Life as Amber knows it

"An adventure in the making…"

Mat to Life

“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” I’ve heard this statement from several yoga instructors. It’s proven to be true: anytime an instructor cues a twist from chair or any lunge posture, I groan, don’t want to take the posture, then I take the posture. And I’ll admit, I’m counting hard, wanting to move onto the next posture and get out of the twist. It might be due to the brief painful twinge I get in the surgical scars on my abdomen, or the pain I get from my left shoulder; you know, the infamous shoulder injury from my stubborn self slamming into a six-foot-tall person blocking home plate, said person thinking there was no way that my five-foot-two self would slam into him.

Whatever the reason, twists are postures I dislike. Give me standing splits, tree, sleeping swan, hi to low push ups, I’m loving the hell out of it. Instruct me to take a forearm balance, I’m going to be all giddy in my ability to rise up without assistance. Handstands, I’m going to take, but I’m making no promises that I’m going to get my feet up in the air, and I’m okay with that. Half the time I make them on my own, two-thirds of the time I get them with an instructor’s assistance.

But twists. Getting my armpit down over my knee isn’t something I’ve accomplished yet. Reaching behind myself to bind takes a patient, seasoned instructor and several minutes. I’ll give credit to my instructors who assist me in these postures: they patiently and carefully work with me, and always tell me I did a good job, even if my progress is miniscule. And hats off to the ones who know me well enough to know that’s where my work is and always come to adjust me into the posture more fully every time they cue the damned things.

“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” Twists are cued during practice, and I sigh, and attempt them. I rejoice when I make progress, and I rejoice when they’re done. Maybe I view them as I do scrubbing the bathroom: it’s all part of life. They come up in practice, and I’d rather not be doing them, but I do them.

I’m auditioning to be a yoga instructor at a local gym tomorrow; having been requested by the owner of the gym to demonstrate my teaching abilities with a twenty-minute cardio yoga session to a full class. I’m jumping at the chance, and wrote up a sequence yesterday morning. Today, a friend met up with me to help me practice teaching the sequence. In between run throughs, we conversed over drinks and food, occassionally taking a break to people watch and walk around. When I ran through the sequence twice without error, we called it a day. Walking to the parking structure, he offered me a ride to my car on the second floor. “I appreciate it, but I’m just going to take the elevator.” My legs were sore from a two hour workshop I had taken the day before, and I was tired. The doors to the elevator opened. I stepped in. I pushed the number two button. The elevator began rising.

Brrrrrrr. Clunk. Clunk. Shudder. Stall.

You know, this only happened about two hours ago, and I don’t remember what came out of my mouth in that moment. I do know, however, that if I heard one of my children say any of the words I said in rapid succession, they’d be tasting soap in their mouth for about twenty years.

I pressed the door open button. Nothing. Door close button? Nope. The one button, the two button, the three button. All the while, the walls of the elevator were closing in on me, and my mind flashed back to a conversation I had with a friend in a hotel elevator in which he told me that most elevators have  mirrors on them, so as to be less claustrophobic.

The elevator in that parking garage had no mirrors.

I am severly claustrophobic.

My mind scanned through several panic fueled thoughts, all centering around me dying in that elevator. The sports tank top I had put on that morning for the purpose of enjoying just how comfortable it is suddenly shrunk three sizes. My throat was closing up, my chest tightened up. I couldn’t breathe. My mind felt like it was in a paint shaker, the thoughts riccocheting around.

Then a memory rose to the top: at thirty-three, six months pregnant with my youngest child, I had been rushed to the hospital when my heart wouldn’t stop racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Taken to a room immediately, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor, a blood pressure machine, an EKG. Repeating my symptoms to the nurse, I stressed how fast my heart was racing. “Sweetie, look at the monitor,” the nurse said. I looked. My heart rate was registering at a steady seventy-three beats per minutes, a very normal rate. “Anxiety lies. Remember that. Then find one thing, any one single thing you know to be factual. Put your hand on the bed rail and squeeze.” I did as I was instructed. “How does it feel?” the nurse asked and I answered, “It feels hard.” “That’s right. You know that’s a fact. It’s a hard plastic bed rail. Focus on that, because you have proof that’s the truth.”

I sat down on the floor of the elevator, and ignoring everything else, I put my hand on the floor beneath me. It was hard. My heart rate slowed a bit, and I could feel air drawing into my lungs. I picked up the emergency line, told the person who answered I was stuck and they told me someone would be there to get me out as soon as possible.

There was nothing to do but wait.

My man scanned over everything I needed to get done that evening, what I needed to do the next morning, what time I needed to leave by in order to make it to the gym on time to give my demo tomorrow morning. I thought of emails I need to respond to, work tasks I need to complete, shopping lists for my son Benjamin’s upcoming birthday party and for my upcoming trip to New Mexico. I thought of friends I needed to touch base with. My mind briefly landed on wondering if I died in that elevator if I’d told everyone I loved that I loved them, and my heart began racing again. I pressed my hands into the elevator floor and reminded myself that the elevator had not shrunk in size; that anxiety was a brutal liar. Then I thought of what a therapist I had seen to deal with my anxiety issues had recommended to me: think of the last time you felt safe. Not surprising, my mind floated back to being on my yoga mat, in one of my favorite instructor’s classes. “If your mind can’t settle, just think to yourself, ‘I’m breathing in, I know I’m breathing in; I’m breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.'”

I repeated that mantra for a few minutes until a clanking, a grinding, and a drop happened, followed by the doors opening three-quarters of the way down to the first floor. The maintenance worker who had gotten the elevator almost all the way back down held out his hand to help me down the temporary step created by the elevator, and I took it and thanked him.

I took the stairs up to my car.

“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” On the mat, when I’m given twists, my mind groans, I wonder if I can get out of it, I wonder if there’s something else I can be doing, anything other than that posture. Then I do the damn thing, hold it and then release it when I’m cued to take the next posture. When it comes up again on the other side of my body, I do the same thing. When faced with a scenario I’d rather not be in: stuck in an elevator, taking a flight, public speaking, eating cooked green vegetables, dealing with a troublesome client, formatting my own books, folding the (damned) laundry, I do the same thing: I groan, I wonder if I can get out of it, I wonder if there’s something else I can be doing, anything other than that thing which I’d rather not face or deal with. And then I do the damn thing and finish it. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I’d rather be sharing a bottle of wine with a friend and talking late into the night. And then when the next thing comes up I’d rather not do, I repeat the groan, the wish to do anything else, the desire to avoid those things that make me tired, sore, stressed, anxious, angry. Then I suck it up, face it down, deal with it, finish it off, and move on.

I didn’t want to be stuck in that elevator today any more than I want to do a twist in yoga practice on any day. Yet I did both; I could avoid the twists during practice, go to the bathroom, go refill my water bottle, take child’s pose, or just not do them. Yet, I take the twists when I’m offered them. Why? Because that’s where my work is at. When in life it gets rough or stressful, that’s where my work is: to learn patience, to learn acceptance, to learn self love, and how to forgive myself when I don’t achieve what I’m aiming for. To learn to not be such a harsh critic of myself. To learn, and learn, and relearn the art of learning to let go of that which I cannot control. Ultimately, none of it is up to me: my client’s behavior, the amount of laundry I’ll have to do, how messy my kids make the bathroom, what sequence the instructor cues during practice. It’s there, given to me by the universe for me to determine if I’m going to face that which is sent to test me, and to determine if I’m going to learn from what was given to me from the day before.

Today, I learned gratitude to those who have come into my life to teach me, whether for twenty minutes in an Emergency Room exam cubical, or an hour on my yoga mat each day. I learned patience in waiting out that which I’d rather not being doing, knowing I had no say in the length of time I had to hold onto something that was rather uncomfortable. I relearned the lesson of being in the moment and embracing joy when those damned doors finally opened. And most importantly, I learned that still, at my core, even when it’s started to hit the metaphorical fan and splattering all over the walls of my mind, that despite fear, despite longing for else, when I am up against a wall, I’m going to do what it takes to come through to the other side.

Much love, Dear Reader.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

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Dear First Born Child

I went to Party City tonight to pick up a few items for your birthday in two days. True to you being you, I avoided the balloons, got some purple decorations, and found some napkins that said “Happy 13th Birthday!” in bold bright colors.

Then I cried.

I stood on that aisle, tears rolling down my face, not caring if anyone saw me. I let them come as they came, and they didn’t ease up until the twenty-something college kid who worked there saw me and asked me if I was okay. “My oldest is turning thirteen in two days. It goes by way too fast.”

“My mom tells me that all the time,” he said, and handed me a kleenex.

“Your mom is right,” I told him.

“She’s also awesome,” he said.

I wonder if his mom cried when he turned thirteen. But clearly, she did something right, because as an adult, he smiled when he talked about her.

I never smile when I talk about the woman who raised me. And I’ve spent most of the past thirteen years trying to be the exact opposite of the woman I called mom, though she never really earned the title. What I know is that when I was pregnant with you, and that every single day since that second line showed up on the pregnancy test I took on my lunch break at Kohl’s on April 20, 2004, is that my greatest fear has been to become her.

Do you remember your first day of Kindergarten? How you had told me in the months leading up to it that you absolutely were NOT going to go to Kindergarten, how I couldn’t make you? How if you went to Kindergarten, Autumn would miss you, and there wouldn’t be anyone to give Benny his pacifier the right way. I argued with you that summer more than I think I’ve ever argued with you, even when you were in your headstrong “terrible toddler” years. I finally told you that there would be times in your life you’d have to do something you’d rather not do, and you just have to grit your teeth and get through it. But that first day of Kindergarten? I made you pancakes for breakfast, and you ate them. Then you got in the car with me, and you walked into the school with me, holding my hand, your purple and pink back pack bouncing on your back, your waist length hair pulled back into pig tails. You sat down at your desk, and when I asked you if you wanted me to stay, you looked up at me and said, “No, Mommy. I’m fine. I’ll see you after school.” I swallowed the lump that had been in my throat all day, hugged you, told you I loved you, and walked out of the room. I made it down the hallway to the bench in front of the library, and then I sat down and cried. Two years later, I took you to school on the first day of second grade and you dropped my hand on the way into the building. When I looked at you in surprise, you looked up at me and said, “Mom, I think I’m old enough to walk without holding your hand,” and it broke my heart, but I looked down at you, and I said, “Okay.” That time, I made it to the car before I cried; not just because you were old enough to not hold my hand, but because that was the first time you had called me “Mom” and not “Mommy”.

You were my first. Do you know how incredible that is? You, you and no one else on this entire planet, in all of time, can claim that. You gave me the greatest gift I ever wanted, a gift I had to go through hell to recieve. I’d felt like I was drifting through life until you came into it. I was almost twenty-eight when you were born, and every moment of that day is vivid in my mind: the terror when the doctor informed me you’d released meconium, that you’d be going to the NICU once you were born. I watched from across the room as they worked on you, and the doctor stitched me up, and I was terrified that I would lose you too soon. They only let me hold you for a minute before they took you to the NICU. But four hours after you were born, they released you from NICU, and I held you for the rest of the night.

You’ll be thirteen in just two days. I can’t wrap my mind around it, yet there’s no denying it: You’re almost as tall as I am, soon to be taller than me, you wear the same size shoes I do. You’ve got the attitude of most teenagers with all the eye rolling and aggrevated sighs, and it’s such a catch-22 with that attitude of yours: I’m aggrevated because you have an attitude, and I’m just as grateful that you do, because you’re right where you need to be. You’re head strong, independant, so phenomenally gifted at art that my jaw drops when you show me what you’ve been working on. You crack me up almost daily with your wicked sense of humor. You’re compassionate and so well spoken.

You’re also the most courageous person I have ever met in my life.

A few months ago, you spent a week hovering outside my home office door, outside my bedroom door, near me in the kitchen. You’d start to speak, to tell me something, then you’d stop. But after twelve years of being your mother, I have learned that you do things in your own way, in your own time. You can’t be rushed.  You finally came in my room one afternoon and asked if you could talk to me privately. I shut off my computer monitor, put my phone on silent and flipped it over. I told you to shut the door. You stood there, my first born child, and you struggled. Whatever it was you were holding onto was weighing you down: I could see it, your brother and sister could see it, and your father had seen it. You had a secret that was making you lose sleep and lose your appetite. I looked at you and told you: “I’ve learned in forty years that if something is hard to say, it’s easiest to just say it. Whatever it is, I’m listening, and I love you.”

You took a deep breath. My heart pounded in my ears, and all I could think in that moment was that if ANYONE had hurt you in any way, I was going to kill them slowly and painfully. You took another deep breath, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m a girl. I think I should have been born a boy.”

And I looked at you and said, “That’s it? Honey, I don’t care. You’re still my child and I love you.”

The look of relief on your face broke my heart. And then you threw your arms around my neck and I held you close.

Do you know how amazing you are to know yourself that well at the age of twelve? To know yourself, and to have the courage and the bravery to say “this is who I am”? Do you have any idea how proud I am to be your mother? To know my child is that open and honest and able to say so clearly who they are?

I never could have been that brave. I hid who I was from the world until I was thirty five. But you? My god, my beautiful miracle, YOU ARE AMAZING!

We went and had your hair cut off the next day. And when we went to Sarah’s chair and she asked you how you wanted your hair cut, you tensed up and looked at me. I asked Sarah if we could go somewhere private, and for the first time in years, you reached for my hand and held onto it hard. “It’s okay baby, you can tell her,” I told you, and you opened your mouth, but you couldn’t say the words. I asked if you wanted me to say it for you, and you whispered yes. I smiled at you and told Sarah that you were born a girl, but you were transgender. And Sarah said, “Okay honey, so you want your hair cut short?” and hugged you, and you realized what I had told you for the past twenty-four hours: there was nothing wrong with you, and it was okay to be you.

A few months later, you chose to tell your father. And you were terrified he wouldn’t love you any more, that he wouldn’t think of you as his child any longer. I told you I’d not tell him, that I’d wait until you were ready, and I would be there when you were ready to tell him, that I would say it for you again if you needed me to. But when you finally decided to tell him, you found your words. You told him directly who you were, and as I had told you, he didn’t care. He loved you, both as the daughter he was given and then son you are to him, and to me, now.

I won’t always be there to say the words for you. And maybe I’d worry more if you weren’t you. But you, you’re brave as hell. You’re strong as hell, and you’re courageous as hell. You have your voice, and you use it when you need to.

I am so blessed to have you as my child. It has been the greatest thirteen years of my life being your mother, to have been the person who has the great honor of being able to say I’m your mother, to have been given the gift of raising you and showing you the world, and to watch who you’re becoming. I could not be more prouder of you.

Love you kiddo.

Mom

Dear World: Please Stop Using the Word “Real”.

With Will and Grace making a comeback, I’ve been rewatching the series on Hulu. This morning, waiting on an upload to CreateSpace, I was watching the Thanksgiving episode when Jack comes out to his mother. After he finally tells her that he’s gay, she tells him her big secret: That she has no idea who his real father is.

Two years ago, having dinner with an acquaintance, he commented to me he didn’t understand my hurt over my father’s passing, since he wasn’t my “real” dad.

Earlier this spring, on a hike with a male friend, he commented that he could really only remember one meeting with his “real” father when he was sixteen.

Dear World: as an adoptee, I’m going to ask this once. Please stop using the fucking word “real” to qualify a parental relationship when there’s no real parental relationship there.

DNA does not entitle a person to the right to call themselves “mother”, “father”, “brother” or “sister”. Nor does a legal document. What gives a person that right is when they earn the right to call themselves by any of those titles.

In February of 2006, I gave my adoptive mother the choice of getting help for her anger and physically violent tendencies or not seeing me and my daughter (and any other children I might have) after she grabbed my brother by the face, scratching up his cheeks and forehead with her nails, and ripping off his glasses and then actually grinding them on the driveway of his house, all done in front of his wife and my then one-year-old nephew. To this day, I can still hear my baby nephew screaming in terror in the background when my brother called me to tell me what had happened.

She chose her anger over her daugher, son, and eventually seven grandchildren.

When I told a family member about what had happened they looked at me in shock. “But that’s your mom!” they had said.

“Only legally,” I responded. “Rick was my husband and was abusive in every sense of the word. Legally he was my family, just as she was. Would you like me to get back together with him?” I can’t remember what their response was, but they never brought up the subject of me allowing her back into my life again.

My point in all this is to not retell the story of my abusive adoptive mother, nor of the hell I went through with my first marriage. My purpose here is to illuminate something that actually hurts to hear.

For me, as an adoptee who had the right kind of father adopt her, anytime someone qualifies a parent as a “real” parent by DNA alone is painful. Because my “real” father is not the man who gave me my red hair and green eyes. My real father is the man who took photos of me stomping around in his cowboy boots with his purple ski mask sitting on my head like a deflated party balloon. My real father was the man who took me to dinner once a week to catch up and see what was new in my life once I hit the teenage years. He’s the man who taught me the importance of a strong work ethic, to never lose my faith, to ride a bike, drive a car, balance a checkbook. He’s the man who spent many hours by my bedside when I was in and out of the hospital at ages fourteen and fifteen. He’s the man who taught me how important forgiveness is. He was the grandfather of my children. My real father was the man I’d spend a couple of hours hotly debating important topics, both of us red in the face as we stubbornly stuck to our sides, followed up by a few drinks and laughter. He’s the man I tricked into thinking he was eating a chocolate cupcake that was really meatloaf topped off with mashed potatoes. He’s the man who despite any reservations he might of had, any hurt feelings, helped me search for my biological mother when I turned twenty, and then welcomed her into his home and told her “thank you” for the gift of his first born.

I’m asking for consideration here: not just in being polite to those of us who are adoptees or adopters, but consideration in really THINKING about the words you use before you speak them. To call my biological father my “real” father is disrepectful of the man who put in over 37 years of love, work, kindness, and support into raising his first born daughter. He didn’t clock out once I hit age eighteen and moved out of his house. He continued being my father, being there, supporting me, loving me unconditionally until he passed away in July of 2014.

Something to think about.

Love and light,

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

It’s Not Courage, It’s Reality

Back in April of 2015, I wrote and posted a blog entitled “The Conclusion of the Be Better Project.” This blog went on to be included in my essay collection 1:03 a.m., and was written about my three year experience to lose weight and get my body bikini ready. I posted before and after photos, and talked about how I had began my weight loss journey intending to look good, but had ended it embracing my flaws.

I’m on social media a great deal: most Indie Authors are, since it’s a great platform for marketing. I also use it to post snippets of my life. Some photos show me wearing full blown makeup and hair, others have just a touch of makeup, and others show me wearing no makeup (95% of the photos of me on my Route 66 Road Trip I have no makeup on, with my hair braided back). I’ll level with you Dear Reader: the amount of makeup I wear day to day depends on what’s going on: Photo shoots, work events, author signings, meeting with friends to catch up, hitting the gym, taking a vacation. On days where I’m with my kidlets and running errands, I rarely bother.

Photos get snapped by other people or I take selfies of myself or with myself and friends and get posted on line. Depending on the day, I’m either wearing makeup, or I’m not.

A strange occurance began when I posted “The Conclusion of the Be Better Project’, and with each picture that I (or someone else) posted with me sans makeup: I recieve a comment either on the post itself or in a DM or text or email: “You’re so courageous for posting a photo of yourself without makeup” or “I could never be brave enough to post a photo of myself in a bikini.” At first, I felt proud of myself for showing photos of me without makeup, with an additional seventy-five pounds on my body, for showing photos of myself with no touch ups.

Then I felt angry.

It’s not courageous what I’m doing. It’s reality. I am not brave for showing myself with no makeup on. I’m human.

I’ve spent a great deal of my younger years hiding behind a shield of makeup. I was so fearful of what people would think if they saw me without foundation and eyeshadow and lipstick. Even worse, I have in my past starved myself for the purpose of weight loss so I could fit into someone else’s idea of what is beautiful. I used to be terrified if someone saw me without makeup, without my hair done, or if a photo was posted with me looking less than perfect. Now? Now I am me, and while there are photos of me where I’ve got my hair done, makeup on, and clothing that hides my flaws, there are also photos of me without makeup, hair in need of a color touch up, wearing comfortable clothes and being comfortable in my own skin. The beautiful truth in all this is that on the other side of those insecurities is that at this new place in my life, one that is filled with self love and acceptance, is the wonderful realization that there’s nothing wrong with how I look; instead there is something very wrong with the way other people think.

So often I come across photos that have been altered in one way or another. Which makes me wonder why the person in the photograph is trying so hard to hide their true image. I get the whole want to look your best thing. But why alter image so much that you look nothing like the photos of you online? Are we really so image focused, so perfection focused, that its necessary to hide our flaws?

What is so wrong with having flaws? So what if my eyes have lines around them, so what if my abdomen is not perfectly flat? I’d rather be seen as a truly am than to be shoved into a box that I won’t fit into.

Back in May, I had a new set of author photos taken. I did the usual pre-shoot trip to the salon and had my hair done and my makeup professionally applied. And while the photographer edited out sweat or sunglare off my skin (the shoot was outside and it was close to 100 degrees), there was no alteration to my waist line, breasts or body. In the photo I selected to be used for promotional events and go on the back on my book covers, I’m leaning up against a fence, arms crossed over my white t-shirt, staring straight at the camera. The look on my face is one of absolute determination and strength, almost like I’m daring anyone viewing the photo to tell me I’m not worth it, to find fault in me for being anything other than perfect.

I’m not perfect. I never will be perfect, nor do I want to be. The lines around my eyes show a life spent laughing, the scars on my abdomen show a history of surviving health issues and coming out on the other side victorious in my fight for health and motherhood. Anyone who would judge me in the photos of me without makeup or with my abdomen showing it slight curve outward is not the type of person I want in my life. I’d rather surround myself with people who see my flaws as marks of a life lived fully.

Much love Dear Reader. Embrace you as you, and love what makes you stand apart from the rest of the world.

 

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Repost: A Goodbye to my Father

Reposted from July 2014

“On July 21, 2014, just one week after his seventy-second birthday, my father, Donald E. Jerome, “Paw-Paw”, “Uncle Gene” passed away peacefully in his sleep.

My brother and I spent the last few days of our father’s life with him, hoping he’d bounce back as he so easily did in the past. But after many years of physical pain, many years of his body struggling, he went home to heaven.

I met with a friend this week to talk about my father’s death. And while dad and I have had our share of arguments and disagreements over the years, still, at the end, everything was at peace between us. Any words needing to be said were said. And Dad, despite being so weak he could hardly speak, true to his nature of making sure his loved ones were taken care of made, ordered me to make sure I ate something. And I, his daughter in every way and true to my nature told him I’d eat when he’d finally rest and get much needed sleep. Naturally, Dad countered that he’d sleep when I’d go get myself something to eat.

And so, like we’d done so many times in my adult life, my final conversation with my father was a spirited debate with a twinkle in his eyes and his lips curved into that gentle smile I’ll miss terribly.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep eight hours later.

In the coming months, I’m sure I’ll recount stories of my father. For now, I’m writing this the day before his funeral, in a rare quiet moment after having put the final touches on his Eulogy. This post is being scheduled to release an hour after his funeral tomorrow. I don’t know how you write an Eulogy, all I know is how I felt about my father and what he taught me about life, and I wanted to honor him as best as I could. It’s near impossible to truly sum up such a generous and compassionate individual with mere words.

I love you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me about life, either with your words or your actions. Thank you for all the times you put what was best for me above your feelings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a parent, for teaching me how to work for what I want, for teaching me that there is no greater gift than that of unconditional love, and that what truly matters in this world has no monetary value. I was blessed on the day God saw fit to place me in your family as your daughter when I was given up for adoption.

 

I found myself struggling to write this. And that’s comical considering what I do for a living. At one point this week, it made sense to my grief stricken mind that maybe there’s someone more qualified than I to write my father’s eulogy; maybe there’s someone who can find the right words to define a man who has meant so much to so many people. So I thought of not writing the eulogy. I thought of asking someone else to do it for me. And certainly, no one would blame me, because I’ve just lost my father. I wanted to just not do it, to just give up.

And then my mind drifted to when I was a child, particularly to Saturday mornings. I’d get up, get a bowl of cereal, and if Dad was going to his office, he’d ask me if I wanted to go with him. And of course I did. They had a break room with cookies in it, and I could always sneak down and get a few. And Dad’s office had this photo cube that was a radio as well. And even better, devoid of people as it was on Saturday mornings, it echoed. To a child, making noise, especially echoey noise, was almost as awesome as being told breakfast was going to be cake and lunch was going to be ice cream.

And in my father’s office there was a plaque. And on that plaque there was a very famous quote: “Never, never, never give up” by Sir Winston Churchill, a distant relative.

Dad lived his life by those words. Dad taught his daughter the very meaning of those words by his every action in his life. And so, I sent an email to my editor whining about  not being able to do it, took a deep breath, and began to just write.

I could stand here today and tell you when Dad was born and when he died. I can tell you where he went to college, and what he did as a career. But those few little facts? They in no way encompass who he was as a person. They in no way tell the story of a man who defined himself not by the amount of his bank account but by the wealth of his soul.

Dad always helped those in need: he was a big supporter of several charities, he gave his time as a Eucharistic minister visiting those unable to receive the Eucharist as well as helping those less fortunate through his work through Love Truck and the Samaritan Inn, or the gift of his kind and thoughtful words for those who needed them.

Dad was also stubborn, and while that word sometimes comes with a negative association, for Donald Eugene Jerome, his headstrong and determined personality is what led him to achieve more than most people. He always believed you could achieve whatever it was you wanted to achieve, and what mattered was not where you came from or what you have done before, but where you would go and what you would do. And he never gave up. Rather than let obstacles in his way stop him from what he wanted, he simply found a way to work through them. He grew up in poverty, yet put himself through college to receive his degree. Rather than let infertility rob him of fatherhood, he adopted two children. He refused to allow health issues and physical disabilities prevent him from living a full life. By my age, he had lived in South America, all throughout the United States, and traveled to Mexico and Canada. In his retirement years, he fulfilled a long lived dream of seeing Rome and the Vatican.

Dad was happiest when he was with his family, and his greatest joys in his life were his seven grandchildren: Amethyst, Luke, Tyler, Autumn, Cody, Benjamin and Sawyer.

But if I had to choose one word to define my father, it would be faith. Not once, despite losing siblings and both his parents, despite having physical handicaps and declining health, did my father ever ask God “why?”  He simply would take a deep breath and ask God for the strength to make it through whatever he was faced with. When I would face my own struggles, Dad would remind me of the Serenity Prayer and tell me that if God brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.

People often say how they wish they’ll pass on. Dad got his wish: his two children with him during his final days. He was right with God. He had said the words he’d wished to say to those he loved. And as he’d wished for, he went home to heaven peacefully in his sleep.

My father achieved much in his time on earth: A successful career, a family, service to those less unfortunate. But above everything else, he died a man wealthy in what was the most important gift and blessing he’d ever wanted: The love of his family.

 

Amber Jerome~Norrgard”

Awww, F#^&!!!

I’m in an awesomely shit mood this week.

And I’m sorry to inform you, said shit mood is going to be sticking around for the next week or so.

I believe firmly we choose our state of mind. That our attitude can go a long way towards achieving results in our life. That we’re magnets in that we draw into our lives what we’re putting out there.

But there are always exceptions to rules. And this week, as well as next, I’m letting the shit mood, the depression, the hurt, and the pain have it’s way with me. It’s impossible to not do otherwise: my father’s birthday and the day he passed away are one week from each other.

This wave of grief is nothing new; in fact, most of the good people who had experienced the loss of a loved parent in my life warned me how this would be. That there would be times that missing my father would be a sweet nostalgia with smiles and a peace associated with it from having had such a great parent in my life. They also warned me there would be times that the grief would return in such a way that it would feel like the loss had just occurred.

I’ve always hated it when people told me I wouldn’t understand unless I went through something myself. I always felt like the person telling me that was patronizing. Three years after my father’s death, I’m now a person who uses that expression. I would never wish this type of grief on anyone, but until you have lost a parent, you have no concept. At age nineteen, my father’s mother passed away, and the grief was astounding. Still to this day I feel the loss of her. In my mid-twenties, my Uncle Richard passed after losing his battle to a brain tumor, and despite having known we were going to lose him, I actually lost my legs and slammed down on the tile floor of the Walgreen’s I was working at when I got the phone call he had passed. There have been other losses of people I held dear to my heart since those two, and they each affected me and hurt me.

I was not prepared for the loss of my father. I was not prepared for the loss, despite the fall he took on his birthday and having to make the tough decision with my younger brother to place our father in compassionate care. Even previous health scares with my father had done nothing to prepare me.

I received the telephone call from the hospital my father had passed at 1:03 a.m. on July 21, 2014. It was a Monday. I drove to the hospital, calling my brother on my way. And when my brother answered, his voice harsh from sleep, I told him our father had gone. “What? What?” he asked me, and my heart skipped a beat while I found the courage to repeat those words.

The grief would hit me hard at strange moments and not so strange moments over the next couple of months: when I finished writing his eulogy; when I took my oldest child’s hand to walk down the aisle at the beginning of the funeral; when the Knights of Columbus saluted him at the end of the funeral; when I came across a shoebox filled to the point of bursting with hotel soaps in it; when I tried to clean out the pantry in the kitchen and came across all the expired foods he couldn’t bear to part with. I’d get slammed with it when I achieved something, my children did something I’d call to tell him about and then have to remember he was no longer there.

Big moments, small moments, moments in between. Running my company in the black, hitting the best sellers list. Getting hired for jobs that furthered my career. Checking items off my bucket list. Seeing the 2014 World Series; seeing the 2015 MLB All Star Game. Interviewing famous people who I’d admired. Meeting in person famous people I admired. Losing my fear of public speaking, my fear of flying. Facing my fear of heights and not getting over it, but not backing away from the edge of Sandia Peak.

So many damn moments, so many damn experiences, and the most I can do is sit by his plaque in the mausoleum where he’s interred and talk to him. I can write a letter to him and save it on my computer. I can think he’s who I’m talking to when I’m praying. And sometimes, those things are enough. Sometimes I can look at the photo of us from my first wedding that sits on my desk, the photo of him, my oldest child and myself on my twenty-eigth birthday and smile and remember those moments. I can think back and remember how even in his final hours on this earth, we had a playful debate back and forth. I can remember how often he took time from work to sit with me in doctors offices or in hospitals when I was fifteen and very ill from Graves Disease. How once I became a teenager, every week without fail we’d go to dinner together and talk about what was new in my life. I can think of those things and remind myself that I was lucky: I had one good parent to guide me and be there and force me into learning how to bust my ass and work hard, and be grateful for the time I did get to spend with him (thirty-seven years).

Then there are weeks like this one, and the weeks in the lead up to this one. How just before Father’s Day, the hurt and pain of the loss creeps in. How I would give anything to have just another hour to talk to the man that raised me. How it gets closer to his birthday and closer to the day we lost him, and my throat feels tight and scratchy, my heart races, I can’t sleep that well, and I’m on the verge of tears. How I can’t seem to not count down in my mind (“It’s July 10… I had four more days with him before his fall in 2014 on his birthday…”) to the final moments of his life. How I go over everything he’s missed. How I remember how it would have been three more years I’d of had with him.

In ten days or so, I’ll pull out of this. But for now, I’m owning my emotions, I’m owning the grief that’s a part of my life. I’m opening up to people, telling them I’m hurting, telling them I’m struggling and anxious and hurting and could use a friend, because I am all those things right now. I’m letting the tears come when they come and letting them fall freely and not apologizing for this.

Because I had a father. And he wasn’t perfect. He was human, he made mistakes. But he was kind, he put his children first in all he did, he gave of his time and resources to those left fortunate. He taught me more about life by example rather than words.

And I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without having him for a father.

 

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

 

Rebirthday

It was a dark and storm night….

Okay that’s probably bullshit. I actually don’t remember what the weather was like that night. I’m guessing since it was in Texas and it was June 29, 2012, it was uncomfortably hot, sticky, humid, and generally a two-or-three-shower day.

Who I am today is so far removed from the woman I was then that most of you probably wouldn’t recognize me. I was a mother to three, a newly published author, and still battling with depression, anxiety, and the weight gain from having a partial hysterectomy eighteen months prior.

What I do remember about that night was I felt trapped and stuck. I felt lost and on edge. I’d been working on a short story, and had no idea where to go with it. Grabbing my car keys and a bottle of water, I hopped in my car and took off for a drive. Blasting music, I hit 190, which in my neck of the woods is also known as the George Bush Turnpike. I intended to drive to Lake Ray Hubbard and sit on one of the piers and meditate, hoping to snap out of the writer’s block I was experiencing.

I passed by HWY 78 and was closing in on my exit for my destination when I saw the sign announcing the exit for Texas 66.

My mind flashed to being a child and living in Oklahoma City. On a routine trip up to see my Grandmother, I had seen a Route 66 sign and had asked my father what it was. He’d explained to me it was a historic byway, and that there were all these historical sites and interesting points of interest on it going all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles. He told me that he’d driven parts of it throughout his life, but had never driven the iconic route from start to finish, and maybe one day, we could pack up and take the trip together.

I never let go of that idea. Even at the age I was on that drive on June 29, 2012 (thirty-five), I still wanted to take that trip. But the thought set off my default knee jerk reaction of telling myself why I couldn’t take the trip: I had three kids, my father’s health wasn’t the greatest, I couldn’t afford it. I told myself the reasons I couldn’t go were all valid, that I’d have time eventually, that I needed to wait.

Then I called myself out on my own bullshit.

See the thing is, those weren’t reasons. They were fucking excuses, all rooted in fear. And I got angry. And I woke the hell up to how I had been living my life.

That’s the thing: I wasn’t actually living my life. I was scared shitless of taking any chances, of trying anything new, of really putting myself out into the world. And I had been for most of my life.

I didn’t want to waste any more of my life not living my life.

The past five years have been some of the best of my life. And they’ve held some of the largest hurts of my life. But unlike the first thirty-five years of my life, I’ve seen the beauty in the balance of good and bad. I’ve failed just as often as I’ve suceeded. I’ve cried as much as I’ve laughed, and I’ve drank just as much wine to console my broken heart as I have to celebrate the amazing things. I have experienced some of the most beautiful, amazing and healing experiences of my life, and I’m just getting started.

About four years or so ago, a friend of mine and I were talking, and I was telling him about how the lead up to my birthday was always filled with something painful going on. How the lead up to it was always emotionally exhausting to the point I didn’t see the point in really celebrating. “So pick a new birthday. Pick a rebirthday and celebrate the hell out of it.” June 29 was a no-brainer: because in so many ways, I had been reborn on that day into who I had been afraid of becoming.

When I began my life as an author, I had no idea what my life would become. I never intended to become a publisher, yet still, I began a publishing house eighteen months into my life as an Indie Author. Again, it was a no brainer: 629 Publications’ name is based on the date I began to truly live my life. June 29, or 6-29 is a date that I’ll always celebrate.

And with that, when it came time to pick a release date for my latest collection? I chose today. Book number 25 releasing on the 5th anniversary of my rebirth day? Please, you knew I was going to do it.

Today for me is a day about celebrating my hope and my faith in this life I live, a life that I’ve built for myself and am grateful for daily. It’s about celebrating letting go of past hurts and the realization we are NOT what was done to us. It’s about remaining open to all things beautiful, graceful, and lovely. It’s about living, and learning how to live with an open heart and open mind.

Much love, Dear Readers,

 

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

 

ps: if you’re curious, I finally got to take the Route 66 road trip in April 2016. By far one of the best things I have ever experienced, and more fuel to the fire of my going after what I want, no matter how big or how small they are.

 

 

Forty Things I’ve Learned in Forty Years of Living

Hello from Forty my friends! It’s gorgeous over here!

So I’m forty years old today. The big 4-0. I’ve been told for years that forty is awful. That virtually overnight I’m going to go from vibrant and cute to tired and old looking. My curves are going to sag and flatten. I’m no longer going to have the energy to keep up the pace of my hectic life.

Guess which finger I’m holding up?

True beauty is on the inside, and comes from knowing you are loved and having confidence in yourself and your place in the world. I have finally, at age forty, learned to love myself. I have learned that no amount of makeup will make me more beautiful than the knowledge that I have a good heart, that I am a compassionate person. I have finally, after years and years of placing my happiness and value in the hands and minds of others learned that I myself determine my happiness and value. I have finally learned to truly love myself, parts both good and bad, and because of this, finally opened myself up to the right kind of love.

My thirty-ninth year on this planet, my final year in my thirties, was one filled with heart break, lost dreams, adventure, travel, bucket list items being fulfilled, and long over-due healing and learning of myself. There’s healing yet to be done, and there’s more of myself to learn. Yet I am so much closer to being healed and being who I should be. And some of the experiences and healing I experienced this last year would cause eyebrows to be raised. Others would be understood by anyone listening. All of it was the best thing I could have done for myself, and that is the important thing. Not only have I learned to love myself, I have finally learned a much needed lesson in healing on my terms and my own time line.

So as has been my tradition, here are forty things I’ve learned in forty years of living.

1.) Sometimes you have to step completely outside of your comfort zone in order to move forward and heal.

2.) If all a person has to offer you is what their packaging is, they have nothing to offer.

3.) You are the only person responsible for your happiness. Other people can bring you happy, but they should not be the source of your happiness. I learned the hard way to not rely on others for my happiness. That’s my responsibility. Their responsibility is to bring positive and not negative in my life.

4.) Surround yourself with people who find your crazy adorable.

5.) Find what brings you joy, embrace it, don’t ever apologize for it, and don’t ever explain it. Just enjoy it.

6.) One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the gift of loving them just as they are. Do this, and watch how much they glow.

7.) If you want something, do what it takes to get it.

8.) Listen to what people tell you. If they say they do not want a different career, to have children, to get married, honor what they’re telling you.

9.) If you don’t take care of yourself first, you’re not going to be able to take care of those who are depending on you.

10.) Stop letting fear stop you from living your life.

11.) Time doesn’t heal all wounds. In fact, there are some hurts that are impossible to recover from. But love can make them tolerable, and can ease the hurt.

12.) We are not meant to be without flaws. Embrace yours and what they represent.

13.) It took me forty years to learn to love myself as is. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

14.) You can have as many plastic surgeries as you want. But nothing is going to change the date on your birth certificate.

15.) True beauty is on the inside.

16.) Actions speak louder than words.

17.) Going back to an old love is like rereading a book, thinking there’s going to be a different ending.

18.) You are not your past.

19.) If you’re not recognized without your makeup, you’re doing it wrong.

20.) Dress for your body type.

21.) I have no interest in people who play games with their words. At 40, I’m far too old to learn another langugage.

22.) If something or someone is taking more from you than you’re recieving, it’s time to walk away.

23.) Find work that you enjoy, and use that to persue your passion.

24.) Treat yourself as you would treat the person you love most in the world.

25.) Never settle.

26.) What you put out in the world you get back.

27.) Surround yourself with what you want more of.

28.) Anyone who’s said “Everything in moderation…” has never had Gaja Sito Moresco paired with Black Forest Cake.

29.) Celebrate the hell out of yourself. Celebrate the big and small things. Celebrate those things that fall between the two. And sometimes, just celebrate the fact that you’re alive.

30.) Never allow someone else to determine your value.

31.) You are not responsible for other people’s actions. You are however very responsible for your own reactions.

32.) The past is just that: the past. Let it go and move onto your future.

33.) I do not care how much I love someone: when my sanity is at stake, I walk away.

34.) I will love you unconditionally. I will support you in all things, even if I myself do not understand their importance to you. I will respect your beliefs, values, and dreams, even if I do not share them. I only ask that you give me the same in return.

35.) Stop measuring yourself according to other people’s yard sticks.

36.) Quit wishing for things to change, and do something to make them change.

37.) Do not ask of someone what you yourself would not do.

38.) There is a difference between forgiveness and forgetting. Forgiveness means you let go. That does not equate with forgetting what someone has done to you. Remembering can be a positive tool of protection.

39.) You are entitled to your feelings. Do not let someone tell you what you feel is wrong.

40.) And you’re going to be really surprised by this one: I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

Much love my friends. Live your life.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Grief

Grief is a mother fucker.

My fortieth birthday is looming over me, its arms open wide, and I? I’m going from a fast walk into a jog, then a sprint into its embrace quite happily.

I’ve been warned repeatedly that forty is a bitch. That forty sucks. That your body starts losing its firm curves and gray hair starts to appear and new hair starts to appear in places on your body where it did not exist before. You start losing your vision and hearing, body parts start creaking and aching, and you can’t stay up as late any longer.

But despite how god awful everyone has informed me that forty is going to be, I’m ready for it. After thirty-nine years on this planet and getting my ass kicked repeatedly, I’m looking forward to forty with giddiness.

I’ve never been one to cry over what’s been lost in my past. The lines around my eyes and mouth are signs of a lot of laughter. I don’t miss my twenties, and I won’t miss my thirties, mainly because they were hard to live through. I spent too much time in hospitals, too many days at funerals, too much money on therapy. Forty to me is an oasis of hope and joy and new beginnings. I’ve dreamt of forty with the same romanticism I used to hold towards dreaming of Christopher Gonzales kissing me in the eighth grade.

The last two years of my life have brought about new changes, choices, and losses, the most painful of which was my father’s death in 2014. It’s been a two year long battle with grief and hurt and a loss I thought I was prepared for, but had no idea how awful it would be. I’ve spent the last two years at a loss of creativity: where as I’ve written, it has been as a writer, not as an author. Losing my father killed my own creative spirit.

Grief is a motherfucker. Where as I used to crank out poetry without even needing inspiration, I was no longer able to find any words within me.

Mother fucker though it may be, grief eventually eases up, and for the most part, is replaced with a sweet nostalgia of times when those we loved were with us. Occasionally you get hit hard with a repeat of strength when grief first struck you. But you learn to let the waves of it wash over you, and you come out stronger on the other side.

It’s been a long road to finding my creative footing again. And it’s been a hard road. But anything worth having in this world is worth the hard work associated with it.

But for what it’s worth, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had on my road towards creativity again. I’m grateful for the learning of who I am and what I want and need in my life. And for this new person I’ve become, because she is amazing, strong, compassionate, and more open to living than she’s been in the thirty~nine years she’s been in this world.

Much love, Dear Reader. Thank you for your continued support.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Eight

Do you remember the 80’s? Most specifically, at home permenants?

For the rest of my life (which should be about forty years from now, hopefully), I’m going to have a reaction to home permenants the way men react when another guy takes a hard hit in the junk: I’m going to wince and bend over a bit, hyperventilating.

If you’ve read me for any period of time, you’re aware I was without the benefit of a good mother (which is a polite way for saying “What was the state of Pennsylvania thinking giving her a child???”). And this is not so much a retelling of my heartbreaking childhood or what I learned from it, so much as its just a recounting of how I came to loathe home permanents. And how I became the parent I am.

Picture it: 1984, 1985. The world was under the impression that big ass bangs, acid wash jeans, and blue eye shadow was fabulous. I have no idea what inspired my mother to believe it was a good idea to beging giving me home permanents. Maybe it was Dallas and Victoria Principal’s tight curly locks.

But Ms Principal had a team of highly professional stylists who had years of experience under their belts. My mother had a six year old who didn’t want curly hair, and no experience with anything hair related. Yet that didn’t stop her.

There’s nothing worse than being shoved into an uncomfortable wooden kitchen chair, and being told to hold still while your mom is yanking your hair and rolling it too tightly onto curlers. And then having your head drowned in toxic smelling chemicals, with a bonus of you can’t actually wash your hair for several days because it would cause the perm to fall out (just once I wish there would have been a freak rainstorm to save my poor hair.)

Every single time, without fail, my hair turned an unnatural shade of orange. Half of it broke off. The other half that survived? It was a frizzy mess, no where near the curls I’m sure my mom had invisioned. Ever see someone who uses bleach to go blonde at home? Yep, that was me, except with orange hair that was similar to a cheeto. It was so awful that our church organist, who was a hairdresser during the week, took one look at it and told my mother to never again let which ever hairdresser had wrecked my hair to touch it. My mother’s response was to get huffy and make us start going to another church.

I swore as a small child that if ever I became a mother to daughters, I’d allow them to choose their own hair.

Flash forward to 2011: Amethyst is now seven and asks to cut her waist length hair off. I panic and tell her she can cut it when she’s eight. On the afternoon of her eighth birthday, my oldest child comes into my room with my hair scissors and reminds me of the promise I’d made her.

“Are you sure?” I asked, hoping she’d say no.

“Yes,” she said, looking at me to see how I’d respond.

“How short?” I ask her, terrified of the answer.

“To above my shoulders.”

I parted her hair down the middle, secured it in two braids, took a deep breath and reminded myself of the promise I made when I was her age. And I cut. She was so excited and happy. “Go show your father,” I said. I then went into my bedroom, shut and locked the door, buried my face in a pillow and cried.

She didn’t know I was heartbroken until today, on her sister’s eighth birthday, when Autumn reminded me of the promise I’d made to her when she was six: “You can cut your hair short on your eighth birthday.”

“You cut mine on my eighth birthday and it was fine Mom,” Amethyst reminded me this morning when I was trying to convince Autumn she wanted her hair to remain long, with little luck.

“Yeah, and I cried like a baby after,” I respond.

“Then why’d you do it?” Amethyst asked, with the implied DUH loud and clear.

“Because you wanted it. And its your hair.” And my answer reminded me of the phrase Forest for the Trees.

It’s not my hair. It’s my daughter’s hair. And sooner rather than later, life’s going to present Autumn with a choice, and she’ll have to make it, no matter what my feelings are. And I’ll support her choices, even if I myself would not make the same choice, because she’s my daughter.

We want our children to have better than we ourselves had. I had a mother who never considered my wants and more often than not tried to force me into a box that I would never fit into. I had a mother who never learned to love and appreciate me as I was and as I became, and who hated me for anything that indicated I was not hers biologically, whether it was my green eyes, porceline skin, or creative personality.

I took Autumn to my hair dresser’s salon, and Sarah wrapped my daughters waist length blonde hair into two pony tail bands, and snipped.

I wanted to throw myself on the ground and tantrum. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry hysterically. I considered asking Sarah to put extensions in, but didn’t want to be melodramatic. Instead, I looked at my second born and asked, “Are you happy?”

“Oh yes! I love it!” That’s all I needed to hear. And all I needed to see was her bouncing around the salon, patting her hair, feeling proud at having something she wanted for herself.

I didn’t want her to get her hair cut. But it’s not my hair. And in several years, I’m not going to like her boyfriend (let’s face it, he’s probably going to be a big ol’ jerk wad), what clothing she wants to wear, how much eyeliner she’s going to put on. I’m probably not going to agree with her post high school plans. She’s going to pick a career that I myself would never pick, and she’ll raise her kids with a parenting style different from my own. She’ll paint rooms in her house pink, she’ll probably purchase a minivan, and she’ll probably own khakis and dress like a prep, or worse, like a hipster.

But that’s okay. The choices she makes, the life she makes for herself? It’s a life she’s going to be living long after I’m gone. She has to live within the life she builds for herself. My job is to guide her, to teach her compassion, kindness, how to avoid jerk guys, how to respect herself and to hold her head up high. My job is to make certain she knows that she’s loved always and unconditionally, and that I’m behind her, even if I don’t always agree with her decisions. To be a better mother than I myself had.

Happy Birthday Baby Girl. I’m so thrilled you’re in the world and can’t wait to see who you become.

~Momma

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