Weekly Update

Vast, Like the Trees

After making our descent over the orderly grid blocks of Minneapolis containing houses and trees with changing leaves, we touched down on the MSP Airport tarmac.

Our suitcases were packed with a contrasting mix of dress clothes- black, for my Grandma’s funeral, and white flower girl dresses for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was anxious about this trip: the last time we flew into Minneapolis was disastrous- Alice puking on the flight and dry heaving in the rental car, which prompted Avery to faint, and then sympathy puke.

But as we pulled out of the rental car lot, I exhaled. The trip had gone without a hitch.

The first thing I always notice when driving out of the rental car lots in Minnesota is the trees. They are tall and wide, expanding, the antithesis of the skinny palm trees that linger awkwardly, mop heads blowing in the wind. The oak and maple trees are wild and audacious– a stark contrast to the manicured trees of Florida, who are hesitant to grow just an inch outside of their preconceived outline. And I like that a lot. The trees of Minnesota have a lot to teach.

My Grandma passed away over a year ago, yet with the timing of COVID, we were unable to have a funeral. I was beyond the waves of tearful grief hitting at unexpected times, I could talk about her without crying, and it seemed as if grief had run its course.

Her zebra print swimsuit is framed in the bathroom that leads out to our pool. Her blue flowered china is neatly stacked in my cabinets. I have voicemails from her saved, asking if I could please, for the love of all things holy, deposit the check she gave me 3 years ago so she could balance her checkbook. She is no longer here- but she is remembered daily.

It seemed odd, gathering so late after her death, to mourn something that had ripped our hearts apart long ago. The wounds had scarred over and it seemed as if there was nothing left to heal.

But as the pastor delivered the sermon at her memorial, grief washed over me again- filling my chest and eyes with the heavy, crushing feeling.

I tried to hold back the tears, but they still found a way to slip out. And in case you haven’t tried it yet, crying in a mask is messy business.

When it came time to bury her ashes, I had a chance to hold the urn containing the grains that made up who she was. It was odd- holding every ounce of the feisty, vivacious person I knew, now a silent mound of dust.

But there was an indescribable peacefulness.

As we stood in a half circle around her urn, with the pastor uttering the final blessings, a warm wind that was powerful yet gentle wrapped around us. And I knew, that she was there.

I remembered a long run I had gone on soon after she had passed. I could feel her presence deeply, and had talked to her as the miles ticked by. “Hi, G,” I had whispered on an exhale. The wind gusted around me.

The pastor reminded us that Grandma or as we fondly refer to her- G-Dizzle, would live on through us. We all carry different aspects of her from the imprint she left on our lives.

For me, it is the love of pinot grigio, a dry sense of humor, and the pointer finger that comes out when I get fired up.

As I said my final goodbye, hand pressed against the wooden box containing her earthly remains, I was reminded that pain is rooted in love. That the heartbreak I was experiencing was because of the deep love we had shared.

And I wouldn’t trade an ounce of the pain in exchange for the beauty that my world holds because she was in it.

Two days later, I watched my brother and sister-in-law exchange vows under the silver maple trees lining the Mississippi river. I watched a leaf float down from the tree, released from its duties. The wind caught it and guided it to the ground in a zig-zag, fluttery pattern.

I was sitting between my nieces and nephews- little Abigail, less than 2 weeks old. The moment contained it all. Love, new life, loss, joy, peace, and beauty, oh the beauty.

And it was vast, like the silver maples.

Weekly Update

What Does an Actuary Actually Do?

Imagine a young version of me with post-breakup short hair. Like, boy short. I was newly graduated from college, had just finished a multiple month stint getting over mono (thanks, ex), and was working at THE Mayo Clinic.

It was a precarious stage of life. I was old enough to have a full time job that dealt heavily on the foggy line between life and death; yet, young enough where I was still trying to establish who I was and what was important. I spent many a day leaving work feeling totally incompetent.

But when I look back, it was the best of times. I lived in a quaint townhome, just a five minute walk from work. It was bright and airy in the spring and summer and warm and cozy in the winter months.

My roommate, Ally and I were close friends. Dinner was sometimes popcorn and sometimes hamburger helper. It wasn’t out of question to be in my pajamas about ready for bed only to be asked to join a group of friends at the strip of bars in downtown Rochester. Oh, the energy I had, back in the day.

Life was near perfect, but it was missing something. Or should I say, someone.

I was encouraged by a friend to create an online dating profile. I’m a rather risk adverse person. It seemed daring. Almost too daring. But, on the other hand, I was already single… so what did I have to lose?

In walks Chad.

I was drawn to his profile by his cute picture, specifically, his smile. He looked like a fun guy and I couldn’t hold it against him that he was from Iowa.

We started messaging.

Well, actually, I messaged him first. My first words to Chad were, “What does an actuary actually do?”

Because, side-note, I thought an actuary took care of birds.

First we messaged back and forth on the website (eHarmony). Then, he gave me his number, prefacing it with, “Well, you don’t seem like some crazy person…”

Such a romantic. Little did he know what he was getting into.

You know how they say you just know when you meet your future spouse? I’d have to agree.

Our first in-person date was at a coffee shop in Rochester, MN.

Being the cautious person I am, I planted an undercover friend at the table directly next to us.

It was a cloudy January afternoon. I shivered on my walk to the coffee shop, but not because it was cold. The nerves of a first date are the worst.

I stepped into the coffee shop, inhaled the smell of espresso and tried to exhale my nerves. My eyes darted around. First, they rested on undercover friend. Check; security covered.

Next, my gaze rested on Chad. His blue eyes were more piercing than I had noted in his dating profile pictures. His smile was just as reassuring.

Conversation was easy. Chad had a calming presence. It was clear he was extremely intelligent, but not in an overbearing or cocky way. Best of all, he was funny.

Our first date was supposed to just be coffee. But it transitioned to checking out a book sale, then, bowling, and finally dinner. As we said goodbye, I knew he was the one.

Chad drove down from Minneapolis to Rochester for a date EVERY WEEKEND. Eventually, I moved to Minneapolis to be closer to him (and my family).

When he proposed, I can’t say I was shocked (because I picked out a ring and told him he needed to propose by April so we could have a Fall wedding.) Also of note… I bought my wedding dress before he proposed. Maybe I’m the cocky one in our relationship.

Our wedding was amazing. When I think about it, I am bombarded with memory clips of a snowy day, walking down the aisle and thinking to myself, “This is the most beautiful scene”. I remember sitting on the altar, listening to one of the readings and tightly grasping Chad’s hand, trying to stop my own hand from shaking.

And I remember dancing. A lot of it. We danced so much that my calves were sore for a week. I literally LIMPED around for the first week of our honeymoon because of my unconditioned legs.

When the night was over, I felt a pang of sadness when I realized this iconic day in our life was done. (Which is why every year I ask Chad if we can do a vow renewal / wedding do over.)

Marrying Chad was easily the best decision I’ve made in life.

He is the most patient person I know; and thank goodness for that, in an estrogen saturated house full of girls and a wife who can get a little feisty and hangry at times.

He is a perfect partner: a great listener, hilarious, patient, and eats the broccoli soup I make despite growing up on a beef farm. He laughs at my jokes and gives the best hugs.

Like parenthood, we didn’t fully understand what we were getting into when we got married.

I am no expert on marriage, but in our 6 years together I have learned:

  • It is always easier to get along when we do fun things together. Furniture shopping, for example, IS NOT FUN. We try to balance out the not funs with funs.
  • Date night is a must, ESPECIALLY after kids.
  • Avoid going to bed mad at each other.
  • Choose humor in the tedious situations that could turn into arguments.

Ok, these are boring. Let me give you the real lessons I’ve learned:

  • It is better to ask the other person if they know how to swim (well) BEFORE you jump out of a boat into the Atlantic ocean. This piece of advice is both literally and figuratively. Sorry, Chad. I am glad you survived our honeymoon.
  • The question, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” sparks the most marital conflicts and should be avoided at all costs.
  • When you got your driver’s license, you thought you were done with the “behind the wheel” lessons. But then you got married and now you have a permanent instructor.
  • “Fine” needs to be re-defined in the dictionary. “A passive aggressive way of insinuating you are thoroughly NOT pleased with the current situation”
  • Do not ever wake a sleeping spouse unless there is blood or someone is actively dying.
  • How to start war: Drink the last refrigerated diet coke and don’t replace it.
  • Buy the remote finder. It will save you years of therapy.
  • Also, HIRE MOVERS.
  • Any question that begins with, “Do you know where my….” implies that you stole it and hid it out of spite. When in reality, it is exactly where they left it last. OR, it was moved it to its correct location. Disclaimer: “correct location” is subject to change. I will not be held responsible for any lost or damaged items.
  • Before marriage, if you watch the TV show “Snapped” you will think the killers are psychotic. 1 month after marriage, you will understand.

All kidding aside, the past 6 years have been the best years of my life. I’ve loved a lot, learned a lot, and hopefully have become a somewhat better person (thanks to my sweet spouse).

Happy Anniversary, Chad Michael. I love you cosmos.


PS- I still don’t understand what actuaries actually do. My basic understanding is this: spreadsheets.

Weekly Update

Avery Marie 5.0

I remember snippets. It was a cold day. I think there was snow. I hadn’t been feeling quite right. I figured I was fatigued or had a bug. But just to be sure, I stopped at a CVS to pick up a pregnancy test. It was three weeks after Chad and I married and barely a week since we had returned from our honeymoon.

“This will probably be something I laugh about after I take it and it comes back negative,” I thought as I waited in line for the cashier to ring me up.

The next snippet in my brain flashes to watching the pregnancy test turn positive in our apartment bathroom in downtown Minneapolis. I shouted to Chad, “uh… you better come here.”

Instead of thinking, “wow, I’m pregnant,” I thought, “Dang, I must have a brain tumor” (a very rare reason pregnancy tests are positive when in fact the woman is not). Chad of course believed that the pregnancy test couldn’t possibly be right, so we stopped at Target to pick up five pregnancy tests and red Gatorade.

Five positive pregnancy tests and half a Gatorade later, the statistics were clear enough for Chad to be convinced that I was pregnant, and a state of shock set in.

Avery’s pregnancy was not an easy one. It was full of nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells. I lost 10 pounds in the first trimester. I fainted in the heart transplant meeting at work (yes, it is super embarrassing to faint in front of a group of cardiologists).

I fainted on the bathroom floor in front of a very concerned Chad. I insisted I hadn’t fully passed out as he hurried me to the Emergency Department. “Well do you remember when I slapped your face?,” he asked.

I was incredulous. “No. Why would you do that?”

“To wake you up.” This is what happens when you put an actuary in a medical situation.

Needless to say, I was anxious to give birth by my due date. But consistent with her feisty and stubborn personality, Avery arrived nine days late.

As I lay laboring in the hospital bed, I wondered out loud, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready to be a mom. What if the baby hates me?” My midwife looked down and smiled, “You will be a great mom. Your baby will love you and you will love her, just wait and see.”

I had assumed that once Avery popped out, I would be filled with eternal joy and everything would make sense, and we would live happily ever after. I expected her birth would be peaceful. There would be soft lighting, classical music and tears of joy.

Instead, I lay writhing on a hospital bed, buck naked, while a team of 2 doctors, a midwife, the entire c-section team, neonatologist, and NICU team watched, aided by very fluorescent lights for their optimal viewing pleasure.

I added to the zen by glaring directly at the doctors and loudly asking, “Why is there a finger up my butt hole?” To which the doctor apologized, “Sorry ma’am, I’m trying to prevent you from tearing.” What a chivalrous guy. Classical music and soft lighting my a**.

I was told that the baby was in trouble and I had one last shot to push her out before they were going to rush me to c-section. I somehow mustered enough strength and was soon greeted by a very blue creature.

In my nurse brain, I classified the situation as bad. I watched as they attempted to intubate her three times, with her sats dropping into the 50’s. Fourth time was the charm, and they sped her out of the room with Chad following closely behind.

After I was stitched up, the room cleared. It was just me and my postpartum belly which was disappointingly not flat at all. A timid aide poked her head in the door to ask if she could get me some toast.

I was pretty sure I was a mom now, but I didn’t see a cute, cuddly baby anywhere in sight. Toast in this moment didn’t make sense. I wanted my baby, not toast. So I declined.

Two hours later I was wheeled to the special care unit to meet Avery. Luckily her intubation was short lived and she was able to breath on her own once they suctioned a mucus plug out of her lungs.

They wheeled me up to an incubator and informed me that this was my baby. I peered inside. I saw a chunky, beat-up baby, with adorable fuzzy hair.

Cute, but blonde. Couldn’t be my kid.

The kind NICU nurse tried to teach me how to breastfeed. But, Avery just wanted to sleep and so did I. After an hour of futile latching attempts, Chad wheeled me back to our room, leaving fuzzy blondie behind. “See you in 2 hours!,” the NICU nurse called behind us. What a joke, I thought as I shook my head, I push out a baby and I don’t even get to sleep to recover?

Parenthood wasn’t what I expected. For me, there wasn’t an immediate joy or love.

It was around 3 months when Avery started smiling and interacting more, when my heart melted and I fell in love.

She patiently taught me that kids are resilient. That I don’t need to be a perfectionist to be a good parent. That formula isn’t the devil, and in fact worked just fine.

She taught me that peek-a-boo is hilarious (because the adult looks like an idiot), and to giggle like a maniac. She reminded me that it’s okay to cry when you’re sad, and to scream in delight with excitement.

The emotions of kids haven’t been dulled by societal norms. In fact, nothing about kids is really bound by norms. They march to the beat of their own drums. And that, is admirable.

We are coming up on Avery’s FIFTH birthday. She starts preschool on Monday.

She is no longer a pot-bellied toddler. Her legs are long and browned by the sun. Her sentences are no longer 3 words strung together, she speaks in rivers of words, effortlessly constructing stories (or bossing us around). Thank goodness she has maintained the same deep and infectious giggle of babyhood.

She has definitely acquired the first child personality. She stands with her hand on her hip and bosses us all around, while carrying on a conversation over her play cell phone.

She is sweet and gorgeous, courageous and cautious. She can negotiate like a terrorist. She’s firey. She’s stubborn in the best and worst way. The girl will go places, mark my words.

The midwife was right. I love Avery and she loves me. Maybe we followed a non-traditional path to get there. She patiently and stubbornly taught me who she is, and in learning who she is, I fell deep in love.

Happy Birthday, Aves!