Muslim in America: Ramadan

This is part two of my conversation with Siddique, a Muslim American man living in Long Island. The idea to talk with Siddique came about when he posted on Facebook (we’re old college radio buddies) about the beginning of Ramadan last month. I gave it some thought and realized I knew two things about Ramadan: it’s considered a holy time for Muslims and it involves fasting. That was about it. And I figured I couldn’t be alone in my lack of knowledge.

It’s kind of crazy to me that our Muslim friends and neighbors are going through a month of fasting and prayers and celebration while the rest of us go on with life as usual. I mean, the world basically stops for Christmas, but Ramadan barely gets a mention on the local news. So, thanks again Siddique for taking the time to chat with me.

Caitlin: So, what is Ramadan?

Siddique: Ramadan is a month on the Islamic calendar in which Muslims have their fasting and really take an opportunity to be closer to God, to focus in on all the tenets surrounding Ramadan and what it preaches.

It’s a period of spiritual purification, that’s the simplest way to put it. But, it’s also a period of time which ties into fasting for us to recognise that there are those around the world who have it way worse than we do.

People might be wondering why the emphasis on this month. This month is when we believe the Quran was sent down, that our prophet received the message that eventually became the Quran. Those are the last 10 nights of this month which are considered the most powerful nights of the month. It is during those 10 nights that we believe the angel Gabriel revealed the verses of the Quran to our prophet. We believe there’s one night in particular in the last 10 nights, it’s called Laylatul-Qadr – the night of destiny, that’s the night we believe those verses were sent down, and on this night we believe prayers, or anything you do is multiplied beyond what they would ordinarily be.

If you’re wondering why this random month, the holiday that ran into the month, our calendar is based on the lunar calendar, so it does shift throughout the course of the year. Right now we’re doing an 18 hour fast but there was a period of time in which there were barely 11-12 hour fasts.

Caitlin: So tell me more about the fasting.

Siddique: Fasting is actually one of the five pillars of Islam, by pillar I mean one of the five tenets of Islam: fasting, prayer, charity, pilgrimage to Mecca. With that, there is a huge component of charity. Charity goes hand in hand with understanding that around the world there are people who are suffering, going through hunger, going through poverty, and that it’s a time for us to better understand what they’re going through. That’s the most simplistic way I can put it.

Fasting is the abstinence of food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the fast period. But beyond that there are other things we’re asked to abstain from: gossiping, committing the kind of sins we may ordinarily be accustomed to, from backbiting, saying curse words.

So it’s not just ‘let me starve myself for 17 to 18 hours’ and call it a day, it’s a spiritual purification – there are physical aspects and science has proven that increment fasting is of benefit to your body and health. The spiritual aspect is abstaining from those things that you would ordinarily commit during the year to your betterment. But, then also to supplement what it is that you wish to discourage – Muslims will engage in extra prayers, they’ll read the Quran, our holy book.

Caitlin: A typical day – sunrise to sunset, you are fasting but you’re going about your day, you’re going to work, you’re going to school or whatever it is you do, so then at sunset, is there something you do every day?

Siddique: So before sunrise we do a small feast. Some people will keep it simple, they’ll just keep it to breakfast foods, others will lean on certain cultural dishes or traditions passed down from generation to generation. Some will say these are high carb meals, some will say these are high protein meals; every culture has their different blessings. The meal is called ‘istar’, which is literally the breaking of the fast.


Every culture has their own conventions as far as different meals, different delicacies that they’ll have, but the one commonality amongst Muslims, regardless of culture, is it’s advised to break the fast with a date. They are very common amongst middle-Eastern cultures and it is highly advised by Prophet Muhammad to break fast with a date. If you don’t have a date, if you’re at work, the second way that it’s advised to break your fast is just with water. Those are the two recommended ways. It is generally advised that you have a light meal, you don’t stuff your stomach, and it’s the first time you’ve eaten in 17-18 hours, so you don’t want to overload your system.

The cultural dishes tend to be fried and high calorie dishes. So as much as we talk about the health benefits, many have actually gained weight during this month. If you’re fasting for 18 hours, your body is ready to cling on to any substance that you put into your stomach, so when you’re putting in fried, sugary food that’s what your stomach’s clinging onto. Many end up gaining 5-6 pound in the month.


Caitlin: Do you tend to spend more time with your family during this month?

Siddique: Absolutely. That’s a great question. One of the core elements of Ramadan is the time you spend with your family. Granted on weekdays it’s tough, people have school, people have work, it’s considered a blessing, but on weekends that’s where you will have big family get-togethers. It’s essentially a big dinner party. Because when you have big family get-togethers during the month, food is invariably going to be involved. Whenever you’re talking about a lot of immigrants and groups that come to this country, there are two big elements: family and food.


Caitlin: You mentioned earlier that you’re waiting until fairly late to be able to start eating and then you need to be up fairly early to get that meal in before the day begins?

Siddique: I don’t blame anyone for thinking that’s a really long time, it is, but here I am talking to you from my air-conditioned office. I’m not working construction and I’m not outdoors in the Middle East. I’m in a lap of luxury right now so really the fast in and of itself is not difficult.

It’s more difficult in the beginning because for me and other people, I’m used to having 2-3 cups of coffee a day, that’s an adjustment that takes a couple of days that that overdose of coffee is not coming in the morning, and it’s not coming in the afternoon either.

I get more thirsty than hungry during the course of the day.

Just to give you an example, during the course of annoucing a game on TV or in public, I normally have a full bottle of water by my side to keep sipping on. I don’t have that luxury during Ramadan, so if it starts at 7 o’clock, I’m not breaking my fast until three quarters of the way through the game. So that’s one thing I tend to fail at a little bit more as far as fasting and how it may impact my day.

But other that personally, the day is long, but I’m in no duress or discomfort during the day. But for others, working in a factory or doing manual labour, something where you require water, I imagine it to be more difficult.

Caitlin: At what age do people start fasting for Ramadan?

Siddique: That’s a great question. Personally, I started aged 12, but it really varies. I’ve seen kids who started aged 9 and kids who don’t start until high school or towards the end of high school. If I had to give a solid age-range I would say most kids start between the ages of 10 and 12.


Caitlin: Is it a family decision, not like a hard-fast guideline?

Siddique: Yes, usually the family dictate that kind of thing. They can ask the kid if they’re ready or they feel up to it, but generally they will have their own timeline; there is no hard-fast timeline, not to my knowledge at least.

Caitlin: Is there ever an exception for people who are ill or pregnant or that sort of thing?

Siddique: Absolutely. There are exceptions, if you’re not physically capable, if a woman is pregnant, if somebody is beyond a certain age, if you’re travelling, there is a soft area. When I say travelling, this rule was made generally when people travelled on camel or walking for miles and miles on end, so it is a bit different now like if I’m travelling to New Jersey, that’s not exactly a reason not to fast. We believe that God is not going to ask something of you that you’re not physically capable of.

Caitlin: For you what’s the best part of Ramadan and is it something you look forward to?

Siddique: Other than the family dinners and get-togethers and stuff like that, I enjoy the nightly prayers. It’s something many Muslims feel is a way for them to continue to spiritually enhance the experience to bring them closer to God. In Islam there are 5 daily prayers – there’s one very early morning, 2 during the course of the day and 2 at night – 1 at sundown and one later during the night.

As far as what I enjoy most about the optional nightly prayers, I do enjoy the fact that there is a spiritual aspect. I feel I’m making the most of the Ramadan experience and there is a belief that these are activities that bring you closer to God and help you further spiritually purify yourself.

Another aspect of this month is that it is one where your prayers are enhanced. Things you want and pray for are enhanced because you are closer to god during this month. The common ones are to pray for forgiveness, the health and well-being of others, world peace, things that you want – difficulties in your family, in your own life that you’re trying to overcome. I enjoy that and the aspect of feeling closer to God.

But then there’s another aspect that I enjoy, every night of the month my friends are there, people I’ve known for years are there. It’s cool that we’ve done our prayers and are all hanging out, there’s a big courtyard in our mosque and they’ll have people serving food and tea, and the idea that on a nightly basis you’ve undergone spiritual purification, and now you’re getting to hang about, have a few laughs with your friends, the people you know, your community, that’s what I look forward to most during the month.


Caitlin: Thank you so much for chatting with me about Ramadan, and yesterday’s more general post about being Muslim in America. I really appreciate it.

Siddique: I encourage non-Muslims to ask these kind of questions, to get to know their neighbours better, because there are Muslim populations in all major cities. These are opportunities for us to break down walls, to better know another segment of the American populace, and conversely an opportunity for Muslims to get to better know their neighbours, and people who might not have an understanding of who their neighbours are.

I feel this is the kind of month that allows people to get to know each other, for some of the misunderstanding to be worked out, for there to be more dialogue, more conversation. The mere fact someone like you is asking me these questions, that media outlets around the country are asking mosques about Ramadan opens up an opportunity for dialogue, for better understanding, I feel this is the kind of thing this country needs and gives people a better understanding of what it means to be Muslim, and gives Muslims the opportunity to find out what some people’s concerns are.

People have questions and if they’re not asking the right people those questions, those questions lead to many misunderstandings and that’s not how to go about it. The way to go about it is to have a dialogue, so that you have better mutual understanding, and that’s how you forward society.

I know it’s a very small initiative, but I think it’s one of those things during this month – what is Ramadan, why do people do it and what can come of it, that that’s one small goal we can accomplish and we’ll all be better for it.


Images c/o Siddique Farooqi

Muslim in America

I met Siddique about ten years ago, when we worked at our University’s radio station. I had the pleasure of co-hosting the station’s morning show from time to time with Siddique which meant discussing current political, social, and pop culture news. It was the height of the war in Iraq and I always appreciated Siddique’s insight as a Muslim American.

So, when I saw he posted on Facebook a few years ago that it was the start of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, I thought it would be a great time to chat with Siddique about some of his experiences as a practicing Muslim.

Caitlin: So this might sound crazy to you, and maybe particularly because you’re from the New York area, but you’re the first person I ever knew personally, who was Muslim.

Siddique: Wow. Really?

Caitlin:Yes, do you not hear that much in New York?

Siddique: It may be because you’re not from New York, right?

Caitlin: Yeah, I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Siddique: I’m surprised because Philadelphia has the highest concentration of African-American Muslims in the US.

Caitlin: I’m sure there were kids in my high school that were Muslim, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. My high school was relatively small and not very diverse.

Siddique: It was the same in my high school. It was a pretty small school district, our entire high school was like 530 kids the year I graduated. If I had to count how many Muslims were in our entire school at the time, I would say, like, five to ten.

Caitlin: Would you tend to be friends with those kids because you had that in common?

Siddique: Not really. Well, one was my brother. Everybody had their own clique, I just hung out with my friends and guys I played sports with. We didn’t really have that idea of “Hey, we’re Muslims, let’s hang out together!”

I grew up going to our local mosque, and some of the closest friends I have today, I met there. Once you get to college, that’s where you have student groups from every ethnicity, so I guess that was the first time I ever really made friends with people just because we were Muslim.

Caitlin: Was it something that you sought out?

Siddique: Yes and no. It’s not because I didn’t have friends or needed friends of my particular religion, it was more so because it was my first time away from home and I felt that it was important to have a group of Muslim friends – as a means to keep me rooted. I made most of my friends through playing basketball at the gym at nights and intramural soccer on the weekends.

It was through going to Friday prayers that I was introduced to other Muslim kids, one thing lead to another, and I became part of the school’s Muslim Student Association.

Caitlin: Do you consider yourself fairly religious? Because for me, I did grow up going to church every Sunday and I was fairly religious for a bit as a kid, but now I’m really not. I celebrate Christmas and Easter with my family, but I don’t go to church. Do you consider yourself religious or is it more of a family and community thing, or both?

Siddique: I do consider myself religious, but that is a very subjective definition. I feel that there is more that I could do as far as day to day, week to week practice, but as far as an identification perspective, what I believe in, being close to God, wanting to be close to God, and wanting to do things that we believe God has taught us, in terms of being a good human being and practicing the religion, I find myself in a position where I’m trying to get better, but I’m very far from where I want to be.

Caitlin: I’m curious how you feel about being judged by your religion. If a white person or a Christian person commits a crime, does something bad, I don’t feel like that reflects on me as a person. But as a Muslim, do you feel a need to represent your faith to the world?

Siddique: If something happens in this country, around the world, an act of evil, an act of terror, perpetrated by a Muslim or terrorists charading to be Muslim, yes, we do feel the need to remind people that Islam is a peaceful religion and that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving.

There’s an unfortunate perception among some that, one, Islam is an inherently evil religion, and, two, that Muslims have been programmed or taught to come into this country and to spread their way, and, three, that we have a master plan to impose our religious laws on this country. Sometimes, as silly as some of the misperceptions of our religion may seem to us Muslims, we have to stand out front and say no, this is not what we believe in, and that terrorists and acts of terror do not represent us.

My feeling is that there is still a huge segment of this country, of the world, whose only exposure to Muslims is what they’ll see on the news or movie depictions. The only thing we can do is to interact with them, to engage them, to educate them as far as who we are, and the fact that we’re here to be Americans just like everybody else, and that there shouldn’t be an “us versus them” delineation. Sometimes that takes some work and in today’s day and age, it’s taking a bit more work. It’s what you have to do.

Caitlin: It does seem unfair, and seems exhausting to have to be constantly defending your faith in that sort of way, but I understand why you do it and have a lot of respect for that. Opening minds is so important, it’s just a shame that it takes so much work.

I hope we’re progressing, sometimes it seems like we’re taking steps backwards. I’m curious, what do you hope for, for your children, your nieces and nephews, for that next generation of children who I assume will be raised in the faith? How do you hope it will get easier? What are your hopes for them?

Siddique: I don’t know whether it’s going to be easier or whether it’s going to be more difficult, I’m not sure to be very honest. What I will say is that I hope, when I have kids, that when they’re going to school, partaking in extracurricular activities, playing their youth sports; all I want is that kids of other ethnicities, other nationalities, different religious beliefs, that they’re going to see my kids as a fellow student, a teammate, a friend. I don’t want them to see them as, “that’s my Muslim friend, or that’s my 2nd generation Pakistani-American friend.” Any immigrant class who has ever came to this country, that’s what they strive for.

This nation has a unique ability to unite members of different groups, different ethnic groups, religious groups, beliefs, lifestyles, in a way that you see beyond their colour, you see beyond their religions, you see beyond the name – you see them as co-workers, fellow students, and fellow colleagues first. There are only a few countries in the world that have that kind of platform, and no country does it better than the United States.

So, that’s what I would want for my kids, and that’s the upbringing I had. I enjoyed the same educational opportunities, played the same sports, and engaged in the same after school activities as every other kid, regardless of ethnicity or religious background.

Today, in addition to having my own marketing company, I’m a sports television commentator and the public address announcer for Hofstra University, a major university on Long Island. Neither my ethnicity nor religion has ever been an issue. Needless to say, I’m beyond thankful to have grown up in a country that recognizes someone’s earned merit over their ethnic or religious background.

So really that’s what I want for my kids, that they have the same opportunities that I’ve had.


Check in again soon to read my conversation with Siddique about Ramadan.

Expecting a baby after years of struggle

Since 2009, Jen has gone through four miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, the loss of a fallopian tube, and her husband underwent urological surgery. Now, after seven years, Jen is happy to be 8 months pregnant with a baby girl, Emersyn. We spoke a few weeks ago about what it’s like to be on the other side of infertility after years of struggles.

Photo credit:

Caitlin: So last fall you find out that you are pregnant, for the 6th time. At that point, are you cautiously happy?

Jen: Every time.

Caitlin: You feel happy and excited every time?

Jen: Yes, like you’ve said, I’m cautiously happy. I think, maybe this is the time. Maybe this is going to be it. But of course in the back of your mind, there’s always that constant paranoia. I worry I’m going to go to the bathroom and I’ll be bleeding. That’s the mindset. It took me a long time to feel relaxed with this pregnancy. When we found out it was a girl, I was like okay. Maybe I can relax.

Caitlin: Those milestones make you feel like, okay, maybe this really is going to happen?

Jen: Every ultrasound is huge. We had one at four weeks, we had one at six weeks. Then another at eight and then another nine, fifteen, and eighteen weeks. It’s wonderful to see her on that screen. She’s healthy and she is okay but at the back of my mind, I’m wonder, when is the other shoe going to drop or something bad going to happen?

Caitlin: Do you feel scared, even now?

Jen: Yes.

Caitlin: I think that every pregnant women does, to be honest. I didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant, but it was the same sort of thing for me. Every ultrasound it felt a little more real. I was like okay, this is happening. You’ve gone through so much, so I imagine why that anxiety would be just multiplied for you.

Jen: What a lot of people don’t realize is, 65% of first pregnancies end up in miscarriage. (With our first pregnancy) I said okay, maybe we were a part of that 65% and everything after will be fine. Maybe it was just a fluke, and then it kept happening. At some point you realize, something is not right. It was hard to want to try again. It was hard when we found out that we were pregnant this time.

I kind of had a feeling, we had ran half of a marathon over the weekend. Something just felt off. And my husband said, maybe you are pregnant. I took the tests and it was instantenous. It was one of those, okay how is this one going to go?

Caitlin: You’ve always been open about your struggles to have a baby. You share your story on Facebook and on your blog, Why did you make that decision and how did that work for you?

Jen: Well, we didn’t talk about it the first time that it had happened. That was really hard. Only our family knew. So, since then, I’ve tried to tell people what we were going through. I couldn’t imagine going through everything that we’ve been gone through and not talking about it. I think it makes it worse.

My husband said if you’re comfortable with sharing, I’m on board. I think when you haven’t been in the position that we’ve been in, it’s kind of hard to understand why we are so open. It’s a comfort thing. It’s something that happened. I don’t have to walk around with a smile on my face because people know what’s going on and and they understand. It just made it easier knowing that people did know.

I also think, it’s an educational thing. I don’t think people understand how common this is. They don’t realize, one in eight couples deal with infertility and pregnancy loss on a very recurrent basis.

We’re trying to help others that are going through the same thing and dealing with it. Not knowing where to go, what to do. What programs are available to help them? That’s helped me. If I  can help someone else by sharing our story, then I’m perfectly okay with that.

Caitlin:  For people maybe who have friends or family who are dealing with infertility. What do you think is important for them to know? For them to be the best support for their family member ?

Jen: Just be good at listening. If someone in your life is dealing with infertility, just listen. Let them cry, let them get their feelings out. For me, that was huge. I called my sister and she let me go off on a rant if I was having a bad day about it. The little things can make all the difference for someone who is going through it.

I think some of the hardest things for me was one of the family members or friends getting pregnant, and they were afraid to tell me. Don’t be afraid just tell me. It made things so much harder, if you apologize a million times.

Caitlin: I feel like that puts you into a really awkward position. You shouldn’t have to be reassuring the pregnant person.

Jen: My sister got pregnant when I just had had a miscarriage. She texted me, tell me to call her. I called her and said, “You’re pregnant aren’t you?” She got real quiet and she said yes. She began to apologize.

Being pregnant is not something you should apologize for. Just because someone else has problems doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to be happy for somebody else. People need to understand that. We don’t lose feelings for everyone who is able to have kids.

Caitlin: Now you are on the other side. You are one of the lucky ones to be able to pregnant. What has it been like for you switching roles here?

Jen: It’s very surreal. I wake up every day, I’m like okay, this is happening. I will say, though, it doesn’t take away all the pain I’ve been through. We have five babies that are not here. That kills me every single day. To wonder what could have been. I still think about those other ones. We are very lucky, but she doesn’t replace the ones we lost.

I want to be an advocate for those who are struggling. Yes, I am on the other side but at the same time, it doesn’t negate everything that has got us to this point. We’ll never forget that.

Caitlin: That’s a part of who you are know, I imagine.

Jen: It is, very much.

Caitlin: What are you most looking forward to now?

Jen: Everything. The next milestone. I have my glucose test coming up and people joke about how hard that is.

Caitlin: Oh, that’s nothing after what you’ve been through!

Jen: Yeah, I’ll sit there, I’ll be fine.

I’m excited about all the little things. Having her, teaching her, and supporting her. It’s the little things that we’ve wanted since we got married almost eight years ago. We are so excited and our families are so excited.

A lot of people didn’t think it was going to happen and I can’t blame them. I didn’t think either. I thought it was just going to be disappointment after disappointment.

Caitlin: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself on this journey?

Jen: I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. With my first miscarriage, I was like, I cannot do this again. I can’t keep going, I can’t go through that again. I realized just how determined I was to make this happen.

I’m tough, I’m strong, and I can push through for myself and Kyle. It made us grateful. I wouldn’t change anything.

Image courtesy Jen Smith

Photo credit:

ChitChat: What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. It wasn’t really a fleeting dream. I studied acting and voice fairly extensively throughout high school and even began college as a theater major. While I loved acting (and singing, which I wasn’t as good at), I wasn’t thrilled with my courses and felt like I might be wasting a LOT of undergrad money on something I figured you don’t really need a degree for. So, sort of on a whim, I decided to switch my major to broadcast journalism and I fell in love.

I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up studying the evening news. It makes me laugh when I look back and realize how little I knew the day I walked into Journalism 101. But, I realized quickly that journalism was something I really enjoyed and even though the field is competitive, I thought I had a shot at a career. That first class eventually led to television reporting jobs in North Carolina and Upstate New York and now producing an Internet radio show in the Philadelphia area.

I pretty much left acting behind when I switched my major ten years ago. I’m glad I didn’t pursue it as a career (the field of journalism is competitive enough). I do hope that one of these days I’ll get my act together and dive into community theater or something similar.


I really loved the ChitChat Panel’s answers to this month’s question: When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Enjoy!


Chelley panel

Chelley: When I was a child, I wanted to be a stewardess. No, not being passe, when I was a kid, they were still called stewardesses. Now, a flight attendant. Being a mother of two kids and having a career that allows me to work from home, I am glad this was not the path I took.

Years ago, I envisioned myself with matching luggage, a beautiful bun tucked just under my cap, a pencil skirt with a matching jacket, handing out pins with wings to children and assisting others stow their luggage. My dream began on a coast-to-coast flight to California with my family on Continental Airlines… I still have a bracelet from the flight! It was a business trip my parents took my sister and me on so we could go to Disney! A few years after this dream, 9/11 changed the friendly skies. Part of my childhood, the innocence and dream to travel, became something associated with fear.

Now that I’m all grown up, or whatever being that means, I have 2 beautiful children with daily itineraries of their own, and deadlines for work that I must schedule and adhere to, sometimes driving so fast to each event you would think I was a pilot, all while serving food, stowing all bags and doing it with a smile. I balance work and home life, including travel where we can, always remembering the little girl inside, that just wanted to serve the people in the sky. (Read Chelley’s blog at


Aubrey: In my 6th grade yearbook, I said that I either wanted to be a switch-pitcher for the Yankees or a criminal defense attorney. Although I still root for the Yanks, I’ve never pitched a game in my life, not even in little league. Likewise, I’ve never defended someone charged with a crime. However, that line of work is much closer to what I hope to be doing someday very soon, as I am a student in my final year of a law/psychology program (JD/PsyD).

Looking back, I think I would have enjoyed pitching for the Yankees. I would have had several World Series rings by now, and instead of starting a new career at 40 (I used to be an actor/restaurant worker), I would be retiring into bags full of money. On the other hand, I think that the Yankees know that they were better off without me. Plus, it’s nice to have arms that work.


Hartley: When I was really little, I wanted to do something with animals — be a veterinarian, live on a farm, something. I specifically recall envisioning myself driving around the country with a bunch of dogs in a jeep as an adult. So — if that’s an actual career out there, please let me know.

But as I got a bit older, I started to get really into the concept of politics and government. I say “concept” because I think my interest mostly spawned from watching re-runs of Spin City — that Michael J. Fox show where he plays witty deputy mayor Mike Flaherty and mostly runs around fictionalized New York City, fixing the problems created by the inept mayor. So in high school, I got an internship with the only government agency taking interns: the local city planning office. I quickly realized planning was a better fit for me than other levels of government. Planners work to make improvements in so many different aspects of government — we’re sort of a jack of all trades position, and I like that. (Plus, we’re not elected, and I like that, too.) And so I went to school for urban and regional planning, and here I am now, a county planner for the county I grew up in.

I love what I do. But occasionally, I do take my dogs out for a drive around the countryside in my car. That’s a pretty cool thing to do, too.


Nancy: While growing up, I thought that my only choices of a career were to be a nurse or a teacher.  My sisters were nurses, but I don’t like blood so nursing really wasn’t an option. That left teaching. I had a very special, kind speech therapist when I was very young and I wanted to be like her. I didn’t want to be a speech therapist because I still lacked confidence in my speech, but I wanted to help the kids who were struggling to succeed. That led me to the field of Special Education. I also loved math and considered either being an accountant or a math teacher, but I can be easily bored and decided these jobs could become boring over time. I eventually ended up teaching math to at-risk teens, a great combination of my interests and  definitely not boring! In retrospect, I should have chosen speech therapist or accountant–both are much more lucrative!

catherine 2

Catherine: When I was very young, I wanted to be a ‘Circus Star’. I went to the circus when I was like 3 or 4 and it had a big impact on me. I wanted to be a trapeze artist, with a costume made of sequins (I had a very specific image of the costume).

I now work for the government and sit at a desk all day. The job does not include flying through the air. Or sequins!

I still think it would be amazing to be a trapeze artist. I was re-inspired the other day after booking tickets for  Cirque du Soleil, and looked into beginner acrobatic classes in Ottawa (where I live). I found a beginner aerial silk and hoops, which is close enough!


So tell me, what did you want to be when you grew up? How does it compare to what you do now?

Image: Paul Inkles



A mindful life

This morning I worked from home as repair people worked on my dishwasher. That meant locking my dog in another room so she would leave them alone and, of course, she barked the entire time. Between her barking and lots of questions from the repair people that I couldn’t answer (Do you know why the solenoid valve stopped working? Um…no.), I felt like I was losing my mind and was preparing to be in a bad mood about it all. And then I remembered my recent conversation with Shannon, took a deep breath, and reminded myself that these problems are really not a big deal.

Shannon has spent the last few years focusing mindfulness and it’s made a big impact on her life. You can check out a definition of mindfulness here, but I’ll let Shannon explain what it means to her and her life.

Caitlin: How did you become interested in mindfulness?

Shannon: As far back as I can remember, I have always loved thinking and talking about answers to life’s big questions; I think I was just born a philosophic and introspective person. When I graduated from college I started doing yoga, and I LOVED the last five to ten minutes where you just lay on the ground in silence, sometimes being guided through a meditation, sometimes listening to the beat of drums or donging of bells, and sometimes in pure silence. I loved letting my mind wander without judgment, and lived for those moments where you ‘woke up’ feeling like you actually may have achieved 30 seconds of ‘mindlessness’. I always felt calm and restored after yoga, so I decided to take a meditation class, read a lot about how to meditate, and continued practicing yoga as much as I could.

It wasn’t until I moved-in with my now husband six years ago that I realized I had a lot more work to do on myself –work that just striving for this calm, ‘mindless’ state wasn’t going to get me to. I went to a psychiatrist to work through some temper and control issues, and for the first time, learned how to recognize that I was getting stressed out and feeling out of control BEFORE I erupted at my partner or co-worker, etc.

My therapist essentially taught me my first lesson in mindfulness, and gave me a tip that I still think about almost every day: on the days where you can’t imagine doing yoga or sitting quietly, those are the days where you probably need it the most.

So, at the end of a crazy, stressful day, where all I wanted to do was go to bed and get the day over with, I would force myself to do some yoga and sit. And lo & behold, just that little amount of time spent grounding myself at the time I needed it most, acknowledging and recognizing what my body was telling me – that I needed to slow down and ‘chill’ for a bit – enabled me to ease up on my need to control others (which we tend to do when we ourselves are feeling out of control.. go figure!).

It was another year or two until I was online reading one of my friend’s facebook posts where I learned about an organization called Mindful Schools, and decided to enroll in their Mindfulness Fundamentals class, since I had just had a baby and was feeling like I could use a little ‘me-work.’ That class was the first time I heard the term “mindfulness” and when I started my “formal” mindfulness practice.

Caitlin: What exactly does mindfulness mean?

Shannon: There are a ton of definitions of mindfulness, so I’ll tell you what it means to me. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment. That means paying attention to, or being mindful of, our emotions (even bad ones), our thoughts (even crazy ones), and our bodily sensations (even uncomfortable ones) “in the moment,” without judgment. You’re aware of your thoughts, but somehow you don’t feel lost in them or trapped by them, and that can be really freeing.

Caitlin: What does your practice look like?

Shannon: My practice changes over time as things in my life experience change. For example, I’m 23 weeks pregnant now, and practicing yoga, balancing, and sitting weren’t really viable options for me from about week 6 to 15 thanks to a combination of exhaustion and nausea; I also have a two and a half year old, so finding ways to incorporate a daily practice and still tend to him and my husband, dog, house, and work has brought along some challenges, too.

So currently, my practice looks like this – every night before I get into bed, I do some yoga stretching and sit for as long as I can, anywhere from five to twenty minutes.

I also have mindfulness reminders throughout the day, where a trigger alerts me that I need to take a breath and check-in with myself. One of my triggers is when I’m staring at my split-ends when I’m stuck in traffic! (laughs) Another is when I’m tempted to text while driving or when I’m at work and in meetings and feel myself getting distracted. Really, once you get started with a mindfulness practice, it’s not just about “sitting” for 10 minutes a day, it’s about being mindful throughout your day.

Caitlin: Is it for everyone?

Shannon: This is a tough one. While I do think that everyone has the ability to learn about and practice mindfulness, since at some point throughout everyone’s day, you are mindful and aware of what’s going on to a certain extent already, I think you will get the most out of it if you’re not looking at it as a bandaid, or just something else that you need to get on your checklist to do. It’s really a totally different way of thinking and interacting with the world, and for some people, that might just be ‘too deep’ or ‘too hoaky’ or just too foreign a concept to open yourself to. That’s one of the reasons I want to teach mindfulness to kids, because I think kids are so much more open to trying new things than adults.

Caitlin: How has your life changed since you starting studying/practicing mindfulness?

Shannon: Well, to start, I have far fewer screaming matches with my husband. I also find that I am able to notice a lot faster when I’m feeling agitated, stressed, or frustrated because I’m spending so much time watching my physical sensations (like my teeth clenching or pulse racing) and am getting good at doing something to regulate those sensations, like taking a breath, or leaving the room, or just letting the other person know “I’m feeling stressed”.

I’ve also always been really into following my intuition or that 6th sense, and I think when you’re grounded in the present moment, you’re much more in-tune to the universe.

And I think it has also made me more empathetic. When I’m not completely engrossed in my own little world of work stresses, to-do lists, social media – I find that I remember to think about other people a lot more. My friendships have gotten stronger, and I’ll find myself doing random acts of kindness more randomly, too.

Caitlin: How has it changed the way you parent?

Shannon: I started my formal mindfulness practice at about the same time I became a parent. I actually think becoming a parent helped me with my mindfulness practice, in that I found myself so fully present in moments with my new baby, just so amazed at all of the little things he was doing every day, that it was pretty easy to be present. At the same time, mindfulness would remind me to put down my phone or turn off the TV or stop thinking about everything I had to do that day, so that I could be fully present with my son and husband. When you live in the present, and surrender to the present moment, you’re also just less anxious or worried about the future.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is trying to instill some of these practices in their own life?

Shannon: Don’t be hard on yourself. Just start practicing whenever you can. It can be really hard to find 5, 10, 15 minutes a day to just sit and be with yourself. You’re essentially giving your brain a workout, and days when you’re most stressed and crazy are the days when it’s the hardest to be with your thoughts. But just remember, getting to your chair for even a quick 5 minutes is sometimes all it takes (just the act of recognizing that you’re having a crazy day is being mindful – so kudos! You just worked out!).

Also, find some triggers throughout the day when you remind yourself to be mindful. It could be when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes/ making dinner. It could be when you’re staring at your split-ends, too. (laughs)  But, having little reminders throughout the day really help you incorporate mindfulness throughout your life experience, and I think that’s really where you’ll find it has the biggest impact.

Caitlin: What are you goals regarding mindfulness?

Shannon: My main goal, and the reason I was so attracted to the practice in the first place, is to maintain a sense of balance in my life. I hated how I would feel after I lost my temper or became crazy stressed at work for no good reason. Knowing that I have the power within myself to change my interactions with the world around me is pretty powerful stuff.

I also will continue taking the curriculum offered by Mindful Schools, with the hope of eventually teaching mindfulness to kids as a full-time gig. One of my biggest worries in life is that I will have spent all this time walking the earth and not left an imprint; I think teaching kids a practice so potentially life-altering as mindfulness can be one of the biggest impacts I can make on the world.

And in the meantime, before I change the world, my goal is to simply continue to strengthen my own practice and keep living in, embracing, and enjoying the present.

Single, over 30, and not settling

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend who is 32 and single. She started telling me the crazy things people say to her about her relationship status and I was blown away. So, I knew I wanted to talk to someone in a similar position.

I have friends who are single and loving it, friends who are single and looking for a partner, and friends who are open to whatever comes their way. For this chat, we’re talking with Alicia, a 31 year old woman from New York. She’s single, looking, and NOT willing to settle.

Caitlin: The idea to talk to some about being over 30 and single came from a friend who was telling me about crazy things people say to her about being single. You have a recent story about that.

Alicia: On Valentine’s Day I went with my sister to get a manicure/pedicure. And so the nail tech says to me, “Do you have a boyfriend?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Oooohh (sad face).” It’s never like, “Oh that’s okay, you’re a strong, independant woman!” It’s always, “Oooohh (sad face).” Then it’s “Well, you don’t want that anyway…”

And that day, I had an unexpected, yet complete, meltdown because I’m like, “It’s Valentine’s Day, I’m going to be 31, I don’t have a boyfriend, I haven’t had one in a long time….” My goal was always to have a family by now. And I’m trying to focus on the good things in my life: my job, my house… but it’s definitely a struggle at times.

Caitlin: What other kinds of things do you hear from people?

Alicia: The question I’m always asked is, “Well, have you tried online dating?” And it’s like, “Yeah, for three years. I’ve been on every site.” Some people say, “And nothing? Wow, that’s crazy!” And then others say,“Oh, well you’re too picky.” Then there’s the “I have one single friend, but you don’t want to date him.” Followed by,“Oh I should introduce you to so and so.” And they never do and two years later so and so is engaged.

Caitlin: I think it’s insulting for someone to say you’re being too picky. Why shouldn’t you be picky? You’re looking for the person you’re going to marry, not just someone to go to dinner with.

Alicia: Yeah, I’m not looking for some random hook up. I want to be picky. I want to figure out what I want, what I need, and what I deserve.

Someone asked me the other day at work if my biological clock was ticking. I just sort of laughed it off, but inside, I was hurting. I don’t let on how much it bothers me when people say stuff like that. It’s like, holy shit. Why would you say that to someone?

Oh, sometimes if I say I don’t have a boyfriend, they want to know if I have a girlfriend (laughs). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I’ve heard people say that happens to them, too. It’s so weird.

That stigma has changed I think, that you have to be in a relationship or have a family by a certain age, but in my family, everyone was married by 28. So I’m stuck on what I want to do, or what I should do, or whatever.

Caitlin: You mentioned you’ve been doing online dating for years. Do you go on a lot of dates?

Alicia: No. And that’s what’s part of the struggle.  It’s so frustrating. I get nothing. I wink, I message, I like pictures. I get someone to look at my profile, and I get nothing. And if I do hear from someone, it’s like a 52 year old divorcee with two kids. Which is not what I want at this point!

I haven’t been on a date in over a year. How am I supposed to put myself out there if no one is responding to me?

Caitlin: So, how is your life different from how you imagined when you were younger?

Alicia: I always thought that I was going to grow up, have a normal job, have two kids… I never thought I’d be single still in my 30’s. Now, I have a great job and I own my own place. I’m happy with that, but again, it’s a struggle because I feel like all my ducks are in a row, but that one.

I still want a family. I want all of it. But as I get older, it’s going to get harder. People tell me I can have a kid on my own if I want to, but that’s not how I want it.

Caitlin: What do you hope the future holds for you?

Alicia: It’s easy to say a family. I want a husband, I want kids. But, what I want and what I get could be two different things. But, I do wish for that for myself, in any form. I do believe everything happens for a reason. If I can’t have kids, or I end up adopting, or I have six kids at once, it’s all going to be because that’s what was meant for me. That’s always been my mentality.

Caitlin: Do you feel settled in your life, or do you feel like you’re waiting for something?

Alicia: I’m definitely waiting. I may be blessed with some great things, but I feel I’m not complete yet. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and it’s not about being fixed. It’s about learning to accept things and adapt and be happy with the overall picture.

Even though I’m still single, I’ve come this far. I’m not going to settle. I don’t want to.

What do you think? Have you ever had someone make a comment about your relationship choices that caught you off guard? How old were you when you met your future spouse, or are you still looking? Talk to me!

Image: Bob

ChitChat: Your best Halloween ever

When I was a kid, my mom always handmade Halloween costumes for me and my brothers. Whether it was a lady bug, Peter Pan, or an angel, she worked her ass off those days leading up to Halloween to make awesome costumes for us. Now that I’m an adult, I realize what a huge undertaking that was. That’s pretty awesome.

These days I don’t dress up much for Halloween. It’s not that I don’t like the holiday (I do!), it’s more that I’m too cheap to spend money on that sort of thing. But, when I need to, I can rise to the occasion. And convince my husband to do the same (party on, Wayne).


So for this month’s ChitChat Panel, we’re talking Halloween costumes and favorite trick or treating memories. 🙂



Aubrey: As a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I suppose I liked it so much because it was a day in which outrageous and infelicitous behavior was generally encouraged – well, except at school. From Catholic grade school to high school, I was reprimanded and punished for costumes year after year. As Elvira in the third grade, I had to cover up my cleavage. When I was a baby in the 5th grade, the principal made me put pants over my diaper. When I dressed as my 10th grade Lit teacher (he had long gray hair and wore silver bracelets up to his elbow), the dean made me take everything off and gave me Saturday detention. As Pee-Wee Herman in the 11th grade, they tore up my “Keep Pulling for Me!” sign. I just couldn’t win.

Although I have a lot of great memories associated with various costumes, my favorite has to be the one I wore last year, because I got to introduce my daughter to Halloween. My wife dressed as Olive Oil, my daughter as Sweet Pea, and I was Popeye (see bottom of post). Now that I’m a little older, I’ve stopped trying to challenge institutions so much. I suppose I’ll have to leave that to my daughter someday.


Graham: I have a few personal favorites but for this particular question I wanted to choose a costume from my childhood, when the eerie mystique of Halloween was still very much intact, and so I decided to defer to my mom, Melissa, my official (and officially retired) Halloween seamstress-extraordinaire. Her favorite costume of mine, which to this day she reiterates every year in a suggestive tone, was Alfalfa from the Little Rascals (pictured at the bottom of post).

I don’t think I enjoyed the Alfalfa costume much at the time, but over the years I’ve come to love it for for being simple, comfortable, and yet distinctive, which is why I think my mother liked it to begin with. In fact, I appreciate it enough that I’ve recycled it since then. And even though Halloween these days has less eerie mystique than let’s-get-drunk-and-rub-up-against-each-other-ness, I still think this costume is just too good to overlook.

Chelley panel

Chelley: My favorite Halloween costume was from high school. It is my favorite because it paved the way to who I would be as an adult.

As it were, a few friends called and wanted to go trick-or-treating. There was a Madonna, a police officer, a punk, a “sassy” cheerleader… but what would I be? I knew my friends wanted rides, so I put on jeans, my lacrosse jacket and donned my least fashionable sneakers and picked them up.

I was a soccer mom for Halloween.

As a mom now, I laugh about my off-the-cuff idea. Here I was, slightly distracted by everything else I needed to do for the week, shuttling around a bunch of kids who were hopped up on sugar. A glimpse.

I don’t love the costume for it’s creativity, but I love it for the symbolic aspect. I am, 13 years later, shuttling kids, worried about everything I have to get done… and loving every moment.


Elizabeth: Growing up with Canadian Halloweens, I have a lot of memories of wading through snow as I trick or treated, so that was a large consideration when it came to costume ideas. It had to be something that a snowsuit could fit under – Princess Jasmine was not gonna happen. My mom made matching clown costumes for me and my sister that I loved! Being the same thing as my big sister was THE coolest thing I could be for Halloween.

The neighborhood fathers would take us out while the moms handed out candy. Growing up I had best friends who lived just up the street from us and so every Halloween the three of us and our dads would go out and fill our pillowcases full of candy. When we were really young my best friends’ father died. So the next Halloween my dad took the three of us around the neighborhood, holding three pillowcases ready to switch with us when ours got full. It’s such a small memory, but I always think of it as such a great example of my dad’s character. It wasn’t even a question that he would take my friends out that year, it was his instinct to be there for someone who needed him.

Mike (not pictured): Halloween is arguably my favorite holiday, and I’ve had a few nice costumes over the years. I think my favorite so far is the costume i will be wearing this year. I’ll be Gene from Bob’s Burgers. I have a burger, his trademark yellow tee and jean shorts, and a pair of red Chuck Taylors. I am so like the character so this is gonna be a fun one!


Nancy: My favorite costume was a glow in the dark skeleton costume. I think I liked it because it because all you could see were the bones as we walked down the road. That costume stayed in my parents attic and was actually worn by one of my own kids. I am not sure, but I think the year that I wore it was the rainy Halloween. I had a big shopping bag and must have been dragging it on the ground, because when it was full and we were almost home, it broke and all the candy spilled.

My favorite memory of my kids is when my two boys, about 2 and 3 years old dressed liked clowns. They were so cute, but I didn’t connect that one of my sons was afraid of clowns and thus afraid of his brother.

Popeye (1)


What etiquette really means

What comes to mind when you think of the word etiquette? Using the correct fork when you eat a five course meal? Etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Jacqueline Whitmore says it’s so much more than that. Really, it’s about making other people feel good. I chatted with Jacqueline about what drew her to the field what etiquette really means to her.


Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, tell me how you became interested in etiquette?

Jacqueline: Well, I’m the founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach and I’ve had my own company since 1998.

Prior to starting my own company, I worked at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach as their Assistant Director of Public Relations. As part of my job responsibilities, I put together etiquette camps for kids every summer. So, my job was to hire the instructor and to organize the camps. In my search for an instructor, I found someone I liked and admired and she came down every summer (to teach the kids’ camp).

She also expanded it and introduced an etiquette camp for adults. I took the class and I liked it so much that I took another class and then she encouraged me to go to Washington, D.C. and get a certification, which I did. So, I ended up teaching the staff (at the Breakers Hotel) in my spare time.

That gave me good experience because in 1998 I didn’t know I was going to get laid off, but I did. And that was the time that I started the Protocol School of Palm Beach.

Caitlin: Wow, so I imagine getting laid off was devastating, but that really opened up an opportunity for you.

Jacquline: Yes, it forced me to take a leap and start my own business.

Caitlin: That’s great. You know, I think sometimes when people think of etiquette, it maybe seems stuffy and maybe shallow. People think it’s just about saying please and thank you. What does etiquette really mean to you?

Jacqueline: Etiquette, to me, means having respect for other people. But, also, it means having respect for yourself. And, it also means being mindful of how your behavior affects other people.

So, for example, if you’re on a bus on your cell phone and you’re bothering the person next to you, you’re not practicing good etiquette. So, it’s just being mindful of your surroundings and having respect for other people. In other words, it’s doing unto others as you would have done to you.

Caitlin: I like that. You know, I was thinking when I first emailed you, I was really cognizant of being polite and using the right etiquette. I wonder if people feel that way around you often. Do you hear that a lot? That people are watching their manners around you?

Jacqueline: Oh, all the time. I hear that all the time. I do often hear from people, “Oh I better sit up straight,” or “I better not say certain things,” or “I better not use the wrong fork.” And, that’s not really what etiquette is about at all. If anything, it’s about being your best self. It’s not being somebody who is artificial and putting on airs or acting like you’re better than anybody. It’s just being your very best self on your best day.

Think about your best day. What would you wear? What would you say? Who would you surround yourself with? That’s the way I try to live my life, at my very best. It’s not always easy. It takes a lot of practice.

If I said you need to be better than everybody else, that would repel people. That would turn people off. In fact, you know, everyone says, “Oh, I’m a perfectionist.” Well, perfectionism repels people. It’s the flaws we all have that make us relatable and memorable and likeable. I call it the BLT Factor: believable, likeable, and trustworthy. So, if I told you I never make mistakes, you would probably hate me and you wouldn’t believe me . (laughs)

Caitlin: Would you be willing to share one of your more memorable etiquette mistakes?

Jacqueline: Oh, sure, I make them all the time! I am my own best client.

I was in China last year at a dinner party. I don’t speak any Chinese and the waiter came up and handed me a menu and asked me what wine I wanted. The menu was huge and couldn’t read it. I just said, “I’d like a glass of white wine.” And he said, “Well, what kind?” And I didn’t know. So I said, “Well, how about a glass of Australian wine?” And my host leaned over and said, “Well, how about a glass of Chinese wine?” (laughs)

So, I felt embarrassed by that!

Caitlin: Are there any etiquette tips that you feel are especially important?

Jacqueline: I am a big advocate of handwritten notes and I try to write one every day, whether it’s a thank you note, a birthday card, or a congratulatory card, just to keep in touch with people. It’s a lost art.

Caitlin: That’s great and it really is so nice getting something personal in the mail. You know, I really like your approach to etiquette, that it’s really just about making the people around you feel good and feel comfortable. And I think, as a result, it makes you feel better about yourself, too.

Jacqueline: Oh yeah, it’s good karma. What you put out in the universe, you get back.

If you get in the habit of doing little niceties every single day, it becomes automatic. And it doesn’t feel artificial because it becomes part of you. And it makes you feel really good.

I believe if you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you. I used to be a flight attendant and we used to encounter so many nasty passengers. And it was the ones who were really nice who always got the upgrades.

You can read more from Jacqueline on her blog. In the meantime, tell me, do you have a time when you felt embarrassed by using bad etiquette? Is there an etiquette rule you think is especially important? Let’s talk!

Image courtesy Jacqueline

A foster mom at 22

This summer I came across a blog post that immediately caught my eye. It was about a 22 year old woman named Allison and her fiance who had just become foster parents to a little girl. I think it takes extraordinary generosity and bravery for two people as young as Allison and her fiance to open their home to a child in need. As it turns out, Allison (pictured below) and I have some friends in common and she agreed to chat with me about her experience so far.


Caitlin: So, you’re 22 and you’re a foster mother. That’s pretty unusual! What inspired you and your fiance to even be interested in being foster parents?

Allison: We had heard an advertisement for it on the radio when the House of the Good Shepherd was recruiting foster parents about a year ago. They had an orientation coming up, so we talked about it, and since we both love children it seemed like a great fit.

I particularly have a connection to children because I taught dance for years. Also, there’s ten years between my younger brother and I so I’ve really been exposed to children a lot and I love working with them. This seemed like a great way to help a child who was in a less fortunate situation.

So about a year ago we went through the training. This involved a 12 week course that included home studies, inspections, and background checks. Our initial goal was just to provide respite care, as needed. Respite care is temporary care for children who are in the foster care system when their foster family needs a short break, for whatever reason.

Since we became certified, we have cared for four children in respite care between the ages of 9 and 13. About four months ago, we had Sweet Pea* for respite care over a weekend and really enjoyed her company! She’s a young, outgoing girl, so you can imagine the fun and entertainment she provides. When we were told that she needed a new foster placement the following week, we decided to take her in full time.

Caitlin: So, how much time is there between finding out she needs a home, and her moving in with you?

Allison: We had a little less than a week. In this particular situation, we had great contact with her family which made things a lot easier. Typically, the agency is the middleman between the foster family and biological family. But, in our circumstance, we were fortunate to begin to build a relationship with her family to make sure that we were well enough prepared for the transition. I mean, as prepared as you can be.

Caitlin: What do you hear from people when they hear you’re 22 and a foster parent?

Allison: You know what I found, actually? When I’m out by myself with Sweet Pea, I understand what a young, single mom feels like. It was really hard to get over the way I felt people were judging me. I think people see me with Sweet Pea and make assumptions. When they find out I’m a foster parent, they’re attitude changes and they are very supportive of it. That’s great, but I think it should make people think twice before they judge someone.

Caitlin: This is probably such a broad question, but how did your life change?

Allison: It’s really difficult to prepare yourself for that transition. As much as I was around children growing up, there’s nothing that gives that preparation for taking on a child full time and, of course, there’s no manual that come along with parenting. So, you take a lot of trial and error.

But, I would say the biggest adjustment was time management. I work full time as Manager of Business Development for Washington Street Properties, I own a dance wear store, I own a photo booth business, I had just stopped teaching dance for the summer. I also won the title of Miss Thousand Islands a few weeks after she came into my care. And, of course, I’m engaged so I had that relationship along with family life and friends that I had to juggle with her and her schedule – day care, swimming, dance, gymnastics, etc.

I knew it would be difficult for her to be taken from everything she’s known so I thought distractions like dance and gymnastics would be a good way to help her adjust. To learn that change can be a good thing.

We got her on a Sunday so I took Monday off because I didn’t think it was fair to her to be sent right to daycare. I also was fortunate to have my Mom watch her the rest of the week to help with the adjustment. My parents are really supportive and are just as attached to Sweet Pea as I am. She’s just a doll. So, that week was just us getting to know her and getting used to a new schedule.

And, of course, with any child, you have to handle behavioral issues – especially with a child who’s been through several different homes. It’s mostly testing to see what the boundaries are. Sweet Pea didn’t have many boundaries in any of the homes she’s been in, so it was difficult for her to adjust to a schedule, stability, and consequences for actions. So that was difficult for her and for us to figure out.

Caitlin: So, you guys have done some really fun stuff. You took Sweet Pea to Disney World. What a dream!

Allison: Yes, before I took Sweet Pea in I was already planning to go on this trip so when she came along, it was perfect timing. I was so excited to be able to give her the opportunity to experience something so magical. She didn’t know where we were going until we got there. She said she had heard of Disney and had seen commercials for it on TV, but she didn’t know what to expect at all. She saw the castle and all the rides and was just amazed by it. My little brother also joined us for the trip. The best part about it for me was just seeing her reaction and watching her take in the whole experience.

Caitlin: Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. What’s been the most rewarding part of the experience for you so far?

Allison: Just having her in my life is an amazing experience that I feel very blessed to have had, but I am particularly happy to be involved with all of the progress I’ve seen her make. When she came into our care she wasn’t used to having any structure or stability so that’s something we’ve been working on. She’s come a long way and it’s so rewarding to assist in creating a better life for her.

Caitlin: Do you know what the future holds? Can there be a day that comes and she’s gone? Or could she be adopted at some point?

Allison: It’s difficult to say. Generally, across the board for foster care, it’s something that’s scary to think about. Things can change at any minute and you really don’t have any control over that. You can make suggestions, but you really have no way to sway things one way or another.

With Sweet Pea, it’s difficult to see what the future holds. I can say that if the opportunity for adoption was made available to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to move forward with it. But if it doesn’t, she will always remain an integral part of my life in some capacity. It’s very important for me to build a relationship with her family so that I will have the ability to stay involved.

Caitlin: How do you guard your heart in all of this? I mean, do you?

Allison: It’s something that’s been discussed a lot between my fiance and I. For me, it is natural to treat her as if she were my own, whereas he feels that she should be treated differently. I can’t replace her mom and I would never try to, but at the same time, she’s very young and needs the nurturing and care that a mom would provide. Because of that, I’ve tried to build a strong relationship with her to be sure she’s developing in a way that’s appropriate.

As a foster parent, you work hand in hand with a therapist and case workers who provide advice that is crucial in a situation like this. They’ve encouraged me to build that relationship so she has someone who is safe for her. Someone who is going to provide the safety and structure that she needs.

So as we’ve bonded and built up our relationship, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to guard your heart against the things that could happen. It’s important to take things one day at a time and trust that everything happens for a reason. It’s just my hope that by keeping a great relationship with her family, if she goes back to them, they’ll allow me to still be in her life.

Caitlin: I think being a foster parent is such a noble cause. When I think about whether or not I could be a foster parent, those are the things I think about. I mean, your heart might be broken at some point in the process. What advice would you give someone who was thinking about being a foster parent?

Allison: There are a lot of ways to be involved besides being a full time foster parent. For example, there are Court Appointment Special Advocates (CASA workers). In this position, you volunteer to be assigned to a child and become the eyes and ears of the case. You go to home visits and court cases and  try to access the situations in each case as best you can and then report to the judge. They attempt to be an unbiased source who is working on behalf of the child.

Also, when we first started, we just did respite care. This helps to ease concerns about attachment because you only have the child for a few days. However, if you really enjoy working with a certain child, you might be given the opportunity to have the same child for respite care multiple times.

There are also volunteers for transportation for children in foster care. Volunteer Transport Services in Watertown is very helpful when transportation becomes difficult.

But, if someone decides they want to be a full time foster parent, I think they need to realize your job is to do what’s best for the child, although that might not always feel like what’s best for you. You tend to see one side of the case, but there’s two sides to every story.

You still might end up with a broken heart at the end of the day if things don’t go the way you hoped, but you have to understand that there’s a reason for the choices that are made and everyone has the child’s best interest at heart.

Caitlin: How does having a young child in your home impact your relationship as you plan to get married? I guess you really get to see what kind of parent your partner will be.

Allison: Yeah, we have had different opinions on what a “mom” is versus a “foster mom” and a “dad” versus a “foster dad.” My fiance has been much more guarded with his relationship with Sweet Pea to try to protect his heart. So if the day comes that she has to move on, he wants to make sure he’s not attached to the point where it’s too difficult to let go.

Caitlin: He must be worried about your heart, too.

Allison: Yeah. I’m her primary caregiver so I spend a lot more time with her. I think that’s definitely a concern of both of ours. I’ve built up such a strong relationship with her that will not easily be broken.

You certainly do learn things about how someone interacts with children. Our approach is unconventional but is an eye opener before marriage.

Thank you so much Allison for taking the time to chat, and most of all, for your generous heart. You’re an inspiration to all of us to consider what more we can do in our own lives to help others. Best wishes to your family!

Image courtesy Allison

*named changed for privacy


10 years and 2 kids later

Think back to when you were 19 years old. What were you doing? What was important to you?

I was a sophomore in college. I had just chosen my new major and was just about to get together with my now husband, Rob. Thinking back on it now, a lot of the important puzzle pieces of my life came together that year. But, really, I was just a kid.

That’s where we find Jessica in today’s post. 19 years old, a sophomore in college. And pregnant.

Jessica shares what she felt in the moment and what’s she learned ten years and two kids later.


Caitlin: So, you became pregnant when you were 19, unplanned and unexpected. Tell me about finding out you were pregnant for the first time and some of those details you’re willing to share.

Jessica: Yes! Well, I was starting my sophomore year of college and dating (my now husband) Kevin for about eight months at the time.  I had recently gone off of birth control because of mood swings, and we had unprotected sex once when I became pregnant. I can very vividly remember, haha. I obviously should have been protecting myself, but my first appointment with a gynecologist as a teenager determined I had a tilted uterus, which is not terribly uncommon, but my uterus was tilted at a different angle from most. The gynecologist told me it would lead to trouble getting pregnant.

Back to the unprotected sex, I had started training for lacrosse season that spring, and so when my period was late I kept thinking that it was because I was running more. One morning I decided to pick up a pregnancy test, my very first one, and immediately started crying when I read the positive result.

Caitlin: So, tears can mean so many things. What emotions were you feeling? All of them?

Jessica: Honestly, probably not any on the joyous spectrum, but instead mostly shock and confusion, with some “what am I going to do” thrown in there.

Caitlin: So, how did you decide what to do?

Jessica: I only told a few of my closest friends in an attempt to gain some perspective. I did not tell my mom though because I knew she would be supportive to the point of excitement, and I wasn’t processing the pregnancy just yet. You know, EVERY decision in that situation is life-changing. You cannot undo anything.  And so in hindsight I knew what my decision would be, but I wanted to get there myself.


Caitlin: I think it’s a great way to explain it. Do you remember what your biggest fears were at the time?

Jessica: Honestly, very selfish fears, like how I would miss out on experiences and opportunities, how I was not ready to settle down, and how I had no clue what I was doing.

Caitlin: So, you and Kevin decided to get married. How did you make that decision?

Jessica: Again, I am going to be brutally honest, but I never made the decision.  It has been something that I have struggled with for years.  It was just sort of assumed by (I guess) our families and us that if I was going to have a baby, we were going to get married.  Sounds crazy, right?  But it all happened in such quick succession that it’s almost a blur.

Caitlin: I know you’ve struggled some with feeling like you’ve missed out on things that most young people get to experience because you were married with a baby at the age of 20. If you’re willing to talk about it, can you share some of that?

Jessica: Sure!  Actually, one of the first things my mom said to me when I told her that I was pregnant was that anything you can do without a baby can be done with a baby. It still astonishes me that she said this, because in my experience, there are so many things you cannot do once you have a baby. You are always considering someone else who is completely reliant on you. This can be very limiting if you are not ready to take on that responsibility. In hindsight I don’t feel like I missed out on any experiences, but that is perspective that I’ve gained over the years. At the time, the experience of young motherhood was isolating.

Caitlin: So, the important part, tell me about your baby girl and what it was like being a new mom so young?

Jessica: I realize how cliché it might sound, but she is the love of my life. She is a miracle, and if I would have never gotten unexpectedly pregnant, I would be missing out on this precious soul that brings so much quality into my life. Even when she was little I would say that I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. She has such capacity for kindness and humor (although I have to hide my giggles when she cries during Disney movies).

Like I said, the experience was isolating, because no one around me was going through it. But in a way, I am actually incredibly grateful for that, because I never asked anyone else for advice. I approached everything with her from the perspective that she and I would figure it out together. This allowed me to evaluate my own comfort level with aspects of mothering; for instance, I breastfed Cambrie for eighteen months, and it gave me such confidence.  It also keeps me from giving other mothers unwarranted advice. My usual go-to is, “You’ll figure it out.” Everyone is figuring it out.

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Caitlin: Yeah I think that’s great. We’re at a time in our lives now where SO many people are having babies and I can see how easy it would be to compare yourself to the people around you. I think it’s great that you were able to just do your thing. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention your second baby girl. What was it like being a mother for the second time at a little more typical an age (although still kind of young)?

Jessica: Haha, yes, thank you for reminding me! Harper is the complete opposite of Cambrie. She is rough and tumble, and is still learning the empathy that Cambrie seemed to be born with. My dad actually calls Harper the Heartbreaker because of her personality. She is certainly my wild child, but it is so much fun because she adds such a dynamic to every situation, even the mundane.

One thing about having both Cambrie & Harper on the younger side is that I sort of took for granted getting pregnant and having healthy babes, whereas our friends who are having their firsts now have a completely different appreciation than I did.

Caitlin: Did you ever feel judged by other people for having kids so young? And getting married young?

Jessica: YES.  Absolutely. When I was pregnant with Cambrie I would never leave the house without my engagement and/or wedding band. I felt like it would give people the wrong impression about me, that I was irresponsible and what have you. But even that experience really encouraged me to decide what kind of person I wanted to be. In a way, I was projecting those insecurities because I felt them myself.

But the older I get, the less self-conscious and critical I am. People and circumstances are so complex, and there is so much gray in the world. It doesn’t serve anyone to assume anything. Nowadays I welcome any questions about how old I am, how old my daughters are, what I am doing in my life, because I am happy and content with those things, even if it took me all of my twenties to get there.


Caitlin: Ah, excellent point to wrap up. What have you learned about yourself in the last ten years that you’ve been a mom and wife, however unexpectedly?

Jessica: I’ve learned that life has a way a giving us what we need when we need it, and whatever path you choose will serve you. There are no right or wrongs, just choices. It’s all about kindness and humor and deep breathing.

Images courtesy Jessica