Coming Out, Part 2: Today

I’m eighteen years old and bisexual.  I was about eleven years old when I realized that I liked members of the same sex.  Coming out to my family was scary because a new chapter of my life was about to be opened, and I really didn’t know what to do.  I told my mom first.  She was very shocked and upset.  She asked me why and if anything had ever happened to me that would cause me to be this way.  But no, nothing ever happened.  I was never victimized.  I just like guys.  I was very scared that my parents wouldn’t accept me.  I thought they would disown me because neither of them approved, but after a few years they learned to accept it.  My mom and a friend of mine that I work with are my two biggest supporters.  My momma’s going to love me no matter what. 

I came out to my parents first in 2015, but I just recently came out to the rest of the world via social media.  Mostly, people were more supportive than I expected them to be.  I was shocked by the amount of people who were like, “hey.  We support you.”  I was met with some rude and hostile people that said hurtful things, but there were more people that were supportive than not.  When I first came out on social media, I had people messaging me asking if I really posted that or if I had been hacked.  They didn’t know what to think at first.  They didn’t know if it was really me or not.

I had a friend come out on social media about two days before I did.  That’s kind of what gave me the courage to finally come out, too.  I thought, “well, that’s how I’m going to do it,” and I did.  When I came out on social media, pretty much everyone was supportive.  They would comment and say “good for you” and all.  Many people said they were accepting and that they were still my friends.  But, now I don’t really talk to them much.  They say all the right things on social media, but their true feelings have kind of shown through.  They just kind of disappeared.  People will say, “what’s up” to me, but it’s that look they give afterward that has changed.  It’s like, “he’s gay.  Don’t talk to him.”  But, I’m a senior, and I’m going to graduate soon.  So, things will get better.  I’ll get to start my life.

I wouldn’t do it any differently if I had it to do over again, because I’m happy with who I am.  My momma always told me to be me, to be my own man, to be real.  I’ve never really been bullied because of who I am.  But, I’m also not going to sit around and listen to it, either, so I don’t really give them a chance.  I’ve not yet been mistreated by a complete stranger because I’m gay.  It’s all still new.  When people are judgy or openly hostile, I tell them that they have a right to their personal opinion but to keep moving.  I don’t want to hear it.  I’ll just walk away.  I don’t have time for it.  This is my life, and no ones going to live it for me.

High school is not really that different now that I’ve come out.  I have people ask me questions about it, but other than that, not much has changed.  I just don’t really talk to as many people as I did before.  If I feel like taking another guy to the prom or to a school dance, I think it’s going to be a challenge, because that’s when everyone is going to be judgmental.  Not everyone is cool with being gay and stuff.  But hey, it’s my life.  If I want to take a guy to the school dance, I will, and I’m going to have fun while I’m there.  It’s my life, and I’m going to live it.  It’s happened before.  It is more socially acceptable for a girl to be gay than a guy.  I’m not sure why that is.  A macho pride thing?  I don’t know.

I think that today’s attitude toward equality is a lot better now than it was twenty years ago.  Being gay is more socially acceptable now.  President Obama passed the law for same-sex marriages, so a lot more people have openly come out and got married.  People are less judgmental than they once were.

Before coming out, I had never had a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.  I am currently single.  I would consider marriage further into the future, but I’m still pretty young.  I do want children.  I think I would be willing to both adopt and have children naturally, if I could.  I’d like to have one of my own so that I could be there from the beginning, but I know there are a lot of kids out there that need families and just want to be loved.  So, I would be willing to do that, too.

I haven’t yet attended a pride event, but that’s a goal of mine.  I’d really like to attend one.  I want to see what it’s like and experience it.

My advice to anyone planning to come out is don’t let anyone make you feel bad for being you.  No one else can live your life for you.  Don’t let them tell you you’re nothing or that you’re worthless, because at the end of the day, you are you.  When you get out of school, it’s your life.  Go live it to the fullest.  Don’t let anything hold you back.

 

Please click here to read Coming Out, Part 1: The 90s.

Advertisements

Coming Out, Part 1: The 90s

I came out in 1995-96.  I was 14 or 15 years old at the time.  I had never before heard the word or knew about “homosexuality” before the day I figured it out.  I had told my mom for years that I didn’t know what the fuss was about boys, but I still had no frame of reference for anything but the heterosexual lifestyle until I was with a girl, who I now know was gay, and we were hanging out.  We had been friends for a couple of weeks.  She was very slick about things, looking back now.  She started playing with my hair and massaging my back.  We were just talking about nothing really.  She asked me “have you ever thought about being with a girl?”  I was SO very naïve.  I said “I’m with you right now.”  She laughed a bit and said, “no, like dating.”  I was completely shocked and said, “you can do that?!?!”  That was how I figured things out.  She was the first person to tell me I could date a woman like I could a man.  Something in my brain just clicked, and I knew it was right after that.  I’m not saying I didn’t go through the “am I or aren’t I” thing, but that bit didn’t last long.  She ended up being my first girlfriend.  No one knew I was gay.  Honestly, people are still shocked.

I wasn’t scared to tell people.  I had NO idea it wasn’t going to be just fine.  It never once occurred to me that anyone would have a bad reaction.  No one talked about homosexuality in the early 90s in small town East Texas.  I was also too young to have thought things out to the degree that the news would affect my entire existence.  It was just who I was:  female, white, blonde, curly hair, gay.  I didn’t think it was a big deal because I did not know any better.  The first person I told was my middle sister.  She was driving and nearly wrecked the car.  I should have thought that out better.  She was 100% supportive.  I told my mom as soon as I figured it out, same with my siblings.  I was the baby of three girls, and my mom was always “you can tell me anything,” and I always had.  I told her when I got drunk the first time, the first time I was high, the first time I had sex.  It never once occurred to me that this would go any differently then those past confessions.  I was totally wrong.  She lost her mind.  She sent me to counseling, she called me horrible names, and she was so negative it was scary.  I had never seen that side of her, and I was lost.  It took over eighteen years to repair our relationship.  It still isn’t what it was, but it is close.  My sisters were my biggest supporters.  They just let it all slide like it was nothing.  They didn’t live at home as they are older than I am.  They both admit now that had they known how I was being treated at home, they would have stepped in and helped.  I basically lived with my oldest sister from that point on and officially moved in with her the week after I graduated at age seventeen.

I didn’t really come out at school as much as everyone just knew when I started hanging out with a certain group of people.  Everything changed.  I lost all of my friends.  I had to start all over in the friend department, and for the most part my new group of friends were older and out of school or did not attend the same school I did.  Since I didn’t really think I would receive any negativity, it was a rude shock to be almost completely ostracized at school and at home.  I have lots of horror stories about high school.  In 1996, I brought another girl with me to the school Valentine’s Day dance.  While she and I were taking our photo, people in the crowd were yelling very nasty homophobic slurs.  We were chased out to the car.

I was horribly picked on at school and at home.  People were a lot less supportive then I imagined they would be.  I am not saying I helped myself at all, but I never thought I should hide.  It just never occurred to me to hide.  Looking back, I know I should have been more cautious than I was.  If I could go back, maybe I wouldn’t have been as blatant about it had I known how people would react.  I grew up in such a small town it may not have mattered, but I might have tried.  I was bullied not only in high school but also in college.  It always struck me as funny because in high school no one liked me because I was gay, and in college the LGBTQ group on campus were not nice to me because I didn’t look gay enough for them.  They went so far as to accuse me of hiding who I was because I wore feminine clothes and make-up.

I have been mistreated by complete strangers.  Some people see you holding hands and will approach you about how they don’t want to see that kind of filth, or they tell you we shouldn’t show affection for one another because they don’t want their kids to see.  People feel entitled to judge you all the time.  When I was younger, I was more volatile and would be mean and nasty right back.  Now, I just let it roll off my back.  I just ignore them and move on.  I am not lowering myself to that standard.

I’ve never lost a job because of my sexual preferences.  Every job I have ever had was very ‘live and let live’.  I guess you could say I lost the ‘feeling’ of home that you normally feel with your parents.  It is why I moved in with my sister.  But, I have never been asked to leave a job or my home.

I no longer get bullied, thank goodness.  I have hit an age where if someone even tried, I would shut it down.  Today’s society/environment/attitude toward equality compared to previous generations has gotten a lot better.  Every generation is better than the last, but that is true of all stigmas that are out there–race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  All are getting more acceptance with each generation that is raised with total inclusion.

I went to every Pride for ten years when I first moved to Houston.  I have even attended one in Chicago.  It is very LOUD!  And, it is always a fun time.  There are lots of like-minded people.  It is a time for celebrating the Stonewall Riots and what those people faced and how they really started opening the doors for acceptance.

I was previously with a woman for ten years, and we were married.  We divorced in 2012.  I am now in another relationship.  I have been with my current partner for four years, and we are engaged to be married.  We are planning for a 2020 wedding.  We do not want children.

My advice to anyone coming out now is to plan.  Think about it from all sides.  Don’t feel like hiding is a bad thing.  Don’t let others make the decision for you.  It is very personal, and people think that as soon as an individual figures things out, they need to scream it to the world.  There are still so many things to think about besides a person’s sexuality.  For some people, their whole life is negatively affected by this decision.  Sometimes it goes so great that nothing changes.  Don’t let the need to be proud of yourself damage your life.  Think it out and come out when the time is right for you, not for others.  No two experiences are the same.  The thing about coming out is it never ends.  With each new person you meet for your entire life, you have to come out.  You have to decide each time if it is right or if you are just going to not say anything.  There are always going to be people who you expect to have a certain reaction, and then they surprise you.  There will always be people who are super supportive, those that ignore it, and those that are negative.  There are always people who are ignorant and try to be supportive but are really just offensive.  You take the good with the bad.  The more you say it, the easier it is to say.  I can still admit that I still get butterflies when I have to tell some people.  With others you don’t even think twice.  Be yourself and don’t rush things.

Please click here to read Coming Out, Part 2: Today.

One Crafty Momma

I was nineteen years old when I found out I was pregnant.  I was late and took the test with my boyfriend. He was super happy about it. I was scared!!!!  I didn’t know how I was going to tell my parents. I told my mom the next day, and we cried together.  My dad on the other hand–I waited until my first appointment, so it was like two weeks later when I told him.  He cussed at first, but then he was asking about my plans.  My parents, my boyfriend, and my friends were and still are huge supporters.  I had fears at first about having a miscarriage and not being very good at being a mom.  It wasn’t a rough pregnancy.  I only threw up once, and the last trimester I had heartburn, but other than that, it wasn’t bad.

They broke my water at 8 that morning and he was born 10 hours later. He weighed in at 7.15 lbs and 19.5 inches long.  At first I was pushing with my head and not my lower half.  But, once I got the pushing down, with a LOT of pain, he came out in about 5-7 pushes!  Immediately after he was born, with my legs still up in the stirrups, my boyfriend’s mother walked in on me.  I was soooooo angry!  Like, get out!  Hello, I’m exposed!  That was very uncomfortable for me.  Privacy is a must in that kind of situation.

The first month was hard, no doubt.  Getting a routine going was the hardest part.  Nights were awful.  I couldn’t sleep for longer than 2 hours because of breastfeeding.  I never expected it to be like that!  I was exhausted.  But, all of that is irrelevant to the experiences we have now.

Having a baby definitely puts a strain on your relationship!  Life is harder now for sure.  I can’t just go and run an errand or take a long shower.  My world literally revolves around him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  There are still ups and downs.  There are things that I put up with, like my job, because I cannot just quit.  I have moved out on my own, and life has been hard, but it’s what’s best!  I have definitely grown up more now than I ever thought I would.

The hardest part about being a mom is making sure I’m making the right decision when it comes to anything to do with him.  Right now I am juggling him, full time school, full time work, and running a small crafting business called One Crafty Momma. I’m currently going to school for Sonography but I’m confused about if I want to continue the program or pursue interior design. I love watching shows like Fixer Upper and Flip or Flop.  I find myself thinking about how I could make the most out of the space given.  Joanna Gaines is my inspiration for interior design.  I watched her show and fell in love with knocking down walls, repainting, making a house a home.  With sonography, I feel like it would be rewarding, but it could also be depressing.  Say a mother comes in for an ultrasound and the baby didn’t make it.  That would be the worst thing possible.  I really don’t have an inspiration for sonography besides when I was pregnant I thought it would be cool.  I feel like I have hyped up the job because I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do.  When I was having ultrasounds, I thought about how the sonographer felt–so happy and joyful that the other person is so happy about seeing their baby!

One Crafty Mama is a business I created to channel my inner creativity and bring in a little extra income. I make t-shirts, string art, koozies, and tumblers I’d love it if  it started booming enough to quit my job and be able to pay all my bills and stay at home with the baby.  You should check it out on Facebook.

As far as the future goes, I want to be living in the country in a house that I built, married, with my son running around playing outside.  Also, my One Crafty Mama business will be in a little shop making bank.  That would be great.

If you’re a new young mom, please know that everything will be okay.  No matter what you do, it will all work out in the end.  Of course you’re going to have struggles, but it’s what you do with those struggles that make your life worth it.

received_1632086403584659

https://m.facebook.com/groups/114306522543061?ref=bookmarks

 

Just a Letter

When I was 16 my parents took me to a psychiatrist because they felt there was something wrong with me.  Because I just… did whatever.  I didn’t listen, didn’t follow rules.  I was diagnosed as being bipolar.  I only just read the paperwork from my diagnosis around the beginning of this year.  That’s what helped me to actually get on medicine, because it’s exactly how I have lived my life–combative and without consequences.  I didn’t care about anything.  It was my way and if it wasn’t, it was a problem.  It was an issue.  It’s still an issue.  I’m still combative.  But, I’m working on it.  My mom still reads that thing 20 years later.

I messed up.  I made mistakes and went to prison.  The first time my kids were the ages of 6-12.  I was gone for four years.  The second time they were 14-19.  By the time I got out, some of them had already graduated.  I missed their whole lives, their whole entire lives!  I was a letter.  That’s all they got from me.  When your kid writes you to let you know about her life, but your locked up, and there’s nothing you can do…that’s tough.
How many times can you say I’m sorry?  Sometimes it feels like it’s better to not even say it at all, because I know people get tired of hearing it.

I’ve only had two jobs my entire life that actually meant something to me.  I mean I worked here and there, but never a real job.  Then I get out of prison, and a local drive-through gave me my chance, but my mouth, my attitude–I ruined it.  And now, I’m in the same position again with my current employer.  I can only keep a job for a year before people get sick of who I am, because I can’t let go of that person.  I don’t know if I’m afraid.  Am I afraid of success?  Is that what it is?  I went from making $2000 a month on a paycheck to working 3 hours a night.  From 60+ hours a week to 16 because of my mouth and attitude.

I’m doing better now since taking the medicine.  I have never been able to talk to my dad without fighting.  I’ve never been able to do anything without fighting, but now that I take this medicine that I should have been taking 20 years ago, and now my dad and I laugh, we have conversations.  It’s crazy.  Had I done what I was supposed to do, I wouldn’t have been in prison for 9 years.  I wouldn’t have not raised my kids.  I wouldn’t have been just a letter.

I live with regret, and I try not to because the more I do, the more it’s going to overcome me.  It’s like I know I can’t go back and do anything, but I missed SOOO much.  So much.  I haven’t tried counseling.  I am open to it.  But, I’ve been that person for so long, I don’t know how to be someone else.  I try.  It’s like I can’t fight it some times.  It just builds up.  If I get depressed it just weighs on me.  And, I don’t know how to deal with it.  I mean, I know my life isn’t over.  I’m only 42 and 3/4 years old.  I see all of my kids, and they make sure my grandkids are a part of my life.  But, I have no idea about my future.  I’ve never looked to it I guess.

My advice is don’t miss out on so much.  Get your mental health checked.  Take your meds.  Save yourself from heartache and regret.  Anxiety, mental health, it truly is a real thing.  I haven’t been on medicine barely a year.  It took me a lot to step over that doctor’s threshold and say, “I need help.  I can’t stop myself from getting angry.  I’m tired of being sad and crying.”  You have to catch it early–you have to.  Because what would our lives have been like [long pause for crying] if I had just done what I was supposed to do?  Mine, my parents, my children…  How would ALL of our lives had been different?

Scars

I wasn’t going to publish this.  I was just going to trash it.  But, I was talking to an old friend the other day and she was complainimg of her scar.  A little one under her chin caused from a car accident.  She was talking about how she didn’t like the way she looked.  I told her I was pulling this out of the trash and posting it because of her.  So, here it is.

When I was a kid, seat belts and car seats weren’t yet required by law.  Back then, seeing a kid in a car in front of you laying on top of the seats against the window, basking in the sun wasn’t unusual.  We would ride in the back of pickup trucks, station wagons, the front seat…  It was normal.

When I was about 2 or 3, my family was headed out for an awards banquet.  I was standing up in the back seat with my brother.  Our car was one of those old cars with vinyl bench seats–the ones you hated in the summer for burning the backs of your legs.  On the back of the front seat was a metal ashtray that was stuck opened up and wouldn’t close.  The roads were wet from the previous rain.  I’m sure I was goofing around, being a little nut, and when my mom hit the brakes for the stop sign, I fell forward and hit the ashtray.  Luckily, it went through the side of my face.  I received several stitches and was told that with age it would get better and easily covered with make-up.  It didn’t really.  I don’t see it anymore unless I’m paying attention to it, but that wasn’t always the case.

I was never self conscious about it until I hit junior high.  There was a little name calling.  There were times it stung.  I didn’t have much self confidence at that time.  My heart broke a lot back then.  And that was just from the girls.  I don’t ever remember being made fun of by a boy because of it.  My friends never teased me or made fun of me.  They would ask how it happened, but that was it.  But there were some that weren’t as nice.  Kids can be harsh.

Sometime around the 10th grade, I saw this show where they were doing a study to see if people with scars really were looked at and treated differently or if it was all in their heads.  They gave three different women fake scars, or at least the participants thought they did.  In reality, they pretended to put scars on the participants’ faces and sent them out to see what people’s reactions would be.  They all came back and said that they were definitely stared at or that they noticed people staring at their scars–the ones that weren’t really there.  Once it was revealed to them that they never really had the scars on their faces and it was all imagined, they were shocked!  That’s when it snapped for me.  I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore.  When people asked about my scar after that, I was flat out honest.  I spoke confidently and ended it with a look of “anything else you want to know?” or, “you got something to say?” and that’s it.  Sometimes, I’ll hear the “oh.  That’s cool.  I have one, too,” and they start with their story.

I’m sure my parents felt guilty, but they shouldn’t have.  I don’t think I want to know who I could have been with out it.  I’m kind of shaped around it.  It holds in my confidence.
My scar does not define me or limit me, but it is a part of me.  I can’t remember not having it.  I’ve never been turned down for a job because of it.  It didn’t keep me from getting married or having a family.  It didn’t stop me from having fun or loving myself.  And now, when people say things like scar face or scar, it doesn’t bother me at all.  Actually, I feel kind of proud of it and think of it as my badge for becoming strong willed, thick skinned, blunt, playful, a jokester, smart assy, witty, adventurous, kind-hearted, loving, and empathetic to others.

If you have an appearance issue due to facial scarring, talk to someone–a friend, relative, counselor, or message me!  I’ll talk to you!  When people ask about it, tell your story confidently, with a backbone, and lift that eyebrow and smile when you’re done.  Wait for their response.  You may be surprised!  You may find a new friend.  But know that what’s on the outside doesn’t compare to who you are on the inside, and it’s not going to keep you from a happy life.  Only you have the power to do that.  The scar is only the excuse.  Don’t let your scars be your enemy.  Use them as your inspiration to help others.  Everyone has scars, but only the brave carry them on the outside.

Thank You For the Gifts

 

As a kid  we would go and visit Granny every Sunday and every holiday.  Granny’s small, wooden frame, white house held a magical feeling.  It was cozy and filled with love and full of warm aromas from the holiday dinners she would cook, and it just felt like home.  It was one of my favorite places to be as a little kid.  It had a water fan in the living room to keep you cool in the summer along with box fans and a gas heater for the winter time.  It was simple but perfect.

During our visits, I would always dig through her memories.  Her photo albums and trunks were full of treasures–old baby shoes, letters for letterman jackets, baby blankets, glasses.  One of my favorites was a tiny, flat 1940’s Jergens brand powder box that held a small, broken silver pendant in the shape of a heart with two rope hearts intertwined on the face.  Holding the hearts together was a wishbone.  The box also contained my grandpa’s baby ring around which was a blue ribbon, and in the bottom of the box, in her handwriting, it read “Isaac’s baby ring”.  She had an abundant amount of old photo albums ranging in time from her being a child to her great great grandkids.  I would always ask Granny who each person was, and she would take it from me and try to make out the old photo.  She would say “That’s Papa,” or “that’s mamma and her baby cow.” Something about the time era she grew up in mesmerized me.  She would always tell the best stories.  I have to credit her with my love of history and story telling.

Granny was born in 1917 in Coolidge, Texas and grew up and raised a family in a small town in east Texas.  She passed away at 92 years young.  She grew up in a time when there was no air conditioning, TV, or phones.  They didn’t own a car and didn’t have the luxury of running water.  Shoes were a winter time privilege.  Clothes were passed down from child to child.  I can imagine them all sitting on the porch at night playing music or singing and sweating in the Texas heat.  She told me that when she was a kid the drinking water came from the roof top.  When it rained, they would have barrels that would collect the rain water that fell off of the old tin roof.  I remember her saying it was a wonder they all didn’t get lead poisoning and die.  She did lose two siblings as young children, though.  The story goes that her family would ride from Elkhart to Canton in a covered wagon and camp to pick cotton.  It took some days to get there and back.  Everyone had to pick but the baby.  You had to pull your weight.  One of the oldest girls passed away on the wagon ride back home from getting DDT poison that the cotton had been sprayed with on her hands.  The day after her funeral, the baby also passed away from the same poisoning.  Apparently her mother had it on her hands when she handed the baby something, and the poison was ingested.  I remember her saying that her mother, too, had gotten sick but was strong enough to survive it.  In a matter of days, my granny had lost two siblings.  My heart would ache for my great grandmother as I would imagine her grief.  She lived through times when there was barely food on the table and had a life hard to imagine living now.

Granny didn’t cuss.  Her go-to foul language was “by jiminy”.  Every once in a while she would whisper the word “damn” in a sentence.  She raised two boys and a daughter along side my grandfather.  She had pictures of my dad in his basketball uniform, of my uncle beside his first car, and of my aunt, who looked like a movie star.  The pictures of her children compared to those of her as a child were as different as night and day.  Although the majority of their clothes were homemade, they had shoes, even in the summer.  They may have had an outhouse until my father was in school, but unlike my grandmother, they had running water.  My dad went to a public school, while most of her skills were taught at home.  She brought in an income as a seamstress for the school and others who adored her work.  She found a way to better her children’s lives from that of her own childhood.  Her children didn’t have to work as hard as she did growing up.  She made sure of that.

She hobbied and made extra cash in ceramics, quilting, and making dolls.  Some of the best Christmas gifts were always homemade.  I still have all of the dolls and quilts and several Easter ceramics that she made for me, along with a tea set that will be passed down to my granddaughter one day.  She loved her grandchildren and always made sure to show as much love as possible when we were around.  I miss her hugs and her “I love yous”.  I miss how she smelled of Wind Song powder and her beautiful white hair.  When things get tough, I think back on all she endured, and I straighten my “get to it” hat and plow on.

My granny gave the tiny vintage powder box to me when I was pregnant with my first son, who I named after my father and my grandfather.  I still have it tucked away for safe keeping.  I used the blue ribbon and charm in my bouquet when I married my husband.  It must have worked, because we will have been married 20 years in May.  They are all still in the same box.  Thank you, Granny, for all of the love, patience, and grace.  Thank you for the hugs and determination.  Thank you for the gifts.

11

 

Remembering Christmas

Its December, and I’m always reminded every year of how blessed we are and have always been.  Even when we didn’t even know it, we were blessed.  I was shopping for gifts for the kids and grand kids the other day when I thought back to when my babies were still little.  Oh, how we worried every year about how we would manage Christmas with bills to pay and three kids!  We would save change all year long so they would have something under the tree.  Back then the things they wanted didn’t really cost too much–a doll, a truck, a football, wrestling guys, a bicycle, clothes (a must, not a want). But, there were three of them, and Santa had to be paid as well.  I always worried if they would be disappointed.  Looking back, I don’t think they were.  But, there was one Christmas that we were down right broke.  I didn’t know how we were going to get them anything.  I didn’t tell anyone because I was too prideful, but I worried.  I cried.  I stressed!!!  At the time, I was working at a school as an aide and was designated to a particular classroom and teacher.  She was amazing.  She was quirky and fun and energetic and full of new ideas–always inspired and excited to teach.  On our last day before vacation, I was getting ready to leave, and we exchanged our gifts to one another.  I didn’t open the card immediately because I always find that awkward to do in front of people, so we just hugged, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and said we see each other next year.  I got to the car, threw all the candy and cookies I had received from the kids in the passenger seat, and climbed in the car.  I always saved any treats for my kids.  As I sat behind the wheel, I grabbed the card and opened it.  Out fell $150.  I bawled!  I didn’t know what to do.  Should I return it?  Should I get out and run to her with a hug and gratitude with the tears running down my face?  Do I send her a card and thank her?  Do I accept it?  I was shocked.  I decided that this was her gift to me, so I kept it.  I went home and showed my husband who was as shocked as I was.  I don’t remember what we bought, what my kids asked for that year, or how many gifts they had that year, and if you ask them they won’t either.  But, I remember that act of kindness.

Last year we decided we would surprise a family with gifts for their kids.  We left the gifts on their door step and left.  I don’t know if they liked them.  I don’t know if they were surprised.  But, I know how I felt when I left.  That was the best gift in the world to receive.  Who would have thought that giving could be a gift in itself ? We’ve decided to try and do that every year.

I’ve now been on both sides of that fence.  Both sides come with unexplainable emotions and feelings.  So to the mommas and daddies that are out there struggling right now and worried about how your going to make it, don’t stress.  Make it what you can.  Fill it with love and memories.  That’s the part they will remember–not what they got.  And, believe that it gets easier in time.  Some of my favorite memories are baking the cookies, decorating the tree, and leaving our cookies for Santa with their thank you notes.  Those are the important parts–just spending that time together.

Merry Christmas!

Oh and by the way, I ended up sending the teacher a thank you card in the mail during Christmas break, and we never brought it back up again.  She was the best.

Gettin’ Mucky for a Cause

Jennifer:

15826199_10210789824728916_8008920509285270337_n

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. (Definition from https://www.nationalmssociety.org/.)

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after I turned 21.  Compared to many others who are afflicted by this as yet incurable disease, I am pretty dang healthy.  I do have my share of problems, but for the most part, my day-to-day life is not affected–certainly not to the degree that it could be.  Because I am so fortunate, I feel the need to give back.  I have participated in several fundraising MS Walks over the years and for the last three years have participated in MuckFest MS.

MuckFest MS is a 5K mud run with fun obstacles, such as Big Balls, Mt. Muck-imanjaro, and the Slippy Sloppy.  The goal is to raise money for the National MS Society, and to have FUN!  Sponsors include Abbvie and Traveler Beer Company.  

Every year I am blown away by the number of family and friends who are willing to donate money in my name and by those who are willing to sacrifice their time and bodies to participate in the events with me.  I do not deserve these people, but I am so very grateful for them.  Having them by my side makes the entire experience so much fun!!

Each year, as MuckFest approaches, I get anxious and nervous.  I have a desk job and don’t get quite as much (almost none) of the exercise that I should get.  So, I’m always worried about whether or not I will be able to complete all of the challenges.  The first year, I didn’t even attempt all of them.  It was November.  It was cold and windy.  And, I was shaking like a leaf about halfway through.  Sadly, I walked around several of the stations.  But, the past two years, I have pushed myself to complete them all, and I HAVE!  My husband has helped tremendously on that front.  He has done every single obstacle for the last three years, and he has been there to pull me up those slippery hills and has held on to me so I don’t fall off of the rope ladders.  He is most definitely my rock.

I am always inspired at these events by the number of turquoise “I Muck With MS” bandannas.  So many people wrestle with the unpredictable symptoms of MS, and so many show up to this 5K and don’t let anything hold them back!  It is truly AWESOME.  It is also amazing to watch complete strangers come together and help one another throughout the race.

I cannot possibly thank the people who put these events together and the volunteers who work them enough.  They do an outstanding job!  I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer at the Dallas event this year.  I must say, that was almost as much fun as mucking!  I very much enjoyed seeing another side of the event.

Kim and Kevin:

FB_IMG_1508426131112

This was our second time doing the Muck Fest for MS.  I did a 5K once in Waco, but this is way different.  We have a dear friend who battles MS, so we go to support her.  My first year, the event was held in Baytown during the middle of November.  It was so cold and windy that I walked around some of the water events, which is why we opted out of going the next year.  It was fun, and I was glad I did it, but it was so cold.  This year’s event was in Austin, TX and during October, so we decided to go again in hopes that the weather would be better.  And, we have friends who live there that were also doing the event, so it made it even more fun to have a group of friends and be able to spend time together.  We started out with threats of thunderstorms, but made it through the event with no weather issues.  It is an amazing event!  There are so many people there.  It’s good to see so many come together for a cause.  When someone sees you struggling, they help you out or they stop and cheer you on.  It’s pretty nice just to sit back and watch everyone and smile.  Some of them dressed up in super hero costumes or tutus.  A lot of people have shirts made for the occasion.  We wear silly socks.  The events are muddy and wet and slippery.  I busted my behind on one, but luckily the ground was sof,t so no bruises.  The events are spaced out enough to catch your breath between them unless you’re running it.  I do not run.  I move over for the runners to pass me by.  I am no runner, and the last thing my group needs is to carry my body through the rest of the event.  That’s a nice thing about it.  You can go at your own pace and go around events you don’t want to do or feel like you can’t do.

I faced some of my fears.  I did the netted rope wall again this year.  I always have a fear that I will slip through the openings in the netting, falling onto the other participants underneath, and crushing them all.  So far I’m 2-0 👍.  The first year, I didn’t do the Stunt Man and jump off from the platform onto the inflatable pillow.  I was freezing, and it looked really high up, so I passed on it.  This year’s didn’t look as high, so I climbed up there.  The first go around I froze and couldn’t get my feet to move, but my second attempt, I went for it!  I have a fear of heights as an adult that I didn’t have as a kid, so forcing myself to jump was hard to do!  I was proud of myself for facing that fear.  I definitely recommend doing an event like this for a cause.  It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it helps others.  I would also recommend a change of clothes, towel, and garbage sack, because you’re going to need all of that when you’re finished.  It was a blast, and we are hoping to do it again next year!

Annamarie:

AED MuckFest

 I first got involved with the National MS Society via the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin. First as a volunteer, a few years later as a rider, and finally I applied  to a MuckFest MS position with the National MS Society.  I started at the society in July 2016 with my first MuckFest MS being in October of that year in Houston.

My younger brother was diagnosed with MS in 2009 when he was 19 years old. Since his diagnosis, I’ve learned of a number of friends who live with MS.  And now, of course, since working for the Society, I’ve made so many more connections to people and families who are affected by MS. I am grateful to say that many of these contacts are not just work connections but friends.

The first time I personally partook in the mucky madness was at the Houston event in 2016.  I was supposed to do the Austin event earlier this month, too, but got busy running around, and I missed my chance. But there’s always next year! 😊 My favorite part of the day is seeing the very first wave get mucky.  The energy level is so high, people are pumped, and the mud looks so fresh and inviting! It’s wonderful to see people new to MuckFest MS watch the first wave and start to realize what they’re getting themselves into. Besides the people-watching there are a lot of other fun perks on event-day: seeing random people helping each other on the course, teams working together to overcome obstacles, individuals donating their mucky shoes, and everyone having a huge smile on their face from all the fun memories they’re creating – all in the name of helping those living with MS.

MuckFest MS is a full-time job and fills my time throughout the year. Preparations for the 2018 series have already begun so there’s not much down time between events. The two weeks post-event are still pretty busy with follow up emails/calls, thank-you notes, and post-event fundraising pushes.  After that we jump right back into planning for next year’s events!  As for the build crew, they travel across the country to each MuckFest MS city and are usually on the site about two weeks before the event to plan the route, excavate, make dirt piles, and set up the obstacles.

100% of the fundraising dollars go directly to the National MS Society.  However, only about 20% of muckers fundraise!  The more people we get fundraising, the more impact we will have and the sooner we will be able to live in a world free of MS.  The Austin event this year has raised over $66,000 to date. The MuckFest MS series has raised over $28,000,000 since its inception!

Making Life Matter

Esther was diagnosed with Metastasized Papillary Thyroid Cancer at the age of 12 while we were living in France.  She had been coughing and complaining that her side hurt and that she was getting short of breath.  She was always so healthy and energetic.  She loved doing flips, climbing, and keeping up with her two little brothers and two older sisters.  When the coughing didn’t get better, we went to the doctor expecting bronchitis or pneumonia.  We did NOT expect cancer.
As a mom, her diagnosis was devastating, of course.  Esther’s reaction was amazingly calm, overall.  She took her diagnosis in stride, which was so like her already positive and bubbly personality.  But, of course, it changed her forever.  It caused her to spend so much more time at home, and I think she became quieter and more reflective.
Esther loved coloring, drawing, the internet, her friends, Harry Potter, John Green (her favorite YA author), and getting involved in causes like the Harry Potter Alliance.  She really got into the internet at age 14, joining a collaborative in which the members took turns making and posting videos and chatting with friends that she had made through their common interests, such as Harry Potter, John Green, online games like Farmville, Pictionary, and more.  Eventually, Esther established her own YouTube channel.  She also discovered the network called Nerdfighteria, which was started by fans of John and Hank Green and followers of their YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.  And, she had a presence on Twitter as well.
Esther was central to the creation of an online group of friends who called themselves Catitude.  My husband and I are still in contact with members of Catitude.  They often call us Mama and Papa Earl.  Many of them we see throughout the year, usually through conventions like NerdCon, VidCon, or LeakyCon.  I just saw Arielle, Avonell, and Katie Wurtzel in New York this week at the first night of John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down tour.  I’m going to Sara’s wedding this month in Connecticut!  It’s been exciting to watch them grow up and blossom.  Several members of Catitude now work for John or Hank Green in their various enterprises, which feels like a direct connection to Esther.
Esther TSWGO & HP from Ning
Since the founding of TSWGO.org in 2011, we have given away over $450,000 in grants to families who are facing childhood cancer.  The money is not so much for medical care as it is for those living expenses that begin to mount and cause stress.  In that situation, you’re caring for your child with cancer, and then you end up with all of this financial stress as you lose income, miss work, and sometimes even lose or give up jobs.  TSWGO gifts are meant to be big enough to pay a month’s mortgage or for other living expenses like travel, utilities, etc., so that the families can have a space from their worry to concentrate on their child.
Most of the families that TSWGO helps are referred to us from social workers or other healthcare professionals, although we do accept direct applications from families and friends as well.  While we initially gave out grants nationwide, as our reputation grew faster than our funding increase, we had to pull back to concentrate on Boston and the nearby New England states.  Our short term goal is to give away half a million dollars to help kids with cancer!  Then of course, we’ll move that goal out to a million.  And, while we won’t stop helping families in this practical way, we have really expanded our mission to include a strong commitment to inspiring and empowering young people to make a positive impact in the world–helping them find ways to create and increase awesome through service, action, and love.
Donations to TSWGO can be made directly through our website or by mail.  Many donations come in to us through fundraising events created and hosted by young people in high school and college across the United States and even in other countries like Australia and England.  We host an annual Gala fundraiser in the Boston area, which raises money through local donations and sponsorships.  And of course, others donate by purchasing our merchandise sold through DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome) Records, the online merchandise shop created by Hank Green.
John and Hank Green established August 3rd as Esther Day, which is widely celebrated as a day to say “I love you” to family and friends.  This past Esther Day, we announced ProjectLOVEly.org, a grant-giving program that gives out $5000 grants to help young people create a project that increases awesome in this world.  We just announced our first two winning grant applicants this October 15th!  This is part of our recent dream of doing more that really reflects Esther’s message of making life matter.  She wanted nothing more than to make a difference in the world.
All of our kids have been involved with TSWGO in various volunteer ways at conventions, Esther Day events, or by attending a presentation/talk that Wayne or I have done.  The girls have spoken a few times at various events.  Evangeline has given the most time through her involvement as our Fundraising Events Coordinator.
Esther Day table Quincy

 

For more information on any of the organizations mentioned in this interview, please click on the following links:

TSWGO.org

ProjectLOVEly.org

TSWGO store at DFTBA Records

Esther’s Wikipedia page

 

This Star Won’t Go Out

118 Billings St

Quincy MA  02171

 

I made mistakes, and my family suffered greatly because of this.

I had a normal childhood.  I was brought up in church.  I was singing church solos at age four with my mother accompanying me on the piano off stage.  I would sing Me and Jesus by Tom T Hall.  Mom taught me to say, “one more time!” at the end of my performances and to repeat the chorus, which would have the audience laughing.   I also eventually began to play the electric lead guitar.  My parents would also sing duets together periodically.  Christmas specials were the hardest on me.  Mom would have me practicing them sometimes three months ahead of time.  A happy, normal life…….

When I was eleven, I was carrying laundry to the utility room when my mom told me to have a seat.  So, I plopped down on the dryer.  She got right to the point.  “I think it’s time I told you that you were adopted.  Your biological father left us the day you were born.”  If you had of hit me on the head with a hammer, I wouldn’t have been any more stunned.  No details, just that.  It rocked my world big time.

At age twelve, she left us to go to another state with her pilot friend to finish getting her pilot’s license.  She was gone 9 years.  We found out what our dad was made of.  He raised us, working overtime and during storms as a senior lineman for an electric company.  How he did it, I’ll never know.  But, he did it so well.  It never felt like it was a broken home.  He simply took up the slack and not only raised my little sister and me, but also made us feel normal.  When she came back, my sister and I lived with my mom for awhile.  Only years later would I know just how much that affected my daddy.  My sister moved back to my dad’s first, but I was introduced to something I came to love:  marijuana.  So, I stayed with her until the bitter end when she moved back after Christmas of my senior year.  Daddy was so happy.  For nine years, he went through pure hell, yet he never missed a beat.  I would eventually come back and soon enter the very dark world of an alcoholic.

My first taste of beer was probably 1981 or so.  I hated it.  But, once I made it past the taste and got a beer buzz, it was on.  Alcohol became my main priority, even after moving back to Texas, getting married, and having my first child.  He was born New Year’s Eve, and I sobered up off Black Velvet.  We hired a midwife, and he was delivered in our bedroom.  My wife instantly grew up.  Me?  I was a functioning alcoholic.  I worked seven days a week with my full time job and side jobs on weekends, but the money mainly went towards alcohol.  I was very selfish.  But, I had finally found something that made me come out of the shell that my past had put me in and helped me not be afraid. I made mistakes and my family suffered greatly because of this.

Two ruined marriages, six kids, and mostly destroyed relationships. I spent nine years in state prison because of alcohol. I have been off of parole for three years now.  I have had no more problems with the law.  I stand by the grace of God only.  I have three steady jobs!  I have been blessed.  I never found out a lot about my biological father.  He passed away before we could meet.  Everyone who has the answers is gone now.  I may never know the real truth.  I do know he was a dog trainer in the Army.  Maybe that’s why I love dogs so much.  Maybe there’s a divine connection there.  I have worked with rescue dogs before and continue to do so when I can, and I love it!  I love all dogs, but rescue dogs especially.

I will never give up.  I wanted to so many times.  I now live in a larger city and pay my bills like any other citizen.  But, I could never have done it on my own.  I’m suppose to be dead.  Hope and faith are powerful things.  Don’t ever give up.