t even otter-nap one to bring home. I’m such an adult. By the time we were nearing the exit, though, Shane was growing weary. We grabbed some food, came back to the hotel, and promptly fell asleep. Apparently, he’d caught the cold I’d been battling for a week or so. The perks of being a Nanny.

The world's cutest dog with his new best friend, the otter.

The world’s cutest dog with his new best friend, the otter.

When we woke up from our nap, I was prepared to enter Caregiver Mode™ and help him through the evening. That is, until I saw the several missed calls and texts from my mom. I’ll give you the short version of this story in the interest of time and feels. My mom was cat-sitting for me, and my cat had become very sick at some point in the day. Very, very, sick. After a few hours of phone calls between Shane, my mom, the veterinarian, and myself, the vet put my sweet kitty down while my mom held her. She could have waited until I got back, but it would have been an incredibly painful week for my sweet girl. So, battling the runniest nose I’ve ever seen and a killer sore throat, Shane spent his evening taking care of me instead. He talked to the vet when I couldn’t stop crying enough to speak, he helped me work through the emotions to reach a decision, and when it was all over, he let me cry on his shoulder and did his best to make me laugh (his best is very good, and I laughed a lot).

The next day, we both knew we wouldn’t be feeling up to any Fourth of July celebrations, despite it being one of the greatest holidays ever. So instead, we spent our morning watching How I Met Your Mother and eating crepes we had delivered to the hotel room. Eventually, thanks to some nap-related energy, we finished off the day by walking to a nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner and margaritas. We’ve since decided that celebrating America’s birthday by eating Mexican food is going to be our tradition. It wasn’t even close to the celebration I had carefully planned, but it ended up being the most fantastic day.

The Great American Celebration

The Great American Celebration

I’m a planner. I like organization, order, and color-coordination. I love maps and itineraries and Yelp reviews. I like being able to feel like I’m in control of how my day goes, but life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you skip the zoo and meet cute otters instead. Sometimes you catch a cold. Sometimes bad things happen when you’re very far from home and you have to do your best to deal with it. I’ll be honest, if all of these things happened to me on an average day, I would probably lose my mind. And yet, when they all happened on what was supposed to be the culminating day of my vacation, I didn’t panic. I didn’t lose my cool. I didn’t cry over the spilt plans. Instead, I leaned on the person I was with and learned something about our relationship that no Zoo-seum Day could ever teach: we work, even when life isn’t a fun adventure. In fact, we work well.

If you spend all of your time focusing on making things exactly what you think they should be, there’s no room for making the most of what actually happens. And sometimes, the most is much more than you had planned in the first place.

Someone Else’s Family Vacation

In my humble opinion, the only acceptable answer to “do you want to go to Hawaii?” is a resounding “YES”. Possibly even a “HELLS YEAH” if you’re feeling particularly raucous. In any case, an offer to journey to a tropical island paradise should never be met with anything but enthusiasm – especially if you’re a nanny. Which is why, when my bosses asked me to go with them to Hawaii, I had nothing but enthusiasm for the idea. It ended up being one of the most memorable and incredible experiences of my life, but it was not at all the easybreezycovergirl Hawaiian vacation I was expecting.

Depending on your level of familiarity with the nanny-verse, you may or may not know that some families ask their nanny to accompany them on vacations. Despite my extensive research on the career before throwing myself into it (and by research, I mean watching several Julie Andrews movies), I had no clue that this actually happened in real life. I had no idea that taking a nanny on vacation was a luxury available to anyone other than the one-percenters, but evidently, it is.

When the C’s (my boss-family) first asked me to travel with them, I was thinking we would take a road trip to a theme park or something similarly run-of-the-mill. When they dropped the bomb that Hawaii was their destination of choice, I had to politely excuse myself to scream and do a happy dance. To me, going to Hawaii was about as likely as going to the Moon – something a select few very lucky individuals do, but far beyond the realm of my possibilities. I consider myself lucky if I get to go to the Olive Garden more than once a year. Yet here they were, offering me this chance to see an incredible place with my favorite little dude at my side – a win-win.

In the weeks leading up to our departure, I spent every available moment scouring the Internet for tips on traveling with toddlers and suggestions for nannies vacationing with families. I read every possible article in the hopes that I could somehow prepare myself for something this huge. Let me be blunt here – there’s no possible way to prepare yourself for this. Traveling with a toddler is a challenge in and of itself. The challenge increases exponentially when you add the long flights, the unfamiliar situation, and the politics of working through someone else’s family vacation.

To be honest, I was sort of expecting the trip to be an easy way to enjoy a vacation on someone else’s dime. I was sorely mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy every minute of it (and I paid for very little – thanks, Mr. and Mrs. C!), but it was by no means easy. Working during someone else’s vacation is such a challenge, no matter how wonderful they are or how well you get along with them. It’s hard to know where you stand in that situation if you’ve never been there before, and none of us ever had.

I never knew if I was supposed to tend to Bug (the little dude, about 15 months old at the time of the trip) if the C’s were present, or if I should let them take over. Bug was also sleeping in my room, so I didn’t know how to handle it when he got fussy. I always felt guilty when Mrs. C would get up and come grab him after hearing him cry for a little while, despite my attempts to comfort him. When he went to bed, I never knew what my role became – could I go socialize with the C’s and their friends on the lanai? Was it okay for me to accept a glass of wine with everyone else? Could I joke with them? There were so many potentially awkward situations throughout the experience, and finding my place in their family vacation felt exhausting at times.

On top of that, I didn’t have much free time, unless you count Bug’s naps (and even then I couldn’t leave the condo). Most nights the C’s would go out with their friends who had traveled with us, or with their parents who met us there, leaving me alone with Bug. When we did go places, Mrs. C and I shared the job of entertaining Bug and keeping him occupied. I ended up working much longer hours than I do regularly, and I was pretty exhausted when we finally made it home.

The trip was still one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Once I adjusted my expectations and found my place in the picture, I had an amazing time. Sure, I was working, but I was working in Hawaii. Bug still had fits and my job still brought difficulties, but they happened in Hawaii. And best of all, I was able to witness my favorite little dude as he experienced so many things for the first time.

I got to hold his hand while he grabbed his first fistful of sand. He sat on my lap while we watched whales breach right next to the shore. I held him in my arms while the sounds of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean lulled him to sleep on our first night there. I identified each new plant and animal that he excitedly discovered. I filled a box with the plumeria blossoms he brought me every day, a box I will never get rid of (even now as the blossoms are years old and nothing but a pile of dust). Being in Hawaii was incredible, but it was nothing compared to witnessing Bug in Hawaii. For that more than anything else, the trip will always be one of my most cherished memories.

Being a nanny is hard sometimes. We work crazy hours. We face extremely high expectations and standards. We never know if we’re friend or employee, so we never really know where we stand. That being said, there are so many things that make being a nanny worthwhile. The love and connection with each charge in our care, getting to experience incredible new things, and witnessing the kiddos who become our best friends have some of the best days of their lives, to name a few. Being a nanny is hard sometimes, but it’s still the greatest job in the world.

We Can Be Both

Words are powerful because we give them power.

I’m a college student working towards my degrees in Secondary English Education and K-12 Reading Education. Words are a big deal to me. It should come as no surprise, then, that when a professor recently asked a group of us to choose an adjective for ourselves, I was ready. I love words, and I know the ones that belong to me. I chose “spirited.” My classmates, with whom I’ve been spending time for about a month now, were given an opportunity to consider my word before offering alternates if they did not agree. Much to my surprise, one immediately raised his hand.

“No offense, but that’s the opposite of the word I would pick for you,” he began. I tried my best to reserve offense, but we all know that “no offense” usually precedes a statement that will inevitably be, well, offensive.

“You’re quiet, and respectful, and so nice,” he continued. My offense faded a bit into the background. “You clearly think of other people before you speak. That’s the opposite of spirited, that’s gentle.”

His “no offense” comment may have morphed into a compliment, but I was still a bit unsettled by his words. I went home and thought about it all night, and all morning today, and I’ve finally realized why.

He believes, based on his comments, that somebody who identifies as “spirited” cannot also be kind, quiet, considerate, or gentle. In fact, he sees gentle as the opposite of spirited. But is that the case? Are these antonyms? My inner English nerd was on the case and rushed to the dictionary.

The dictionary app on my laptop defines gentle as follows: “Mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender: he was a gentle, sensitive man.” Okay, so far so good. Gentle is decidedly not an offensive identifier. Spirited, then, is someone who is “full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination: a spirited campaigner for women’s rights.” Again, nothing offensive about that.

I may be wrong here, but nothing about those two definitions strikes me as particularly opposing. These words may not be synonyms, but they certainly aren’t antonyms either. In fact, I find the definitions rather complementary. A person who could describe themselves as both spirited and gentle seems like someone that I would very much like to be friends with. So why does this classmate of mine find these adjectives so contrasting?

Well, I can’t tell you for sure. I can’t read his mind, or interview him on the subject, or psycho-analyze him. What I can do, however, is speculate (something that us English nerds know how to do). Our society has created the understanding that if you want to be spirited, bold, and enthusiastic (and, as a result, powerful or influential or listened to), you cannot be gentle. You cannot be kind. You cannot be tender. And if you want to be kind, tender, and gentle, you will not be thought of as spirited or enthusiastic or determined. And I’m not just pulling this out of nowhere – you can see this in the media, in books and movies, as personified by leaders and politicians, perpetuated by protesters and bloggers and alt-right website owners. According to public perception, the Venn diagram of these two words is just a couple of separate circles on a page.

I would like to, respectfully, light this understanding on fire. Because, and no offense here to the kid in my class, it is just plain wrong. According to my dictionary, the opposite of gentle is actually brutal. And the opposite of spirited? Lifeless. I do not want to live in a world where my only choices are to be gentle but lifeless, or spirited but brutal. That world is dark, divided, and unproductive. In fact, it looks a lot like the world we live in right now. But it doesn’t have to! Our world can be light, united, and productive!

I think that this misconception that gentleness cannot accompany spirit is leading to a world full of people leaning into their spirit and, because they think that they must, into brutality. If they have an opinion, they are going to beat you over the head with it until you agree with them. We all know these people. We have all been these people. We’ve all yelled at the friend with whom we disagree, or posted the joke on Facebook that slams the other side, or watched the news network that calls anyone different from them idiotic or dangerous or wrong. There is no gentleness here, but for us to move forward as a country we have to find it.

I’m not perfect, and I have been that person more times than I haven’t. I’ve embraced my brutality, and my anger, on the quest to being spirited. But if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that it has never worked. Not once. Nobody has ever listened to me because I yelled loud enough, or lobbed the perfect insult, or let anger take over my mind. No, the moments that I was able to reach people were moments of gentleness. The moments where I reflected and chose to embrace my kindness and my tenderness were the moments that I was able to reach out and affect others. And I did not have to sacrifice my spirit to achieve those moments. I let the emotions work together, hand in hand, to speak with kindness and compassion and enthusiasm and determination. I was both gentle and spirited. I can be both. We can be both.

I’m not going to tell you what to do. However, I am going to make a commitment to let gentleness and spiritedness coexist more regularly in my life. These words are not antonyms, so I’m going to stop treating them like they are. I’m going to stop believing that to be heard I have to be angry, and that to be gentle I have to be silent. That doesn’t mean that I won’t speak up with passion against injustice or for progress. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my beliefs or be silent about what matters. It just means that when I do speak, I’m going to speak with love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”