Changing course…a new her story.

Although this does not necessarily end my story, as I had said in my previous post, this begins her story, Caroline’s story. For future blog posts, the crown and torch has passed. Please visit the new blog for more adventures. Thanks for being such faithful readers!

thisiscarolineblog.wordpress.com

 

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Life’s little surprises

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After I had my daughter, Caroline, a number of people said to me, “you have to write about her” or “you should start a blog”, not just because I’m a new mom with a baby, but I also suspect because Caroline has Down Syndrome. I thought, okay, there are a ton of blogs already out there where parents write about their children whom have Down Syndrome, so how could my writing possibly stand out or be original? It would be kind of like if I started a blog about relationships and dating. Oh, wait.

In any case, writing has always been incredibly therapeutic for me, and it isn’t that I had intended to focus my past blog posts on relationships and dating, but rather, I wanted to tap into the raw emotions and feelings that just happened to transcend themselves through numerous heartbreaks and funny stories of dating and the paths that paved the way to Jeff. I wrote to write, and quite frankly, it was free therapy, and people who know me know I’m cheap so this was a win-win. So while I do plan to write about Caroline, I will write about her because she is Caroline, not just because she has Down Syndrome. That would only be part of her story and not the center of her journey; just like it is only part of who she is and not the center of who she is – or who she will become – as a person. But for now, we can start at the beginning.

After three years of two miscarriages, fertility hormones and shots and disappointing blood tests, we finally got that phone call last February from the doctors office that said, “Congratulations, your test was positive!” And with bated and excited breath, we waited. We waited until the next ultrasound, and the next ultrasound, and the next  – until we heard the heartbeat, until we got past that 12 week mark where the rate of miscarriage dips significantly, until we saw her perfect little body on a screen swimming around inside of me. And because of my age, or what they so kindly label as “advanced maternal age” (yes, thank you, as if I didn’t already realize that it took me forever to find a partner, to get pregnant and that I’m not here because I put my career in front of children, but rather because I had to kiss a shit ton of frogs to get here – but yes, thank you very much for the reminder)  – I had to do a series of genetic testing to rule out any possibility that our child would be born with what they call a “chromosomal abnormality”. Ironically – and quite unlike me – I went through with the blood test with very little anxiety, and quite frankly, paid little attention to what the results might reveal.

I was at work on a Friday morning in April when the phone call came. The genetic counselor left a voice mail, asking me to call her back as she had the results of our genetic testing. Deep down inside, I knew that if the results had come back normal, there wouldn’t have been a need for me to return her phone call. I called her back with trembling hands and a sick stomach and heard her say, “I have the results from back from your blood test.” Her voice, rather than being upbeat and positive, was somber as she delivered the next line, “Your test results show a 95% true positive that the baby will have Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome”. My mind somehow could not grasp what she was saying, but oddly at the same time, very much did. My voice shaking and mind spinning, I went through the motions of taking down notes and asking a million questions: what do these results mean, and if this isn’t a diagnostic test, what does true positive mean, and did this happen just because I’m old or because we had fertility help? What’s the miscarriage rate and would I be able to carry the baby to term? What are the possibilities of false positives? How could this have happened? Or what I really wanted to know – what answer will you give me that I could point my finger at and blame? Only then as an afterthought, as the question had become lost among the panic and the tears, was the baby a girl or a boy?

The person delivering this kind of news will never do it right. You will be angry and frustrated with them as if it was their fault for giving you this fate. You will want to get in your car and drive to their office and scream and yell and shout at them like a crazy person – telling them to take it back, as if they hurled horrible insults at you rather than results of a test that’s outside of their – and your – control. And while they will never be on your Christmas card list, you will eventually find that the news they delivered – no matter the tone they chose to deliver it with – was probably the best thing that could have happened to you.

Afterwards, I remembered calling Jeff, perhaps the hardest phone call I ever had to make. With tears rolling down my face,  I delivered the same results to him that I had just heard moments before, following with, “and the baby’s a little girl, Jeff. She’s our little girl.” And that’s when I started sobbing, picturing the little hope growing in my stomach;  but now – what of her future?

You see – nowadays when you get these results back, they provide you with a window of time where parents can choose to either move forward with the pregnancy or terminate. And believe me, the doctors ask you – they put the thoughts of the unheard into your mind and add to the hurt and confusion and the unknown of what you already have been dealt. Those weeks feels more like 5 days. I can tell you that the things that you never thought would go through your mind, goes through your mind. Quality of life, future, health issues, heart complications, ability of making friends and getting a job, life expectancy, etc. all you worry and are anxious about when you have about as much experience with Down Syndrome as you have with nuclear physics. Although I was a Special Education major in college, my mind went blank on what this all would mean for our daughter.

That weekend was a dark one indeed for us. We didn’t sleep at all that night – just held each other and cried in the quiet of a hotel room somewhere in Albany, eating only Goldfish and chocolate chip cookies from the nearby vending machine for dinner. I truly believed we never would laugh again. And when I got in the shower the next morning and ran my hand over my swollen belly, I cried scared and shameful tears – shameful that I would ever think of not going forward with the pregnancy and scared because I knew that we would. I recall tapping on the shower door at Jeff, seeing his face through the steamy glass and waved, forcing a smile as I knew that both of our hearts were breaking. Now, if we could only go back to that couple in that hotel room, and the things that we would say to them! That what would lie ahead for us was in fact nothing to cry about, but rather, much to rejoice over. That our life would be more complete and more full of hope than we had ever thought possible. That what lay ahead for us was a profound happiness, and new friends and a new appreciation for humankind. God’s gift, indeed. While we were thinking at the time, “God, could you just give us a break?”, little did we know that Caroline was our break – our very beautiful and deserved chance of a lifetime.

Jeff and I never took the opportunity to take a diagnostic test, or what is called an amniocentesis. We were close; but then at the last minute, I decided against it. We knew that the results wouldn’t have made a difference and I didn’t want to put any unnecessary risks towards my pregnancy. So instead, we took time to find out all that we needed to know about Down Syndrome – met with doctors and specialists, made connections with the community of other parents and families, finding small hopes within others’ stories and realities. Those small hopes grew to increased excitement and we soon found that we were back where we started initially – excited and nervous (just like any new parent would be) about welcoming our first child into the world. I recall that a couple of months later, we were on our way to Boston Children’s hospital to meet with a doctor at the Down Syndrome Clinic there. We were both on edge and anxious as we were still getting used to the news and it hadn’t quite hit us yet that this would become our reality. Especially as ultrasounds had not picked up any soft markers or indications that would point to her having Down Syndrome, outside of the genetic test results. Shamefully, I admit that I still held out a bit of hope that perhaps the test was wrong, that she would be born a “typical” child and my worries were to be for naught. *(I use the word “typical” here as that is the vocabulary that I found is used when discussing a child with Down Syndrome vs. a “typical” child. Frankly, I struggle with the term and really don’t like it as it is ableist language, for how do we define what is “typical” against what we believe is not? Is there such a thing? Everyone is unique in their own special way and Down Syndrome is just another piece to being unique. So I use the term here loosely, as I firmly believe my daughter is also typical, given the fact that she goes through a landfill quantity of diapers per day, cries when she is hungry, snuggles against you when she is asleep and pees all over you right after you give her a bath. You know, a typical baby.)

However, when we stepped into the hospital elevator that morning we joined a beautiful red-haired young woman and her two equally beautiful daughters. One of the daughters had those tell-tale almond-eyes of someone with Down Syndrome and her mother’s red hair and coloring. She was probably no more than four or five years old and she proudly sat in her stroller looking at stickers that she must have just received from a previous doctors’ appointment. Without hesitation,  her eyes locked with mine and she reached out and grabbed my hand tight-tight and didn’t let go. She smiled broadly, and she seemed to say to me, “it’s okay! Your daughter is going to be great. She’ll love you so much, as you will her.” She didn’t let go of my hand until we exited the elevator. It’s funny how such a small person could bring me such great comfort that day. And that’s when I knew deep down, despite the ultrasounds and our doubts, what our reality would become. And I was hopeful.

When Caroline was born and they put her wiggly, newly slick body on my stomach, I clearly remember her looking right at me. The look on her face said, “What the hell just happened?” and then a softening and the look of realization only babies can display that said, “Oh, you’re my mom.” And when I saw her face and her beautiful features, I knew. The 95% became a 100% and I suddenly became very scared and overwhelmed – but love and the natural bond between mother and daughter wedged themselves in between those feelings and took up shop within my heart. I folded her into my arms and looked into her swollen and almond-shaped eyes and I knew that if God had come down at that moment and said, “just kidding, Leah, that was a test. I’ll give you a ‘typical’ child”, I would say “no way, God. I will take Caroline just as she is – as scared and overwhelmed as I am, she’s just the way she should be.” And that’s when, as the cliche saying goes, my life changed. Caroline Ann Gallant came into the world and was the culmination of three years of hard work, heartache, frustration and tears’- the answer to our prayers.

As the days move quickly past and she rapidly nears two months old, I have no idea what life will bring to Caroline. I do know that she poops explosively, cries at the top of her lungs when she is hungry like she is being stabbed and just when I get ready to put her down and try to eat my lunch at 3PM in the afternoon, she cries or fusses as if on cue and I find myself side-slurping soup or eating a sandwich with one hand while shoving a pacifier in her mouth and rocking her with another. She sleeps like an angel and cries like a banshee. (Not sure what a banshee sounds like, but it’s probably horrible and close to a baby cry). Putting her clothes on is pretty much torture and is like dressing an octopus on speed. So, just like any other baby. I do know that Caroline is first and foremost the combination of Jeff and I. That will mean that she will be determined as hell to do the best and be the best that she can be, that she will probably be some sort of a smart ass and like to watch football and bake cookies. She will easily make friends and be the life of the party because of her laugh and bad jokes. She will be pretty awesome – and will ask everything there is to ask of life and work damn hard to live it to the fullest. Right now, that’s all we can hope for. And the rest of the possibilities will just unravel – the way that life is meant to, with no peeking at the end of the book and looking into a crystal ball; but rather revealing it as it is meant to be – slow and steady, full of beautiful, and sometimes hard, surprises that makes us who we are. But those surprises are always worth it. And oh, is she ever.

To care for and raise Caroline will be a privilege. I look at her now and say, “wow, how very lucky we are.” When that couple in the hotel room had no clue what to expect, this couple now still doesn’t. The difference is that the heavy heart and sadness has left and been replaced with joy and happy tears now and then. The anxiety  and worry is still there, but just like any parent, we move on with excited anticipation and work to enjoy every small moment that life gives us. That has nothing to do with a diagnosis, but everything to do with what it means to raise a child. We’re still learning, and for now, Caroline will be our teacher.

So, I will continue to write. My confessions as a Homecoming Queen has been replaced by the her-story of Caroline and our life moving forward as a family. It is not that my story has ended necessarily, but it has been merged into a larger and more purposeful one. After all, my “confessions” brought me to Jeff and that eventually brought me to Caroline. And that has made all the difference. So, keep reading, my friends. For I would imagine the story only becomes richer from here.

When it began, I can’t begin to knowing… who would have believed you would have come along…Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good.” 

This post is dedicated especially to the very special people at the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, the parents and volunteers of the First Call program, to the nurses, doctors and staff at the Brigham and Women’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (particularly, Julie, Karen and Kirby who took such loving care of Caroline during her stay as if she was one of their own), the friends and parents of children with Down Syndrome in the Boston and surrounding communities whom have reached out with support and love and advice throughout our journey (what wonderful friendships have transpired! And I still have so much to learn!), to my OBGYN Dr. Smith whom at every ultrasound told me that Caroline was just “perfect” and I would assume if she delivered her that night would say the same. To all my friends, co-workers and family whom have overwhelmed us completely with love, texts, phone calls, cards and gifts in the past two months – it has meant so much more than you know. Thanks to you all, Caroline dresses better than her parents. And that’s perfectly fine with us.

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The Year of Cotton

I read somewhere that cotton is the second year anniversary gift of choice. Who thinks up these things? How can cotton possibly represent a culmination of a couple’s two years, all of it’s laughs, heartaches, tears and unbridled passion that is meant to endure in this short time? I suppose underwear and socks might be an appropriate gift (and clearly attributed to that unbridled passion part), seeing that those are items that are either lost in our household or worn down till it’s threadbare where its’ only use is to clean the most dirtiest corners of the bathroom, maybe the outside of the toilet. Although, my husband would differ on that one. Apparently, underwear and socks have a lifetime usability to them. Who knew? Holes, be damned!

So, cotton it is. And here we are at two years. Never did I imagine that in two years it was possible to love – and to learn – so much.  And sometimes the road is never quite mapped out the way that you think it should be. Of course, we are always thinking of what’s next – the house, the kids, the next job…an obvious in the rat race in which young couples live their lives, no matter how and with what they fill in it. I was musing with an acquaintance the other day, thinking about this “what’s next” of life – a topic that is certainly not new to this blog nor to any of us. In our conversation, I had outlined all that I had accomplished thus far in life – how hard I had to work for things I wanted, that it never came to me on a silver platter, that I always had to work for it. She listened to my rant, and was quiet for a moment. And then she replied, “It seems to me that you have gotten all that you have ever wanted, hearing all that you have done and where you are now. Just maybe not all of it yet.” Well, that shut me up. Indeed I had gotten what I wanted, perhaps not on the timeline I had laid out when I was 10. And the rest was yet to come. To hear the other side of that argument that I was having with myself was a perspective that I really should have been taking all along.

How does a rush of two years come and go? To drink in the time that was spent with my best teammate: – the laughing at Seinfeld re-runs at dinner every night, the weekend road trips that cannot be complete without a trip for ice-cream or lobster rolls, hot July Saturdays at the beach with salty waves and beers after, the rush of Sunday errands and breakfast after church, the Christmas trees and pumpkin picking and apple pies, the snowstorms and shoveling and car repairs, the chilly runs on pink and gray mornings before work, the evenings with friends and laughing and wine, the warm and close embrace of family gatherings here and 6 hours away, the pit stops, the upswings, the breakdowns, the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the gathering up of one another and putting back together the pieces again. And that’s just two years.

I remember us driving back from NY the day after our wedding, me reading our cards aloud while Jeff drove, and crying from the overwhelming amount of love that had been given to us. I remember arriving at our honeymoon destination, excited for the beach and then crying because it was too windy. I actually demanded that we pick a new island with better weather. (The weather ended up being great – it was just a blow-over storm).  I also remember at the end of the trip, crying when we got the bill. (Who knew that Mai Tai’s and Caribs cost that much?). So – Jeff had signed on for an emotional household, with a dramatic wife and one cat with anxiety issues and another who always think it’s time to eat, even at 4AM. It’s who we are. I get very emotional if there aren’t enough trick or treaters at our house, or the Christmas tree leans to one side too much, or when the SPCA commercials come on, or the time when we had to kill our own lobsters for dinner and I couldn’t watch and made Jeff do it (which was a good thing, because I also didn’t see one slip out of his tongs and onto one of the cats before it hit the floor).  Yet, Jeff takes it all in stride, knowing that this storm, too, shall pass.

I can’t think of anyone else to walk through life with, to weather the storms, to wait for the rainbows. Because it isn’t a race. It may seem really quick and really slow at times (particularly when Jeff is driving), but I can’t imagine what my kitchen would be without him in it – taking my hand to dance along to our own music or tasting the pasta sauce that’s much too hot – or seeing each other when we come home from a long day or watching him catch my eye across a room and laugh at our own jokes. His teasing, his knack for always making me laugh even when I’m upset (like the time he asked me to squeeze his biceps thinking that it would make me feel better) and his love for all things Boston. If this is what the year of cotton is like, no wonder it eventually leads to gold. Apparently, next year is leather. So that should be interesting.

What a blessed road we are on! Happy anniversary to the best thing ever – my Good Will Green Eyes. Thanks for showing up in my life.

“I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you” – Rascal Flatts

Jeff Maine

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38 is Enough

I write this post with no intent to make anyone feel badly or sad; people with children,  or people without children, people who are single, people who aren’t single, ostracize those who are currently with child, or those who are don’t want children. It truly is not about any of that. But I write to talk about a very personal experience, and what it means to be in a situation, to learn from it and to notice all that goes on around you when it comes to you in crystal-clear, hi-def vision. Almost like you went from black and white Kansas to full-on color kaleidoscope of Oz. For me, that’s what 38 has felt like.

Jeff and I miscarried last January. While it is one of the most painful experiences for couples to go through, it was a doozy to experience fresh off the altar. I always have known that I wanted children – part of that reason to see what a mini-me would like – but more because that’s what I always knew to be a reality. I was the youngest cousin and the youngest sibling of a large family and so I saw scads of little kids being born around me while I was growing up. I didn’t know that I would want anything different. And Jeff wanted children, as well. So knowing that this was something that we both wanted, we jumped into the next steps of “trying” with both feet.

Of course, when it happened, I swept the sadness and grief of it all underneath the proverbial rug where all my other failings and heartaches in life are stored. And I went on. And so did Jeff. And then I saw something happen before my eyes. (Take note: all of these things were already happening before I got pregnant, I got married, even before I met Jeff. But I was so focused on finding someone that I put blinders on to what other life was going on around me. Isn’t that always the way with all aspects of our lives?)

  • Everyone, everyone, it seemed was pregnant. Pregnant women were everywhere. FaceBook was full of ultrasound pictures, tummy photos and birth announcements. It made me think that until the miscarriage had happened, everyone was just leading normal lives. And then after it happened, everything snapped to and the world seemed to get knocked up all at once.
  • “Trying” didn’t seem like a fun thing to do anymore. Because now we were focused on the trying, rather than focusing on the intimacy of the “us” part of the whole thing.
  • People say all sorts of things all the time about stuff. But it became heightened for me… “Any baby news yet?” “You look fat; you aren’t pregnant, are you?” And while I know people mean well (except the fat comment!) and are excited knowing that Jeff and I want children, the fact that I have to answer these questions is a constant reminder that I’m not pregnant. And it makes me feel like I’m on baby-watch. Don’t people have a celebrity to focus on?
  • I suddenly became overly sensitive to those traditions we have grown so accustomed to: the breaking of ribbons at wedding showers indicates how many children one will have, the berating of brides on their wedding day of the possibility of “honeymoon” babies, etc. The whole world seemed like one big baby pressure cooker.
  • I became really good at pretending. Good at “liking” people’s good news on FB, good at listening to people talk about their pregnancy, good at picking out presents for baby showers. Well, not quite so good. I practically burst into tears at a Baby’s R Us looking for a shower gift. I had to struggle to hold it in at the check out and make it to the parking lot, my car parked right next to an empty “mommy-to-be” reserved spot.

The more the world became pregnant around us, the more Jeff and I struggled to remain positive. To know that our time would come sooner than later. To try and concentrate on being married for goodness sake, and that to know when it’s supposed to happen, it will happen. (I also personally love the “just try and relax and enjoy each other” phrase when it comes to “trying”. That works about as well as “you will find someone when you aren’t even looking.”)

I found that I was right back where I started. I used to be the unmarried one, now I’m the childless one. When does this cycle ever end? Which leads me to mirror my points above, just a few short years ago when I was still dating:

  • Everyone, everyone seemed to be getting married. The world around me seemed to be holding hands in one big, circle of married, blissful joy. And here I was off to the side, still single.
  • Dating was no longer fun. I couldn’t not look for a potential husband at 36. “Just having fun” seemed to be a moot point after I went through date after unsuccessful date.
  • People said stupid shit then, too. “I can’t believe you are still single!” (Read: What are you doing wrong?) “I know the perfect guy for you; he’s single!” Terrific, but he has a personality of an ass-hair. “You do like men, right? I’m just checking.” Yep, pretty sure. “Don’t you ever want to get married?”  Of course! You think I’m dating for fun?
  • I suddenly became overly sensitive to traditions of all the single women catching the bouquet (as the years dragged on, it ended up being me in that circle and a random 13-year old), of bringing dates to parties and holidays, etc. The whole world seemed hell-bent on coupling people up.
  • I became really good at pretending. And I became a really great bridesmaid and wedding guest. I plastered on smiles, liked people’s wedding announcements on FaceBook, and got some great shower gifts. I don’t think I ever broke down in a Williams-Sonoma, but I’m sure I was on the verge whilst looking through the “cookbooks for couples” section.

You see where I’m headed with this. Which begs the question: When will it ever be enough, no matter the circumstance, no matter “the what next?” goal we are waiting for? Whether it is finding someone, waiting for the perfect job, trying to get pregnant.  When can I relax and enjoy the ride of life? When can I put faith and trust that life will lead me right where it should? Do we blame FaceBook for constantly news-feeding us other peoples’ updates on their lives, their wins, their successes, their nuptials, their babies as if it was truly a glorified, glossed over, fairy tale dream come true? Do we blame our friends and family who care enough to ask us questions about our lives and try to offer help to the best of their abilities? Or do we instead look at ourselves, and say “what are you doing to help yourself in this situation? How are you living in the moment?” In other words, Are we getting in our own way of living a happy, fulfilled life? 

So here I am at 38. And like the beloved 70’s show Eight is Enough, 38 for me right now is more than enough. I’m extremely blessed with a partner who makes me laugh every day, drives erratically, slow-dances with me in the kitchen. I’ve got a good job, amazing friends and family – and damn it – I’m going to enjoy it and them. In the meantime, I’ll be lucky if I’m blessed with one child, but if I get eight, Lord help us all. I’ll need a shoe to fit them all in.

Copyright, 2015, Leah F. Gallant

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Confessions from a Homecoming Queen: 20 years later

Last weekend, I attended my 20 year high school reunion. For a lot of us, this sort of thing conjures up all sorts of thoughts; John Hughes movies, anxiety-ridden lunchtime moments, locker room trash talk, not feeling good enough about ourselves- ever! – spring musicals and football games and back to school sales at Sears. For me, high school memories were mostly good. I wasn’t nervous for my reunion; thanks to Facebook, I think I have a pretty good idea of what people look like and do and what they are thinking. This eases the anxiety a bit because you can start conversations with “So I read on your last post…” or “I saw you got a new job” or “congrats on your new baby”! And then you take it from there. But you still find yourself falling back into the old patterns, conversations, and once again, your old selves.

Of course, I speak from a position where I had mostly fond memories of high school and good friends and caring teachers. I grew up in rural farm country in Upstate NY, where trips to the mall with friends would take about an hour, as opposed to a weekly Saturday morning ritual. And of course, you needed to know someone with a car to get there. Also, for a lot of us, we worked on the weekends. So the mall was out until we saved up enough money to actually buy a shirt at Abercrombie (back when they had huge flannels and good politics). As long as you hadn’t blown the money already on late night grilled sandwiches and fries at Perkins.  We went to a school where it was mostly empty on the first day of deer season. We snuck wine coolers in peoples’ back yards and had bonfires in the woods (cause’ that’s safe!) instead of on a beach or at someone’s parent’s McMansion. We left our car doors unlocked and grew up as latch-key kids. We took late night drives through back country roads to scare ourselves on purpose. We made up our own stories, our own present, our own futures. And whether we liked it or not, we had done it together.

I have been home many, many times since the summer of 94′. But this time driving home was different. I looked at things differently; I drove past old friends’ parents homes and remembered late night parties in the backyard and pancake breakfasts at their kitchen tables. I drove past my old English teacher’s house with her white truck still sitting in the driveway. I drove past vineyards and family farms where we used to play and get lost in. Driving home, instead of taking a main route, I took a road that had been well traveled coming back from the movies, sleepovers or late night parties. In my head, I was 18 again. I saw storefronts and alleyways and sidewalks and homes through the eyes of a high school senior. And I drew in deep breaths of country air, of August turning into September, of soccer practices and new school crushes. I had to do this before I walked through the door Saturday night – to remind myself of what I didn’t know then, what I know now, and what I still don’t know 20 years later. I had to humble myself a bit from thinking I had found the answer to everything since I had pulled the tassel to the other side so many years ago.

When I saw familiar faces that night and fell into familiar stories and old jokes, my life back in Boston fell away. Things seemed simple and complicated all over again. Good Will Green Eyes was there, but like always, he seemed as if he had always been part of the picture, falling into my high school crowd with easy confidence. I hugged people I hadn’t seen in years as if it were yesterday. It was a good feeling. It was a feeling of knowing that at 20 years later, we still didn’t know a god damn thing about life. Jam packed into the local bar that an old high school friend now owned, stories of heartache, of success, of reality took command. Our stories – varied in experience and tragedy and triumph – hung in the air like cigarette smoke and humid August air. It was like a warm, solid hug from an old friend – because indeed, that’s what it was.

Sometimes, I do wish that I was 18 again. Not because I want to relive my 20’s, but because of the feeling I had when we all left each other. We were fortunate to have a small class and to finally have enough sense to let bygones be bygones in some instances and be good to one another. I remember the summer before college – where old cliques fell away and new friendships were formed – where we tried to shove the past 4 years of high school into one summer memory. And then we all went our separate ways – whether that was 5 miles or 500 miles, it was all still new to us. I think that’s the same thing today. It’s still all so new.  Twenty years later, we often can’t help but look at life like an insecure 18 year-old; approaching it with cocky confidence or withdrawing from it in a sulky mood. It is comforting to know that I was in good company that night; that no one had it all figured out, and no one had done it perfectly and that everyone still had a good laugh about it all.

For those of you contemplating your high school reunion – whether it is 10, 20, 30 or 50 – do it. It’s never too late to go back. You may surprise yourself  in seeing that everyone is too consumed with their own anxiety to worry so much about yours. And when you do return, take the back way. I promise you, it’s a good perspective.

Cheers to you PY Class of 94′! Let’s do it again this weekend.

Copyright Leah F. Gallant, 2014

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The mis-connections of life; a reflection on marriage

You may be familiar with the “missed connections” that Craig’s List has as one of their listings; the listing where someone can post that they thought that they saw a special someone on the train, but the doors closed at the last minute, and they didn’t have enough gumption to speak up and ask that special someone out, or they saw an old flame in a restaurant with a new flame, still convinced that their flame had extinguished too early and so now they put all their business out there into a public ad in hopes that special someone or old flame perhaps might see it and also agree, that yes, that was indeed a missed connection, an opportunity for love to blossom. So, this post is not about that. But it is about our obsession with missed connections, missed opportunities, with missing out, or craving that next best thing.

When I was little, my cousins all learned to water ski way before I did. This frustrated me to no end. I was bound and determined to get up on those wooden skis, to skirt around that lake effortlessly, looking like I belonged no those skis. It didn’t matter that there were most likely plenty of kids my age out there that hadn’t even learned how to swim yet, but I was focused on those around me who had learned, who confidently got up on those skis summer after summer, while my uncle still circled the boat around me, bobbing along in the water, my 12th attempt that day to last just 10 seconds on my wobbly, 11-year old legs. It wasn’t fair, I complained. Why was it so easy for everyone else? Why did I have to have so much trouble with it? When I finally did get up on those skis, the victorious moment lasted about one summer. And then everyone moved onto knee-boarding, the next coolest thing to accomplish. Thankfully, that was easier than water skiing for me, but the novelty of water skiing faded. Onto the next. 

When I hit high school – how can I put this – my bra didn’t fill out like all the other girls’ bras. Let’s just say that. Because I wasn’t filling out a sweater Kardashian-style, I felt less-grown up, unappreciated and ignored. I still felt like that wobbly little kid trying to get up on skis. My girlfriends were way ahead of me when it came to that, and once again, I felt left behind. It wasn’t fair, I told my Mom. Why couldn’t I look like everyone else? Why did I have to look like I was still 11-years old?

After college, my friends started getting married. Once again, I was in a race against the clock; that feeling of being left behind in the wake came up once again, and I was eager to see what lay beyond for me. It wasn’t fair, I would say. Why wasn’t I finding anyone? Why didn’t anyone want to marry me? What was I doing that was so wrong?

Well, I know that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. In any of those circumstances. It just wasn’t the time for me yet. No one tells us in the beginning that we are deserving of any of these things; to be an avid skier, to have big boobs, to get married. It is what it is. 

Have you ever been to a party and you show up and an old friend is the first person you see? So you start talking to them, yet find yourself after awhile looking over their shoulder, inquisitive as to who else is in the room..checking out the place, thinking “who else can I talk to who here? who else do I need to see?” and then you suddenly find yourself not focusing at all on the conversation between you and the old friend, and now only obsessed with who else is at that party. You think, “what am I missing out on that I should pay attention to?” And then, after the party, have you ever had that feeling of “I wish I spent more time talking to that old friend” or “that party went by way too fast! I didn’t have enough time to talk to everyone there.” The party went by way too fast because you were so busy thinking beyond the conversation you were actually having to be present with the friend that you were talking with in the first place. I am convinced that much of our regrets of life passing us by is due to the fact that we spend much of our time obsessing over what we are missing and/or have yet to experience and not enough time of enjoying life in the moment. We are all guilty of it. But we are all capable of getting beyond it.

Now that I’m married, know how to ski, and my bras fit just fine, thank you…I’m of course worried about what’s next. I’m focused on what I haven’t done yet, instead of reflecting on what I have accomplished. How foolish of me. Marriage itself — in all my knowledge of three months of it! — has been full of learning opportunities every day for me, yet it’s only recently that it has all started to add up into a big fat wake-up call. When Good Will Green Eyes (Jeff) and I became serious, I was onto being obsessed with “when he’s going to pop the question?” and then when he did ask me to marry him, I was already onto “what venue will we choose? Can we get married in the fall?” and now that we are married, I’m onto paying attention to my ticking biological clock. Shamefully, I spent little time on being present in those moments of actually being with Jeff compared to the amount of time that I worried about where our life would take us next. This realization hit me like a big brick aside my face as we sat at dinner the other night. I looked at him, really looked at him, as he cut into the dry chicken I had made, eating it with gusto, talking away about his day. I thought to myself, I married this man for a reason, as a life partner, and have I ever really looked at him in the moment, at us in the moment, gratefully considering our here and now, rather than worrying about how we are going to overcome that next “accomplishment” that, in all honesty, we never have been promised in the first place? Honestly, not enough. 

Here is my reflection. Whether you are married or not, our obsession with the missed connections of life should really turn into our obsessions with our love for the here and now. Our desire to achieve that next best thing, or to keep up with people whom we believe have better lives, better loves, better boobs…should be replaced by the desire of those who have been placed into our lives for a reason. For the choices that we have made for a reason. To celebrate all that it is, for what it’s worth. I wish I could go back to those times on the lake – not to take another stab at skiing, but to spend more time with my grandparents (who have since passed) my cousins, to enjoy being a kid lucky as all get out to grow up on in one of the most beautiful regions in the country, eating fistfuls of barbecue potato chips like they were going out of style and playing Jarts (now illegal) in the backyard with my cousins.

People often lament they did not have enough time with loved ones once they pass away, or if they are on their deathbed, how quickly life passed them by, how they wished they worried less, worked less, and spent more time “in the moment”. Here’s your chance. Do it now. No one promises us anything when we start out. But what we can promise ourselves is that we can only do our best to do well by what has been given so generously to us. 

Copyright 2014, Leah Flynn Gallant

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The devil is in the details and the bride is squeezing his tail…

You would think that I would have more to write about the wedding planning process. And this is all I really have to say, “Is it here, already, damn it?” For example, I cannot adequately describe the amount of time I have discussed the centerpieces, the centerpieces that people will look at for about five seconds before they raid the open bar and cut into their filet mignon. I try to imagine myself appreciating the centerpieces from the vast amount of weddings I have attended. I don’t recall myself saying, “You know, the dancing was great, the bride was beautiful, and the bartender was a hottie, but did you see those centerpieces??? That made my whole weekend!” No. This does not happen. Unless you work for Martha Stewart. Or if you are Martha Stewart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to get married. I’m all about a great celebration and marrying the love of my life. But I’m also a bit over the planning portion of the experience. Pinterest, I have discovered, is the root of all evil. And so is TLC and Bravo. They purposefully produce shows that makes the 8-18 month planning period of a woman’s life a complete wash. You forget all about your identity as a person. You become a bride. You react emotionally over the littlest things. Your brain does not shut off. It picks up where you left it, as you drift off into an anxiety-filled sleep, your DJ’s voice ringing your head, “the deposit is due in two weeks…”  and thinking about what to put in guests’ hotel room bags (Cheezits or Skittles?). I have also started to have “wedding dreams”. In my latest dream, my mother wore this flimsy sundress that maybe Janet from Three’s Company wore and cut her hair super short for the wedding day. In another dream, my oldest brother brought a 75-old date to the wedding (who may have been Wiccan) declaring that they were going to get married that day, too, her in all of her long, gray-haired glory and full hippie dress. I also dreamt that someone knocked the unity candle over in church and set the altar on fire. All of this, of course, says to me that the day will go swimmingly and be beautiful. These dreams are only a reflection of my own representation of anxiety.

People ask me…”Overwhelmed, yet? Stressed?”, where I respond, “No, but now I am!”, convinced that I should be walking around in a daze, wringing my hands over things like the groomsmen’s ties and where to get my dress steamed. Here is why the devil is in the details. Because this whole wedding racket our society has going on causes you to forget the reason you are putting on this shindig in the first place. Because you found someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Ohh….right. I forgot about that. The other day, I was talking on the phone to my mother for a good half hour about the reception, the centerpieces, and the day of details for hair and make-up. After I was able to take a breath, she responded sarcastically, “Now, will Jeff (my fiance, you know him as Good Will Green Eyes) be coming to the wedding?” Where I then retorted, “Who’s Jeff?”

But, see that’s my point. When you are so busy worrying about fingertip or cathedral length for your veil, or the color scheme for the tablecloths, or if you should serve the filet or the prime rib (always go with the filet, prime tends to be more fatty), you forget about the person that’s going to be at the end of that aisle. Whom, may I add, has been a terrific sport during my emotional times of throwing myself dramatically on couches, floors, or anything that I can fling my arms  about on because something did not go my way, or because my hair trial didn’t go well, or that I didn’t order enough invitations.  Which only solidified the fact of why Jeff is such a perfect match for me. He dishes it right back to me, bringing me out of what I like to refer to as “my special place” of over-exaggerated dramatics and unsavory language.

Yesterday, I got thinking about the celebration of that moment where people declare their love and commitment to one other. And what a completely intimate moment that is for about 150 people or so watch you do. No one was there to hear Jeff ask me to marry him. No one was there for our first kiss. No one was there when I told Jeff I loved him for the first time. No one was there to watch me cry about past heartaches on his shoulder. No one was there to watch him cry at Love Actually. (that probably was one where he would rather have kept intimate. Sorry, hon).  But this moment of a wedding celebration is what brings all those intimate moments crashing together into one day, one hour, one moment. And that’s what gets me a little nervous. It’s challenging for us to be intimate in front of one person, let alone a hundred other people. You get intimacy stage fright. You think to yourself, wait, are people looking at us? Why, yes they are. And they should be. You invited them to do so.

So I thought some more about it. I thought about all the times I had wished that my past boyfriends could be more like Jeff. The funny thing was, I hadn’t met Jeff yet. So in the past, my sentences to friends had ended at “I wish that he could have been more…more…well….you know!!” And now, I know. Because when I met Jeff, it all made sense. It all came together into so many million little moments that added up to him being good for me. For us being good for each other. So, naturally, when that happens to any of us, we want to share it with others. It was well worth the wait for me to complete that sentence…and Jeff came along just when he should have. And when I think about that, I’m not nervous anymore. Because at the end of the day, it’s just about two people loving each other, throwing a party and having fabulous centerpieces.

There is no doubt that over the next few weeks, I will have to calm my nerves, probably throw another mini-tantrum or two, acting like my head is going to spin around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist because the flowers weren’t the color I envisioned or I forgot that one little detail I had overlooked and need to fix immediately or the world spins off it’s axis. But then I will remind myself that beyond the details, there lies that intimate moment in time where I say “I do” to someone I have waited all my life to say it to. No matter if it rains, snows, or the cake falls over, I’m still marrying Jeff. Because after the guests go home and we stumble back tanned and happy from the honeymoon, it’s only the beginning. There will be no “Now what?” but instead a, “I can’t wait until what’s next!”.

And that’s a wedding toast I can live with. Cheers!

Copyright Leah A. Flynn, 2o13

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