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He took the cow, Melissa. He took the cow.

We lost my father-in-law this month. A man of 80 years whom I knew for 19 of those thru dating and then marrying my husband. “Mr. Juan” as I liked to call him was quiet and humble and I had a relationship with him probably like most daughter-in-laws. He wasn’t my father but I respected him as one and his role as my children’s grandfather.

I am watching my husband go thru grief that resembles my own just 7 years ago…seeing your Dad struggle then ultimately lose the battle with whatever illness he is facing can simply make you become lost. Here one minute, gone the next, and wanting him back in the same physical form as two years ago, is just not an option. Gone are the Father’s Day’s, “my parents” become just, “my mom” and you start thinking about if you really lived the days that came before with them or did you not? There was a familiarity right away with my father-in-law passing and it gave me the ability to step back a bit, be a bit kinder and gentler with my husband because I knew at least from a daughter’s perspective, the pain associated with losing a parent.

Although you never truly heal,  it is the most unexpected blessing I have learned, that my Dad’s own passing trained me to be right where and how I need to be for my husband during his Dad’s own passing. What an incredible and somehow unthought of benefit. That probably sounds crude but I’ll let you think of a better way to express it because for where I am in my life, that sits just fine with me.

Accepting the passing of a loved one doesn’t come right away. There is anger. Discomfort. A hole left once where their hellos would pass thru our ears and comfort the mind but I hear him. I hear Mr. Juan. The greeting followed by the laugh – one that I know meant, good to see you and my grandkids. One I appreciate after a long work week for both of us, packing the kids up in the car and taking the trip down the I-95 corridor. I know from my Father’s own passing that for those closest to him, it will take years perhaps. Two weeks before my father-in-law passed, I sat with him as I had many times before to ask how he was doing. This time, I knew things weren’t good so instead, I asked, “Are you scared?” He simply responded, “No, not scared.” His family was – we were being left behind but he wasn’t. Not Mr. Juan. I always love to include a tip in my writings and for this piece it is, don’t ever tell someone it’ll get easier just let them know their loved one will always be thought of as will they. And, that later rather than sooner, it won’t be pain that bubbles up first but instead the memory of them. Someday you WILL smile first before the tears start.

The night before my father-in-law passed, I stopped to pick up our favorite Italian dishes at a local restaurant. As I sat for our order to be prepared, one of the owners was singing a song that I knew to be one of my Dad’s favorites. You see, my Dad ALWAYS shows up in the form of a song. We both loved music, we loved to dance and that is where my love of all things musical came from(the dancing, concert obsessions, musical instrument playing) – my Dad. The owners and I got to talking and he was wearing a Mets hat(whom my Dad followed – the rest of his family are Yankee fans) which he said he never usually wore. I laughed and told them about my Dad and the song. They asked for my name and upon hearing it was Melissa asked if I had just called to ask about booking a birthday party for an 8-year-old on June 10th. Nope, not me but that’s the day my son turns 8 years old. I knew right then that my Dad was listening. He had heard me. The father and son owners went on to talk about their love of family and food(of which my Dad was such a fan of, being Irish there were a lot of culinary limitations) and so I told them about my Dad, his love of the Mets and Italian food and why that song was so important. Not knowing that my father-in-law’s health was now failing, the owner went on to tell me the story about the cow.

There is a story about the prophet Elijah and God taking the life of a prized cow from a family who depended on that cow to survive. Long story short, the cow died. When asked why the cow was taken which gave much more sustenance than the other animals God said, I could have taken your wife or children but I took the cow. All of the sudden, my reasoning for not getting angry when I became sick, became clear. I knew what else could have been taken away – my husband, my kids. But that wasn’t all. It was just enough to make me remember the significance of why we are here. Not to make money, or to live a “busy” life but to LIVE.

You see, whether it makes sense to you or not, I’ve had 7 years following my Dad’s passing to figure out the anger, the hurt and how my Dad was going to still show up in my life. I truly believe he listens to me when I ask him for help. I believe that because my mind is open enough to the possibility, it brings me the comfort I need. I had been asking him to help my father-in-law and to make sure he was one of the first to hand him a beer at the pearly gates. Credible to you or not, what’s the harm?

Life seems to have taken a swinging wide barreled bat at our families in the past decade and it wasn’t myself who first said, “why does life keep dealing you guys these blows?” As a matter of fact, I just thought that was how life is supposed to go. And, I’ll be damned if I live a life of uneventful evenness instead of one with peaks and valleys. What fun is it otherwise?

And, at the end of the day, remember… he took the cow.
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Paint the Nation Sandy Hook Green

DA112A0F-DE85-4AED-A90B-7201EBAE917FToday our state grieves along with the rest of the nation. For those precious little lives who should be in class today with their friends, and returned safely back to their parents at the end of the day. Today and every day I promise to do my best to live in the moment, to never forget, and to fill my kids’ lives full of:

Smiles and sunshine

Apples

Naps – relishing in the sweet look on a child’s face, content in a mid-afternoon nap

Dolls

Yo-yo’s

Hugs

Oh more hugs

Oh and even more hugs and;

Kisses

Never forget the kisses.

 

(Cross-posted on Suburban Misfit Mom http://suburbanmisfitmom.com/paint-the-nation-sandy-hook-green/ on 12/14/2016)

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Vacay at 40 Looks Like This

So funny.  I took a vacation last week with my best friends, some of whom I’ve known since I was 5 years old – that’s 35 years of memories people!!) and started reflecting back on past vacations with the same group and then what future trips would look like.

The best part of the trip was how hard, how deeply and how genuinely I laughed.  When is the last time you laughed so hard you cried?  Think about it. LIKE PEE YOUR PANTS HARD!!  It is truly one of my most favorite sensations in life.  We recanted stories, even laughing at ourselves such as the time we went on a cruise in our early 20’s and my friends locked me in the cruise ship bathroom (we were literally in steerage so the bathrooms were the size of a porta potty and they also doubled as a shower!) and pretended the door was stuck.  They even faked calling security. I know, this sounds so messed up – why am I even friends with them still? I am because I can laugh at myself and when you can do that you set the playing field for fun pranks down the road(be warned you guys and ‘you’ know whom you are!) but also, the ability to laugh at yourself.

There was the time Sarah and I bought fart putty at the Orlando airport after we encountered a 5-hour flight delay.  We had spent the weekend in Disney, celebrating her bachelorette, because she was 30 and wanted to experience Disney before she had kids.  We decided to sneak up on our friend Jen who was quietly sitting in the airport, reading a book and out the putty into ‘action’. Jen was mortified and well, the rest is history. Yep, peed my pants.

When we vacation together, we all take on a role and it’s interesting to see how it could have been a year since our last trip and yet we still just immediately settle into our respective roles.  We can count on Beth to keep us from getting lost and be the voice of reason, Sarah will always get on the dance floor with me, and Jen will always be the girl making sure there is a cocktail in our hands and that our whereabouts are accounted for via Social Media (have you checked us in YET Jen??). Our trip, this time, included our friends Linda and Chris – two other longtime friends and we all fell right in step.

Cheers to our 40th year my friends (and watch your back guys, payback is still on its way…)!

(Cross posted to Suburban Misfit Mom http://suburbanmisfitmom.com/fart-putty-to-facebook-check-ins-vaca-at-40/ on 10/24/2016)

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Reset. Not just for power tools ya know

Day 1. It could be day 23,493 in reality. In life, we hardly give ourselves a break. We are usually browbeating ourselves subconsciously to do more without pausing to think that more needs to be less and that less needs to have a greater percentage of YOU in it. The term putting your oxygen mask on first was used recently in two different corners of my family’s life. Once when my son’s school principal gave her back to school welcome (a tough year last year with many illnesses in the school community and a tragic loss) and another when talking to a great friend who sensed my “shutting down” prior to my cancer scan. Scanxiety is real people. (I like to say that scan-agitation is too. I think I could have flipped a car over if it bugged me too much in the weeks leading up. Ha!)

What I do know is this. Moms run on empty. We get sick. Then the world seems to fall apart one list at a time. When is the last time you were asked last minute to do something as a family and you could say YES? Conduct a double check. Is your schedule jam-packed and do you find yourself sharing the “too busy” mantra like you damn near coined the phrase? Well, you didn’t and you don’t HAVE to be.

Your kids aren’t. You are.  We as moms have control over our families’ happiness, not society. Guess what? Little miss/mister thing will make Olympic gold if they choose to. Not because they are in enough activities to punch their childhood resume full. My son loves baseball and asked to play soccer as well which would have lined him up to be busy 4 days after school and the weekends. He says yes. I felt bad but then I remember back. Where is the downtime? Where is the 1:1 time I longed for when I opted out of a high paying job to focus on my home life.

Working as a full-time mom and entrepreneur made me realize that my kids aren’t a Google calendar. Cancer made me decide to do something about it, however, Melissa…Melissa took the action. Tomorrow I start Day 1 with yoga and then, well, I’m not sure what is next…Go find your reset button. It’s under there.

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12 Lessons Learned on My Path to Being Cancer-Free

#1 Being first and doing it alone doesn’t mean you are brave, just stupid -there’s no rush to the top and having cancer has taught me that I can’t go it alone

#2 Being perfect. Yep. There are typos in my emails and smudges on my windows. So what? When you die you’ll have no one saying how “perfect” your postmortem makeup job is. Get used to it now. No one that matters cares about that stuff.

#3 Being a size 8. Yep. Notice I didn’t say 0 or 2 or even 6. An 8. You see my body never could contort to that without ultimate starvation. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m 5’9 and played sports my whole life. I know what being healthy is and it’s different for us all. Don’t believe it yet? Bite me. (Just don’t bite my sandwich;)

#4 Having the latest and greatest. I think I straddled this one before cancer. But now I’m 200% on board with the “what works best for me model”.

#5 Small talk. Yep. Don’t talk to me about the flipping weather. Let’s get deep. Fast. Let’s connect. No matter who you are there is something sitting right there, below the surface that I want to know exists. I’ve had deep conversations that lasted 3 minutes with a bank teller. I learned she was 3 during the war in Kosovo and came here striving for her boys to get their education. It all started with me asking if she felt ok. What a story to tell my 7 yr old and teach him about gratitude. Her eyes were tired. Don’t be afraid. Go deep.

#6 Not everyone wants to be kind. Can they? Yes? But not everyone wants to choose others over themselves. That’s it.

#7 People surprise you. Those that support you and those that don’t. Don’t make this about you. It’s not.

#8 Feeling good, feeling healthy is like no other feeling in the world. If someone you know has a chronic illness tell them you wish for them far better days than not. Trust me. They’ll appreciate it.

#9 People will hurt you, even when you are down. It’s ok to be mad but it’s not ok to feel that it’s your fault. Let them do them and you do you. When the time is right, your lives will sync up again.

#10 Sometimes people can’t handle your pain. It hurts them too much and therefore they end up withdrawing. If you’re the strong type don’t get angry just find that place of understanding and if you can’t just hang out with the ones that do for now. It is not your struggle.

#11 Forgive. When you are laying down for a 45-minute scan and you aren’t allowed to talk or move you are left with your thoughts. Most of the time I’m talking to my dad, too worried I’ll let my mind drift, wishing I could crane my neck to see what the technician is seeing on the screen. But I do think about experiences, times of hurt and have decided to forgive a lot. It’s good for me.

#12 Celebrate. Any reason is a good reason to celebrate. Don’t wait until you have to go looking for a reason. Pop that cork! Live life. Be Authentic.

 

(also posted to Suburban Misfit mom http://suburbanmisfitmom.com/12-lessons-learned-on-my-path-to-being-cancer-free/ on 1/17/2017)

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My kids are an express train and I’m holding onto the caboose

It is an intense feeling I had no idea existed. Or why. Buried deep and unearthed only when I realized how much I had missed. I was watching but I wasn’t really listening or savoring. Then poof! My almost 8-year-olds’ hand in mine took on a different strength. Almost that of a little man. The ability to watch my kids grow. Had I missed it? Was I too busy, too late? Had my focus been disrupted by the distractions of doing what everyone else was BUSY doing in society rather that what was right for my family? If you had asked me then, I was always marching to the beat of my own drum but I realized back in 2015 that it wasn’t quite loud enough.

The brief smiles, the realization of figuring out how a toy works, embracing their siblings in a quick hug turned wrestling match. Whatever it is was, it doesn’t matter. It just matters that I am present to witness it.

I’m still learning what the hell that means for me. I’ve learned my intuition of being a full-time SAHM was spot on and with that, I released the guilt of spending years developing my career and skills and not being home with them as babies. For me, that was ok. I’ve learned these years are the best years and the ones to follow will be as well.  And isn’t that the point? Regret is time wasted.

This month marks 2 years since I walked away from my full-time corporate career. Two years since I left that parking garage and thought what did I just do? Walked away from what I worked towards for 17 years because I realized there was something larger than me out there, I just needed a few years to work on finding it. Courage comes in the face of fear. I know that – I wasn’t raised by parents that let us take the easy route(thanks, Mom and Dad). Giving in to what scares you the most can statistically have the best outcome. Think of every step, even minor, as a building block. I can actually recount every decision I made as an adult and highlight which ones were one-hit wonders and the others, the first in a series of arms reaching down, helping me upwards.

I recall the most amazing feeling came over me as I drove over those speed bumps, waited for the security arm to lift, and set out. Be present. Make sure I am on the right path and not climbing a ladder that someone set out for me or what society deemed was “right” for me. After all, I am in an individual and just because I CAN do it, doesn’t mean I should. And, because we are lucky enough to live in a country that doesn’t dictate what my role should be (SAHM, Working Mom, etc), I can create exactly what I want that to be: Melissa. Mom, wife, friend, blogger, business owner, volunteer and what I love most of all because it ties every single one of my loves together: connector.

Cheers to finding your best years!

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Why Princess Leia Was My First Badass Friend

Growing up in the 80s it was all Barbies in pink and tiny waists and My Little Pony. Any girl had her pick of what stereotypical box of marketing Mattel was kicking out. I’m not angry. I loved every minute of it. But I also knew that strength and poise didn’t come from beauty alone. It wouldn’t be enough to carry one thru life.
Carrie Fisher’s character represented something I realize I recognized even age 8(Star Wars came out when I was 1 so I had to wait until I was out of diapers to see it). Was I being set up back then for the strength I’d need thru my 30s?
The juxtaposition of her yielding a weapon to being held captive in a gold clad bikini was riveting. How could one be so strong yet vulnerable? Isn’t this exactly what we each struggle with every day?
Today I came home to a package in the mail.  I had just joked to my husband that Amazon had gotten a three-day break for me so I was surprised when I came home and saw a return address of Wisconsin. A gift from a friend of a friend who I am now connected because of our cancer journey. Though only known in the virtual sense, I know she is a sister from another mister.
She sent beautiful butterfly shaped ornaments in colors associated with our cancer. It was such a beautiful symbol and at the same time so simple and unexpected. I’ve never met this woman and only communicated with her on social media but she wrote me a note reminding me to celebrate not only on the day I received my one-year cancer free diagnosis but every day and every month. Thanks to Princess Leia for keeping it real even when I didn’t know you were teaching me a lesson.
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The Gift of Cancer in a Jar

Wait. Hang on. Before you leave, just hear me out.

Cancer is never a good thing. Especially when someone presents you with a piece of paper with your name on it and the word, “cancer”, is right next to it. But cancer, in my case, probably saved my life. You see, cancer came at a time when I thought I needed rest. A break. A respite from the insanely intense pace of life. I was a mom, a wife, an employee, a coach, and not pausing much to think of what I needed for myself. Meaning, me. Melissa. Cancer taught me the difference between being selfish and self-preservation. Since when did moms deserve to FEEL selfish for taking care of themselves? Cancer taught me:

•  Prioritization not only of tasks but of whom should be in my brigade
•  Reassurance to trust my intuition
•  True power over my body
•  Empathy
•  Dignity
•  Mindfulness – living in the here and now, not tomorrow, not even the next 5 minutes. NOW!

My battle still marches on but in the meantime, when someone asks me, “How are you feeling?”, I am more apt to say, I am taking care of myself the best I can.  So, regardless your current struggles, go get yourself a canning jar and self-preserve!

(Originally posted to Suburban Misfit Moms

http://suburbanmisfitmom.com/writer/melissa-fitzgerald/)

 

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The Hottest Burner Untouched

What do you do when your head is spinning, thinking about your world being turned upside down? The plans you made, suddenly were upturned.  Ever just look up at the clear blue sky and think, will things ever be the same? I did, in the Summer of 2015 when I was diagnosed with cancer and an autoimmune disease that had wrecked my body.

Choosing to leave my hectic, corporate job in March 2015, just weeks before I was delivered the news, I did it because my own health was on the back burner. I felt tired but didn’t know I was sick.  Just two years prior I had started my own side business with the doctors that created Proactiv and much like anything in life, I had no idea that would be my saving grace.  What would carry me through my diagnosis and treatment and allow me the time to heal without my family having to make significant financial sacrifices.  My intent was to put more time into my family and try and find a pace that wasn’t equivalent to a speeding train with no destination. Even in making that decision, I hadn’t put myself first. This is defined as being a mom. Even when we know something is wrong, we still walk around blindly taking care of that next errand, the next conference call, the next little one that needs to be cared for. Little did I know….

No matter what the scale was saying or what new information tests revealed, or what body part ached, I could always care for my skin and put my best ‘face’ forward. My body became something that was beyond my control – it was angry and in turn, was failing me. The trips to the gym that were merely a mental game to get me out the door now became a challenge to even get out of bed but yet my face still showed up, everywhere.

My lesson in all of this is, as someone who would rather sit on a bed of needles than asking for help, who was forced to hand over control of her home, errands, driving, being ‘queen’ of running her household, and the rock everyone leaned on did I realize I did have control over something. I had my backup plan in place long before I found out I needed it. We have more control than we think. I chose to rise and shine to face the world, regardless of my struggles and I decided to do that brilliantly.


Melissa Fitzgerald-Liceaga
Skincare by Melissa, Life by Design

(photo credit: Susan Carson with permission)

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Just keep riding. And falling. And riding…

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? Whom was helping you? Exactly where you were?

Chances are, if you recall these details and reflect back on them, it will tell you a bit about how you handle challenges in your life. I recall that day, for myself. My Dad and I were in the driveway and back in the 80’s, you didn’t have a helmet or all that fancy protective gear (in pink, blue or green whatever your favorite color was at the time, arriving 24 hours after purchase via Amazon.com). And while training wheels did exist – I am not that old my friends! – your parents more apt to take them off and just let you fly. Or fall. On pavement nonetheless.

So fell I did. I fell, I scraped up my knees in that driveway. There was blood. I am sure there were tears. But I knew my Dad was waiting right back downstairs after the wounds were cleaned (thanks Mom) and few band aids slapped on, to help me ride again. My parents didn’t push us, they could see when we needed a break but there was this definite sense of getting back up and facing your mountains. To try and start back up that proverbial hill until you were successful in getting back over to the other side.

Today marks my first return to the cancer hospital since treatment 6 months ago. “They” say there was a 20% chance it worked.  I say differently. Nonetheless, I’ve spent the last week breathing thru the nerves, celebrating my son’s lucky #7 birthday, friends patting me on the back and making sure I laugh, my husband knowing just when to rest his hand on mine with no words needed, and wondering today, will I get a clear scan.

Not even sure what color my bike was or if I was the first owner, it didn’t matter. Sometimes the bike itself just needs to work. It need not be fancy nor the newest one on the block with bells and whistles. It needed two wheels, pedals and handlebars. So, point being, I don’t recall the bike, just the experience and getting back up on that bike again, wounds and all.