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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Terms of Engagement

For me to have taken this long to write this specific post is quite ironic. Because this was not only a moment that I felt I had quite literally spent my life waiting for (well, okay, maybe not my life but the better part of my dating life – especially the last few years), but the cherry on the sundae for readers, the Confession of all confessions. Good Will Green Eyes popped the question and I said yes. This blog has now turned the proverbial corner, and quite frankly, so have I. All of the past stories, triumphs, mistakes, tears, heart aches, joy and celebration had come down to one December evening, with just two people on a side street saying yes to each other. And it was that simple. And that quick.

I can go into the whole proposal story and how it all went down with the details and play by play as if this was a Pat’s game during the Superbowl. But, truly the important things you need to know are the following, 1) the ring is amazing 2) he got down on one knee 3) the proposal took place at a special, sentimental spot for both of us that also happens to be a sidestreet that can look creepy at night 4) the ring is amazing and 5) I was nervous as all get out.  As soon as he said to me after we finished dinner, “let’s go for a walk”, I knew what was about to happen. And all of a sudden finishing my glass of wine became the most important thing in the world rather than listening to what this man was about to ask me. I literally said, “Can I finish my wine first”? Which he responded, “Leah, that’s already paid for. You don’t need to finish it…let’s go.” And so I gulped down the last swill and left the restaurant, out the door, and began the walk down the final gangplank of single-hood.

Please don’t mistake me. I’m ecstatic,thrilled, psyched and overjoyed to marry Good Will Green Eyes. He is everything that I had always wanted my other boyfriends to be – I just hadn’t known it yet until I met him. Not only does he make me laugh, but he listens, he understands, he communicates, he loves, he is all what someone meant for me should be like.  But to be faced with this question that would literally turn my single identity onto it’s very thick head, was a bit scary. I was excited, but somehow walking out of that restaurant and into the possibilities of new beginnings all of a sudden made my mouth dry, my palms sweat and the last sip of wine rush speedily to my head.

I was confused by my reaction. Because, I had already said yes to Good Will Green Eyes so many months ago. I said yes to him when he stuck up for me in the bar and some stranger slapped my butt, I said yes to him when he said “All I want is a shot at the title”, I said yes to him when he traveled to see my family – in all it’s big family glory! – hours away to spend the weekend sleeping in a tent rather than a Holiday Inn, I said yes to him when we first went to mass together and he held my hand, I said yes to him when he wiped my tears after we watched Love Actually, I said yes to him when I threw up the dinner he bought me in a restaurant stall and he still asked me out afterwards, and I said yes to him whenever he put me first in front of his own needs. So why was I so nervous to say yes to him when it mattered most? Oh, don’t get me wrong. That night I said yes loud and clear – and in fact, put the ring on my own finger (what? he was on his knees and needed assistance), but saying yes that time was a finality. It was a declaration, an expression of love and – in it’s own little way –  a goodbye.

For so many years, my “single” identity – whether I was attached to someone or not – defined me. It was a way of how I made jokes, conversation, connected with friends, made excuses for “just staying out one hour longer” when most everyone had already gone home, and, most importantly, shaped my story-telling. So to now be the engaged or betrothed “one” was all of a sudden weird and foreign to me. The ring on my finger defined me now ” as one of those” to all the other single women who glance at ring fingers on buses and trains just to do a quick count in their heads of how many single women really are left in this city. (I only say this because I have done this seemingly petty but very necessary calculation in my head more than once – only to size up competition!). People started taking what I had to say a little bit more seriously – instead of saying, “Oh, well what does she know, I mean, she has no idea what it means to be married/have a family or have a “real” life” — because, apparently now that I was getting married, suddenly there was this concept that the old Leah had been replaced by someone a bit more polished, mature and so above Saturday nights out with girlfriends engaged in frivolous (but fun!) behavior fueled by vodka tonics and smooth-talking bartenders. That gave me pause. Was I more polished? Wise, always, because we only grow and learn through our mistakes and our past relationships – but polished? Mature? Above vodka tonics and batting my eyes at 27-year old men holding my bar tab? That I wasn’t so sure about. Was being engaged to the love of my life cause for me to suddenly change the course of that life? Or was it much more simple than that? The truth was somewhere in between. What did these terms of engagement mean for me and for the identity that I had always hung my hat on when it came to trying to explain myself to others? Hell, when it came to trying to explain myself to me. How would I now define those terms? When I looked in the mirror, was it still the same person? Or when the diamond is slipped over the knuckle, does it all magically turn into a Knottie, a Bridezilla, a registry shopping hound who suddenly has become an expert on all things from floral arrangements to cake tastings to shows to watch on TLC?

Well, the answer, of course, is no. I’m still me. I still crack the same jokes, and wink at the same guys and laugh too loudly with friends and drink a little more wine than I should. I didn’t sign up for the Knot, and I still can’t really tell you the difference between a Mermaid and Fit and Flare cut. When the day is done and finished, and the make-up has been removed and the teeth flossed and the cats fed, I’m still the same person that Good Will Green Eyes fell in love with in the first place. When he asked me to marry him, he did not want to marry someone on the other side of that engagement coin. He wanted to marry me, who always stayed true to me ever since our first date. So why would I change? My friends and family have always loved me for me…why would they want to have someone in my life that wanted me any differently? I won’t ever be perfectly graceful, polished or mature. But what I can be is an amazing partner and friend to this man that I will wear a white gown next to. And that will only take the Leah I started with 36 years ago; and what will only strengthen our relationship was the single life that shaped me. That’s all I can carry forward down that aisle – and that is something that you can’t see in the mirror, you can’t wear on your finger or you can’t register for. My best gift to Good Will Green Eyes will be me  – in all its imperfections and funny jokes and wide smiles and trips up the stairs.

So, I might say goodbye to singlehood…but I promise this. I won’t ever forget what singlehood had to do with getting me here – to that December evening where the question took one minute to ask and what seemed like forever to build up to. It only has to happen once. Let that once happen to the person that you want to be – because the person on their knee or standing above you – will only want just that. And those terms can be just that simple, and just that hard to keep.

If given the choice, I would run down that aisle and hurl myself headlong into Good Will Green Eyes like he’s Mickey Mouse on Christmas. But the truth is, I will most likely only need a shot of Jameson and my dad on my arm. The rest, assuredly, will fall into place.

Copyright 2013, Leah A. Flynn

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The tipping point; living a balanced life

I had the pleasure of giving the following speech last evening at fraternity banquet honoring students who live and lead a “balanced life” while excelling in many ways at MIT. So here is what I had to say…the nods of heads across the room was enough confirmation for me.



Good evening everyone, and thank you for asking me to be here and speak with you all tonight, to honor this year’s award recipients of the Balanced Man/Woman Scholarship and celebrate their achievements.

I want to first reflect on the language of the award, its core, and the recipients celebrated tonight. The award states it’s intent of: celebrating men and women who exemplify the philosophy of living balanced lives and striving for excellence in EVERY endeavor amidst the VER Y challenging MIT academic environment.:  

When saying that out loud, I ask myself, is it possible to be balanced, strive for excellence, AND be part of the very challenging MIT community? If you fulfill these qualifications, When do you sleep? Hang out with friends? Eat? Spend time with family? Reflecting on who you are as a person, where you want to go and why? So, then I think about, what does it mean to be balanced? Does it mean raising your hand and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, just as long as it spans the depth and breadth of opportunity that the firehose provides us? Is that what balance means? Does it mean being everything to everyone and having just enough time in to squeeze in meals and a 15 minute convo with your best friend? Or does it mean something else entirely different?

If we think about a scale – how does it maintain balance? When an equal weight of mass is placed on both sides of the scale – it eventually balances out. I can’t believe I am actually using a scientific reference in a speech! But what matters (excuse the pun – get it matter!, I am really having fun with science) is what makes up that weight.

Consider this; if you have on one end of your scale school/p-sets/projects/internships and the other side of that scale, fraternity activities/student group activities/part-time job is that really balanced? Sure, these two parts of your life may weigh the same…but where is the rhythm that maintains that balance? The piece that comes in to take away the sting of the hectic lifestyle it ensues? To me, those two sides are too much weight. Where is the room that is made for activities that allow you to just be?

Perhaps being yourself – for you – is within your fraternity, your residential community, your student organization. But tonight, I am talking about creating a schedule of your life that provides you an opportunity to sit in quiet, to allow yourself to absorb the world around you in those precious moments of reflection and thought. And not thought that is made up of logarithms and calculus and bio lab. I am talking the realities of life! Finding your rhythm to maintain that balance. You cannot figure out your balance without reflection. You cannot lead without reflection. You can’t learn from your successes and failures without first taking a time out to think about it first in order to move forward. Reflection can be writing, meditation, drawing, even just chatting with friends, playing video games. The important piece to this is that you are taking a time out to fuel up.

When you move on from MIT, what will balance bring to your life? Will it be friends? Family? A significant other? An activity that has nothing to do with where you got your degree from?  Yes, MIT is a family; a community, a network of people who have similar passions and drive in creating a better – and albeit faster and more efficient – world. But tonight, I urge you to find your rhythm  – what moves and shakes you – but also allows you a balance to maintain the very weight you carry; to really implore yourself to discover a world that is beyond Mass Avenue.

So what does balance have to do with being an effective leader? 

In graduate school, it was important to me that I made sure to schedule a balanced lifestyle among my classes, recitations, graduate assistantship, papers, projects, and job search – for me, my rhythm was my friendships, my opportunity to get to know others, to get to know the city I was living in, to make a few mistakes in relationships along the way. To breathe, to relax, to renew, to concentrate on myself.  Getting to know yourself allows you to open up and think more clearly about the opportunities and challenges that come with being a leader.  For example, I think about how I exemplify balance to my staff as a leader – I say to them – you are no good to me (in this job) if you are sick, tired, or run-down all the time from trying to be everything to everyone and taking on way too much than your plate can handle.

Because, a “balanced” life does not include a life that is crammed to the brim with activity. A balanced life includes time for rejuvenation and being a bit selfish with your time. It includes the phrase “no”. It is not about balancing a ton of academics with a ton of activities and a ton of UPOPS, UROPS, MISTIS and other assorted acronyms.  Balance is about modeling a way of life that does not make you run of breath at the end of each day.  Balance is not meeting others expectations of you but instead meeting your own.  Being an effective leader means at some point you will need to be selfish with your time  – indulge in, if you will, so that your motivation in your work is sustained by an opportunity to take a break once in a while.

I have to admit; I am not a fan of the firehose analogy that MIT clings to as a special shared joke among alumni and students; that being at MIT is like drinking from a firehose. I think that sets us all up to lead a very unbalanced experience of what it means to be a college student, to be a fraternity brother, a friend, a classmate. To drink in every opportunity is one thing; to feel that you cannot keep up with the rush it brings to your face is quite another. We do have the power to turn the faucet down a couple of notches in order to really discover what brings us pleasure from life. And while for right now that might mean be taking advantage of everything that happens at MIT, every day at every hour, drinking things in is DIFFERENT than GULPING it. When you gulp something down, are you able to really taste it? When you sip, you are able to enjoy it a bit. I don’t need to tell fraternity brothers that gulping and sipping or two different things – but I do need to tell you that you if you are tipping the scales more than it can balance, you are no good to the team or organization that you are leading.

To be a leader – you need to be alert, on your toes, aware and cognizant of all that might affect you, your team, your organization –to effectively model the values in which your organization holds so important. You cannot be any of these things if you yourself are weighing down both ends of the scale, where it simply becomes too heavy to hold.

This speech tonight is not just for you all – it’s for me, too. It’s a lesson I need to remind myself day in, and day out. When I want to say yes to everything, to learn all I can about MIT, about my position, about how to continue to improve upon the work we do every day. As a leader, that’s my responsibility. But it’s also my responsibility to take care of myself, to ask for help, and to find that rhythm that helps be balance the scale. You can do it too, I know it.

Good luck with the rest of your semester, congratulations to the recipients and my warmest wishes for the upcoming holiday season. And who knows? Maybe your rhythm will be snow-skiing. In my experience, the lodge is more my rhythm. Thank you!


Find your rhythm my friends. Share with the world – it is the journey, not the destination.


Leah A. Flynn, Copyright, 2012

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