Life as Amber knows it

"An adventure in the making…"

#notepadpoetry

I can already hear my editor grinding his teeth at the title of this blog post.

Sorry, Dear Editor. I know this goes against everything you know about proper writing. But seriously, the title is hashtagged. And “#notepad #poetry” just doesn’t look as good as a title.

It’s been an amazing six-and-a-half years since I hit publish on The Color of Dawn back in January 2012. Had someone sat me down and told me where my life would go and what I’d experience over the last several years, I’d of laughed and called them a liar, because no way would I have believed this is where I’d be.

So much has changed since then. The first year of my life as an author involved way too much self-doubt and fear. I’d sit with my hand hovering over the mouse, terrified of clicking on the publish icon, certain no one would like my work. Then I’d spend hours hitting refresh on the product page on Amazon to watch my sales and see where I was ranking.

But things change. Newbie writers turn into seasoned writers as they release more work and gain more confidence when their readers review their work.

Life as an author has at times felt surreal. I’ll go to Amazon, search my name, and then be surprised that so many titles come up. I’ll be making the rounds of pre-event interviews and media pushes before IndieVengeance Day, and someone will call or email me to say they saw my picture on the front page of the local paper and read the article. Or I’ll be giving a workshop or at a speaking engagement, and the person introducing me reads my bio and I’m sitting there going, “Damn, I actually did all that!”

It might be the fact that my life generally revolves around yelling at my kids to put their laundry in the hamper, or household cleaning (kids are incredibly  messy in the bathroom), or endless baskets of laundry. Or I’m walking and trip over my own two feet, or more hilariously, go to take Crow posture in yoga, and finally get it for two seconds before the sweat on my arms causes me to slip and face plant hard in the middle of yoga.

On paper, I come across as put together, intelligent, accomplished, and well spoken. In reality though, well, if you’ve actually met me, you’re aware I’m accident prone, I’m damn good at getting my tongue tangled up, and unless there’s an act of God and Congress simultaneously, or at least my hair dresser Sarah’s hand in it, my hair has a mind of it’s own.

Yet somehow, I managed to pull off putting together my twenty-sixth book (and my 1000px Notepad Poetry Ebook Cover 6x9seventeenth poetry collection), set to release this Friday, June 29. #notepadpoetry came about when last summer, I was without pen or paper, and with nothing to write on (or with), I used the notepad function on my phone, intending to write it out later on. Which never happened, probably because there was more laundry to do. A few weeks after, inspiration struck again, and again, I opened up the notepad function in my phone. Eventually, I had enough poems to put together in a collection, and the name was a no-brainer.

But this book is different from any other poetry collection I’ve written and published. Before, my work was inspired more often than not by things I was struggling with, by the painful parts of life. As my life has changed over the last six years, so has my writing. To be completely honest, I began wondering a year ago if I had any more poetry left in me: Life had been (and continues to remain ) happy and I had been content for quite some time.

Writers often talk about how they use their experiences in their work. Certainly, my poetry has been influenced and inspired by what I’ve been dealing with, and is definitely a form of therapy for me. But I wondered if being happy, if being content, if finally being at peace with myself would cause the inspiration or ability to dry up.

Really, there’s only one way to find out and test the theory: hit publish. So I set #notepadpoetry as a pre-order on Amazon, and it’s now available. True to form, I’m keeping my e-book pricing at $1.99 for the book, and the price won’t go up.

If you’d like to snag a copy, you can do so here. And that’s all the sales I’m going to throw at you, Dear Reader, because if you’ve been reading me for a time, you know I loathe promoting my own work.

If you do happen to read it, I hope you enjoy it. I hope it speaks to you, and brings something to your life.

Much love and huggles, Dear Reader. Thank you for being a part of my life as an author.

~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

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The Return, Part 2

Welcome back, Dear Reader. I’m happy to see you’ve forgiven me for my “to be continued” at the end of Part 1 of this three-part blog series. If you’d like to catch up, you can find The Return, Part 1, right here.

We good? You caught up? Same rules apply as with the first part of this post: grab your favorite beverage, maybe a snack, and make a pit stop in your bathroom. Settle in, relax, and I hope you enjoy this…

Part 2

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“Why hello, delicious birthday cake!”

 

I couldn’t sleep the night before, partly due to the immense amount of my youngest sons’ birthday cake I had ingested, but partly due to the fact I was returning to New Mexico, the only state who’s symbol I have tattooed on my body. I was returning to New Mexico, and I was going to stay in Red River, a town that had gotten a hold of my heart twenty-four years before.

I managed about two hours of sleep before calling the attempt to get a full night’s rest a failure at 3:30 a.m. I got up, got my coffee going, did some last minute work. At 6:30 that morning, we were on the road. By 1:00 pm, we were at the Cadillac Ranch, enjoying some legally sanctioned graffiti. By 1:45, we were eating a late lunch at the MidPoint Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants on the planet.

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Yoga at the Cadillac Ranch, after a little bit of legally approved graffiti….

Not long after, we crossed into New Mexico, and like every other time I’ve crossed the state line, I felt peace. More than that, I felt giddy joy.

It took another four hours to hit Red River, owing to wild fires, and a nine mile section of our route being unpaved. But that unpaved section of road was beautiful and the temperature was low enough to roll down the windows and let the air mess up my hair.

Arriving, I was once again taken by how amazing the town was. After checking in at the hotel and getting situated for the weekend, we took a walk down the main drag. What amazed me was how quiet it was. Bar patios were filled with people, yet their voices were quiet to my ears, as were the sounds of cars driving by on Highway 38, which serves as the main street to the small town. Compared to Dallas, and the constant noise, it was a balm to my soul to be in such quiet. Add in that my cell phone service only worked in certain areas of the town, and I was unplugged, away from the stress of day-to-day life.

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Handstands in the Sangre de Cristos Mountains

The next morning, we had breakfast, then set off for the day. Initially, we had planned on hiking only until lunchtime; but coming up on a mile marker that gave the option for a shorter hike one mile away or a longer hike four miles away, we debated which to do. My friend pointed out they’d attempted the longer hike up to Lost Lake several times, and had never been able to complete it.

“Flip a coin,” I suggested. The truth is, I didn’t want to say yes or no to either. I figured if the universe had made it possible for me to be on that trailhead, the universe would know which was the better path. We’d chosen Lost Lake as heads, and when that’s how the coin landed, we began hiking up.

And up.

And up.

When four miles was marked off on my FitBit from the trailhead, and Lost Lake was no where in sight, I realized it had been correctly named. My legs were aching, my hamstrings in particular yelling at me that I was going to be feeling it the next day. But every time I paused for breath, and to rest my legs, I lost the breath I was gathering in the sheer beauty of the place. I took photos on my phone, but they in no way encompass the magnitude of how incredible the place was.

At places on the trail, there was barely enough space for one person to walk, let alone

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Lost Lake.  Bucket List item for my friend, worth the seven miles up, the achy muscles, and the chance to breathe and just be still.

two, with the mountain sheering off down below. I kept my eyes towards my right foot as I was walking; my phobia of heights was coming up, and I essentially had a “come to Jesus” talk with my anxiety: “You’re in a place you’ve never been before. You’re standing smack dab in the middle of a mountain, on top of a damn mountain, in a town you’ve dreamt of staying in for over twenty years. Cut the shit, take a deep breath, and keep going.” Still, having to hug the the incline next to me when someone would walk or bike by (as a mom, I was terrified watching people cycle by on the narrow path, but kept watching, to make sure they made it safely) would cause my fear of heights to kick off again.

My anxiety elected to shut the fuck up.

One mile past the four the trialhead sign claimed was the length of the upward journey, we came to the lake. I sat on a rock, and just looked out over the water, tears in my eyes. I thought of how at my age, my father had already had one of his hips replaced, how he already had to walk with a cane. I thought of a dear friend with a heart condition who never could have made that hike (my heart rate was hitting 140 bpm at several points). I thought of my oldest and dearest friend, Marcus, who had lost his battle to prostate cancer the week before my forty-first birthday this year, who would never see that view. In my early twenties, we had taken a spur-of-the-moment road trip to New Mexico, and he had been just as taken with Red River as I was.

I thought of how three years before, my doctors had told me my fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis were progressing enough that I had three years before daily pain management would be a necessity. I thought of how when I was fourteen, I could hardly walk due to Grave’s Disease causing my feet to swell up so large that they would crack open and bleed. I thought of surviving endometriosis only to gain one hundred pounds due to my metabolism dropping to nothing and the medications the doctors put me on. I thought of how six years before, a half a mile walk would have been too much for me. I cried for the teenager I had been who was not allowed to take physical education due to the heart complications related to Grave’s Disease, and I cried for the woman I had been been unable to move due to extreme pain from endometriosis. Maybe I had started the hike for myself, the Amber I was in that moment, and for my friend who I was traveling with, but I kept going when it hurt, when I was tired, when the fear of heights made me dizzy, and I kept going for my dad, for my friend with the heart condition, for my friend who had died, for anyone I know who has physical limitations, and most especially for those younger versions of myself who couldn’t have taken the hike. Because the me at age forty-one could. Because finally, for the first time in my life, at age forty-one, my body has healed and has become stronger, and because I am finally healthy.

It took four hours to make it to the top of that mountain to view that beautiful lake. It took about half that heading down since we were on a decline. Due to the fact my friend has at least a foot of height on me (and probably double the leg length), the journey down the trail was primarily done alone. Occasionally, they’d pause, look back and check to make sure I was still on the trail, and not, you know, crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the mountain.

Most of the hike down was spent in quiet reflection. I thought over my life this past year. I thought of the people who were no longer a part of it, and those who had come into it. I thought of where I had been, and where I wanted to go. And my mind kept returning to a conversation I had with a stranger I had met in a bar in August of 2016 when he asked me what I wanted. When I told him “For my children to be healthy and happy,” he looked me right in my eyes and said, “That’s a bullshit answer, Amber. Everyone wants that. What do you want for you?” Back then I thought I’d had an answer to that question, but in reflection, I didn’t have an honest answer. Because I was terrified to admit to my thirty-nine year old self what I wanted.

Walking down that mountain trail that day, it occurred to me that something has been leaving me unsettled for quite some time. Maybe it’s how so rarely do you see people focused on one another at dinner; their eyes locked on their cell phone screens. Maybe it’s how communication with others is rarely more than a text message

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“Colorful”, my kind of place.

or a private message on various social media sites. There’s a lack of communication, a break down in sharing that is lending to a feeling of sadness and loss in my life. Sure, we all like one another’s photos on Facebook and Instagram, but how often do we weigh in with a comment that’s not an acronym? How often do we really sit down, and invest a couple of hours in talking with those we love in person? How often do we meet for dinner, shut our cell phones off, and go without checking in to wherever we are, taking photos of the places we’re visiting and the food we’re eating? How often do we neglect to take half a second to hit “o” before “k” when we respond to text messages? I’m no better than anyone else; it’s become a knee jerk reaction to open up Facebook and Instagram on my phone to record what I’m doing, who I’m doing it with, and where we’re at.

Seventy-five percent of my trip to New Mexico and Colorado left me without cell phone service.

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Another ballpark visited, and quality time spent with one of the great loves of my life.

 

There was the understandable eyebrow raising thought that what if something happened to my kids, or what if when I was hiking I did fall (or my friend) and was unable to call for emergency help? But aside from that, being without service for most of the long weekend was refreshing. On Saturday night, while watching a baseball game on the television, I saw something that reminded me of a dear friend. I unlocked my phone to text her, then called her instead to share that I had thought of her, and we both laughed over the shared inside joke from a baseball game we were at together last summer. When we ended the call, she said it was wonderful to have heard my voice, and I echoed the sentiment. Because it was.

The drive from Dallas to Red River was around thirteen hours. In which my friend and I talked about anything and everything and nothing in particular. The conversation flowed easily, and what we actually discussed wasn’t the important thing: the important thing, the healing thing, the thing I had been needing in my life without knowing I needed it was a real conversation. No real interruptions of focusing on our phones, no long length time spent on social media. Just two people, being honest, being real, and actually being fully present in the time we were together.

I had a longer wait at the airport (my friend had offered to hang out in Denver with me before my flight, but I told them to go ahead on with their road trip, that I’d be fine.), and parking my rear end aspect on a bar stool to do some work, I’d converse with strangers

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Amazing artwork at the Denver Airport

who were also waiting, either for their flights or their loved ones. I made three new friends that day, and again, our conversations were real. The only times our phones got attention was when we friended one another on Facebook.

Technology is wonderful. The way we’re able to be in touch with, get to know, connect with people in far flung parts of our world is nothing short of miraculous. But it’s a double edged sword. There’s a decline in face to face time, there’s a decline in actually being fully present with others.

About six months after my father passed away, the nail salon I frequent offered me a free trial of eyelash extensions. I figured why not? If I hated them, I could remove them and never do them again. And it wasn’t that I really enjoyed them; I was rather indifferent to having them on, and could achieve the same look with false eyelashes in three minutes at home. I kept having them done because for one hour every two weeks, I was forced to keep my eyes closed. I was forced to unplug, forced to put my damn phone down, forced to actually be alone in my thoughts, rather than locked in on some social media site or app on my phone. Eventually I stopped having the eyelash extensions done, and revisited meditation. Not long after I entered instructor certification, the studio I was taking my certification course from began a weekly sound bath meditation. On weeks where my mind won’t slow down, shut down, when my heart is heavy, and my shoulders are bowing under the weight of life, it’s been a blessing.

For so long in my life, I shut down and shut out people out of fear. Back then, I thought I was being brave and strong by putting up walls. Wasn’t I just so amazing and independent, alone in my tower, surveying those who were dumb enough to let people in? I thought that if I kept my emotions in check, if I didn’t let people see me, see my flaws, my hurt, my scars, I was saving myself from hurt and loneliness. I was risking nothing, so I wasn’t going to hurt. If I kept up a shield of keeping people at a distance, if my only interactions were superficial, if I kept my conversations less than real, if I didn’t allow people close enough to touch me, I would be okay. I’d be without pain, without hurt.

….To be continued….

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah…. you want to know the rest of the story…. I promise, it’s worth the wait.

 

~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Ahimsa

Last night, out with my nearest and dearest, I got in a conversation with a gentleman on the next bar stool over. As with most first-time conversations, after we got through the parts about our ages and how many kids we have, he asked me what I did for a living.

“You’ve got about three-quarters of a beer left, that should be enough time,” I said, and launched into the longgggggggg list of things I do to make ends meet. When I got to “yoga instructor”, he responded in the way most people do.

“I’ve never done yoga; I’m really not that flexible.”

Ah yes, I’ve heard that before. I’ve said that before. And I’ve said it recently, but ended that statement with the word “today”. I totally get it. You see all these photos and videos on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, Flexi-Lexis all twisted up into pretzels and launching their legs up into handstands with ease. Guess what? Those postures took some time to get. A few days ago, I posted a video of myself taking a supported headstand (salamba sirsasana), a posture I take before any practice because of how it realigns my spine and resets my mind. I’ve often been asked by other members of my studio how I’m able to take it so flawlessly without falling over, and without using the wall or an instructor for assistance. The answer is simple: I took the posture daily, for several months, against a wall, or with the assistance of a friend. Once I was able to come up without touching the wall, or being kept in balance by a friend (having developed muscle memory for the posture), I moved away from the wall. What that video doesn’t show is all the times my feet landed against the wall before I straightened up my legs, it doesn’t show all the times I fell out of the posture, and it doesn’t show all the times a friend or an instructor was there keeping me from falling over. Whereas there are postures that come natural to each person practicing yoga, they’re all different, and different factors lead to what our strengths are. A yogi who can take full Lotus might not be able to get their handstand, and vice versa. Postures that were easy to come by on one day, might not come so easy the next day, or the next week.

Here’s a brief overview of what yoga really is: yoga is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual practice that dates back at least 5,000 years. Pantanjali, the father of yoga and author of the Yoga Sutras, divided the practice of yoga into eight limbs, postures being the third limb.

That means that when you’re talking about being flexible, or not, as my friend last night described himself, you’re just dealing with one part of the larger picture. Let’s break this down in a way that’s relatable to most of us: Say you have a pie. The pie is cut into eight slices. If you eat one, that one slice you just enjoyed covers the physical aspect of yoga, the asanas.

And if you’re like me, that one slice is just not enough. I want the whole damn thing. Give me more pie, or in this case, yoga please. I’ll take the whole shebang.

Remember those limbs I was talking about? Well, I’m going to start telling you about them. But let’s start at the first and go from there, shall we?

The first limb of yoga are the Yamas. Yamas are simply things we abstain from,The Yamas guidelines in living a kinder, more mindful, more compassionate and loving life, not just towards our fellow man, but towards ourselves as well.

The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa. Ahimsa translates to “non-violence”. There’s the obvious no-brainer that you don’t hit people. But taking a bit further, practicing Ahimsa omeans we live without harm in word, thought and action. Not just to other people, but to ourselves. We approach all situations with compassion and understanding. How often are we driving in traffic, and someone cuts us off, and our reaction is to give them a single finger salute, or curse loudly? What if we took just a moment and considered that maybe, that person was rushing to the hospital because a person they loved was hurt? Maybe they were rushing to get home to their child. Or maybe they just weren’t thinking. Just because someone behaves in a negative manner, we don’t need to respond in the same way. We are not responsible for other people’s actions, but we are very responsible for our own reactions.

How often are we in a situation where we beat ourselves up over an error in judgement? We tend to be our own worst enemies, when we should be our own best friends. We should handle ourselves with love, first and foremost, and remember that past mistakes aren’t what matters. What matters is what we do moving forward in our lives.

On our mats, how often do we come to our practice with unrealistic expectations? How often are we angry when postures aren’t coming to us as easily as they have in prior practices, or when our neighbor on the mat can take the full expression when we’re barely able to take the posture?

Last December, I became determined to get my handstand. I signed up for a private lesson with Becca at my studio. For an hour, we worked on different techniques, Becca very patiently guiding me through possible ways to get my handstand. At the end of the hour, I got…… Nope. Didn’t get it. Because my focus was on the destination, not the journey itself. The more I tried, the more frustrated I became, the farther I was from my goal of getting my toes up in the air with my shoulders over my wrists.

I worked on my handstand practice before class for the next few weeks. Rolling into the New Year, I finally decided to just let go and stop putting pressure on myself. On a Friday afternoon, after an intense HIIT weight session, I had gone to the studio after, due to the gentle and detox classes being beneficial in eliminating most, if not all, of my muscular pain the day after weight training.

Unrolling my mat, I debated: did I work on my handstand? I was tired, my body was aching, and what I wanted was to sprawl out on my mat in the ten minutes we had before practice began. I finally decided to give it five handstand attempts. If I didn’t make it, I didn’t make it, but at least I would know that I had tried.

By the fourth handstand, my calves and hamstrings were signaling me it was about time to consider stopping. “Just one more, then rest,” I said to myself. I planted my hands, inhaled and exhaled while lifting my right leg higher with each inhale. On the third inhale, I lifted off, both legs coming up, my feet landing on the mirror behind me. “Oh my Lord,” I’d said, as the yogis in the room applauded. I held the handstand for about twenty seconds before laughing my way out of it in joy.

I had come into my practice that day with no expectations, no goal in mind, other than to be in the moment, and accept what was presented to me. I had put no pressure on myself, experiencing no anger when I didn’t make my handstand. I simply allowed what was meant to be, to be.

Be kind to others and yourself, no matter the situation. Approach all things with love, with kindness, with gratitude, with compassion.

Much love,

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

The Return, Part 1

Sit back, Dear Reader. This is going to be a long read. Suggestions of your favorite beverage, snack, and a pit stop in the facilities are in order. I’d apologize, but I’m actually not sorry. Sometimes in our lives, we experience something, and 500 words aren’t going to cover it.

I’m fairly open about certain parts of my life here. I’ve written about post-partum depression and anxiety, facing cancer, losing my father, social anxiety, road trips, stress as a parent, my oldest child coming out as a transgender male, the writing process, losing my uterus at age thirty-three, and other mundane details of my life. There are things that I am not open about, primarily because they don’t always just involve me, or maybe they are things that are just for me.

In 2014, my father died. Two years after, I was struggling still, dealing with something painful, that out of respect for other people involved, I still won’t talk about openly (you guys got my hysterectomy story, you’re not getting this one). In June 2012, I published a blog post entitled “I am Free” which was basically a summary of a road sign causing me to pull my head out of my ass and stop letting fear rule my life. In early August 2016, I published a blog entitled “Awakening”, a blog covering a wake up call I received after a conversation with a total stranger that lasted well into the early hours of the next morning.

Since that experience in August 2016 (again, thank you to that angel who came into my life with a message I needed to receive, I hope you’re well my lovely friend!), I’ve been unsettled. Don’t get me wrong, the shift I began making has definitely been taking place ever since, and I hit my goal of being different by the time I turned forty. I have no regrets, and in these last two years, I’ve experienced a joy in my life that I never thought was possible.

I want you to take a quick second, or maybe a few minutes, and contemplate this idea: what if for most of your life, you were sad and hurting most of the time, with happiness being a rarity, rather than the other way around? That was me. The concept of happiness was foreign to me. I recently told someone that if they met me two years ago, or even a year ago, they wouldn’t recognize me. I used to constantly wonder what I was lacking, what was so wrong with me. Then, after that conversation in August 2016, I looked at the people in my life and realized that ninety-five percent of them were toxic. And I placed my value, my self-worth in the hands of people who were toxic, cruel, unkind, and unfeeling.

See, I had to rewire my brain. I had to take a big ass sledge hammer to a distorted mirror I was viewing myself through. I had to tell that Asshole Inner Voice to “Shut the FUCK up!”. Case in point: In December, I was fortunate enough to interview the staff at Utopia Foods and Fitness in Dallas, one of my yoga instructor certification classmates being the manager at a location near our studio. Going in that day, I had thought I was just going to ask about a half-hour’s worth of questions. Instead, they put me through the first day of the program, complete with measuring tape and calipers. When Stephanie plugged my measurements into the computer, I received a shocking result: I came in at 17.6% body fat, in athletes range.

Here’s the thing: I was aware my clothing fit looser, so much so I had to buy smaller sized yoga pants. I had been hearing compliments on how I looked for a couple of months. My mind, my stubborn, hurt filled, mind hadn’t caught up to what was really going on.

Wake up call.

But this isn’t about that. And it’s not about how ten weeks in an intensive yoga instructor certification course showed me that in order to be better, in order to heal, I needed to keep people in my life who would build me up, not tear me down. How in order to heal, I needed to reopen my heart, and stop hiding from feelings, stop fighting love. I needed to open myself up, let people see me as I truly am, and let go of those who can’t accept it or handle it.

My name is Amber Jerome~Norrgard. I am forty-one years old. I have survived an abusive adoptive mother, and abusive first marriage. I am an adoptee, and I found my biological mother when I was twenty-four. I beat infertility three times, and lost my ability to have any more children to endometriosis and cervical cancer. I have survived severe, suicidal depression. My oldest child is a transgender male who has more courage than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Over six years, I lost over 100 pounds. I am an author, a publisher, a college professor, and a yoga instructor. I am terrified of heights and flying. I love hard, and I love deep. I snort when I laugh, and if I’m not drinking vodka, I’m a fan of wine. I love baseball, and have recently discovered the joy of hockey.

And I believe all things happen for a reason.

Staying in Red River became a bucket list item for me around the time I was thirty-seven years. Because up until that point, I only had the good fortune of stopping in the small New Mexico town for about half an hour. The first time, I was seventeen, driving the Enchanted Circle with my father and younger brother. The next five times I took the scenic route were with various friends when in my early twenties, with no kiddos to be concerned with, we’d take off for Albuquerque or Santa Fe to soak up the art, culture, phenomenal food and wine. At age thirty-seven, just two months after my father’s death, I was headed to Phoenix to officiate the wedding of two friends. The Enchanted Circle was definitely on my list of places to go: it had been twenty years since I had first experienced New Mexico, and to return to that amazing day trip was necessary. Stopping in Red River to stretch our legs, we walked up and down the main drag, and upon returning to the car, I looked around one last time, at the mountains, and said to my friend, “I’m coming back one day, and I’m staying for a few days.”

It took almost four years.

In May 2017, I returned to New Mexico, but despite my wanting it badly, the Enchanted Circle Drive didn’t happen. I was disappointed, but kept it in check; I was still in New Mexico, still in my happy, healing place, and still with a dear friend. My trip last year is one I’ll never forget, from the art work I purchased, the tattoo I got on my right hand and wrist, and the experiences I shared with a special friend.

But shortly before that trip, I began looking over my life more closely. I had success in business, a lot of incredible experiences, amazing friends, three amazing children, and was happy, for the most part. But something was missing. I’d spent a great deal of time after my father’s death having experiences that were mainly filler to avoid facing the heartache over his death. Despite the steps forward I had made in healing, in experiencing life more fully, I felt empty. I loved my children, I loved my friends. I liked writing, and I liked teaching my students at the college, and for the most part, publishing was still enjoyable for me.

“For the most part.” That should have been an indicator of where I was really at emotionally. I decided to see my therapist. I won’t bore you with the details of my session, but the summary was this: I wasn’t fully happy in my work. Parts I was thrilled, especially when I was helping a new writer get their first book launched. But in order to keep up with the costs of spa treatments, hair extensions, getting my nails done, hitting expensive restaurants with friends, and weekend trips to places like Las Vegas and New Orleans for no other reason than to just go, I’d been taking on event planning and large ghost writing jobs. Where as those jobs can be very rewarding, I’d dealt with several clients that were hateful and entitled, and the weight of it was growing. In mid March of 2017, a client shoved a plate of food across the table at a tasting, and stormed out, pausing just long enough to spin around, and point at me and shout, “You are so fucking fired you stupid bitch!” after I had showed her the receipt that clearly showed what she had ordered. “But they should have known that’s not what I really wanted!” she’d shouted and then shoved the plate.

The caterers had assured me that there were no hard feelings between us, but getting in my car, I had sat down, reached for the ignition switch, then let my hand drop, and cried for half an hour before pulling myself together.

That was sadly not the only example of that type of behavior in my work, just the one that stood out the most.

In mid June of 2016, a friend came into town for a week to visit and attend an author book launch with me. We hit a Mets/Rangers game his first night in town, and walking back to his hotel that night, we started talking. I’d mentioned to him before that I wasn’t that happy in my work. Sitting down for a drink at the hotel bar, he said, “Don’t think about your response, just answer the first thing that comes to your mind: When were you last really, really happy?”

“Sunrise Yoga on the beach in Santa Monica.” My answer surprised me.

“That’s what you need to do then.”

In all honesty, I had thought about being a yoga instructor before. But my work and life schedule was in conflict with the programs I’d looked into. I said as much to my friend.

“So what? You’re not going to do something that could make you happier? You, the woman who beat infertility three times? I call bullshit. If you wanted it, if you truly wanted to be happy, you’d find a way.”

Long story short? I found a way. I spent the next three months busting my ass to save up money to cover my monthly expenses, I stopped having my hair done professionally once a month, I cut down on nail salon trips, and I stopped frequenting expensive restaurants. Then I took a step back from publishing.

I entered Gaia Flow Yoga’s 200 hour yoga instructor certification with one goal in mind: to find more meaningful work. I also entered it with a closed heart, still clinging to my ideals about being a rock, an island and not letting people too close.

I stepped out twenty pounds lighter, with an open heart and open mind, dubbed the chick who would cry at the drop of a hat by her classmates. And I didn’t care. I didn’t care that Christine in class knew twenty seconds before I did that I was going to start crying. I didn’t care that every day I was on my mat, during closing Savasana, tears would leak out of my eyes into my ears. Because I hadn’t cried in public since my father had died over three years before. I hadn’t truly opened myself up to new people in years, yet, once the program was over, I felt like I had a whole new family, that I had truly found home.

Which is how in early May of this year, I found myself out to dinner with another studio member, discussing wanting to get away. “Been a year since I went anywhere,” I had told him.

“So put it out to the universe,” he’d said.

“What, just say ‘Hey Universe? Got a vacay up there for me somewhere? Cause I’d love one!'” I’d said, and my friend and I laughed.

Three days later, the Universe answered in the form of a text message.

A friend of mine was planning a five-week long road trip, starting one week after school let out (they’re an 8th grade English teacher), hitting New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, then onto the West Coast.. Talking with them about the trip, I mentioned they’d inspired me to bust my ass in order to at least get a weekend away in New Mexico later on this summer.

“Why don’t you come with me? Leave on June 8th, you’ll fly back on June 11th, then you can see the Rockies game with me.”

“There’s an idea. Let me think on it,” was my response.

You’d think I’d be jumping at the chance. Because the first two nights would be spent in Red River, New Mexico.

But I hesitated, because work had been slow. Because I wasn’t sure if I could afford the airfare. Because I was transitioning from full time publishing to part time and into the physical fitness industry. Because I’m a mom, and I didn’t know if I could take four days from my kiddos.

Then I decided to take the weight off my shoulders. The next morning, I turned it over to the universe, and if everything was to work out, if it wasn’t a problem for me to leave the kids with their father, if I could find a flight I could afford, if work wasn’t going to be an issue, if I would get in a bit more writing work to pay for my share of food, gas, and my part of the hotel stays, I’d go.

Within half an hour of putting it out there, I heard back from the kids’ father, from the employeers I needed to check in with, from a new writing client. Within one hour of asking the Universe to handle it for me, I recieved a phone call, asking if I would be interested in becoming a yoga instructor at a local gym.

Jaw hitting the ground, I couldn’t believe my luck. Everything had lined up. Still nervous about money, I decided to give it another day.

The next day, a website rewrite job came in. Raising an eyebrow, I checked flight prices.

Affordable. A slight stretch, and I’d have to fly out at 9 p.m., meaning I’d spend most of that day in the airport. But I could do it.

I was going.

….To be continued…..

 

 

Yeah, go ahead and hate me for that…. I still love you, Dear Reader!

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

 

 

Strengthen You

I had planned (and have been working on) a longgggggg blog post about my recent trip to New Mexico and Colorado, and what I learned on the four plus mile hike back down the trail my friend and I had taken up to Lost Lake. And this wasn’t one of those blog posts where I bang the bad boy out, view it, and then hit publish, all in under an hour. This bad boy is one I’ve been working on for a week now, complete with having one of my lovely editors weighing in on. It means that much to me.

In truth, I had planned on finishing it today, and having it go live tomorrow morning sometime. But you know what they say about plans, right?

This morning, while waiting on my coffee to brew, I was reviewing my “On this Day” app on Facebook. Scrolling through what I’ve posted over the years has become a daily pleasure for me– not even a guilty pleasure, because I enjoy the hell out of it, and I’m not one to apologize for things I enjoy, whether it’s the books I read, the food I eat, how I spend my free time, the music I listen to, the people I share time and energy with.

Scrolling through this morning, I came across a meme I’d shared back in June 2012, and facebook_1529329324705again last year. Seeing the meme, my mind flashed back to what I was dealing with in 2012 and again in 2017 that made it so relateable to myself that I chose to share it. “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.”

Feel free to roll your eyes at what I’m about to say. Or stop reading. Or call me a tree-hugging hippie. Or, continue reading. The choice is yours, and I won’t be offended whatever you do next.

A year ago, I released “Practical Life Advice… or some $#!+ like that”, a collection of musings that came from blog posts I’d make on or around my birthday each year. The blog posts were entitled “X Things I’ve Learned in X Amount of Years of Living”, the X being the birthday I was celebrating each year. Taking each list for the ten years I wrote it, I carefully went through and combined those musings that were similar.

The musing that got the greatest response, both on my website and within the book was this: “You are not responsible for other people’s actions; you are, however, very responsible for your own reactions.”

To put it in layman’s terms? If you punch me in the face, I have a choice: to punch you back, or to walk away. At around age thirty-five, I stopped punching back, and walked away. I had found that while it felt great momentarily to punch back, to pay back, it felt better and the healing was more complete if I simply just forgave and walked away.

But it needs to be said: Forgiveness does not equate with forgetting. Recently, I had to end a friendship after several months of fighting and anger between myself and a long time friend. Repeatedly, they’d do something that was both painful and minimizing, and after asking them to please be more kind, more compassionate, please think before they spoke in anger, saying things that were harmful and knee-jerk. Sitting down with them in person, I did the adult thing and was upfront: After months of asking them to treat me with respect and kindness, and after months of them falling back into borderline abusive patterns towards me, I was ending the friendship. “But you said you had forgiven me!” was their response.

If every time you wore a pair of shoes, you tripped and fell, scraping up your hands and knees, you’d stop wearing the shoes. You’d still love the shoes, you’d not want the shoes to be in pain or sad, and you’d hope they’d be a better match for another set of feet, but you’d let the shoes go. And you’d remember, if ever the opportunity to wear those shoes again came up that they’re not a good fit for you, resulting in pain.

But I’m not just talking about the end of relationships (whether platonic, romantic, or familial). I am talking about life in general. Let’s face it: life is tough. It’s hard. It’s not fair. You can be dealing with a shit heap of negative experiences piling up all at once: a sick friend or family member, employment issues, someone you were really into ending things with you. It happens. And feeling angry, hurt, sad, whatever you feel, that’s natural. You should be upset. You should hurt. You should be sad. If it hurts, that’s  how you know it meant something to you.

But past a certain point? By not letting go, by holding on, by continuing to feed those negative emotions, we’re simply just causing our pain to continue on. By holding onto hurt, seeking to inflict hurt upon those who have hurt us via revenge (in any form), by holding onto our anger and not letting go, we’re not achieving anything except giving power to those people and those experiences that have hurt us. Those experiences and those people who were unkind, lacking compassion, painful, hurtful, they’ve already taken enough from us. They’ve already taken our time, our energy, our emotions. Why give them any more when they weren’t able to give us the respect of kindness and love in the first place?

And do not get me wrong, when those hurts come up in my life, when my heart is hurting, when I’ve cried, when I’ve wondered why something turned out the way it did, when I wonder why someone left, I’m angry. I’m spewing out creative cursing in such a way I’d shock the most prolific of cursers (“are you fucking kidding me?” is one of my favorites). But then I pause. And then I cry, I talk to trusted friends. I let it hurt, I let it bleed, I let it heal, and then I let it go.

I wasted so many years of my life, wrapping myself in the blanket of past heartbreaks, using that as a reason to keep up walls and not let people in my heart. Did I prevent future heartbreaks? Yes, and no. I kept individuals from hurting me, but at the end of the day, my attempt at avoiding being alone and lonely failed incredibly: I had kept the hurt out, only to allow a different type of hurt in, that of isolation and missed experiences.

When we are faced with loss, with failure, with the ending of relationships, with death of loved ones, of health issues, of job loss, of not securing a job we really want, we have a choice: let it stay with us and let ourselves be defined by those loses and hurts, or we can choose to move forward, taking what lessons we’re being given by each experience.

While that essay about my recent trip is still on my metaphorical desk, waiting to be finished, I’ll tell you this much about it: I hiked fourteen miles one day on the trip. The day after, my right knee was throbbing, and I had to stop and purchase a compression sleeve, stretch repeatedly and take several doses of ibuprofen to get through the day. Despite that pain, despite the after effect of the seven miles to the top of a mountain to view an incredible site, hidden away in nature, it was worth it. Every time I stumbled over rocks on the path, every time my fear of heights kicked in, every time the muscles in my legs were crying out for me to just stop and go back to the trailhead, it was worth it for those moments, sitting on a rock by the water’s edge, watching the water lap gently against the rocks surrounding the lake.

My life hasn’t been easy, and it’s fair to state I’ve survived more than most people could face. But I’ve survived those hurts, those heartaches, those losses, by not allowing the people and experinces that caused those pains to rule my life. I don’t define myself by my abusive adoptive mother, my abusive first husband, the people I’ve loved deeply who have died, by my extensive health history. Instead, I define myself by what I learned from those experiences: I am kind, compassionate, loving, understanding, and whole. I am human, I hurt, I heal, and then I move forward and let go of that which does not serve me any longer. Our hurt, our anger, our hatred? That does not bring anything to us but pain. Our love, our kindness, our open hearts, our compassion? That brings us light and warmth, and it echoes out into those who we interact with.

I’ll leave you with these words: when faced with hurt, when faced with heartache, when faced with loss, simply let it hurt, let it bleed, let it heal, and then let it go. And then open your arms and heart up for the beauty of the rest of your life, for the beauty of experiences yet to have, ones you’d miss if you were closed off to the potential of hurt. Because while there may be potential for hurt, there is still the potential for beauty, light and love.

Love yourself, and love others,

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

 

 

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

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”

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