He Said/She Said: Keeping the thrill alive

Have you ever gone skydiving? I admit that I’m intrigued by the idea, but I haven’t done it, so far. Today we have a new He Said/She Said feature with Ryan and Emily, a married couple that skydives together almost every weekend. Talk about a cool way to keep the fun in your marriage!

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Caitlin: So, Ryan, tell me about the first time you went sky diving. What drew you to it? What was the experience like?

Ryan: The first time I went skydiving was a tandem skydive for my 18th birthday. At a young age I was always interested in more extreme sports like skating, wake boarding and, snowboarding and this seemed like something crazy, but really fun to do. When I showed up for my tandem I was with my parents and I was nervous, anxious, and a little bit terrified.

Going up in the plane I was a nervous wreck, but I knew I didn’t want to back out of it. Once we jumped out the first thing that went through my mind, was “what am I doing!?” But after that split second, I absolutely loved the experience.

You never feel that sense of falling like you do on a roller coaster and it just feels really, really windy and it’s like you’re floating. It’s a sensation you just can’t get on the ground. It really feels like you’re flying.

Continue reading

Joining Overeaters Anonymous

I always offer my interview subjects the option to be anonymous. No one has ever taken me up on the offer until now, to talk about joining to Overeaters Anonymous.

Jessica* wasn’t ready to share her identity with the world, but she did recently take the first brave step of going to an OA meeting. She’s been going for about a month and a half now, 3-4 times a week. Jessica tells us what got her to that point and what she’s learned so far. Thank you, Jessica, for your willingness to share with the rest of us. Wishing you luck and strength in your journey!

Caitlin: So, how did you make the decision to join Overeaters Anonymous.

Jessica: It’s a long time coming. I’ve been trying to diet for the last 5-7 years. It would work for like 30 days, and then I’d be like, “Oh great, I lost ten pounds. Now I’m going to eat everything in sight.” Or like, if I’m studying, I eat. Eating is such a social thing and I’m such a social person, so it’s like, you have it in happy times, and when you’re with people you love. And then when I was sad, or by myself, I would think food would remind of happy times and fill what I need. It would fill a void.

I saw my family this summer and I would talk with them about where I was in my life. I wasn’t very happy. I was looking for something to make me happy. Whether it was a different job, or to change my relationship, or whatever it was, I was looking for something to make me happy and it wasn’t.

I think I was more miserable than I thought I was. Your immediate family has a way to cut you down a little more, but like, in a good way. They call you out on your shit.

Caitlin: Like hearing the lies you’re telling yourself?

Jessica: Exactly. And, some vocal people in my family have no problem doing that. There are a lot of people in my family who are in some kind of addiction program and they’re like, “Well, you know, I know some people who are in OA, and they’re normal people.” They thought I should give it a try and even if I didn’t like it, I would know what I was saying no to.

So, I went to a couple meetings and it was an eye-opener. I identified with what people were saying. And I was surprised that there are people from all walks of life there. There are executives, stay-at-home moms, people who are super fit, to people who are really obese. There’s definitely a huge range, which made me feel a lot more comfortable.

Caitlin: What was it like walking into your first meeting?

Jessica: Scary! I went to one in my neighborhood and it was nothing like what I thought it would be. It was all like Stepford Wives and put together soccer moms. That shocked me. But, what’s nice about it is that helping newcomers is part of everyone’s recovery. So they are quick to welcome you and you start recognizing people. So, they know you and ask how your week was, and that kind of thing. You can be as involved as you want.

Everyone has the same issue. You’re walking into a room where everyone has the same biggest insecurity as you. So, it really levels the playing field, you know? It’s comforting.

Caitlin: So, what does abstinence mean in OA?

Jessica: So, I’m definitely still new and learning, but abstinence is different for everyone. You basically want to be abstinent from falling off a meal plan, or whatever your rules are. So, some people will only eat three meals a day and not snack. There are a lot of anorexics and bulimics in the program, so they’ll need to stay away from bingeing and purging. It evolves and changes.

It makes it a lot harder, I think, because food is everywhere and you can’t not eat. For alcoholics, you can stop drinking.

For me, if I eat one chip, I’ll eat the whole bag. I don’t understand how anyone eats one chip and then forgets about it. That’s just not possible for me. So, that’s on my list. Trigger foods.

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Caitlin: So have you defined your rules?

Jessica: So, I don’t have hard fast rules yet. This past week was not a good week for me. I’ve been super stressed with school and stuff and I’ve thrown whatever rules I’ve had out the window.

But, that’s what’s nice with OA. So, before, if I was on Weight Watchers or something and I ate something bad, I would have said, “Oh, I fucked it up, oh well.” And I’d never go back because I’d be embarrassed. But, with OA, you create relationships with people and they completely understand. There are people who have been abstinent for 20 years, but it’s still a fight.

Caitlin: So you know how people often substitute one addiction for another? I wonder if people with a food addiction just substitute one food for another. Like, you said you cannot eat chips. Do you just replace something else with chips? I think that would be so hard to navigate.

Jessica: It’s interesting. A lot of people who are in the program are in many different programs. So they’ll be in AA, and others, and I think for a little while I was very, very judgemental. I just didn’t understand addicts. I was like, “Well, just don’t drink. Or just don’t do drugs if it’s messing your life up so much.” I was never introspective enough to realize that I have that same addictive personality, it just manifests itself differently in me.

Even in the last month and a half that I’ve been in OA, my anxiety is ten times worse than usual. Just because I have to feel my feelings instead of eat. I can’t go buy a bag of chips when I feel upset. I have to deal with my feelings. And I never realized it, but my feelings are really strong. I had to stop self-medicating with food.

Caitlin: In what ways do you feel like overeating was messing up your life?

Jessica: Being overweight is really hard. It’s the fastest thing for people to judge you on. For me, it’s my biggest insecurity. I won’t apply to jobs because I think they only want skinny, pretty girls. Or anytime I don’t get a job, I wonder if it’s because I’m overweight. And the career I want, is fairly image based. It’s a sad fact, but there’s so much judgement against overweight people. You’re seen as sort of slobbish, and not put together. Whether that’s true or not, you have to play the game to get ahead. And, personally, I haven’t had any health issues, but I can see my weight going up over the years and if I don’t stop it now, in ten years I might be 100 pounds more overweight. I’d rather nip it in the bud now.

Caitlin: I’m wondering how this has impacted your relationship. I think admitting that you have a problem with overeating takes a lot of guts.

Jessica: (My partner) is amazing. He knows what my goals are and tries to keep me on track. When I told him I was joining OA, he didn’t really get it, but he’s super supportive.

Overeating has definitely impacted relationships in the past. Whether it was my own insecurities or there was actual judgement, it definitely eroded the relationship.

Caitlin: I’d love to follow up with you in the coming months, but I’m curious, what’s your goal?

Jessica: Just to go to meetings right now. I’ve heard people are very hard on themselves in the beginning. And I wanted to be perfect at it when I started. But, then it wouldn’t work and I’d fall apart and go on a binge. So, my goal is to just keep going and build relationships and hopefully find a sponsor.

*name changed to protect identity

Images: Ann, Rooky Yootz

 

 

ChitChat: What’s the last great book you read?

All right, all right. Last month, I introduced a new feature called ChitChat. Here’s how it works: Each month I’ll ask a panel of people a question. And they answer it. It’s pretty simple. 🙂

Anyway, this month’s question is: What was the last great book you read?

I am known to devour books in two or three sittings so I am always on the lookout for a great book. The panel did not disappoint.

Moira panel

Moira: The last book that I read and really enjoyed was The Likeness by Tana French. It’s the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, each book featuring a different detective from the squad. The Likeness is the story of Detective Cassie Maddox, who is a main character in the first book in the series, In the Woods. Maddox is no longer on the murder squad, but goes undercover after a body is found and the victim looks exactly like Maddox. Not only does she look like Maddox, the victim is also using an alias that had been created for Maddox when she was an undercover cop. Maddox assumes the identity of the victim, and lives her life to find her killer.

While I did like the first book in the series, In the Woods, I was riveted by The Likeness. I was unable to put it down and stayed up late to finish it. French is a great character writer, her characters are strange and different, like no one you have ever met, yet you are easily able to imagine them being real.  Her mysteries make you think and wonder and up until the end you still aren’t sure what exactly happened.  French writes with depth and has mastered the psychological mystery. While it is not necessary to read the first in the series before reading this book, I would recommend it as it gives insight into Maddox’s character and situation. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

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Hartley: ​I recently devoured The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt​ while on a sailing trip around the Greek islands. The protagonist Theo Decker’s adventures kept me glued to my book even as we saw the most beautiful sights — I was so antisocial while I was reading it! (Apologies to my husband.) I would highly recommend the Pulitzer-prize winning book to anyone who doesn’t get intimidated by 700+ pages and enjoys the occasional esoteric discussion of antique wooden furniture, Ukrainian slang, and New York City’s WASP-y upper class. (God, I’m making this book sound miserable already. Just promise me you’ll read it before you see the movie*.)

*Runner up goes to: This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, and is currently in theaters.

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Aubrey: I’m in school pursuing a joint degree in clinical psychology and law, so I currently don’t get to do much reading for pleasure. However, I did read The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court over the summer, and it was one hell of an entertaining read. In his book, Jeffrey Toobin covers the Supreme Court from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s. He is able to pierce through the veil under which the Court so often shrouds itself to reveal a world of oddball personalities and high stakes political wrangling. Through interviews from a variety of sources,Toobin fashions a life story for this set of real characters that helps explain each member’s worldview and decision making process. He crafts a tale in which the Court’s more moderate voices eventually drown out those drawn to political extremism and legal formalism. It provides some hope that the Washington of today will eventually give way to a political temperament attracted to workable solutions.

I understand that Supreme Court jurisprudence isn’t everyone’s bag, but if you have an interest in learning more about major legal decisions that have had a direct impact on the Country, then I suggest this entertaining and often funny (yes, funny) journalistic accomplishment. Trust me, reading about constitutional law can often make you wish you were carrying a loaded gun. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court feels like a pleasure read that you can take to bed or absorb while sipping your favorite spirit.

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Mary: I recently finished Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and it blew me away. It’s the story of twins, born co-joined and out of wedlock in Addis Ababa, sons of an Indian Catholic nun who is a nurse and an English surgeon, both essentially missionaries in Africa.  The story grabbed me immediately, told in the voice of one of the twins, and kept me hanging until the last word, and then I was sorry it was over. The characters were amazingly well-developed, the descriptions of Ethiopia and its politics and lifestyle from WWII on to present day were mesmerizing.  It was one of the best written novels I’ve read in a long time and it has stayed with me ever since.  I also took it out of the library in audio book form to “re-read” and the narration was one of the best I’ve heard. Highly, highly recommended if you are looking to learn about medicine and surgery, African politics and lifestyles, a great story of love, and sorrow, and triumph. Read it, read it, read it!

Chelley panel

Chelley: The last great book I read gave me even more insight to different types of dwarfism and the controversial medical practice of limb lengthening. The book Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato is a memoir of pain and suffering, life and overcoming obstacles. While the story pained me at times, I am honored to know the author and to know that she, most importantly, is happy with her decision to alter her body. I suggest this read to parents… it’s a great story about making decisions with our children, and how we are strong enough to support them, even in the hardest of times. (Check out a great blog post about Dwarf on Chelley’s blog, AisforAdelaide.com)

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Elizabeth: The last book that I have read that really wow’d me was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There were so many twists and turns that I wound up staying up for two days just to finish it! It’s about a man and his wife disappears on their 5th wedding anniversary. It is hard to explain more without giving it away. It is about to be released as a movie with Ben Affleck! I really recommend it if you like suspense and thrillers!


I hope these recommendations gave you some new books to add to your list! I can personally vouch for Gone Girl, Cutting for Stone, and The Goldfinch. All wonderful books in their own way. Now tell me, what is the last great book YOU read? You can’t take ideas from this list without sharing with the rest of us! 🙂

 

Leaving domestic violence behind: Surviving to thriving

Domestic violence usually lurks in the darkness. We know it affects families of all kinds, but we rarely talk about it. I think if you’ve never been in an abusive relationship, it’s hard to understand why someone stays. It’s hard to comprehend how abuse can go on for years and years.

So, I wanted to talk to someone who could help us all better understand the point of view of someone who has lived with abuse. Thank you to Laurel House for putting me in touch with Wendy, a woman who stayed with her abusive husband for 20 years before leaving for good. And thank you, Wendy, for your strength, your bravery, and your honesty.

Caitlin: So, I understand you were married to your husband who was your abuser for 20 years. Tell me a little bit about that relationship and some of that background.

Wendy: Well, I grew up in a dysfunctional home. I was just rejected a lot when I was younger. My mom was married three times and her third husband turned out to be abusive.

I met my husband when I was only 20 and the abuse started right away. I had three kids by the time I was 25 and my husband was constantly accusing me of having affairs. It could be with anybody… the neighbor, my pastor, my brother-in-law. You know, extreme jealousy. It isolated me from family and friends. So, I just lived with constant accusations of things I didn’t do. He would grill me to the point where I would say the truth, but that wasn’t good enough, and he’d tell me I was lying, and I wound up with memory loss from that trauma.

Caitlin: Did it make you question what was an actual memory and what were you just saying to go along with him?

Wendy: Yeah, exactly.

Caitlin: Wow. Was he ever physically abusive?

Wendy: Yeah, he was physically abusive, but not all the time. He punched me in the face when I was pregnant. He blocked the doorway so I couldn’t leave. He put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t breathe. He pushed me into things when I was holding the baby. Just a lot of violence, yeah.

Caitlin: Just talking about it, does it bring up those old feelings?

Wendy: Yeah, in fact, I was thinking about it today knowing that we were going to have this talk. It’s been seven years. I have a whole new life now. But, everytime I think about it, it brings back the trauma.

Caitlin: You know, people have been talking a lot about domestic violence as it’s been in the headlines recently and there’s been the question, why do women stay? And you stayed with your husband for 20 years. I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding that. When you look back, why do you think you stayed for all those years?

Wendy: Yeah, I can tell you why I stayed. People ask, why do you stay? Why do you put up with that abuse? But, they don’t understand that when you have to leave, you’re not just leaving your husband. You’re leaving your community, your home. It’s great if there’s a shelter, but there’s rules, there’s curfews. It’s really hard to leave. And then you wonder, how are you going to make it on your own? Especially when you have kids.

Caitlin: And I know a symptom of abuse is believing that you can’t make it on your own, that you need your abuser to survive. Did you feel that way?

Wendy: Oh definitely, because he brainwashed me. “Nobody will ever love you like I do, Wendy. You’re not going to be able to find a job, you’re not smart enough.” I had three small kids, and I believed him at the time. I had low self-esteem and I needed him. I did. I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave him and I couldn’t stay. It was a horrible place to be.

Caitlin: Was he ever abusive to your children?

Wendy: Yes. I have three older children and he was physically and mentally abusive to them. Seven years later, they’re still having a lot of problems.

Caitlin: Did the people in your life know about the abuse?

Wendy: They did. I would go to my friends crying, and they’d say, “Wendy you need to leave him, you should call the police.” But, he’d isolate me from my family and friends. If I would leave him (and stay with friends) and then come back he would accuse those friends of taking our kids away from him. And then they would get mad at me and then I wouldn’t be able to go back to them.

Caitlin: Did you leave several times before you left for good?

Wendy: Too many times to count. They say it takes 7-8 times to leave. I left probably twice a year for 20 years. People say, “Why did you go back?” Well, I loved him.

Caitlin: So, how did you finally leave? Tell me that story.

Wendy: It was May 27, 2007 on my daughter’s 19th birthday. I was trying to make her day special and he accused me once again of having an affair with a neighbor, and he screamed, as always. And I said, “I can’t take it anymore.” It was the last straw. I had been thinking for a couple of months of how I could leave and get a job. I had my fourth baby a couple years earlier and I didn’t want him to have to go through what my older kids went through. That was it, I had enough. It was time to leave.

Caitlin: How did you do it?

Wendy: I stayed at a couple different women’s shelters, including Laurel House. I was a mess. Just so upset. I knew I was making the right decision, but still, it’s really hard to leave. And, as crazy as it sounds, I still loved him. So, I had a lot of emotions. But, the counselors were very helpful and got me into a job training program and I got my life together.

Caitlin: What’s good about your life that you couldn’t have imagined seven years ago?

Wendy: Everything. I have a wonderful life. I have a life of freedom. I can come and go as I please. I don’t have anyone checking on me, 24/7. No one asks what men I talked to, or where did you go, what did you do, all in the name of “love.” I have the freedom to go where I want, and do what I want. I have much more self-confidence.

Caitlin: Has your strength surprised you?

Wendy: Definitely. I learned how strong I am. And how going through this brought my faith in God stronger. And I want to help people. I want to help women who are going through this, and give them hope for their future.

Caitlin: So you volunteer at Laurel House and work with women who are leaving abusive situations. What has that been like for you?

Wendy: It’s wonderful. It means I didn’t go through it all for nothing. I get there and I say, “Look, I was standing in your shoes. I know exactly what you’re going through and I’m here to give you hope.” I made it and I’m working. I’m taking care of my kids. You don’t have to put up with abuse. There is a better life out there.

 

If you’re in an abusive relationship, don’t keep it to yourself. You can reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Do you have a friend or family member in an abusive relationship? Here are some tips to help.

Image: Kathleen Christiansen

 

Transitioning to happiness

That is a “before and progress” picture of Kieran, who is currently in the process of transitioning from female to male. Kieran told me he is “an open book” and that I could ask him whatever questions I wanted. Thank you to Kieran for answering my questions so honestly and for sharing so much information!

Caitlin: When do you first remember struggling with your gender? Can you share a bit of your back story?

Kieran: When I was in first grade, I have a distinct memory of saying things like “If I were a boy, I would like…” I absolutely was a “tomboy” and played primarily with boys toys. Around that time, my very young uncle used to tell me stories that started with “When I was a little girl…” He told me that little girls turned into boys around 11 years old and vice versa. I was beyond excited and looked forward to this like you could not imagine. At some point, I obviously realized that was not going to happened and was pretty sad.

I continued to feel like I was basically just an awkward tomboy for a number of years. Around 13 or 14, I realized that I was exclusively attracted to women. I still tried to have boyfriends, because I was not really able to come to terms with that. I still had this thing in the back of my head that I didn’t really understand. Through my teens, I would date guys that I wanted to be like, not that I actually wanted to be with, but I hadn’t yet been exposed to the transgendered community and so I sort of just chalked that up to being a lesbian. I dated a few women in my teens as well. I had a fair number of other issues when I was a teen, so it was hard to understand everything I was dealing with.

At around 18 or 19, I was exposed to what it meant to be trans. I was in college and was meeting more people and also took a LGBT history class. A giant lightbulb went off in my head and everything suddenly made sense. I talked to all of my friends at the time and began to live life as a male for a short period of time. I had been out as a lesbian and only dating women for a while. I finally felt good in my own skin when presenting as male and was happy.

I told people back home and it did not go nearly as well. I freaked out and thought that perhaps all of this was related to some other issues I was having. I reverted WAY back in the closet and started dating a guy pretty seriously when I was 19. That obviously was a disaster and didn’t last.

At 20, I started dating a woman. A year or so into dating her, I let her know about being trans. I attended trans support groups and was pretty ready to make a transition. The problem at the time was that many people that were transitioning when I was 20 were in the 35-45 year old range. People waited longer. And, it was expensive and not as available as it is now. So, I had made a decision that I would wait a few years.

Before I got to the point that I was going to transition, I got a job at Friendship Hospital for Animals. I decided that when I left Friendship, I would transition after I left that job but before starting whatever job I took next. At the time, there were not protections for being trans in the workplace and it was rare that people would transition while staying in a job.

So, I waited. And waited. And waited. And nearly 15 years went by and I was still at Friendship.

I started dating my wife, Caitie, in 2006, and she was aware before we started dating. I continued to hide it from some people at work (some knew) until February of this year. At that point, I felt like I just needed to transition whether that meant staying or leaving the job I love. I made sure all of the managers that reported directly to me knew and then I told my boss. It went well. (More on that below)

Caitlin: I understand that you are married with children. Can you talk a little bit about how your family affected your decision and this process?

Kieran: I am. (My wife Caitie and I) have 3 kids– a 4.5 old son and 2.5 year twins (a boy and a girl). The kids have called me “Baba.” Caitie picked it, it worked for me. We figured, since I had not transitioned, if they called me “Dad” out in public, it might confuse people and be difficult for my kids to understand if people made comments. And, there was no chance we were going to have them call me Mom or anything like that. So, Baba it is.

My family is the main reason that I finally pulled the trigger. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for about 20 years, much of it related to severe body dysmorphia (I refused to look in mirrors, for a while drank kind of heavily to self medicate, etc), and just a complete uneasiness with who I “was” to the outside world. However, I just resigned myself to being miserable. But, as our oldest started school, it became clear that something needed to be done. He has always referred to me as a boy. He never even asked, he just knew that there were 3 boys in our family and 2 girls.Well, kids and teachers at school didn’t necessarily see the same thing and that was confusing. I felt like I needed to fix that.

I also felt like if I wanted nothing more in life than for my kids to be happy, then I had a responsibility to be an example and be who I was supposed to be. So, I mustered up the courage and took the plunge.  

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Caitlin: Tell me a little bit about what the process is like. Where are you in the process? How are you feeling?

Kieran: Sure. The process is slightly different for everyone who goes through it. Continue reading

Milestones and social media

Yes! Three and a half months after the first post here on Vital Chatter, we’ve hit 10,000 page views! I have no idea whether or not this is remotely impressive in the blogging world, but I’m very excited about it 🙂

I figured I’d take this opportunity to tell you about a few ways you can follow Vital Chatter on social media.

1. Follow on Facebook by clicking here.

2. Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

3. And find me on Bloglovin’ by clicking the icon on the right.

4. You’ll notice there are social media icons at the bottom of each post. You can click on those to share individual stories with your network.

Thank you so much to all the people who have been featured here on Vital Chatter and to everyone who has liked and shared these stories. It means so much to me. Also, please let me know if you know someone whose story I should share.

I can’t pick my favorite post so far (I’ve loved them all for different reasons), but tell me, what has been your favorite Vital Chatter story so far?

 

Photo: Shaun Fisher

Geeking out over LARPing

Do you know what it means to LARP? Or what a LARPer is? I’ve known a few LARPers in my lifetime and I’ve always been fascinated with the passion these people have for Live Action Role Playing (LARP). So, I wanted to talk to someone about what LARPing is and why it’s so special to so many people. And, I’m lucky to have had that conversation with Tara (in the badass picture above), Senior Editor at The Geek Initiativea site that celebrates women’s contributions to geek culture.

Caitlin: Okay, so when I think of LARP, I think of that movie Role Models and also, LIGHTNING BOLT! LIGHTNING BOLT! So, you tell me, what is LARPing really?

Tara: LARPing stands for live action role playing. You basically embody a character. It’s a bit like playing Dungeons & Dragons or acting. Role Models isn’t entirely unlike LARP, but LARP is really diverse. There are medieval fantasy LARPs, post-apoc LARPs, steampunk LARPs, and parlor LARPs (which involve little or no combat).

Many LARPs do include thrown packet spells (i.e. ‘lightning bolt!’), but in practice it is usually a lot less cheesy than that. Some of the special effects can be movie quality.

That said, most LARPers realize what we are doing and that it doesn’t look entirely serious to the outside world. I think it’s healthy as a LARPer not to take yourself too seriously all the time, though there are many real benefits to LARPing and immersion.

Caitlin: Okay, so I don’t know what a lot of those words mean, haha. So, why don’t you tell me what a typical LARP consists of for you.

Tara: Sure! LARPs are diverse, as I said, but I’ll tell you about the one I’m most familiar with – Seventh Kingdom IGE in New Jersey. It’s a medieval fantasy LARP.

Participants assume one of two roles: that of a PC (player character, or the ‘adventure heroes’ of the game) or NPC (non-player character, or the quest-givers/people who deliver plot and make the world interactive).

I play as a PC. You can do various things – solve problems and puzzles, increase your standing in your character’s kingdom, delve into politics, do sneaky stuff, and participate in combat.

While you are in character, you basically act as that character. If you achieve immersion, it means you feel that very deeply (of course you need to temper that with real-world issues like safety and relationships). It’s a very entertaining experience.

Caitlin: So, I think for people who don’t LARP, this is kind of hard to really understand. Do you find that’s the case?

Tara: Yes. When I talk to people unfamiliar with it, I usually try to stick to the basics. You get into costume, you pick a character type you’d like to play, and then you act like the character! It is actually that easy to get started.

By character type I mean ‘class’ or ‘profession,’ as in what the character does. Rogue, witch, diplomat, bard, etc. Every game has different options and rules, but that’s the basic thing.

Caitlin: It sounds a lot like method acting, actually.

Tara: I am not an experienced method actor, but I have witnessed others go through the process and I believe it’s really similar. You run into the same benefits and risks. For me, it is about establishing boundaries and then participating in the game with people I trust.

My first total immersion experience happened last year. I was having a really stressful time in real life, and I got a role play note that my character heard a demon’s voice in her mind. It made her feel very differently towards her protector (who normally allows her to feel safe) and then it made her feel ‘better’ than the other mortals. She revealed her ambition, which is to become queen of her kingdom. The resulting role play was just amazing.

Caitlin: What drew you to LARPing?

Tara: My husband (then boyfriend) thought I’d be interested in it and he was a long time LARPer. I was already into theater, role playing (online) and role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, going to the renaissance faire, and I’ve been writing stories since I was 8. LARPing uses all of those talents and interests at once. So it’s like I never have to give up a hobby due to lack of time or money.

I stayed because I had a great time and found that it was a really easy way to make friends with similar interests as an adult, which isn’t always easy to do, especially if you are not single.

Caitlin: And it kind of becomes a way of life, right?

Tara: Kind of. I mean, it isn’t all-consuming, but it is kind of a lifestyle in a way, for those of us who are open about their nerdiness. I’m pretty open as a geek, which I think is easier for me than others because I am female and in a creative industry. People expect me to be quirky.

Caitlin: Are there some people who tend to keep LARPing private from their work/families/whatever?

Tara: Yes. One of my friends says, “don’t cross the streams.” He doesn’t really date LARPers and he keeps his work, love, and LARP life all separate. With social media and being tagged in Facebook photos, that can be kind of challenging.

Caitlin: Why do you think that is?

Tara: For some people, it’s a professional thing. They don’t want to be Googled and have their boss find them painted up like a demon or something. For other people, it supports their career – like actors, for example.

I think there is also a major social stigma against LARPers still. We’re low on the ‘geek hierarchy,’ although that is changing a bit. People are very afraid of what others think of them in general.

I also think it’s generally much more acceptable for women to be more outwardly expressive and creative in their hobbies than men, and that’s unfortunate. LARP really provides a forum to tackle gender roles on a different level (in the game), but out of game, a lot of guys really feel like they might be judged negatively for it.

It really depends upon a person’s career goals and field, usually. Professional athletes may even face fines if they are photographed doing unusual stuff like LARPing, believe it or not.

Caitlin: What have you learned about yourself through LARPing?

Tara: The fact that I HAVE learned about myself is probably the most valuable thing I’ve gotten out of LARPing besides an amazing and supportive network of friends – who are really family.

I’ve learned that I’m more than one thing. Like my character, I’m not just a bard, nurturer, fighter – but all of those things. And like her, sometimes I’m protecting others or standing up for them, and other times I’m asking for that from someone else.

I’ve also learned that most of the people I interact with in game, in character, are also very valuable and caring friends to me in real life, and sometimes those relationships really echo. You do not spend years playing someone’s sister or protector without a bit of ‘bleed,’ which is the term used to describe real-life and acting-life stuff blending, especially emotionally. I had no idea how positive bleed could be.

Caitlin: Would you encourage others to give LARPing a try? Who does it typically appeal to?

Tara: I’ve seen shy people find out who they are – or how they can be expressive – because of LARPing. Everyone should give it a try.

I’d especially recommend it to anyone who wants to make more friends, anyone with a theater background…or anyone who has talents they do not get to use in real life. I very rarely get to sing in real life but I LARP as a bard, and it feels good to kind of keep in practice.

Also, it’s amazing stress relief. You can hit people with foam weapons, and there are some really talented fighters out there (I am lucky enough to know a few of the best of them).

Caitlin: Anything else you want to share?

Tara: LARP is a great place to learn more about what you can do. I wouldn’t really think of myself as a ‘fighter’ or ‘defender,’ but I have learned through LARPing that those are actually really natural roles for me. I’ve become a better public speaker because of it as well.

If you have a skill you want to work on, LARP is a great place for it. You can also find in and out of game encouragement, too.

So what do you think? Do you want to give LARPing a try? Any questions for Tara? I’ll be sure to follow up with her! Let’s talk!

Image: A Clockwork Moon Images

A conversation with a trainer

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Julie is the first trainer I’ve ever worked out with that I didn’t, at some point, want to punch in the face. That’s saying a lot.

Julie is the owner and and head trainer at BAWS Gym. I’m excited to share her journey and wisdom with you today because I think she’s so inspiring. She comes from a place of humility and true caring and I think that’s the best.

Caitlin: When did you first become interested in fitness?

Julie: When I was young, I would watch my dad workout in the basement. He was in the military so like many Marines, he had a very strict regimen. I would go down the basement and watch him workout.  I was always impressed with his pull ups. One day he got off the bar and said, “Do you want to try?”  I was like ten years old. I got on the bar and I just hung there. And every day I went down there and hung until I could do a pull-up.

It got the the point (eventually) where we started doing round robin with pull ups.  It was so fun doing something with him and I really feel like he was the one who inspired me.

Also, not many people know this, but when everyone was playing sports in school, I was always at the YMCA working out.  I just loved weights. I loved them so much. And that’s really how it started.

I did get to an age where it was pissing me off that I was bad at certain things (running in particular) so I just kept working at them. And I just told myself, you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Caitlin: Well, that can kind of sum up the entire diet and exercise experience.

Julie: It’s so true. I train Spartan teams and that’s the biggest thing I tell them. I put them through rough workouts and I just say, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I think it really resonates with people and it just tells them, all right, when I want to quit, I just need to push myself three more minutes. And that’s all that I want from people. When you want to quit, just give a little bit more.  It’s funny how much I’ve grown in life because of that attitude. I’ve totally put that quote to use in so many other areas of my life.

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Caitlin: I would imagine that many of the people you train do, as well.

Julie: Yeah, I think so. I think that once you do that, you really start to train your mind to be stronger.

Caitlin: So tell me about your fitness and nutrition education.

Julie: I started as a floor tech at the YMCA when I was 14. I would watch this one women train her clients and teach classes.  She inspired me and soon became my fitness mentor. She taught pilates. I took her classes and I started to really get into it. So, I got certified in that first. That women, Bethel, took me under her wing and taught me so much about fitness.

Then I went to West Chester University for kinesiology, but the program was really long and I was super antsy to get it over with. So, I dropped out and I went to the National Personal Training Institute and it was hands down the best experience and the best thing I could have
done. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t do that. That got me certified in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and nutrition. I am also certified in kettlebells and Crossfit.

Caitlin: So you now own a gym. How did you get there?

Julie: I worked at a private personal training studio and the owner knew I had aspirations to open my own gym. He asked me if I wanted to buy his studio. I said yes. It was a franchise when I bought it and I tried to sever the ties to make it my own small business. But, the franchise came after me and said they would take me to court if I did that. It was a huge, huge mess. It was so frustrating. We eventually dropped it and I quit my job because more than ever before, I craved being a gym owner.

I had saved some money to get me by while I was searching for a location.  I finally found a spot in Huntingdon Valley.

Caitlin: Tell me about that gym.

Julie: It was called Bryn Athryn Workout Studio, or BAWS. I loved it so much, but eventually I outgrew the space and my training style had gotten a little bit more “gritty”.  And by that I mean, um, badass, I guess. Haha. I knew I wanted more of a warehouse like gym because I wanted a little parkour training, a litte Crossfit action, a little gymnastics, a little pilates, ya know a whole mix of stuff. The space needed to be functional for all of that.

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Caitlin: That’s a good problem to have!

Julie: It is. So, I’ve been in my new location in Hatboro (Pennsylvania) since October last year.

Caitlin: What kind of programs do you offer?

Julie: I do personal training during the day. Forty-five minute, one on one sessions, all tailored to the client. And then I do classes at night. Cardio kickboxing, pilates, strength & conditioning.

I also hold all types of programs and obstacle course trainings. I get groups together to get in shape for a particular obstacle race and then we go tackle it as a team. It’s a lot of fun.

Every two to three months I try to re-evaluate and come up with new programs. So, it changes all the time. The biggest thing I try to do is make the programs fun, fulfilling, and rewarding.

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Caitlin: So what is the most rewarding part of your work?

Julie: Seeing people change, emotionally and mentally. I had a 50 year old man turn to me, after two and a half months of training, and he had tears in his eyes. He said, “You know, I actually love myself again.” And I was tearing up because it’s just so gratifying to see people feel that way about themselves.

Fitness is such a big industry and it wouldn’t be so big if it wasn’t so hard.  Being fit is a hard journey. To help people get to their goals is so gratifying. And, you know, I do little videos and I put stuff about food and everything online, but it’s not because I want attention. If I can help one person do better, that’s why I’m doing it.

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Caitlin: I think what’s appealing about you is that there’s no ego. How important is it to you to be a real person to your clients?

Julie: Yeah, you know, a lot of people say they train with me because I’m real. I average a size six, I’m not a size two. I eat a donut when I want one. I don’t wear belly shirts and have six packs abs. That’d be nice, but would mean I would have to live life in such a strict manner. Unless, of course, your DNA is gracious to you. But, I try to be as real possible and let people know that it’s so important to live in a healthy way. And that means balance.

When I was younger I struggled with eating disorders and I don’t want people to go there. I don’t want people to be afraid of food or be obsessed with exercise. Instead, just focus mostly on whole foods, be kind to yourself and move a little almost everyday.  If you find that balance, you never have to punish yourself. You don’t have to starve and you don’t have to overeat. You can find balance where everything just comes together.

Caitlin: And you’re also pretty balanced in the amount of exercise you recommend.

Julie: Yeah, I mean, I used to be that person who was all into cardio all the time (after I went through my weight lifting phase). But, I realized that you only need maybe four days a week of exercise and, if you do it right, only 20 to 30 minutes. It’s great because it makes your metabolism revved just enough to build muscle and burn body fat, but you’re not starving all the time because your workouts are so long!

Caitlin: I know for a lot of people to take that first step to get healthy is really hard. There can be a lot of embarrassment and shame. I know you really succeed in getting people out who otherwise might have been too afraid to join a fitness class. What do you tell people who might be afraid to take that first step?

Julie: You know, it’s a journey and everyone is battling something. The first step is to be kind to yourself.  And if you can change one thing a week that will bring you closer to your goal, that’s awesome. Don’t be embarrassed with yourself because everyone is working on bettering themselves somehow, someway. People battle their issues in so many different ways and no one’s life is perfect. We never judge people who are overweight at the gym. We’re proud of them.  Keep your focus on you and no one else.  They don’t really matter when it comes to YOUR health. One of the things that I feel is great about BAWS is that it offers one on one training if you really feel you want to work out without others around.

I went through some hard stuff with health and fitness. And I believe the universe gives you those things so you can live and learn and teach people. I’ve had to gain weight and I’ve had to lose weight. And both are hard.  I feel that I went on that journey so I can connect with people, empathize and understand their situation to some degree.  It’s not going to be easy, but you have to want it.

Caitlin: I always think that no one is judging you as much as you’re judging yourself.

Julie: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. That’s so true. You are your biggest critic. And we compare so much. I try hard not to compare myself to other trainers.  I feel like I look like the average person in way-

Caitlin: Well, I wouldn’t say that, but okay (laughs).

Julie: Well, I don’t look like a Hollywood trainer. You just have to focus on yourself and stay on your own journey. That’s hard to do, but once you can, it’s really satisfying.

Caitlin: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Julie: With fitness: There is no quick fix. There is no pill, there is no diet, there is no cleanse. It is day in and day out, on the grind. But, want it, enjoy it.

With life, business and myself: Be patient.  Many people will do so well, with whatever their goals may be, and then mess up and be so angry at themselves. Then they quit.  Never quit.  It gets you nowhere, but pissed off at the world.  Trust me, I know.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, check out Julie’s gym, BAWS. Or, try virtual training, anywhere in the world.

 

Living the dream: An interview with Harrison B.

Harrison B. is a Progressive American Soul artist from Lascassas, TN. He blends traditional and progressive American song forms into a soulful and statement-driven delivery. I happened to meet Harrison B. two summers ago when he showed up at a party I was throwing with my friend, Sarah. I talked to Harrison B. about his music and what it means to him to be living his dream.

Caitlin: Can you tell me a little bit about your musical roots? Was it something you were always interested in?

Harrison B: So, nobody in my family really dug playing music other than my grandfather. He is into bluegrass, old school blues, Southern Folk, Gospel, Western Country. He is into early country. I used to go over to his house and he has had the same guitar since he was 15 that he bought out of a Sears catalogue. It’s just this big, incredibly difficult to play, but amazing sounding instrument. I learned from him having one guitar to truly love and put a piece of yourself into it. he’s genuine and he’s honest and he loves it, so I just kind of grew up hearing music from him. And I really, really enjoyed what he did. We listened to records together, too many to mention, but he put me into real roots music. They became my musical roots.

I’ve always had an ear for music. Writing has always been in my head. I used to love, as a child, listening to classical music when I went to bed. My favorite game was guessing the movement. I liked to guess where the arrangement was going. Major, minor, resolving, that sort of thing.

As I grew older, it became something I needed, as opposed to something I just wanted. I started with my first band when I was 19 and really picked up the guitar in earnest around the age of 21. At 22, I had to have it, had to get out there and do it.

Now, I’ve been doing it full time since I was 24.

Caitlin: I think it’s really interesting the way the importance of music in your life evolved as you got older. I think a lot of times people begin to let go of their passions as they get older and it’s often such a mistake. So, you grew up around Nashville. What effect did that have on you and your music?

Harrison B: So, I grew up in Lascassas, Tennessee and moved to Nashville for college. Musically at the time, I wasn’t very advanced and so I had to play and write songs that were in my technical ability range, which was limited. So starting out I wrote a lot of singer/songwriter, acoustic country, that sort of thing.  I wrote a lot of country songs. Thomas Rhett became a buddy of mine and we used to write some, and Dustin Lynch was around, he went to my college. They’ve both gone on to very successful country careers.

So, yeah, I’ve always had a heart for country because of my grandfather. So I started talking with an artist development company about the things I needed to do to be groomed to be pitched to a major label.


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As I was getting into it I thought, if I’m choosing to do this for the rest of my life I sure better love it. And you know, there were aspects that were just empty to me. I felt like my subject matter was limited. I felt like there were just things about confining to one single genre that didn’t move me to my core and didn’t satisfy some musical need in me, so I had to let country go.  It is still an aspect of my music, but now it is one of many.

So, what better way hit reset than to leave town when I graduated. And if you’re going to leave town, what better place to go than Alaska, as far away as you can get.

Caitlin: I have to say, I am a big country music fan, but I definitely get what you’re saying. And when I listen to your music I definitely hear some country influence. But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so tell me about the Alaska move.

Harrison B: So, I had a friend, who had one friend in Juneau, Alaska. It’s the farthest from home I had ever been. I packed my Jeep up, and drove to Prince Rupert, BC. There I got on a Ferry and rode 3 days to Juneau. Between that solo road trip up there, and then adjusting to a whole new environment, that to me was really growing up. The road is a great teacher.

Musically, I didn’t play the guitar for four or five months and when I picked it back up, I decided it was, indeed, for me. So, I started playing again. All I had observed in my three week drive from Tennessee to Alaska, the things I learned, the CD’s people gave me for the drive in states along the way, indie rock, ambient rock, funk, punk, all these new things. All things I hadn’t really experienced before, particularly in their proper context. So, when I got my guitar out and played again it was totally different from what I had played prior.

I got out and played one open mic night and I was so scared I wore my peacoat through the whole performance. Still, I just really tried to let my soul out, which was kind of novel to me and my musical experience. I just realized at that moment, this is something I love and something I can’t live without. It felt like an infatuation, like you’d hear a guy talk about feelings for a girl.

From there I went home and recorded my first album, The Harrison B LP.

Caitlin: What place does music hold in your life now?

Harrison B: It is my life. Honestly. It controls just about everything. I think that’s what it takes if you have aspirations beyond local successes.

I’m in a growth phase right now, I’m still pretty small fries. I’m starting to establish myself, as to say, these are the things you can expect from me artistically. I really think it has to color all aspects of your life. Music is, honest to God, just about my everything. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Caitlin: What’s the best thing about spending your time playing music?

Harrison B: I think getting to do what you love for a job, even if you’re just surviving. It brings peace of mind to me that honestly I don’t think I could get anywhere else. I don’t think I’d be as happy doing anything else.

Caitlin: I imagine life on the road as a musician isn’t always easy, even if it is satisfying. What’s the hardest part?

Harrison B: The hardest part is probably all the time alone. For instance, in the last year, I’ve been on the road all but 2 ½ months. It’s very rare for me to get to be home. At heart I’m a homebody so it can be difficult.  The other aspect is love and relationships. It is very difficult to keep a relationship. I had one for four years and I had to give it up for this. And it was a terrible day.

It’s very hard coming into a town and seeing all these awesome, beautiful people and before you can even get a chance to talk to everybody, you have to roll on. It’s isolating in a lot of ways.

But you start to develop relationships where you make good friends in a lot of places. For me, it’s been a learning curve, but once you understand it and can be genuine through it, it’s awesome to have good friends in different places and when I’m with them to really get to spend time and connect with them.

Caitlin: I hear you renovated and live in an Airstream. That’s so cool. Tell me about it.

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Harrison B: The Lil Miss Josie is a 1968 22’ foot Land Yacht Safari. I renovated it from the frame up. It was a lot of work and it sucked for a long time. For over two years it was about all I did for with my off time.

It’s a pretty liberating thing. I get to travel and do my job and enjoy it and at the end of the night, anywhere that I am, I get to go back to my apartment and sleep in my own bed, cook a meal in my kitchen. So, for my lifestyle, it’s perfect. And I rebuilt it from scratch so it has a lot of soul, a lot of heart, and it’s home.

Caitlin: I love that. I’m a total homebody, so I definitely see the appeal there. What have you learned about people since you’ve had a chance to see a lot of the country and meet a lot of different types of people?

Harrison B: Interesting question. Honest to god, my answer is, there’s a lot of sameness, and a lot of difference and I think they’re in equal amounts and with equal subjects.

Good people are good people and bad people are bad people. Bad people are few and far between. I’ve found nothing but love on the road. I don’t think I’m unique in this situation, but everywhere I’ve been has been a contributing factor to where I am right now.  That keeps me humble and grateful, knowing how much of what I do is because of other people..

I want for nothing anywhere I go. And not because I can afford it or I feel like I deserve it, but because genuinely, people have gone out of their way for me. And so, touring does nothing but embolden in me the feeling of the greatness and goodness in people.

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I can’t imagine more of a LIFE. Not everyone gets a chance to get out here and really live. And I feel grateful because I didn’t afford that opportunity all by myself. I am one piece of a puzzle of many who have helped propel me and put their faith in me and put a little bit of pride in me.

I accept that as a responsibility and I take it quite seriously and I try to live each day to respect that. I push myself to be the most impactful voice of positivity and that to me is my job. The music, the shows, the road, those are the details. Those are the medium through which I can reach out. But, I just want to embolden people. I want people to leave a Harrison B show feeling strong in themselves and looking out at the world a little closer than when they came in.

Harrison B.’s debut release, The Harrison B LP, & the Sophomore effort, Down At Brown’s, are available at major online music retailers. You can check him out at harrisonbmusic.com. Oh, and check out his latest video for his song, ME. Serious skills.

Image 1, 2, & 3: Harrison B.

Image 4: Jeremy Lavender via Harrison B.

The first day of kindergarten

First of all, I can’t believe some kids went back to school before Labor Day. I always remember Labor Day as the final day of summer and being equal parts bummed and excited that school was starting the next day (okay, mostly excited.) But, last week a lot of kids went back to school. So, I wanted to talk to a mom about her experience sending her little one off to school for the first time.

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Caitlin: Did you do anything special to help your son, B, prepare for kindergarten?

Jessica: We talked about kindergarten A LOT! B didn’t attend preschool so this is his first experience leaving me every day to go somewhere else.  We drove past his school a lot, and  we also would walk there in the summer and play on the playground.  We wanted him to be familiar with the school and I think it helped that he experienced some of those things with me and my husband, Hans. So, it was in his safe zone and he felt comfortable which I think helped him prepare to go up there for his first day.

Caitlin: Any trouble sleeping the night before?

Jessica: Haha, well B didn’t seem to have any trouble sleeping.  I kept waking up in a panic and looking at the clock to make sure we didn’t oversleep since we weren’t used to being on any type of schedule! Usually the mornings that we have something to do, my kids sleep in and we are late so I didn’t want that to happen the first time I was sending my boy to school!

Caitlin: So, tell me about that morning, getting ready and then finally, saying goodbye?

Jessica: Well, Monday was his orientation. The rest of the district began school on Monday, but kindergarten only came in with their parents and met their teacher. For some reason I was more emotional facing this day than I was on Tuesday when he went without us. We made a big deal about Monday. My parents came over in the morning and stayed with my daughters, Lila and Kensley. We took pictures out front and both Hans and I went with him to his orientation.

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On Tuesday, he was ready. We put the girls in the stroller and headed up to the school. Once we are there, we give kisses and B goes into the school yard and we stay on the fence and watch him walk in with his class!

Caitlin: Who was more nervous, you or him?

Jessica: Ha, well it’s funny. When B was little he would scream if we left him. We couldn’t leave him in church nursery without a huge fit when we walked out. Over the years, as he has gotten older, he has gotten better, but we usually only leave him in familiar situations (church, family, close friends), so I was really nervous watching him cause I didn’t know what to expect. B is typically pretty shy when he doesn’t know someone so watching him in a whole new world where he knew no one made me nervous for him because I thought he would be nervous. But, he totally played it cool and I was the one sweating it out!

Caitlin: What was the first day like for you, at home without him?

Jessica: My three year old daughter, Kensley, is loving the one on one time with me. There aren’t many days that I get to spend time with just her so now that B is in School and Lila (9 months) is taking her morning nap, Kenz and I get some quality time together. I am excited for this the most.  I really feel like it will be very valuable to her and also to me.

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Caitlin: What was the first day like for Brayden? Did he come home with any good stories?

Jessica: He loved it! He didn’t necessarily come home with any good stories, but he did come home with his shirt on backwards! After taking off a smock he must have gotten mixed up and put his shirt on the wrong way. Hans and I just laughed. He also was excited to let me know that one boy in his class had a Paw Patrol school bag (that’s his favorite show). It’s cute to see the things that he picks up on when I am not around!

Caitlin: That’s so funny he came home with his shirt on backwards. How cute! How was sending your first child off the kindergarten different than you expected?

Jessica: Becoming a parent has taught me more about myself than I ever would have thought it would. It’s hard letting go and putting your child in the hands of another person (or people) to teach them and help them grow. Naturally, I worry about how he’s doing without me. I wonder how he’ll interact with his peers since he isn’t under my wings. I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning what it means to give my cares over to God and trust that He has us where he does for a reason.

When B was little and scared to leave us we would always quote Joshua 1:9 to him. We actually have it hanging on his bedroom wall as a reminder. And whats funny is that I’m now reminding myself of that same verse that I’ve memorized with him for the last few years! “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Caitlin: I love that! It’s amazing how much we can learn through guiding others, and I imagine that’s especially the case with children. Now that you’ve been through it, what advice would you give other moms who are getting ready to hit this milestone or are going through it now?

Jessica: Embrace it! It is a really fun and exciting time. It may be a little overwhelming, but it’s worth it and soon it will be the new normal. Watching my boy come out of school excited and filled with confidence makes my heart happy. Watching him grow and overcome fears is so rewarding. It makes the hard times worth it! It all happens so fast so my advice for parents – especially myself- is to pause and take it all in. Enjoy the crazy because one day we will all miss this stage!

Do you have any advice for moms and dads sending their kids to school for the first time? Any funny memories? Share in the comments sections, let’s talk!