Monday, May 4, 2015

Our Family Rules: Not Necessarily In Order

1-      Always tell the truth. Our relationship has to be filled with truth telling and authenticity. We are not interested in having a fake relationship with you. We are interested in knowing the real you, warts and all. Because we love you – All of you, even the parts we don’t agree with. Plus, in truth, secrets make you sick!!!

2-      Always ask for what you want. If you don’t ask for what you want, you will probably not get it. We believe that you should have everything your heart desires. We believe in finding a way to make that happen. We believe in dreams come true. That all starts with asking for what you want. The worst thing that could happen, is you won’t get it. You will never know if you don’t ask.

3-      Play at 100%. This means everywhere. That’s how we roll. We try the hardest, we care the most, we love as deep as we can.  We don’t do just enough, we do our best. We play at 100% - so even when we lose, we win. We learn, we grow, we sometimes screw up, and have to try again. But we do all of that at 100% - and when we figure out we haven’t been playing at 100% we take it back up.

4-      We have a No Heroin, No Meth, No Crack Policy. If it even looks like it is related to any of these – It is off limits, not even once!!!!

5-      Condoms are your friend. We believe that there are two answers to the question “Do you want to have sex?” – One answer is No, and if that is the answer – You should have an escape/exit route planned ahead of time.  If the answer is Yes – You should have a plan ahead of time which includes “safe sex” – We love you regardless of the answer. We want you to be safe regardless of the answer. We are open 24/7/365 for questions or concerns regarding this rule!!!! We also encourage you to be in a committed relationship prior to answering yes to this question. Sex is an adult activity and you must be an adult!!!

6-      Always listen to your inner voice!! We believe that your inner voice generally has your best interest at heart. We believe that it is an early warning system. We believe only good things can come from listening to your inner voice. We believe that you should be exercising this muscle from the day you are born. We will help you learn to recognize it. We will also be willing to lend you ours until your develop your own.

7-      Always have a positive attitude!!! We believe that things will work out for us and they always do. We are lucky, we are blessed, we are positive. Energy attracts like energy. So what you are putting out into the world, you will get back. You should always be actively putting out good energy into the world!!!

8-      You are 100% responsible for your choices!! When things go well, that is because you choose it. When things go bad, that is because you choose it. Even with things that seem to randomly occur. You will always be able to look back at some decision you made along the line that put you squarely in your circumstances. We are introspective. We learn from, we apologize, we make amends, we are accountable. We do not make excuses, whine or complain. We simply make better decisions.

9-      We have freedom of Religion. This means that we will support your religion of choice or your choice to not believe in anything at all. We will not be, however, enforcing your choices. If you believe in something we will expect you to live accordingly. We respect your ability to change your mind at any time. We respect your ability to try different beliefs on. We are your life support team. So your happiness is our goal.

10-   We are grateful !!! Our Family believes that the most important thing you can tell someone is thank you!! The best use of time is building others up. Inspiring people to reach for the stars, helping someone who is down on their luck, providing random acts of kindness to brighten our own day. We believe the best way to say thank you is to serve. 

11-   Social Media is a Marketing Tool: There should only be positive things posted on Facebook, twitter, Instagram or whatever the next  big thing that comes down the pipe is. If you are sick, I don’t want to see if on Facebook. If you need a listening ear or a sympathetic hug. Call us, don’t post it on Facebook for the masses to boo-hoo with you about your aliments. Also – There is never a reason to have unattractive photo’s on there. This is your face to the world. Make it a good one.

12-   Do the Right Thing: There will be plenty of time where no one would know, plenty of times that it would be easy to act like you didn’t see a person in need. Sometimes you will be too tired or emotionally empty, Do the right thing anyway. Trust me – it is always better to do the right thing. You will know what that is. Justice and Right – Are not always the same thing.

13-   Be a Good Person:  This is really important. And surprisingly not always the natural choice. But even if you don’t want to, pretend you are good person and act like a good person would. Even if you are not a good person today, act like it enough, and you will become a good person.

14 - Ask for help!!!: If you are "in over your head" ask for help. If you aren't sure, ask for help. We have lived many more years than you have and we will be able to provide advise. If we don't know, we will find someone who does. We will not judge you, for asking for help - I promise!!!

As your parents continue to grow and learn, these rules are subject to change. We believe that if a better way comes down the road, we should be able to incorporate it into our family.

*I don’t necessarily have James “buy-off” on all these rules, and he would argue I break a few of them daily J

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jorri's 18th Birthday - The Financial Launch/Teaching Your kids about how Money and Credit Works

Dear Jorri,

Your dad and I have been wracking our brains trying to come up with a gift to give you for your 18th Birthday, after all, this is a big one!! The most important thing you want to give your children is a solid foundation from which to fly. We believe you have a very solid foundation!!  Your mom and Dale and your Dad and I could not love you more. Oh, if love were enough.

Turning 18 changes everything!! You are now an adult and get to be completely responsible for your decisions. You can sign legal contracts (buy a car, house, sign a lease, take out a loan) and vote, you can decide to get married or go to school – The world is truly your oyster. Whatever you would like your life to be, you are now in charge of making it so. Make sure you make your decisions very carefully because from here on out, they are your decisions. The consequences good and bad are yours alone.

Your Dad and I have found that having a good relationship with Money is one of the most important relationships you can cultivate.” Being good with money” can make the difference between a happy life and a stressed out life. It can give you the freedom to pursue your dreams or hold you hostage inside a life that is less than you had hoped for.  Making conscience, deliberate choices about money, is the biggest gift you will ever give yourself.

There are 3 important factors when thinking about Money and we hope you will adopt these going forward:

  1. Your Credit Score is one of the Most Valuable things you will ever have!!! You score is determined by several items:
    1. Percentage of Credit Used: For Example if you have a credit card worth $1,000.00 your score will go down if you owe 900.00 on it. But if you always keep the balance below 50% In this instance 500.00 –and you always pay the bill on time. You will keep your credit score healthy and happy.
    2. Don’t let stores, people, or online vendors check your credit on a whim: Now that you are 18 years old, checkers at JC Penny or TJ Maxx will say something like – “Would you like to put this on your TJ Maxx card?” – They are essentially selling you a credit card that is welcome only at that store. You don’t want one of those. If you have a credit card you want it to be welcome at all stores. Just politely say no – because the more you check your credit, and the more credit cards you have the lower your credit score will be. When you check your credit score – Do it because you a making a deliberate choice.
    3. Pay your bills on time and pay more than the minimum amount!! When you get the bill pay it on your next paycheck. And make sure if the bill is from a credit card that you pay more than the minimum amount. Even if that is only 10.00 more. That will drastically cut down on the amount of interest you pay, and will allow you to pay it off quicker. As in, years quicker!!!
    4. Don’t put your name on a phone /cable /power/gas bill when you have roommates!!! This is very important!! The roommates will think they are going to pay you back, or they will intend to pay you back but 95% of the time – Something will happen in their lives and they will be unable to – and you will be stuck with the bill. I have never in the last 27 years of my life seen this principal fail.
    5. Monitor Your Credit Weekly: This will tell you if someone is putting things on your credit without your knowledge. There is a free site called – The day you are 18 go and sign up on that site and log in once a week to make sure nothing is happening without your knowledge.
    6. The Point System!!!! Never get a credit card that doesn’t have a rewards program. If you are going to spend the money, and pay the payments, you might as well get the travel benefits!!!
    7. Never borrow/spend more than 25% of your income. (With the exception of a house- which you can go to 42%) No one likes to be a slave to payments every month. If you have a net paycheck of 1,000.00 a month – Then no more than 250.00 of it should have to be spent making payments!! 
    8. You should try to have a credit score of 750 or above. This is called “A” credit and will save you literally millions of dollars over a lifetime.
    9. Never close a credit card – even if you have “Finally” paid it off. When you close a credit account it hurts your credit score too.
  2.  Never put your dreams on hold because of Money!!! The Universe/God, Whatever you want to call it, is really great about supporting your dreams once you have set your intention and start to work on it. Setting your intention means that you are single minded in your goal, regardless of the cost. It is easy to make sacrifices of new clothes, or movies etc., when you are working towards a dream. Whether that dream is a trip to Broadway, or a country you have never been before, or a car that you have had an eye on – focusing on the dream makes prioritizing what you spend your money on easier than just saving to save.
    You have already had a very specific manifestation of this principle in your life. When you needed to come up with spending money for your European trip – How quickly did your magic work? How quickly did God/Universe answer your prayers? This is how it works for everything!!
  3. Be Charitable!! Make it a priority!! Make it a conscious choice to pay it forward!! Especially when YOU feel you don’t have enough. This is the principle of scarcity. When you act like there are only enough resources for you to barely scrap by, there will only be enough resources for you to barely scrap by. When your heart comes from a place of “there will always be enough for me, so I can be enough for someone else today” - The same is true; there will always be enough for you. Think of it as Faith.  
    I know that more than likely you will spend your life paying tithing at church. This isn’t enough!! Enough is paying for the car in back of you at the drive thru, enough is giving a few bucks to a homeless person on the street (regardless of what they use that money for), enough is taking a moment to donate blood, or serve homeless people at the shelter – I hope you live your life feeling like you are never doing enough!! And here is a secret, the more you give, the more you will get back. I promise – it works for us every time!!
    Now getting back to what your Dad and I would like to give you for your birthday. We would like to give you a head start on the whole money thing (We did this for your older siblings as well). We are giving you, your first ever credit card – a Marriott to be exact.  See, we follow the rules too!  This will do great things for you. It will establish a pattern of timely payments on your credit report, it will say to the world. Jorri is an awesome adult! She can be trusted!! And that will be true because we trust you!!
    Here are our expectations for your use of this card:

  1. You are on a strict budget of $125.00 a month. That means you can spend up to 125.00 a month – no questions asked. We will pay the bill – You will have the benefits on your credit. This amount does not roll over month to month. The only way you can go over this budget is, if you have prior approval from me or your Dad.
  2. You will not apply for any additional credit cards without prior approval from us. This means when you start to get advertisements in the mail saying you have” been approved” for this or for that – You just throw them in the trash where they belong.
  3. Upon graduation from high school. You can continue to use the card but you must have a job that gives you a minimum of 15 hours a week, no later than July 1, 2015
  4. You will not use the card to act as security (hotel, rental car, etc.) for anyone else but you!! And we should generally know about those things in advance.
  5. Never let anyone borrow the card, or charge something on the card in which they said they would “pay you right back” This card is only for you!
  6. At some point when you are 19 years old we will help you get your own card. One you will be totally responsible for paying all on your own. At that time we will take possession of this card back. But we will not remove your name, so you will continue to get the benefits. This will continue until 1 of 2 things occurs; you get married or you graduate from college.
    7 – Failure to follow the rules will result in us taking back the card.

Last but not least. Please, Please, Please don’t hesitate to come to us with questions or concerns about money!! Don’t be embarrassed or feel stupid – Your dad and I have made all sorts of mistakes with money; we learned the hard lessons and got bruised and broken by life in this arena - So chances are if you come to us, we can make sure you don’t have to learn the hard lessons too!!

We love you so much Jorri and know that you will make an excellent adult!! Our hope for you is that you dream as big as you can, make those dreams come true, and then come up with even bigger ones!!! You are talented, smart, beautiful and have every gift you could possibly need to live a truly amazing life. What you do with it now is completely up to you!!

Love – Jenn and Dad

Thursday, June 19, 2014

To Nastia with Love

Dear Nastia,

My name is Jennifer Powers-Johnson. I am the reason you are in America. It is my fault. Your American parents Mike and Debbie were just going about the business of living their lives when I reached in and changed that. Here is my story. It is actually a story about you, although none of us knew that when it started.

The first time I meet your sister Olena, do you want to know what she was doing? She was frowning and upset. She was sitting all by herself on the deck of a swimming pool. She was the only person at the pool who was not swimming. Not having fun!! Lots of people had gone over to her and in two languages tried to see if they could help her mood. But she was not having it! She was completely determined to be upset. To be alone. I bet you don't believe me. I bet you think she is a sellout. You would be right!! She has sold out!

But when I met her she was still very much committed to your cause. The "angry, protect my heart, don't try and fool me" cause. You need to know that Ukrainian kids love me. They think I am awesome!! I try and figure out what their dreams are, and then make them come true. I am like the Fairy God-Mother in Cinderella. So I went over to Olena and tried to make her happy. I tried to give her a way to still be angry and suspicious while also giving herself the gift of the cool water of the pool and swimming on a very hot summer day. I failed. She was determined to be angry. She would not go swimming, she would be hot and angry. I wonder now if she wishes she had chosen swimming? So for the moment I gave up.

I know you will think this is crazy but here, in America, we get really concerned when kids are unhappy. We have no idea how to deal with it. It makes us very uncomfortable. In America we also believe that if you are under the age of 18 your whole job in life is to just be happy and carefree - Happy, Carefree, Can you imagine - Crazy!! So when Olena chose to not enjoy the gift of a fun day of swimming, I started to worry - how would I help this girl?

A few days later I met Olena again. She seemed almost worse than before. She was starting to feel hopeless and depressed. She didn't want to live her life anymore. Can you believe that?  I know she seems way more happy and sold out now. But then, She and you had some of the same feelings. That day I again tried to act like her Fairy God-Mother and despite her uneasiness, and suspicion she went along. With Zhenya acting as interpreter I was able to talk to her, and guess who she told me about that day? You, she told me about you!!

She told me she missed you very much. That you had been sent to another orphanage to live. That she hadn't seen in you several years. She was very worried she would not get to see you again. She loves you so much!! Let's take a moment to appreciate that. Your sister was on a trip to America and out on a shopping day with me, and what she is talking about is you. Not leaving you behind. She was also very concerned that we would break her heart. She had been on a trip before to America - California that time. And guess what? No one in California had chosen her. She was heart broken.

What she didn't know, what she had no way of knowing was she was not meant for anyone in California. In fact, she was meant to meet me. Now, I don't have a lot of money, I don't know a bunch of important people, I don't have a ton of resources but what I can do is write. And so you know what I did? I wrote a blog about Olena. And you know what happened with that blog? It was read by 200 people on the first day. When they read it they had a feeling in their hearts (maybe that feeling was God) that they needed to send it to the people they knew, and so people I don't even know started sending my blog all over the country, and the world. Can you believe it!! Your life was about to change just like Cinderella because some strange lady in America wrote a blog about your sister.

Somehow your American Mother Debbie read that blog. I have no idea how that happened. And she convinced your American dad Mike to host your sister for a week. And I am sure you know what happened then, right? They had a feeling in their hearts (maybe that feeling was God) that Olena was meant for them. They had no idea what the story was with you, because the Ukrainian government and the orphanage did not tell them. But they believed that feeling in their hearts, and they knew only good things happen when you follow your heart. So they worked very, very hard and they made preparations to go to Ukraine. In Ukraine they had the chance to meet you! You!!  Wonderful, difficult, amazing, you!! And once again their hearts spoke to them (maybe that voice was God) and they knew they must get you!!!

Here is where your life is about to change. You, I imagine were going about the business of living your life in an orphanage in Ukraine. You were fairly safe, and fed, you had a boyfriend? And you thought you had a handle, at least for the moment, on how life would go. Maybe you had made plans? Get a job? Get married? Have babies and love them forever!! Maybe you didn't have a plan...but never in a million years did you think a couple from America, with 4 kids already,would show up and pick you up out of the blue. Never!!

This couple acted like no other people you had ever met in your life. They kept telling you they loved you. Loved you? How could that be? They didn't know you!! Crazy right!! There must be a catch? A hidden agenda? I am going to tell you what the secret is - they had a feeling in their hearts (maybe that feeling was God) They were people who had spent there whole lives following feelings in their hearts. So, I must apologize, you being here is my fault. Because I follow feelings in my heart too (maybe those feelings are God)

Now you have reacted in what is a most logical way.  Anger, frustration, confusion, sadness, refusing to eat and silence. I get it, I totally get it. It must feel from day to day that you have been kidnapped. Olena is no help at all, she has sold out. Embraced the new family, the new language, the new country and friends. Olena selling out makes your struggle even harder. She is making you look bad. And so desperate times call for desperate measures, and you are using all the tools in your arsenal to regain some control over your life. Refusing to eat is the most powerful tool you have. But here is the problem with that tool. It has only worked to put you in a situation you like less - the hospital.

The hospital is hopefully teaching you how to use other tools. But I want to introduce you to the most powerful tools I have. The first is called the Power of "And" - let me tell you how this "And"tool works:

I can love my family in Ukraine "And"my American Family.
I can feel sad that I am no longer living in Ukraine "And"I can enjoy all the wonderful things America has to Offer.
I can love my native language "And"do hard things like learning English.
I can be so irritated by my new siblings "And" be open to loving them anyway

For some reason you kids from Ukraine have never heard of this tool "And" - in Ukraine it seems to be just "Or" - but good news - in America we have "And" and because you live here, you get to use it too!!!  Whenever you start to feel sad, angry or frustrated - please, beautiful girl, please!! Start looking for the "And"

The next tool I want to give you is recognizing "Wilbur" - Up until now "Wilbur" has served you well. His whole job has been to alert you when something potentially dangerous is about to happen to your heart. He is the voice in the back of your head that says "They don't love you, how could they, they are trying to trick you" it's his voice you hear when you go to school and you feel all alone and you have no idea what is happening.  He says things like "this is too hard, you will never understand this, you aren't smart enough" - poor "Wilbur" doesn't know about your heart. Or the hearts of the people who love you. So when he whispers his warnings in your ear, you need to be super strong and say to him inside - "Thanks Wilbur, I got it from here." And instead you need to put you hand on your heart and listen. This will not be easy, because you have been believing "Wilbur" for so long you will forget and listen but try beautiful girl, try!!

Lastly I  want you to consider this....Why did I meet Olena? Why did I feel compelled in my heart to write about her? Why did people read my blog and send it all around the world? Why did Mike and Debbie read it? Why did they open their home to Olena? Why did they follow their hearts and come to Ukraine? Why did they find you? Perhaps, sweet girl it was God? Perhaps this was your destiny? Perhaps your job is just to do the best you can and choose the next right thing? Because perhaps, there is someone else's life you were meant to change as well.

It is my fault you are here beautiful. So be mad at me, be silent with me. I must admit I am not sorry, I followed the feelings in my heart (maybe those feelings were God)

I love you (yes, I actually do)


Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Parenting Note: The Truth about Lying and Freedom

The Necklace, The King of the Mountain, and The Video Evidence

When I saw the necklace on the ground of the empty classroom, it caught my eye. Gold and shimmering in the sunlight coming through the window. It was after school and I was waiting for my friend to get done with her "on air" radio assignment with our High School station. I went over and picked it up. Simple really, just a flimsy gold chain with a heart that hung from the bottom. I looked around - there were no girls in the classroom, I opened the door and looked down the hall. No girls down the hall. Satisfied that I had done my due diligence I took the clasp, undid it, and put it around my neck. Not one to wear jewelry often, I kind of forgot about it quickly. It was just a quick moment and then it passed. The necklace cheap and light around my neck.

I see now, the right thing to do would have been to turn it into the High School lost and found. That literally never occurred to me. It just didn't seem to have any value, something I would not have gone crazy looking for. So I did not turn it into the lost and found. I simply shrugged it off and put it around my neck and forgot about it. Ah, the decisions of a 16 year old who thinks they know everything.

A few days later my mother got a phone call from Evelyn. Evelyn was a large and daunting woman of over 6 feet tall. She and her husband owned the premier realty business in town. They lived down the street from me. Everyone we knew lived down the street from me. These were the days of small town Orem, everyone knew everyone. Your father either worked at the Steele Mill (Geneva) or BYU and soon the people would all work at Word Perfect or Novell. At least that what it seemed like to me. And then their was Evelyn and Mr. Evelyn - These giants (literally) that ran the buying and selling of homes in our small town.

Evelyn called to tell my mother that I had stolen Liz's necklace. My mother knew I was not the type to steal anything. I may have been a troubled teenager, but stealing really wasn't in my wheel house. So she assured Evelyn that she would ask me about it and get back to her. I remember the conversation happening in our entry way at the bottom of the stairs going up to my room. It was presented to me like this "Evelyn just called and said the strangest thing, she is accusing you of stealing Liz's gold necklace." My mother stated incredulously, She didn't even ask me about it, I literally had to scan my mind and figure out what she was talking about. "I did not" I stated matter of fact! It was true, I hadn't stolen the necklace, I had found the necklace.

But the that is where the truth stopped and the lying started. I was so offended at being accused of this crime I didn't commit - There was no way I was going to give Evelyn that satisfaction of thinking she caught me. So I lied, "This was a gift from Jenn" I stated, as I suddenly realized I was wearing the necklace, "She is confused. Why would I steal her necklace?" And being late for a haircut appointment I walked out of the house, got in my car and drove to the hair place. My mind racing all the way there. Why hadn't I just told my mother that I found it? Why did I have to win in that moment? I quickly realized that I was completely screwed on this, so I tried to develop a plan. Part 1 - Get Jenn to back up my story that the necklace was a gift.

After the haircut I found a quarter in my ashtray and went to a pay phone and called her. You remember pay phones? You put a quarter in and then called a number you knew by heart, and the people on the other side picked up because there was no caller id yet. As I counted the rings I thought "please be home, please be home" on about  ring number four, one of the 8 kids picked up the phone and I asked for Jenn. Jenn came on the phone and I explained my terrible predicament - when I was finished explaining this crazy situation with all the win/loss nuances Jenn wanted nothing to do with it. She just could not understand why I couldn't just tell my mom the truth, how the truth would not set me free but put me instead with a score of Evelyn 1 Me 0 (Can you tell that Evelyn and I have history. This is just 1 of many Karmic connections between us)

My plan having completely unravelled ( I read this now and think, my goodness I certainly wasn't very committed to getting out of this ) I knew the only thing to do was drive home and tell my mother the truth. The truth was awful for both of us, for she had already placed the call defending me, and now here I was telling her the story and I had lost all credibility. Evelyn would win that day. I would lose not just my mother's trust, but some of my integrity.

I was thinking about this story because a few weeks ago Jackson had a rough day at school. He has a nemesis there. Remember that swimming pool/lake game called King of the Mountain? Where there is a floaty type thing and who ever can stay on top and fight off others trying to knock them off is declared King. Well this kid is determined to knock Jackson off the imaginary mountain. He has gone to great lengths to get Jackson knocked off a mountain that most of the time Jackson is unaware that he is on. Great lengths include constant teasing about girls he likes or doesn't, teasing about his weight or who he plays for or with. Excluding at recess, the boys will be boys stuff. Guess how many times I have called the school and complained? Zero! At our house we teach you how to fight your own battles. And we are generally looking for what our children are doing to have magnetized this lesson into their lives.

It's always fun when your kid gets hauled into the principal's office to defend their behavior the day of parent/teacher conference. It really cements your feelings of how great your parenting techniques are working ;) Jackson had just that type of day. The boy in question had made the very believable claim that Jackson had punched him on the bus. I say believable because Jackson quickly becomes backed into a corner and feels the fight or flight reflex when his words run out or the taunting of "fat" and "slow" mix with late nights of sports and not enough sleep. He is competitive and will resort to his fists if that will cause him to win.

I was out of town, I am usually out of town during parent/teacher conference, because other than Kennedy once she got to junior high, they tend to make me feel uncomfortable and judged. Some moms are awesome at helping their kids in school. I am not one of those moms. Jackson called me (no one from the school) and told me about the meeting with the principal and the accusation and then he promised me up one side and down the other he did not punch that kid. I wanted to believe him, I really did, but in all honesty I didn't. I just didn't have faith in his self control. So I told him the necklace story and how sometimes it is better to tell the truth instead of win. But still he maintained his innocence. Unlike the necklace story this one had a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) twist. They have video surveillance on the buses to and from school. The principal had ordered the tape!!

James went with Jackson to parent/teacher conference that night and it went pretty well all things considered! He has the best teacher yet in his short lived academic career. She sees Jackson - not just as a big kid who should have a waiver you must sign to play with him because chances are you may get hurt, even if he doesn't mean too - but as an incredible heart and giant spirit!! She gets him!! And for Jackson that is the biggest gift you can give him. James and I love her!!! They talked about his nemesis, and how Jackson was at fault as well for always taking the bait, and doing his fair share of dishing back. And she assured him she still thought he was great! After that part, James decided it might be a good idea to stop by the principal's office.

Jackson and James went right in and sat down. James explaining that he heard there may be trouble with Jackson and how he wanted to help if he could. The principal is also a big fan of Jackson's - I attribute this to Dewey the Dragon. Draper Elementary has a mascot named Dewey the Dragon. Every time the PTA or school holds a fundraising event or Fun Run, etc. They drag out Dewey and march him into every class and get each grade excited about the event. The lower grades really love that mascot, and he really hams it up and gives them a show. The costume is hot and awkward and guess who fits into it perfectly - Jackson. So Jackson and the principal are pretty close.  So when James went to talk with her she basically said, "I didn't call you because Jackson and I worked it out. He told me his story and I believe him, and if another parent hadn't complained, well, we would not have ordered the tape."

The tape, the tape, the tape!! James gave it another go with Jackson, explaining how he would still love him even if he hit the kid, but better to come clean about it now then to have the video prove him guilty. Jackson earnest eyed searched his soul and doubled down again holding firm to his innocence. James and I talked later that night and he said "Well, I sure hope that tape comes back in his favor because he certainly believes he is innocent" I hoped too!!! For the next 5 days on and off we kept taking a run at him, Did he remember anything? Anything to confess? Jackson held!

On the last day we needed to check him out for a baseball tournament in St. George. I went in and they called Jackson in from recess because the 5th grade was outside. When he came back inside the principal was also walking down the hall towards the office. Principal Riddle to Jackson "Good day today buddy?" "Yeah" says Jackson smiling because he is leaving early. I realize in that moment this is the principal (Yes, I realize good mothers probably know who the principal of their child's school is -Did you not catch the not awesome part above?) I turned to her and introduced myself to her and asked the big question "Did you get the tape back from the district yet?" Holding my breath for the answer...........

"Oh," she says, practically breezy "Yeah, that came back a couple of days ago. They had 2 different people review the tape, and there was absolutely nothing on there. I forgot to call you or tell Jackson because, well, I knew he was telling the truth" I exhaled. I have never been so happy to hear the news that my kid was telling the truth in my life! CSI Draper had cleared him :) "I told you!!" he said. "Yes I said I should have believed you" I apologized.

A few nights ago at around 9:45, when Jackson was suppose to be asleep he came out to where James and I were watching television and said "Dad, can you have Mom come back and talk to me?" It was something in his voice they made me go back there instead of telling him to stop stalling and go to sleep. I went back to his room and got in bed with him and snuggled up. He had some things he needed to get off his chest. All the soul searching about the other situation had brought up some secrets he had been keeping. Small things, silly things, but he needed to tell me about them. So I listened and gave him absolution and at least today - The truth has set him free!!

Much Love - Jenn

Friday, February 28, 2014

"Be Kind, Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle" - Rev John Watson

"Even You"- Glennon Doyle Melton

Caution: This blog is the most painful and vulnerable blog I have ever written. I didn't even know it needed to be written until yesterday. But when you feel moved to write about something you write about it. I am publishing it in hope that is will accomplish 2 things: 1- Provide help for anyone who is going through Shame, Abuse, etc. and 2- So the people who know me may understand me better. 

I have the full backing of Tim, Patcee, Emily, and James. Who all love me dearly!! I am so grateful for them. This blog is full of family secrets, and if you know my family you will know who I am talking about immediately. It needs to be stated that the person in question is now a paranoid schizophrenic. Although when the events below took place that diagnosis had not yet been made. Last but not least I am the same person I was before you read this blog, so essentially don't start treating me weird!! Read at your own risk.

When I was 11 years old I was sexually abused by an uncle that was only 5 years older than me. That will surprise some but not others. I hardly ever talk about it and for long periods of time, I forget completely about it. It happened to me on and off until I was 14 years old at which point I became strong enough to stop it. But the damage was done. Here is what that damage looks like:

1-Shame: I was completely convinced it was my fault. Being the older of two girls with a 7 year gap in age I was raised and told every day how smart I was, how mature I was, and tall. These were my labels; smart, mature, tall. So someone who is so smart, so mature must be able to stop themselves from being molested right? Right! So from that moment on I was a fraud, I was damaged, and completely unloved by God. I was not going to heaven when I died. I was unworthy and broken and worst of all I was carrying around a secret that was making me sick in my soul.

2- Risky Sexual Behavior: Damaged and broken girls who are carrying around secrets lose all of their self-worth. I was a mess of self-loathing. Which lead to other risky behavior because, why did it matter? Nobody who was anybody good would want me now. So I engaged in sexual activity with anyone who wanted to. That was the only validation I would get from men. These boys, these men just wanted to use me and throw me away. I was fine with that because I was getting the high of being wanted, and I certainly would not have stayed with me either- so this arrangement worked out for both parties. This led to a very painful sexually transmitted disease that I had to have surgery for when I was just 18. I remember my poor father sitting in the recovery room waiting for me, making sure I was okay when I came out of surgery. I can only imagine the absolute worry for me he had, and how surreal that experience must have been. That ultimately lead to a hysterectomy at just 37 - thankfully I was able to have each of my amazing children first!!

3- Drugs and alcohol: When you are walking around hiding shame all the time - getting stoned or drinking is an awesome escape. You can find places in your mind that you can access that allow you push those feeling down deep. You also find others of like broken-ness and that is where you feel most comfortable. Your family that loves you and can't understand what is happening ceases to feel like home and becomes instead a giant mirror reflecting how unworthy and hopeless your situation is. I hated being at home. I hated seeing them want so much for me, to be told how much potential I had when I knew if they knew, they would never love me again. I gave zero credit to my family, because after all, remember, it was all my fault. I have been completely depressed and borderline addicted to drugs at one point in my life. It took a small stay at a hospital to get me back in balance.

4-Food and Bulimia: I also turned to food to fill the giant hole in my heart. I would literally look at the menu and think how much can I eat without it looking like I am eating too much. While I was in junior high and high school and for a while after I would control this piece with purging. I was a master of vomit and could do it on command. It was awful, having eaten too much I would feel pained and then just a moment to steal away to the bathroom and out it would be. I would feel powerful for a moment having controlled it. This particular item had lasting effects. 1st from all the stomach acids over all those years I have been diagnosed with Barrett's syndrome which is a pre-curser to esophageal cancer. This requires specific monitoring to make sure it doesn't progress into cancer. The 2nd was eventually losing my battle with food and bulimia and needing to get back some control in my life I opted for very painful (but so worth it) gastric bypass surgery. Which ended my love affair with food altogether - but we needed to break-up anyway. The food wasn't filling my heart it was just slowly killing me.

5- Guilt, Justification, Anger, and Anxiety: Sex is a pleasurable thing. So when I got to an age that the abuse would actually give me sexual pleasure that shame kicked into high gear. I had to come up with reason why I felt that pleasure. I must be in love. So forever more the line was blurred between sex and love. I look back at this now and feel ridiculous.  My little mature 12 year old brain could barely wrap my head around having a period, how did this fit in? I was guiltier and more broken then ever at this point. I often would feel like running away would be a great idea, or maybe if I just never woke up. Some people get depressed, I got angry, and I was completely angry and awful to everyone around me for years. Anger was the thing that allowed me to push people away before they realized I wasn't worthy of their love. I hated them before they hated me. Worst of all it was exhausting - all the guilt, shame, self-loathing which manifested in crazy anxious thoughts running through my head constantly left me literally hanging on by my finger nails off the edge of the emotional cliff all the time.

6-Church and Confession: My secret was safe and sound, locked away until I was 17. My parents were in Hawaii for Christmas and this year Emily and I were old enough to be left alone. I had a car and money, and all was well for the first half of their trip, but then it all turned ugly and awful. The uncle in question, another aunt some of her family, and my grandmother showed up at the house and essentially stormed the castle. They were trying to get the uncle in question to comply with some request. It was something stupid, like a haircut or a counseling session but he was not going to comply. And the argument was taking place right there at my house. Eventually it turned violent with my uncle punching holes in walls and making physical threats. I had Emily to think of, so I grabbed her and loaded her up in my car and took off out of there to get us out of harm’s way. The police were called and all sorts of drama ensued. I was not there for the drama. I think Emily and I went for ice cream, and tried to act like all was well as to not worry her.

I may not have been there for the drama but I was there for the fallout. The uncle was not arrested. There was no home owner at the house to make a complaint. We had all fled or were on vacation. But in an effort to try and explain his behavior and get out of trouble for the day with his mother/my grandmother, he decided to confess his sins against me to her. When I arrived home she was waiting for me. In her head I was responsible as well. I have never in my life felt such humiliation. I had to answer questions and account for what I had stopped from happening to me 3 years prior. The gig was up. I had no choice but to tell my parents - who were blissfully unaware and flying home from Hawaii the next day.

The next day I sat them down and told them, and like a dutiful, mature, and smart girl, I took full responsibility. When I look back at it now, it is a complete fog. I have no idea how I got the words out. That was followed by a trip to the Bishop who made me account in humiliating and painful detail again - He was full of questions about my sexual pleasure. I lied, I just lied and lied and kept taking responsibility. When all was said and done I was supposed to be forgiven, clean again. I wasn't clean again, I felt more broken and less loved by God than I had ever felt. I was done with the Mormon Church in that moment. Done, FOREVER.

Calm down everyone I don't blame the church at all!! I gave that up years ago!! But God and I are not square yet (we have a few items we are working on) and we never may be, and that is okay!! I have it handled.

So - What changed?

When I was 19 I was stoned out of my mind, and drunk after attending a Crosby, Steels and Nash concert at the state fairgrounds in Arizona. A knock came at the door and there was Jay. Jay was friend of a boy that really liked me. I have no idea what that boys name was, but he and I had, had a couple make-out sessions and in one of them the boy farted. I grew up in a very formal family, and for the life of me I could not get over the fart. It just ruined any chance he had with me from there on out. So in an effort to try and get me back he would often send up his much cuter buddy Jay to lure me down to the fart guys apartment for a beer. A few times it worked and I would go down, but then the cuter Jay would disappear and I would be left with fart boy.

This time the ploy was not going to work. And so when Jay suggested we go downstairs, I said the following (it is amazing what you will say when you are stoned and drunk) "Listen, I don't like your friend, I am never going to like your friend, but I think you are cute, so if you want to stay, that works for me, and if not, oh well, but I am not going with you down to his apartment!" Jay stayed. A one night stand ensued the product of which is my most beloved son Keaton.

Keaton saved my life!! He loved me and I loved him, and nothing from my secret past or my past transgressions could change that. If all else fell completely apart we had each other. It was the first time in a very long time I allowed myself to feel love as big and loves is, and receive it the same way.

Now, let's be clear, it's not like a magic pill. I still went on to drug and drink, mostly drug but my sexually risky behavior went away completely. I did marry a man who could not hold down a job for more than 3 months at a go, the entire time we were married (14 years) and was a raging alcoholic who hit me from time to time. And I put up with it, because I still had shame, I still had guilt. I deserved this man. But, two of the biggest loves of my life came from that union, Kennedy and Jackson. But I wasn't a positive person. I was jaded and hard. I had a temper like you would not believe. I could and would rage like a mad woman at the drop of a hat. Now I wasn't just angry about my past, but angry about my husband. I actually had a migraine headache for almost 2 years at the end of that relationship.

For my ex father-in-laws 65th birthday we decide to give him a sky diving gift certificate. When the day came we all went out to watch him jump out of the plane.
While he was getting prepped the owner of the place saddled up to me and almost whispered in my ear. "You should do it too" never one to turn down a challenge I said cheerfully "Ok" just 45 minutes later. I was literally up in the air around 13 thousand feet with a total stranger strapped to my back. It is one of those things where you are standing in the doorway and the expert yells in your ear "We go on three. 1, 2" you never hear the three. You simply realize that you are free falling turning and twisting and watching a perfectly good plane fly away, as you free fall for 2 straight minutes. Until the ground is getting closer and closer and you are sending mental telepathy messages in your head that say "Um, we should open the shoot now, now would be good, no really, now? Okay this is getting serious open the shoot!! Open the shoot!" And just when you think all is lost. The expert opens that shoot. Whew!!!!

A crazy thing happened that day. I decided if I could jump out of a plane I could do anything! And so I decided that a divorce was needed. No longer did I deserve this alcoholic with his promises of change, and promises of this time he would keep the job. No longer would I be afraid that he would hit me or Keaton in a fit of rage. I was free, and if I was free from that, maybe I could be free from all of it. The guilt, the shame, the worthless thoughts, and the constant justifications of why my life was the way it was. The pretending everything was fine when it was clearly not fine. Keaton had saved my life, but Sky Diving had saved my soul.

Not to long after the divorce was final I met James. I was dating a few other men at the time, but none of them were marriage material, and this time I was absolutely determined to marry a good man!! I deserved that, my children deserved that. We met on a slightly blind date at the Olive Garden. He was much taller than I expected but he was a gentleman from top to bottom, and when he opened the door for me with one hand and put his other hand on the small of my back to guide me through the restaurant. I knew, it just knew, I was going to marry this man. He was absolutely the opposite of everything I thought I wanted but I could feel it in my bones, he was a good man. We spent most the evening talking about his family. How strange is that? His sister had put a family calendar out, and he took it out, and walked my through each of the pictures and how much he loved each and every member of his family. I thought to myself - oh dear!! This is it!! Damn it!! I didn't even get to have much fun single time. And 6 months later we were married!! And guess what - He is the best man I have ever known (well along with my dad, and a few others) Keaton saved my life, Skydiving saved my soul, and James saved my heart!

Okay - because I am a silver linings kind of gal - here are some gifts that came out of that terrible thing that happened to me:

1-I am generally completely in touch with others emotional pain. I really can feel it almost a mile away. It pains me, and because I know what it is like I want nothing more than to move them through it. It is the same for shame. Shame will eat you alive and when I feel someone who is feeling shame I like to think I can be told anything without judging them. People make mistakes; people have terrible things happen to them. For nearly 20 years I was a victim of shame, if I can help anyone through and out of it, I have to, it is almost a compulsion.

2- I have radar for sexual predators like you would not believe!!! My children have been schooled in what to look for from the word go. They have also been taught to listen to their intuition. Intuition, the Holy Spirit, whatever you want to call it is number one gift we are born with!! Talking about it, listening to it, encouraging your children your spouse, your friends to trust it, is the best advice you can ever give. It doesn't happen when you suddenly turn 8 it happens the moment you can reason, and should be exercised every single day!!

3- At my home everything is talked about, everything. Even if it uncomfortable or embarrassing we talk about it. We also have a motto coined by my wonder twin brother Travis "Secrets give you Cancer" yes, I realize that cancer comes from many different places but at our house for our family it starts with Secrets! Secrets and Shame go hand in hand. So we have a no secret policy. Because we all want to be as clear of shame as much as possible!!

There are probably more, but this blog is pretty long and I think I will wrap it up here. The good news is I have forgiven. The good news is my family still loves me like crazy. The good news is I came through the other side and probably the best news is - I love me!!

If this blogs helps anyone else - yay me, yay them!!

Much Love XOXO - Jenn

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Transformation of Jorri :Cinderella, Evil Step Mothers & Dalycia LaFosse

If you haven't seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day; you really must go out and rent it right now!!! It came out around 6 years ago, and once I saw it, it became one of my top movies off all time. It is one of those movies that speaks to my soul. For I can't help but put myself in movies, in this one I am both Dalycia Lafosse, and Miss Pettigrew. Depending on how you know me or the role I am playing in any given day you will probably identify me as one of the characters as well. I immediately went home grabbed my girls and took them to see the movie as well.  That day neither of them identified with a role in the film, but I know at least Jorri aspired to and I would imagine that they both do now.

 When I met Jorri she was an awkward, overweight, 9 year old with two parents doing the best they could. She has a wonderful resilient mother who had just recently been remarried, after a divorce, several moves, a slightly unpredictable ex, and several years of being a single parent to two daughters that she loves dearly! At the time she was doing her best to also combine a new family with 2 other step kids thrown into the mix.  James on the other hand was a 7 year bachelor with a steady stream of living by the seat of his pants, girlfriends, roommates, moves, job changes, and drama of his own.

I think we can all agree that Jorri was loved, is loved, up one side and down the other. But she was dealing with her own challenges. I was one of those challenges!!  The first time I met Jorri I was on my best behavior, and she, hers. This is a terrible place, best behavior land, because you really don't know who you are getting. I actually went to church with she and James (that tells you everything you need to know) we were able to skate out right after sacrament meeting, while she happily went off to primary. James and I went to a book store and browsed the books, killing time. I found a book about Fairies; it was a large coffee table size book. With a price tag of $40. Apparently that was a lot of money at the time, it wasn't to me. So I bought it for her. As you can imagine she was thrilled!!

Success!! I thought to myself, she was purchased for the low, low price of $40. To say this was absolutely delusional would be a gigantic understatement. Jorri was by far one of the most difficult children in the world for me. She had a culture all her own, and needless to say, it wasn't mine. Jorri was the pickiest eater on the planet; she had been existing on a steady stream of fast food. She was living on French fries and processed chicken nuggets. She was afraid of everything, I mean everything!! Water, Rides at Disneyland, Movies, being alone, the dark, hot dogs, essentially anything that was new. I spent the first 4 years trying to Jenn-erize her. She resisted.

My Jenn-erizing took many forms. There was her style, polar opposite to mine. If I loved black classic and sleek, she loved crazy blue, bright pink and purple. There was food.  I would push her to try new things and she would sit hour after hour at the table and pick a tiny bite at a time, and then give us a dramatic gagging scene. There were chores at our house, my children understanding the "right" way to do everything. She was on what I can only call “Jorri standard time" which is very, very slow, and unaware of how you are affecting the group. She was quite literally being transformed all right!!She was turning into Cinderella and I was absolutely the wicked step mother!

This went on for almost 5 years. She could not be bought, or reasoned with, and only some of my hostage techniques, or bribery worked. Worst yet it took its toll on her relationship with her dad. James loves Jorri as big as love is!! He was always trying to get her to come down to Utah and spend time with us, and I was always acting supportive, but we all were secretly uneasy about whatever battle would come out of the visit. Believe me, there was always a battle. And for the record, they were 100 percent my fault!! I was completely evil and manipulative. I was trying to constantly control my environment. That included Jorri, I wanted her to buy in, to "get it", but no matter how I dressed it up, or forced it down, she remained Jorri.

Now - I don't want to paint an inaccurate picture. It's not like Jorri didn't grow and change and adapt, and even begin to assimilate to the "Jenn" way. But never fully and never fast enough for me. Also, let it be known that throughout this whole time, I was never dealing with a terrible child. She never did anything bad. She was, in fact, the opposite, she was too good!! It drove me crazy. She basically was lovely and sweet, and was always kind to everyone, and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. She saw the sweet, she thought the best of, and she was, in my world weak.

Weak is the flip side of my coin! I hate feeling weak, so when I sense weak, I am like a heat seeking missile to destroy, or improve. I really can't help myself. I give people two choices - you can either become strong, or I must rid you from my life. It is something I struggle and fail with all the time.  Well, kids are not something you rid yourself of, and so we went round and round and round. It was exhausting. I was exhausted, James was exhausted. I know Jorri was not only exhausted but confused and hurt. For she was trying too, trying to break the code of Jenn, and just when she thought she had it, I would want more, expect more, round and round and round.

I am not sure when it changed. But it did. I began to see her. I began to see how difficult being weak from time to time was for her, how often her kindness would be taken for granted and her heart broken, broken by people she loved dearly. I changed. Because I found that I knew how that felt. I think we all know how that feels. Heartbroken is a universal feeling and for Jorri and me it was common ground. Can I just tell you what a relief common ground is!!!

We became buddies, not call each other every day buddies, but I get you and you are starting to get me buddies. So when we were together we appreciated each other more. It's not like I stopped pushing and pressing her, and it's not like she suddenly was fully Jenn-erized but, we just got easier.

This last August on the way to the beach for our annual trip, we had stopped for the night in Sacramento. That night, with the girls in their hotel room and us in ours, we heard a knock at the door at 4:00 in the morning. It was Jorri's friend Hannah - "Jorri is in trouble, come quick" we walked in and found Jorri moaning and balled up. Another kidney stone courtesy of James and his genetic side of the equation. We acted quickly grabbing Jorri and heading to the nearest Emergency room. To be honest, I was mad!

I was mad because this was happening again. We had spent a good deal of time, money, and pain the summer before on kidney stones. And I was just sure this was going to ruin the trip we had spent a small fortune on. Mad because I was awake at 4:00 am -no coffee, not wise. And mad mostly because Jorri had not taken the warnings of her doctors the year before seriously and had put on weight, not drinking enough water, not taking care of her diet, and here we were about to spend at least hundreds of dollars in the ER again!! I was worried this would happen every year the rest of her life, and that was not okay with me. No one should go through that!

So, at 4:15 am, in the Sutter Hospital ER with a woman who was being guarded by police screaming at the top of her lungs in the room next door, Jorri, James, and I had a serious talk! We laid it down. This kind of life was unacceptable; we loved her and cared about her too much for this to happen anymore. She had to take control of her diet, her weight and her life. We would provide her any resources she needed. We would be her life support team, but she needed to own it. She needed to decide that her life would not be like this!! I 'm not sure if is it was the kidney stone, or the hard discussion, but tears were shed, agreements made, and we all 3 left the hospital that morning determined that this would not be her life!

Cut to last weekend, Jorri had auditioned and been selected to be a featured soloist at the Jazz Band fundraiser, her show choir was performing as well. So James and jumped in the car and went up to Pocatello to see her sing. This fund raiser is a very fun concept. They serve dinner in one section and have auction items in the other section, and then have the jazz band performing in the center - like Dinner theater with a dance floor.

We walked in unsure what to expect when suddenly there was Jorri all smiles, and confidence twirling around and hugging us with joy and happiness. We almost didn't recognize her; 25 pounds lighter both inside and out. She was simply lighting up the room. Long gone was that awkward girl, who was trying to find her place - a confident beautiful lady with a voice in her place. When she took the stage to sing, a giant cheer rose from the crowd and the dance floor immediately filledfor her jazz solo, and later it filled up again for her up tempo - It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing - she owned the micro, the room and our hearts. I was looking at her and thinking - When did Jorri Become Dalycia LaFosse ?- But she was her, and it was amazing, confident, and magical.

Later that evening her proud, puffed up dad James was able to dance with her during one of the last numbers that evening. It brought tears to my eyes as I watched them 2 step on the dance floor. Radiant Jorri Beaming Dad. Like a fairy tale from one of those books she loved. I felt proud. Knowing full well all the credit was hers. She had made it out of being “Jenn” ed I love Jorri, all of her – From the top of that blonde head to the tips of her tapping toes!! And at least in this story – They all lived happily ever after – Even the evil step mother – me

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jenn, James, and the Mexican (Possibly Imaginary) Sharks

#sharks #jaws #vacation #adventure #cancun #mexico
Would it be a Vacation if there wasn't a little Adventure?
It must be said that this isn't my fault. Tim and Patcee are completely to blame!! When I was 5 years old the movie "Jaws" came out in theaters. We had just recently moved to Utah from Northern California and my parents really wanted to see the movie. I don't know if they could not find a sitter or if they were just young parents who didn't think it through, but they loaded me up in the car, with a baby mattress in the back seat and all sorts of blankets and pillows to make my spot comfortable in the car and they took me to a double header at the Drive-In movie.

You remember Drive-In movies they were the best if you had children who might get bored or not sit still in a regular movie theater. Most Drive In's even had playground equipment at them. My mom would make some popcorn, and grabs some red vines and the three of us would happily go see the latest show. When we lived in California we would even stop by Jack-in-the-Box and pick up dinner before.  I loved that part because they always gave me a sucker and a balloon with my meal.

Well on this night they were playing Jaws at the Drive-In. I was still having a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that we had moved to a place that didn't have an ocean. I had spent almost every single weekend of my whole little 5 year old life at the beach, my dad was an avid surfer - Utah didn't even have a lake with proper sand. So this night when I realized that this movie was about the ocean, my little eyes were glued to the screen. I think it may have been the first movie in my life that I paid complete attention too. My parents thought I would get bored and fall asleep - I was riveted!! Prior to this movie I didn't even know what a shark was, but now and forever more, the damage was done - I was scared to death of them!

I did continue to get in the ocean, mostly now just once or twice a year when we went on vacation. But it did take particular concentration on facing my fear. I had to tell myself little stories like "Come on Jenn, what is the likelihood the shark will eat you? There are so many other people in the water and they are out farther than you" the logic being - Sharks are lazy and will eat what is nearest. What??!! I also had one more Shark experience that re-enforced my fear.

We were on vacation and I was about 11. That year we had driven down to San Diego from LA to go to Sea World. I loved Sea World the shows were amazing and interesting and you got to see Dolphins and Killer Whales up close, and the day was really fun. One of the attractions there was the shark tank. They had all different types of sharks swimming in a tank which was like a large cylinder. Most of the action was happening down underground in the thick glass that would allow you to go from tank to tank and look at the sharks.

There was one tank that caught my eye and I had been standing there for a while watching a Bull Shark watch me. I was just sure the shark was watching me. It was swimming in a circle and looking straight at me every time it would make another round. "Dad!" I said slightly concerned "That shark is looking at me!" "Jenn" he replied "Don't be silly, that shark is not looking at you." "Yes, yes, yes he is" I assured my father. Just then the shark came around for the final time, and with full force charged the glass hitting it hard! I jumped nearly out of my skin, tripping over people as I scampered back away from the glass. There was a park employee nearby that ran over and assured me I would be okay, the glass wasn't going to break, and his theory was that the shark was interested in me because I was wearing a red shirt. It didn't matter why, I was even more convinced, it was me against them!

Okay- Cut to last week. Jackson's grandparents had decided to take him on a Caribbean cruise (Saint Kitts, Puerto Rico, Haiti, etc.) for his 11th birthday. Spoiled Much? So James and I who never had a real honeymoon decided now was the time to take our own little vacation. Cancun looked like it fit the bill perfectly and we booked ourselves 5 days in paradise. When we talked about going, all I wanted to do was relax, and maybe see the Mayan Pyramids. James' one request was to go snorkeling.  When we got to the hotel it was beautiful, it was paradise and as if by some miracle years of stress and worry literally melted away. We actually felt lighter.

We decided to spend the first day at the hotel, and then the 2nd as well. We were having a hard time mustering the gumption to do anything but what people do on a romantic vacation, along with sleep, and eat, and swim and soak and sleep some more. Finally we decided we needed to do an actual activity that was native to the region. So we went to the concierge type place on property and booked an excursion. Truthfully we booked two, but we never made it to the 2nd one.

Our choice was a guided jungle cruise on which each couple would get their own little ski boat to drive.  Once you had toured the "jungle" you would then drive out to the open ocean and rendezvous with a guide who would then take you out to snorkel on the giant reef that was several hundred yards off the shoreline. James and I were super excited but as we woke up the following morning the weather had taken a turn. A storm was brewing. We both were slightly bummed out because we were just sure that the company would cancel due to the weather. Hoping the storm would pass we made our way off property and over to where we were start our adventure.

When we got to the Marina the place was nearly empty except for the workers. Looking back maybe that should have been a sign. There were us, and another couple from Iowa. They were younger; she was tall, slim, blonde, really pretty and very worried about the weather. He just wanted to make her happy. So as we sat there waiting for our guide and instructions we chatted with them. She was fretting and I started doing what I always do. I started selling her. "No, no this will blow over, it will be fine, blah, blah, blah"- she decided they would go too.

But here is the deal, it didn't blow over, it blew in, and as we loaded into our little 15 foot ski boat that was being held together with duct tape - the waves started getting bigger and bigger - and they proceeded to do that as James drove the boat out of the marina. Apparently Mexican jungle cruises don't cancel or postpone for squalls in the weather. 5-6 foot swells with driving rain, the kind that hits your skin and stings a little. We had to keep our sunglasses on to prevent it from hurting our eyes, and allowing them to stay open to see what was coming next. James takes this opportunity to tell me he hasn't driven a boat since he was about 15. He is 41. I have been driving boats of one type or another my whole life , so as you can imagine this caused me immediate concern, and if we are being perfectly honest - I started planning my strategy for how I was going to survive and get back to shore when the boat flipped or sank.

James was actually doing a really good job following the guide boat and letting him give us a smoother wake to navigate through. But at this point the weather cranks it up a notch. The rain is coming down in what I can only describe as per-hurricane, and neither of us has windshield wipers on our sunglasses. Trying to break the tension I looked up at the sky and said "You call this a storm!!!" in my most Lieutenant Dan voice and giggle, James laughs too, and tells me how much the other couple hates us right now. The weather continues to worsen as our little boat is smashing against the waves and rain is coming down in a stinging downpour but there is no turning back now. We follow as James yells at me over the roar of the boat, ocean, and storm - "Jenn, I can't see, I can't see" Between the storm and his contacts which have stopped working he is officially been turned into the white Stevie Wonder- So I take off my glasses and try to give him the best verbal directions I can on how to stay up with our guide, who seems to have no concern at all for our safety.

After what seems like a 3 hour tour, we make it to the open ocean and somehow rendezvous with our guide. He has anchored his boat to a buoy and then tied our boat and the other couples boat to each other. She is absolutely glaring at me and declares, she is not getting in the water - again he just wants to please her, so they just sit in their boat and try to stay warm.  James and I have been through hell to get here, so if the guide is getting in the water, we are getting in the water!! It's time to snorkel!!

As we jump in the water with our fins, masks, and air hose thingy’s - The water warms us immediately - This is much better than the death trap they call a boat, and we are maybe 300 yards off shore at the tip of the peninsula - so I am feeling much better about everything. There is another group from a different marina maybe 50 yards away, and one of the women is screeching loudly about a shark. The guide turns to me and says in broken English - "Listen, you see the shark, don't freak out, be calm, the shark go away, just be calm" This pep talk had the opposite effect on me, but I am determined to be brave "okay, got it" I say. The little voice says in my head - "the shark will probably eat that lady - she is making so much noise."

So me, James and our guide start to snorkel around the reef. The guide has been doing this his whole life, and so he is moving through the strong currents with the ease of a fish. I am a swimmer, so I am holding my own and enjoying myself gliding through the reef following the fish - It surprised me we could see everything blue and alive, fish darting in and out, and all manner of beautiful and strange creatures on the reef. I was having a ball following the guide. James was having fun too, puttering around at a much slower pace, because he is not a swimmer, so his kick was slapping the water with the fins. I decided to swim over to him and offer to teach him to kick properly but he was enjoying himself and in no particular hurry to get anywhere quickly. So we parted and I explored around with the guide and he went his merry way.

At one point we were all in the same area as the guide pointed out a statue that was under water, he told his there was another one about 100 yards away if we wanted to see it. Yes, we agreed and off we swam to the buoy that marked where it was. I was their within a few minutes. But James was taking forever, so for a while, I just held onto buoy and floated on my back waiting for him to arrive, but eventually I was tired of holding on, and so I let go of the buoy, and without even feeling it, I started to just drift, when I finally looked back I was about 15 yards from the buoy. I decided to swim back, but when I turned over to do that I was directly on top of the reef. I panicked, looking side to side, trying to figure out, how I was going to get off. The best thing I could think of was that I would reach down and grab a portion of the reef, and use it to pull myself forward hard enough that I would be off it enough, to kick off.

As I reached down a large wave pushed me down, and instead of grabbing it with my hand, my wrist, and several spots on my right leg were propelled directly down on the reef, putting several gashes everywhere it touched me. Ocean reefs are sharp, and this one had just shredded my wrist, and cut up my leg. The guide noticed I was in trouble and a large hand came across the only place to grab me and pulled me hard off the middle of the reef. I came up for air, and looked at my wrist - it was bleeding pretty badly. I looked at the guide and said "I'm bleeding" the fear raising up in my voice, and every single shark week I had ever watched on the discovery channel racing through my head. "We need to get out of the water now" he says.

The adrenaline was absolutely pumping through my body at full tilt. I am 200 yards from the boats. I start to swim as fast as I have ever swum in my life. I am in that moment Michael Phelps. I have stopped breathing altogether - My whole body is just propelling me forward to the boat - When I get to the boat all my strength is gone. I can't pull myself out of the water. The guide make it there a few minutes later, jumps on the back of the boat comes around and with a combined effort of me pushing off and him pulling I am out of the water. Looking down at my leg it is bleeding too, and I am so relieved to be out of the water. I am alive - The shark isn't getting me today. It then occurs to me that James is not near.

James has been happily snorkeling through this entire episode, having no idea his loving wife just left him in the newly chummed ocean. I have to be honest in all the time I was swimming like crazy to the boat; James never even entered my head. But now there he was the only one left in the water, and finally he looked up to discover that everyone else was no longer snorkeling. He tells me now – He thought “Really? What the Hell? I just got here!” – He had finally arrived at the buoy.  And although I maintain that I was motioning dramatically for him to swim back to the boat. It’s his story that he just thought it was time to for the excursion to end. So as fast as he could he swam back over to the boat. When he was finally also back in the boat safe and sound – He finally realized that his wife was bleeding and he then formulated – That the entire adventure was just a way for me to cash in on his life insurance policy ;)

Although I was scrapped up, James really had used all of his energy fighting the currents and making it back to the boat – So I drove us back to the marina, and the weather by this time had calmed significantly so the drive back was a relative breeze. We docked the boat and went to turn in our gear, at which time we were presented with our souvenir photo which make us both laugh when we see it and medical treatment which consisted of iodine – Ouch!!

I win sharks – I win!