Things I’ve Learned This Year
You may have noticed that I haven’t had a blog post in quite some time. When I first started my blog in 2007, then named ‘pennyrounds’, I had just become unemployed and wrote often to stay inspired and to stay busy. Ryan would watch football religiously every Sunday and I would write and schedule the upcoming weeks posts on whatever inspired me. Looking back, those days feel so simple and sweet. We were still dating and just bought our first place together. It was a teeny studio condo near the train station so I could commute into the city and it was perfect for us at the time. Even though I may not have the free time like a used to (a blessing), I’m making it a goal of mine to produce more content for my blog. It’s important for me to stay connected with the few of you who read my blog (thank you!) and to stay connected with clients, both former and current. In addition to staying connected, I love looking back on old posts and seeing this as a journal. This past year has been the most extreme roller coaster and I learned an enormous amount about myself, my family and the people who I choose to share my life with.
This upcoming Saturday is my 31st birthday. Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be thirty years old. Thirty just seemed like the age where life started, and in many ways it did for me. Although, now that I’m turning 31, it doesn’t seem so shiny and monumental. This past year was the best and worst year of my life. I thought it would be helpful for me to share what I’ve learned in the past year…
Becoming a mother was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Ryan and I were married for three years before I got pregnant, and it probably took me that long to convince him that there is never a “right” time to have a baby. I knew how badly I wanted to start a family but it took my over-analytical husband a bit longer to stop thinking so much. I think he was waiting for a moment where it became clear that it was the perfect time to get pregnant but everyone will tell you that time will never come. You will always be worried about if you have enough money saved, if you’ve traveled enough, if your home is big enough, or if your job is secure.. I was never, ever scared and knew that we would be amazing and loving parents.
I was fortunate to have an extremely easy pregnancy. I never once got sick and even when my body was psychically exhausted I savored it. I felt lucky to be able to get pregnant, to experience this wonderful miracle created out of so much love. I can’t explain how much I enjoyed every single day of being pregnant and feeling my little boy grow inside of me. Last year around this time I was nine months pregnant and waiting impatiently to meet Cole. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore, but I just wanted to meet the new love of my life.
My water broke in the middle of the night April 9, 2014, the night before I was supposed to be induced. We went to the hospital at 3am, and I delivered Cole at 4:32pm and the entire delivery was so calm and smooth. Exactly the opposite of what I was expecting it to be. Even after I delivered Cole, I missed him being in my belly. Of course I’m happy to have a healthy baby boy, but I missed the little wriggles and squirms inside my belly.
I often catch Ryan staring at Cole and whispering to him how much he loves him. It’s funny thinking back at how scared he was to become a father and how natural it is for him. Motherhood is exactly what I pictured… the intense love that literally brings tears to my eyes, the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, the good, the bad and the ugly. I savor all of it because I know in the blink of an eye, he’s going to be 13 and will probably embarrassed of his mother… and then he’ll be 18 going off to college. I cherish every single day with Cole and am so blessed to have such a kind, loving and funny little boy as my son.
Breastfeeding Cole was the most connected I’ve ever felt to someone. I wasn’t breastfed as a baby and wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d feel nursing my baby, but I knew I wanted to at least try. When Cole was born April 10, 2014, they immediately him placed on my belly for skin-to-skin and I was filled with so much incredible emotion. He sucked on his thumb for a little while (which he hasn’t done since) and then he began to nurse. That moment made it feel so incredibly real to me. That I was a mother, and my sole responsibility was to nurture this wrinkly little baby. :) I continued to breastfeed that hungry little boy for seven months and miss that wonderful connection. I miss the look he gave me while he fell asleep resting on my belly, the way he held my finger in the early months. Those intimate moments with him and memories I’ll cherish forever.
Having a baby brought relationships into my life that I wasn’t expecting. After having Cole, I joined the breastfeeding support group at Overlook Hospital because I was having trouble making enough milk to feed my 8 lb 15 oz little meatball. He was hungry constantly and I needed help, but I also needed a reason to get out of the house every week. Being a new mom at home alone with a baby makes you feel lonely. I looked forward to this group every Tuesday morning and went religiously hoping to make other “mom friends”. I never expected to meet an amazing support system of women who helped me nurse Cole longer than my original goal, and they’ve also become great friends.
Current friendships change and evolve as you grown older. This one was a hard one for me to learn. After I had Cole, I was feeling a unique loneliness… Originally I thought it was baby blues, but now looking back I’m realizing how relationships change as you become an adult. At the time, I was worried I was growing apart from some of my friends because I was the only one who had a baby. I am fortunate to have friends that I’ve known for decades, and I’m learning that our relationships are changing and evolving. We don’t have time to spend hours talking on the phone about boys like we did in high school, and we’d be awkward old ladies to be spending so much time in bars like we did in our twenties. We may not see each other every week, or chat often but that doesn’t mean that we’re growing apart. It just means that you need to make more of an effort to make plans and when you do spend time together it’ll be more special. There will be times in your life where you’ll feel closer than others, and that’s okay. All relationships change and evolve but we need to invest in them.
Buying an old home feels like a money pit. :) Ryan and I always knew we wanted to buy an old home and I’m being impatient with the timing it’s taking to remodel it the way I’d like. This will likely be our forever home (with maybe potentially adding an addition in the future) so living in a neighborhood where we could plant our family roots was incredibly important to us. We’ve only been here since August and are loving it so far. We are so excited for warmer weather so we can start enjoying the yard with Cole as he learns to walk!
It’s okay to ask for help. Having a baby and running my own company is not easy and there were some growing pains in the beginning. I am fortunate to have so much help with Cole. He goes to daycare 3 times a week which he loves, and he spends two days with my parents. There is nothing sweeter than seeing your baby light up when he sees or hears your own mothers voice. I am thankful that he has the experience of both daycare to be social and one-on-one with my parents to get spoiled.
This year I need to ask for more help with my business. I know my strengths and my weaknesses. In order to have another successful year, I need to hire people to help me with those tasks that I don’t have the time to focus on so I can invest more time with clients.
Being creative all the time is exhausting. This wasn’t something new that I learned this year, but that’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m currently taking on less projects so I can really fully focus on my current projects. I need to work less on nights and weekends so I can spend more time with family. In order to be a better designer, I need to recharge my battery so I can be refreshed during the week. I love what I do and am so grateful that I have clients who inspire me, support me and respect me. This is a reminder that I need to ask for help so I can be the best designer I can be.
Life is precious. This one is a tough one. Those who are close to me, and all of my current clients know that I tragically lost my sister this year. Her life was taken from her December 27, 2014. She was 37, leaving behind two small children, my 8 year old nephew and my 2.5 year old niece.
This part hurts me the most. That memories of my sister will eventually fade from my young nephew’s memory, and that my niece will likely never remember her mother. We will tell them stories to keep her spirit alive and these will become their memories that they remember of her. After sorting through my sisters belongings I came across something my sister filled out asking what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said she wanted to be a ballerina, a teacher and a mommy. She was an incredible mother and an inspiring teacher, although I’m sure she’d agree she was not a graceful ballerina. My niece and nephew were her greatest pride in life and I see so much of her in each of them. Spending time with them since she’s passed has been very therapeutic for me because I feel like I’m with her when I’m with them.
My sister and I are seven years apart because my mother had two miscarriages in between each of us. Growing up I often felt like an only child because she was so much older than me, but I desperately wanted to spend time with her and to be like her. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that she eventually started to like me and we became closer. Much like my friendships I mentioned earlier, my relationship with my sister evolved over the course of the past 15 years and we were closer some years than others. When I became pregnant with Cole, she was the first person I told after Ryan. I remember her jumping up and down and crying in her kitchen because she was so happy. Our relationship immediately deepened as we bonded over me becoming a mother. Our lives were starting to become more in sync now that I was also married and also a mother. After some years of feeling like we’d grown apart, I was so looking forward to our relationship getting closer again. I will never “get over” losing my sister, but I’m learning to live with the grief. People often ask if I have any other siblings, and responding “no” has been the hardest for me. I’m literally an only child now with just memories with my sister. I miss the relationship we were growing into, and I miss the childhood relationship we shared. No one will ever understand your childhood like your siblings, and it’s sad to think that I don’t have her by my side as my parents get older.
You have no idea how many lives you truly touch. My sister easily had 800 people had her wake. Most people waited in line for hours to come and show their respect for my sister and to support my family. There were so many people that my sister came in contact with throughout her life that she connected with. I mentioned earlier that my sister was a teacher. Several of her students came to show their respect with tears in their eyes. My sister and I look a lot alike, so the students instantly knew I was “Mrs. D’s” sister and came up to hug me. Each student told me a story about her and it seemed they all had the same impression. She was an inspiring teacher who made learning interesting and exciting because she was truly invested in their lives. There were several times where I looked around the packed funeral home and cried. Yes, I was sad because I lost my only sister. But, I was also so incredibly proud of her life. She had so many people who truly loved her and I don’t think she ever realized how many people would miss her when she died. I try and find comfort knowing that even though she died at a young age, she still experienced going to college, falling in love, getting married and becoming a mother.
This forced me to think about my life and how many people I come in contact on what seems like an average day. It’s forced me to be more present in each of my conversations, even if it’s just a brief conversation with your barista at the coffee shop. My sister got coffee every morning and even the woman who made my sister’s coffee had stories to share with me. Your daily encounters may seem insignificant until you’re not able to have them anymore.
Things happen out of your control and you can only be responsible for your own actions. My parents and I did an eight week seminar at a local church learning how to “heal a grieving heart”. I joke that all my new friends are 80 year old widows, but I love that. I like to think when I’m their age, I’ll have 30-year-olds interested in me and my life. In this group, we listed all of our regrets relating to our loved ones death. No one will ever truly know what happened the night my sister died and when brother-in-law took his own life. But I know that nothing I could have done could have changed the outcome.
Family. When something so terrible and tragic happened, I realized how small my family truly is. This tragedy has brought me, my mother and my father closer together and we’re learning how to communicate with each other better. This situation has put me in a different role and I feel like I’m now taking care of my parents. I can’t imagine the tremendous grief they must feel from losing a child. Often when my mother talks about my sister, she refers to giving birth to her and I immediately think of Cole. As a parent, you do the best to raise your children to grow, develop, and make the right decisions. But sometimes life makes decisions for you, and sadly they are out of your control. In the end, my parents and I have each other and I’ll be there for them forever. I also know that Ryan’s family is my family, through and through. I continually feel their love and support.
My husband is the most incredible man. I’ve always known this, but the past year has really shown me “for better and for worse”. The night Cole was born, and after all our guests left, Ryan quietly rocked Cole and cried happy tears. He told me how much he loved me and how happy he was. This moment is my favorite moment in my entire life. Seeing the man you love… the father of your child… rock your baby and show such raw emotion was so beautiful for me to see. I’ve only seen Ryan cry once when his father died when he was 19, (we’ve been through it all) so this moment made me even prouder that I chose Ryan to be my husband. Ryan has always been a full partner in life – whether it be helping me with work when I’m overwhelmed, cooking dinner if I need a hand, or cleaning the house. There has never been a “score card” where one person does one thing in the relationship, and the other person does another. We have always been a team. Ryan is an incredible father and I love seeing his relationship develop with Cole. As I assumed, Ryan is the goofy, silly dad that Cole goes to for tickling and giggles. And I’m the mama bear where Cole comes to for comfort.
When you say your vows, the “worse” seems so far away. I always assumed that meant when we were old and gray and not 4 years after you’re married. The night of 12/27, I got a phone call at 1am when my mom quickly and breathlessly told me that my sister and her husband were dead. They didn’t know any other information and that’s all the police told us. I kept saying “you’re kidding… please tell me you’re kidding.” Who kids about something like that? I was in shock, and I still am. Ryan could tell something was wrong by my face and when I told him, it looked like someone kicked him in the stomach.
Ryan knew my sister for 16 years so she was a huge part of his life, too. The weeks that followed that painful phone call, Ryan proved to be the strength and rock in our family. He made phone calls to insurance companies, helped make funeral arrangements when we felt too numb to make decisions, and completely and 100% supported any decision regarding the permanent placement of the children. Every night he tells me how much he loves me and how strong I am, even when some days I don’t feel it inside. Ryan is the most loving husband and I am so blessed to have him to share my life with.
I am surrounded by so much love. When you have a huge life changing event, you are reminded how many people really are on your side supporting you. The weeks after my sister’s death, my parents stayed with us and every day we had a full house of friends and family. There were days where we didn’t change out of our PJ’s and our friends didn’t care. They showed up with a bottle of wine, a box of tissues and just listened. I find extreme comfort knowing that Ryan’s sister, her husband and all our friends were here without judgement when times were really rough.
Beyond having an incredible support system, I have developed new relationships that are very special to me. Death bonds people in a different way, and I’ve become very close to people that were special to my sister. Having these new friends in my life helps me feel more connected to my sister.
You believe in the thoughts you tell yourself. I’ve always been a firm believer in this. If you live your life with a black cloud over your head, eventually you’re going to believe that you “have the worst luck”. If you live your life knowing that there are positive people and good in the world, you will see it in each of your days. Someone recently mentioned the book “The Secret” and The Law of Attraction to me and I need to do more research on that. I choose to see the good in people, and I know that not everyone will agree with my thoughts. I’ve learned to accept that.
Even when you’re dealing with your own grief, you can be a healer for others. Even though our family has suffered a great loss, by sharing my sister’s story I will be a healer to help others who have gone through a similar experience. I love my career and don’t think of it as a job, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’m changing the world. (Even if I had a shirt in college that said “Changing the world, one design at a time.) Sharing my sister’s story will help me feel like I’m really making a difference in someone’s life.
Pay it forward. Doing good for others makes you feel good. My family and I have received so much support the past few months that I don’t even know where to start to pay it forward. I belong to the Cranford Newcomers Club and they’ve organized a program to “adopt a room” to design a room to help a woman and her baby with leaving an abusive relationship. I received an email two weeks ago asking if they can design this room in my sisters honor. Reading their email brought tears to my eyes. I choose to see the good in the world, to share my sister’s story and to pay it forward.
If you’ve read all of my rambles, thank you. This has been a life changing, eye opening year. Life is precious and so are the people it in.
If you’re interested in helping my niece and nephew, please consider donating to their college fund I’ve set up.