10 years ago this week, I sat down at my laptop and clicked on WordPress.com. I didn’t think much about my handle and template, as I set up a blog. Within an hour, I wrote my first post about getting asked out by a younger man and pressed publish.
The act of blogging was simple. My emotions at that time in my life were anything but. At 35, I had ended my on-again, off-again relationship with Lawyer Boy a month prior. My head knew that was the right decision, but my heart had yet to get the memo. Combine that feeling with the effects from post-concussion syndrome and my disdain for Christmas since my mom died, and blogging provided an entertaining diversion.
Back in 2008, I couldn’t have imagined how much my blog would change my life. Here are 10 things I’ve learned over the past 10 years:
- For years, my friends had told me to write down my dating stories. In 2000, I had started a book about my earliest relationships, but didn’t continue with it. I joined Yelp in 2007 at a time when there was small, but tight-knit, Yelp community in DC. Several of the DC Yelpers had blogs, and some of my Yelp reviews referenced my dating adventures. I began to think that blogging about my relationships would be a good fit for me, too. I shared my site link with friends, but reached a broader audience when I signed up for Twitter in 2009. I think of the many people I now regard as friends who I met through Yelp, my blog, and Twitter over the past decade. I’m grateful for being a part of that time in digital culture since it led me to so many wonderful relationships.
- In 2008, I enjoyed being public about seemingly every aspect of my life. That worked for me in my 30s. My private life was anything but. Now, I read my old dating and sex advice posts and blush at just how much I put out there. At 45, I’m in a very different place in my life. Aside from the occasional schmoopie Tweet, I am protective of my relationship. Like so many of us in 2018, I curate what I post, which sites I post on, and why I post online.
- I bared my heart and soul on this site – with all of my flaws and mistakes. The guys who I hurt rarely stayed around, and I kept going back to the guys who treated me poorly. My dating life was a train wreck, which made for good reading. Schadenfreude – or others’ pleasure at my misfortune – led me to develop a thick skin. Through the blog, I grew to accept criticism and figure out what issues were mine to own and what weren’t.
- Digital media is inherently social. There’s the expectation of engagement and two-way conversation. When we post online or send a text or email, we typically anticipate a prompt response. I didn’t think about that 10 years ago, when I started blogging. As my site’s popularity grew, I expected – and at times, craved – likes, views and comments. Was an experience legitimate, if I didn’t blog about it? As an early adopter to social media, I was very attached to my laptop and cell phone. I question how my relationships were impacted by how focused I was on building my site and my brand. I wouldn’t say that blogging impeded me from living my life, but there was a time when it altered how I lived my life. Again, this was right for me then. It’s just not where I’m at now.
- Actions speak so much louder than words. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of good relationship advice. I just rarely took my own advice. I ran in the opposite direction of those guys who treated me well, preferring the intrigue and challenge of some smooth talkers. Since cancer, I have zero tolerance for games or drama, and I want to model healthy relationship choices for my daughter. It took me until my 40s, but I’ve finally learned.
- Back in 2010, I commented while on a date that the daughter I planned to adopt would be the love of my life. I had an idea as to how I would approach motherhood. I just didn’t realize that I would carry and give birth to my daughter, rather than adopting an older child. (And, yes, Roya is living proof of miracles.)
- After my diagnosis, I wrote a lot about preventative breast health. I don’t want to discredit the importance of early detection and monitoring. But, I’ve been reading a lot more about metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and urge you to do the same. Nearly 30% of early-stage breast cancers return as stage IV cancer — through no fault or control of the patients. There is no cure for MBC, and the median survival is three years. Despite all the advancements in breast cancer treatment and research, mortality rates have hovered around 40,000 people per year since 2000(!) with less than 7% of research dollars going to metastatic breast cancer. This needs to change!
- My blog’s success dramatically altered my professional path. As my site’s reach grew, I began to receive more and more relationship questions from readers. I decided to join the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists as a supporting member, attending sexual health workshops and trainings through the association. My involvement with AASECT led to several freelance writing clients, and I contemplated fully moving from my career as an immigration attorney to work as a sexuality educator. Then, I got diagnosed with breast cancer, and my life took another turn. Toward the end of treatment, American University students who had been reading my blog reached out to me to speak at the Social Learning Summit, the first student-run social media conference in the US. That panel led to me guest lecturing at AU on modern feminism and activism. After my talk, I sent out a Tweet with an idea to teach a class on Sexuality and Social Media at American. Within a month, I was on the books as an adjunct instructor in American Studies, and I became a full-time instructor in 2014. I never imagined when I began this blog that it would lead me to my calling and connect me with so many inspiring faculty members and students.
- My 30s were a roller coaster. I had always envisioned my mid-40s to be a time of stability and maintenance. I was so very wrong. I never imagined that 45 would find me this exhausted and working this hard to get a seat at the table professionally. (Yes, there’s an article on The Fortysomething Hustle on my to-write list!)
- My blog changed as my life changed. In four years, my posts transitioned from sex advice to my experiences during chemotherapy to parenting difficulties. Through all the ups and downs, I kept writing my truth at that time. I came to this site out of heartbreak and loneliness, and now, I ironically don’t have time to write because I’m so busy. I keep this site up because it is my past, my own digital archives. I see not only how far I’ve come, but also how blogging led me to a life I never imagined. For that, I have no regrets and much gratitude.
To those who followed along and supported me online and offline, thank you from the bottom of my heart. xoxo
It was October 2014.
Roya was up two-three times a night every night. I was in my first semester as a full-time faculty member and teaching three classes. The nanny that I had hired for the year decided to leave the DC area. I managed to piece together a schedule with four babysitters – all of whom were full-time college students.
It was clear that I needed more consistent childcare. I took a chance and reached out to Nanny A, a friend of a friend, to see if she had some hours to spare. She thankfully did, and she began to watch Roya a week later. What started as occasional grading help grew into more hours and days with each passing season.
It was October 2014.
I parted ways with Roya’s biological father without any tears or drama. I had wanted to be a 100% parent of a little girl, and thanks to God and him, I was.
A little over three years later, I’m reflective as to what an eventful month that October was. Back then, I didn’t know then what I know now…that having Nanny A join our family would be far more impactful than having The Man leave our family.
The love Nanny A has shown both Roya and me is unparalleled. The willingness to be there for us in our highest of highs and our lowest of lows has been unyielding. Nanny A is so much more than a nanny. She is my friend, she is the closest thing to a co-parent that I’ve ever had, and she is our family. She didn’t have to assume all of these roles, but she did. And, for that, I’m truly grateful.
Earlier this year, Nanny A and I talked about her professional plans. She is a successful writer and event planner, and at some point in the future, she wanted to focus on those endeavors exclusively. I knew that she needed to spread her wings, and her responsibilities with us would make that difficult to do. Her end date was on the horizon, but thankfully, she extended her time with us through the summer and fall. In October 2017 (three years to the week after she started with us), I again asked her about her plans. Nanny A would be moving on at the end of the year. It was official.
I cried on and off for 48 hours. Correction, I sobbed. (Picture that messy crying where you can’t form a coherent sentence and your eyes are puffy when you wake up the next day.)
Nanny A’s last date is getting closer, and moving the calendar to December has brought me to tears yet again. There is so much that I will miss about her, but to highlight just a few things:
- How I can text her at any hour of the day for advice, a laugh or just to say hi
- How Roya can literally hug her for hours
- All the special things that she and Roya share together from their favorite restaurants to taking the bus to reading certain stories
- How she turns into Mama Bear when anyone tries to mess with Roya
- Our dance parties in the hall
- How many times we have laughed until we had tears in our eyes
I haven’t wanted to finish this post for a week because that makes this truly real. After next week, Nanny A will no longer be in our home on a regular basis. Last night, as R went to hug us both she said, “Family hug.” She knows now, and I will make sure she always knows that Nanny A is a part of our family.
There are no words to do justice to what Nanny A has meant to us nor what she will accomplish. But, the words of the scholar Rumi come to mind:
You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dream. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You were not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.
I anxiously await all the tales of how you will soar, Dearest A. And, until you return to visit, know you are loved and missed every day in big and small ways.
It was Fall 2008 when I first saw her. My life was so different then. This was before the blog, when I was finishing my graduate thesis and planning to return to legal services. I had been thinking about moving to a pet-friendly apartment and getting a dog, and I kept coming back to this photo on HART’s website of an eight-year-old Bichon Frise, Snowflake.
A couple of months later, I had a contract on a pet-friendly place, and reached out to HART. I was told that there was a lot of interest in Snowflake. (She was a hypoallergenic dog and a desired breed, after all.) HART suggested that I check their website again, when I was closer to my move date. I put Snowflake and the dog search out of my mind for a bit. Friends had told me that dogs choose us so I trusted when the time was right, I would find the perfect pooch for me.
Two months later, Snowflake was still listed as available for adoption so I arranged to meet her. When I first saw her, she didn’t want to leave the crate. She was 30 pounds (huge for a Bichon!) and very shy. Most of the dogs at the event were licking people and wagging their tails. Some barked from excitement, and others barked from nervousness. Snowflake didn’t do anything. HART admitted that several families had been interested in Snowflake, but were concerned that she was so atypical for her breed. A friend came to the adoption event with me and was surprised that I still was drawn to Snowflake.
“I think she’s the right dog for me,” I kept saying.
Sensing my excitement, HART’s tireless volunteers worked with me so that I could adopt Snowflake. Several volunteers even commented that maybe there was a reason that she hadn’t been adopted in nine(!) months. She was meant to be part of my family.
When I picked her up on March 28, 2009, I learned that the dog’s foster had called her, “Flake,” not Snowflake. She responded to “Flake,” so that name stuck.
From what HART’s veterinarian and my vet at Adams Mill Veterinary Hospital had pieced together, Flake had been the breeding dog at an abusive puppy mill. When she was found on the side of a rural Virginia road, she had fleas, matted hair, signs of overbreeding, and an eye infection. My vet thought she was more like five or six years old, rather than eight, so we set her birthday as March 28, 2003.
I understood how a dog was man’s best friend in an abstract sense, but it took having my own dog to fully grasp it. In our first months together, the vet tasked me with having Flake lose 10 pounds in four months. I had her on a strict eating and walking regime, and like a four-pawed Rocky, she rose to the challenge.
Toward the end of 2009, I began attending Fashion for Paws (F4P) events to benefit the Washington Humane Society. Through F4P, I made a lot of friends and helped raise money for a wonderful cause. I also loved seeing the dog who no one wanted to adopt strutting her stuff on the runway. Several charity fashion shows and photo shoots followed. Through it all, Flake served as a witness as to how many animals just need love and a fur-ever home to thrive!
Flake also was my relationship barometer and seemed to know before I did, when a guy wasn’t the right match. Sometimes it took me a bit longer than it should have to realize why Flake would stop sitting on a couch or sleeping in a bed with someone, but she was always the wiser one. And, I never lasted long dating someone who did not understand the role that Flake played in my life. Love me, love my dog.
Flake was a dog with a cat’s personality or the “un-dog,” as one friend described. With the exception of when she saw her doggie boyfriend, Leader, and when we would run down the hall before a walk, she never barked. She would hold so still when she was in my arms that people regularly questioned whether or not she was real.
As 2009 turned to 2010, Flake began to sleep next to me in the bed, always on my upper right side. Based on research about how dogs can smell a chemical in tumors, it’s likely that she knew something was off with my health before I did. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Flake sensed my stress and sadness and stayed close to me at all times.
In August 2010, shortly before I headed into my first surgery, one of my best friends suggested that I picture my dog for peace and motivation. As I was going under, my subconscious didn’t just visualize Flake. I also pictured a little girl. Fast forward to 2013 and our family grew by one.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to those who saw the two of us together that Flake handled my pregnancy and Roya’s arrival exceptionally well. From day one, Flake knew that Roya was a part of our pack, and she would protect her when she was asleep or sick. Toddler Roya called Flake her little sister and loved her so much. Flake was never the type of dog to go fetch or play with children. But, with Roya, she would gladly pick up any crumbs that were dropped on the floor. There were also those treasured moments when Roya would walk Flake or chase her down the hall.
The past six months have been rough for Flake. She lost a lot of her hearing, developed two cataracts, and started having a lot of accidents and throwing up in the home. She couldn’t get up and down like she used to, was constantly thirsty, and lost 15% of her body weight. The last two weeks were another noticeable decline, as she often alternated between sleeping on the couch or being disoriented on the floor. Flake still got enjoyment from eating and short walks, but that was it. Given the progression of symptoms and rapid decline, the vet believed that Flake had a pituitary tumor.
Today, I made the extremely difficult decision to put Flake down. As she was being put to sleep, the vet said that I had given Flake a great life. I know it was the other way around. Flake was there for me through cancer, concussions, bad relationships, pregnancy and motherhood. Through it all, she was my best friend, my steadfast companion, and as the vet called her, “my nursemaid.”
I walked out of the office, knowing that a piece of my heart was left on that table. I will have another dog again – someday — but only one Flake.
While I was driving home from the vet, I heard on the radio that today is “National Love Your Pet Day.” I tried. Every day.
Thank you to all of you who texted, emailed, clicked “like” and commented in response to my relationship update post. Given the humbling outpouring of support, I wanted to provide some additional clarification as to how I’m doing and what’s next.
Am I okay?
Yes. I grieved the end of my relationship with The Man long before our relationship ended. By the time I was ready to move on, I knew that was the right decision for me. The break up thus was empowering and reaffirming, not sad or confusing. It took me until my 40s to realize that the only person that I could change in any relationship is myself. And, I did.
For over six years, my blog has been a safe space for me to share my ups and downs and process my emotions. If this break up was tough for me, I would have presented that honestly and without shame.
I also didn’t blog our break up in real time. So, what’s fresh to many of you isn’t fresh to me. I allowed myself the time to feel something different, but that didn’t happen. What was the right choice for me to make at the time is still thankfully the right choice for me and Roya today.
Isn’t it hard to be a single parent?
Yes, but isn’t it also difficult to be the default parent (the parent responsible for the overwhelming majority of matters involving the children)? Being on my own hasn’t made me any less exhausted, but I’m far less resentful.
In addition, I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum, and I’ve never viewed marriage as the end goal of any relationship I’ve been in. For years, I had envisioned that I would raise a daughter as a single mother. The path toward that reality was just different from what I had initially planned.
Will I be blogging more about The Man and the end of our relationship?
No. Since we began dating, I’ve written very little about our relationship. I won’t change that approach now. I respect The Man’s privacy, and I don’t need to write about my past or present interactions with the father of my child on a public forum.
Will I be blogging about my current and future dating life?
Ha! And, no. Dating is so low on my list of priorities right now. (I commented to a friend recently that I need a night nanny and a personal assistant, not a man.) For all intents and purposes, I had stopped blogging about my dating life in late 2011. I’m glad I wrote about my old adventures, but I’ll leave it to another capable woman to share her perspective as a Single Mom in the City!
I wish that I could be as strong as you.
Staying in a relationship doesn’t make you weak, and leaving this relationship doesn’t make me strong. (I would be a hypocrite to say anything to the contrary, especially given my dating life in my 20s and 30s!) If you’re making the right choices for yourself, even if it’s just the right choice for this particular day, then you don’t need to justify that decision to anyone else. Whether you stay or whether you go, trust in your judgment and allow yourself to feel your feelings whatever they may be.
Again, thank you. xoxo
Three years ago, I posted this picture on Facebook. By this point, I had written about my relationship with The Man and had introduced him to my close friends and family. But, the picture below was our first public “Facebook official” shot.
I met The Man at my end-of-treatment fundraising celebration, and our relationship was on the fast track soon thereafter. Just how fast?
- February 2012: We started dating.
- April 2012: I had a double mastectomy.
- June 2012: We moved in together.
- October 2012: I learned I was pregnant.
He was my rock and my love. And, then, he wasn’t. Somewhere between the two points, our daughter, Roya, was born.
It might seem simplistic to condense a relationship of several years into three sentences, but it really is that simple. Trying to navigate whether The Man and I had a future together was complicated and emotion filled. Accepting that our relationship had run its course wasn’t.
For years, my blog was devoted to relationship drama and over-analyzing every minute detail. (Or, was that my life?!?) It was difficult for me to ever have a clean break with someone I loved. I was the Queen of On-Again, Off-Again Relationships!
By contrast, the end of this relationship was a clean break. Once I made the decision, there wasn’t the need to talk about it ad nauseam or seek others’ validation, as I had previously done. My mom always said, “Closure is a female notion. When a relationship is over, it just is. “ She was right.
A dear friend commented that since cancer, I’ve had zero tolerance for nonsense. (I think her exact words were, “You no longer put up with any bullshit.”) Roya has raised the bar even higher. I now know my worth and my purpose. I’m thankful that The Man loves Roya, and Roya loves him. But, that wasn’t and isn’t a reason for me to be in the wrong relationship.
My life and my priorities are far more focused now than they were before I was diagnosed and before I became a mom. I no longer define myself or gauge my worth based on my relationships with men. And, I won’t devote energy to anything – personally or professionally – that doesn’t make me happy and send the right message to Roya.
Three years ago, we were in love, and Roya was conceived. I needed to be in a relationship with The Man so that I could meet her, the love of my life. There is nothing complicated about that.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I explained to her that I had a creative approach to child care.
Friend: Of course, you do. It would surprise me if you did anything in a conventional way.
For the first year of Roya’s life, I didn’t know what my child care needs would be. How would I fare after a c-section? How much would I be teaching? Would Roya sleep well? How would unknown variables like teething, vaccines, colds, and growth spurts impact her routine?
I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. One month before Roya arrived, I posted an advertisement on Care.com. (I’m including the ad in its entirety since I’ve forwarded the text to six new mom friends. There’s no definitive guidebook for searching for child care!)
Looking for an experienced nanny or babysitter for a newborn girl approximately 20 hours a week in Foggy Bottom, starting in June. (I’ll be recouping from a c-section and need all the help I can get with bottle feeding and changing!)
Looking for a commitment at least through the summer for three days a week (exact days and hours can be flexible, if needed). CPR training and references required. Willingness to assist with baby’s laundry and light household chores a plus.
Apartment is within walking distance of the Metro. We have a small, very shy, hypoallergenic dog and request a non smoker. Hope to hear from you!
Within 72 hours, I had received 75 responses! I narrowed the field via email exchanges to my top seven applicants and interviewed them at Starbucks. All seven would have been good, but three stood out as potentially great. I decided to hire two students and then referred the third candidate to a neighbor. Our first nannies started the day after we arrived home from the hospital, caring for a tiny, five-day-old.
For the next year, the two nannies and I shared responsibilities. In that time, we all experienced a lot – individually, collectively, and as those closest to Roya. Somewhere along the way, we went from having a nanny/employer relationship to being family. (And, no, I’m not using that term lightly or loosely.) These two young women haven’t just enriched Roya’s life. They’ve enriched mine immeasurably.
Knowing that our first nannies wouldn’t be available after a year, I had planned to put Roya in day care. I quickly realized, though, that wasn’t the best fit for us. I also needed more help than I had the first year since I would be teaching more classes.
I posted another ad on Care.com, but saw that the majority of student nannies and babysitters were now using UrbanSitter.com. I revised the above posting to include taking Roya to age-appropriate activities for a young, active toddler.
I spent two weeks interviewing nannies and figured out a schedule that seemed to work for three students. That is, until the student who had committed to doing the most hours decided not to return to DC. The two remaining nannies pitched in so that I could get through the start of the semester and helped me find two other students to help.
It took some effort to coordinate the schedules of four nannies in the fall and two in the spring, but it was worth it. Our community has broadened in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. Roya has not only grown close with her caregivers, but also their family, sorority sisters, roommates and friends! In addition, each nanny has brought her own talents, interests and expressions into Roya’s life.
Over the past two years, we’ve had eight nannies, and we regularly see seven out of eight! When people asked me why I chose this arrangement, I’ve typically responded:
I can’t miss a class unless it’s an emergency. Having a broader network allows for back up and extra care during grading!
That’s true, but my job isn’t rocket science. And, full-time professional nannies don’t tend to miss work since there’s a contract involved.
In thinking about why I chose a unique child care arrangement, the following Hillary Clinton quote comes to mind:
It takes a village to raise a child.
Back when I set up this arrangement, I didn’t understand what I do now. I was building our village. I’m an only child without any relatives in the area. My village consisted of my parents and my nana. I lost my nana at age 10 and my mom at age 24. There is so much about life that we can’t control. But, I want my daughter to know that she is surrounded by love and not just from her immediate family. Thankfully, because of our village, she does!
Recently, I spoke to students at Georgetown University’s OWN IT Summit about social media activism. I also held “Office Hours” for a smaller group during which we discussed everything from my curriculum to the law to sexuality studies to blogging. The last question of the day was:
How do you deal with having a daughter? I don’t want a daughter because I would be too scared of what would happen to her.
The timing of that question was fortuitous, as I have been thinking about my parenting style and fears. My reply to the student follows:
Since Roya was 15 months old, she has liked to go down the biggest slide in the playground…face first…with her legs in a herkie jump position. Any time I’ve tried to go down the slide with her, she emphatically tells me, “No, Mommy!” She wants to do it all by herself, as she smiles and laughs every inch of the way! I let her do it, but I make sure to run as fast as I can from the top of the slide to the bottom to spot her.
The playground we frequent is designed for children between the ages of two and five. Other parents have asked me how old Roya is or commented that she is a “daredevil,” and her moves “death-defying.” I just nod my head, and say that I don’t want to squash her spirit.
I’ve realized that this also needs to be my approach to parenting her off of the playground. I want to be an involved parent, but I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I want her to feel free to take risks and try new things.
It’s tougher to conceptualize the downside of this, but unfortunately, there’s only so much that I can control. Think about it. We can let fear control our lives or we can live our lives. It’s a choice that we must make for ourselves, and if we are parents, for our children. Hovering over Roya won’t help her live her life, and it won’t allow me to live mine.
She will be wronged, and she will wrong others. She will fall, and she will fail. These are understandably difficult experiences for any parent to observe happen to their child. However, despite my best intentions, I can’t protect Roya from every bad thing that could possibly happen to her. So, I will continue to do whatever I can to spot her to the best of my ability.
I will let Roya fly, and I will comfort her when she falls. I’ll also remind her that I have soared high and fallen low. I’m thankful to have picked myself up and dusted myself off after my falls. I’ll keep picking her up and dusting her off until she can do that on her own.
A former student asked if he could use me as the subject for a mini-documentary for his film class. He managed to condense the past five years of my life into a video that’s under five minutes. I watched the final product with tears in my eyes, reflecting on all that’s transpired.
I’m thankful for being just where I’m meant to be. And, thank you to Max for this video!