To the Parents Who Hurt on the First Day of School

It’s back to school season, ya’ll. Summer is fading and sales are aplenty. Excitement and dread fill the air in equal parts, apples are decorative, and grown people are found rocking in the school supply aisle, eyes glazed over and muttering something about folders with brads.

This week my social media feeds have been flooded with first day of school photos, adorable, smiling faces ready to learn, teenagers eager to get away from the camera, parents excited for a little more quiet. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation, of labeling and laminating. Back to school is upon us, and all the parents shouted amen – even though they’re all broke by now from all the back to school buying needs.

But I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to the parents who made it through the first day, who survived it rather than celebrated it.

To the parents of children not with them on this earth, the parents who didn’t get to write their child’s name on a backpack because at some point they had to engrave their name on a tombstone.

To the parents of children who have not yet come, those waiting and crying and desperately wanting their own littles to buy obscene amounts of glue sticks for.

To the parents who don’t get to walk their child to class because their child is wheeled in by an aide.

To the parents whose school year started weeks ago with ARD meetings and IEPs and 504’s.

To the parents introducing their child to yet another new school.

To the parents who are limping across the month of August because the clothes, shoes, gear, supplies, extra supplies, surprise supplies, and lunch staples have drained you of more than you could give.

To the parent who is doing it alone.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of saved seats – but not a one was reserved for them.

To the parents who watch their child walk into a classroom full of parents who judge you – and your child.

To the parents who didn’t get to watch at all, because work or health or some other circumstance meant you couldn’t be there.

To the parents who are scared, worried, wondering if their child is able or their teacher is prepared.

To the parents of the bullied – and the parents of the bully.

To the parents of the medically fragile and the emotionally unstable, the academically challenged and the intellectually unchallenged.

To the parents who spend more time advocating than anticipating.

To the parents of the foster kids.

To the parents of the kids repeating a grade.

To the parents of the quirky kids, the overlooked kids, the oblivious kids, the hyper-aware kids. The sensory kids, the allergy kids, the differently-abled kids.

To all the parents who made it through – you did it. You’re not alone, though you’re often overlooked. The work and love you put into getting your child through the doors of that school may not look like everyone else’s, it may not have started when everyone else’s did, and it may not even be complete, but you did it. To all the parents who are a little sad, it’s okay. To all the parents who played off their tears and didn’t vocalize their fears, it’s okay. To the parents who approach the year with trepidation and built-in exhaustion, you’re not a downer, you’re not a curmudgeon, you’re not a pessimist and you’re not a bad parent. It’s just a hard day, and that’s okay. So shout out to you for making it through. Shout out to you for bearing what your child needs and what the world has handed you. Shout out to you for being stronger than most know, even when the tears creep down. Shout out to you for doing what any kid needs regardless of abilities, health, socioeconomic status or social standing – you got stuff done. Shout out to you, parents, for being everything your child needs of you, even when you feel like you’ve failed, and especially when the world just doesn’t get it. Shout out to you for making it to another year, for trying again, for not giving up. Shout out to you… and your amazing kid.



The Bad Weather Friend

We all know about fair weather friends. We’ve had them, been them. We all have the the friend who is only a friend when times are good, fun, easy, carefree. Then life happens, the going gets tough and the fair weather friends throw up their deuces and are nowhere to be seen.

That’s not what I am.

I’m a bad weather friend. The friend you call when life gives you lemons. The friend you message when you’re broken-hearted, hurting, in need of some kind. I’m not the only friend like this, I don’t begin to be so prideful as to assume that, and I’m not always as available as I’d like to be during the storm. But us, the bad weather friends, we’re the ones in the background, the ones deep in the message inbox because your life has been going well and you haven’t needed us.

I used to resent it, being a safe place. “Don’t tell Betty Sue,” you’d plead to me, “She has no idea I’m going through this.” A week later I’d see you on social media out to dinner with Betty Sue, at the movies with Betty Sue, with nary an invite for me, the person you trusted in your state of vulnerability. “Please help me,” your message would start, “I don’t know what to do.” The next week I’d see the read receipt on my lengthy and well-thought-out response, the words I prayed over and poured into, and see that you’d read them days before without thanks. “I desperately need your prayers,” you cry, “my life is in shambles and I’m terrified of what is to come.” I hold you, cry with you, pray with you, and plead on your behalf at the feet of God, to hear through the grapevine later that everything worked out fine. This hurt me. I felt used, discarded, like a friend of convenience. I was who you turned to in times of need but not times of leisure, someone you knew would be a friend to you but not someone you were interested in being a friend with. I got bitter. I got discouraged. I got jealous.

Then I had to wonder – why would God honor my jealousy? Isn’t there totally something in the Bible about not being jealous? Whatever my experiences and emotions, jealousy is never holy or righteous on my part. Whatever Betty Sue has with you that I don’t, it’s not okay to be jealous of. Because you know what? Betty Sue obviously doesn’t have something that I do. Betty Sue may be fun and may get all the girls nights out, but she doesn’t get you at your worst, she isn’t who you turn to when you need someone you know will be there. Also, Betty Sue is a lot more available to go to the movies than I am – I don’t have childcare or spare cash lying around, so I’m glad you have Betty Sue. I couldn’t maintain the friendship that you and Betty Sue have even if I wanted to, so I’m happy to be your person, happy to keep your secrets and know sides of you that few others do. As for the unreturned messages, well, I’m glad you got them. Those words were for you and I hope they helped. I didn’t offer my help in exchange for thanks, and I’m sure that in the moment you read them you were experiencing the chaos you first messaged me about. Your life was obviously upside down in one way or another, so I couldn’t have expected you to behave as normal. You messaged me in desperation and probably read my replies in the same manner… or you just really hated what I had to say, haha! And when I prayed for you I didn’t do so to gain an invitation into your life. Yes, I would really like to hear the good news, or any news, to follow up and know how you are, because I’m genuinely concerned. But I also understand that I’ve just seen you at your worst – I know your deep, dark shames, I’ve seen you heave and snot and wail. I know about your husband’s infidelities and your boss’ activities, your addictions, your failings, your criminal record. I know things that you wish others didn’t, so it has to be hard to feel comfortable around me sometimes, when things are good and you don’t want to look in the eye of someone who knew you when they weren’t.

On any given morning, I wake to about 10 messages in my inbox, not including invitations to check out whatever direct sales company my friend has joined. It varies from car seat and cloth diaper advice to marital problems, mental health issues, secret cancer scares, legal problems, and more. I receive texts from many others. On any given day, I will most likely not be able to meet these friends for lunch, go out to eat, see a movie, or come hold them in their living rooms. But what I can do, what I can offer them, is being their bad weather friend. I don’t always know what to say and I don’t always have an answer, but they do always have a friend. They always have someone they know they can reach out to, and how humbled I am that they know it’s me. I could feel petty and jealous that they didn’t invite me to dinner, or I can feel honored that they did invite me into their struggles. I can marvel that sometimes after years have gone by without a word, someone will think of me when they need something, when they need encouragement or advice, and know that I’m the person they want. Because my friendship isn’t for sale – you don’t have to buy it with nights out or mani/pedi days or even “likes” on a Facebook post. I’ll keep doing my life and you’ll keep doing yours, and I’ll be happy to help each time you need me to. Besides, it’s just not possible to be best friends with every single person we know.

So we thank you, friends, we bad weather ones who are waiting in the wings. We thank you for trusting us, for turning to us. We thank you for your confidence you share with us and the confidence you place in us. Most likely you come to us because you know we will be there, because something in us wants to be there. We want to help, you’re not a bother. We’d like an update when you can manage and we’d like to share in some of your good times as well, but if we don’t get it we’re still happy for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, we may ask of you what you’ve needed of us – please don’t run. Sometimes we need a safe place, too. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes protecting everyone’s secrets gets heavy and we just need someone to sit with. Sometimes we really, really want to go out to dinner, too. So I ask, friends, on behalf of all the bad weather friends, don’t forget about us until you need us. Let us be all-weather friends. We may not be Betty Sue, but we’re here for you, we care about you, and we’re cheering you on from wherever you’ll let us.

Happily Ever After and Gestalt Theory

“Jennifer. There’s an egg in that picture.”

I know, I know. Bear with me. It’ll be explained soon, I promise.


I have been married for 11 1/2 years. I am in no way an expert, I don’t have it all figured out, but I am happy and I love my husband more today than I did 11 1/2 years ago when we began our journey into happily ever after. Cinderella dancing with her prince was our cake topper, we handed out glass slippers filled with candy, and played “So This is Love” at the wedding – when I say we were beginning our happily every after, I mean it. I grew up, like many of you, on Disney movies, love stories, princesses being swept off their feet by the handsome princes, romance, beauty, and musicals that always ended with the perfect couple living happily ever after. Also like many of you, I grew into an adult who had to face the harsh reality that there’s a lot of stuff not shown in those favorite classics. Whose castle did Aurora and Philip move into? What about their controlling parents? Did Cinderella have extreme PMS? Did Aladdin ever deal with insecurity over Jasmine bringing home more money than him? Did Snow White have some pretty gnarly morning breath after she woke up? Did any of them gain weight? Struggle with infertility? Have to squash an uprising in the kingdom? Were they separated by war? Really, what ACTUALLY happened after “happily ever after” scrolled across the screen?

A lot of you are married. You’ve begun your own happily ever after. You’ve faced the reality that you couldn’t anticipate – the arguments, the bills, the little nuances and quirks that grow ten times in size when you live with someone. You’ve had in-laws get into your business. Some of you have had strangers get into your bed. You’ve found yourself in the trenches and have begun to think of marriage as a warzone more than a fairy tale. Marriage is work, that’s for sure. It’s not a secret that a relationship requires communication, compromise, and naps. The further you get from the day you began living happily ever after, the less you think “happily ever after” is even real.

Here’s where the egg comes in.

One of the summations of Gestalt Theory of psychology is by Kurt Kaffka, who said, “The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” Often it is quoted as “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Either way, here’s what it means – the pieces of something are not what it is. If you take an egg and crack it open, you have a yolk, an egg white, and an egg shell, all sitting before you. Totaled up, the sum of the parts are an egg. Yet the pieces of an egg are not the same as holding an intact egg in your hand. The egg you hold in your hand and the egg pieces that lay before you are, actually, two different things. It seems sketchy until you need an egg to bake with, then you realize the difference. While what makes up the egg before you is all present, it is not the same – nor does it have the same worth – as the egg as a whole. The whole (the intact egg) is other (different) than the sum of its parts (the broken egg, shell, yolk, and egg white). Here’s how it applies here:

Marriage is the whole. Happily ever after is the whole. Unemployment, cancer, foreclosure, infidelity, bankruptcy, deployment, infertility, boredom, selfishness, kids with special needs, surgery, depression, hormones, toilet seats, dirty dishes, addiction, fatigue…. those are parts. Whatever you have faced together in your marriage, those are the parts of it. They are not the whole. Marriage that faces the strain of miscarriage is not exempt from happily ever after. Marriage that bends under the weight of financial ruin is not prohibited from happily ever after. Marriage is much, much more than the sum of the parts. Marriage has mountains to climb, but it also has beautiful views from the top. Marriage has hand holding on the couch, Netflix binges, laughing over dinner, inside jokes, snuggles, cuddles, tickles. It has memories of who you were when you met and memories you’ve made together since. Marriage is a promise, not a circumstance. Marriage, as a whole, is greater than the argument you’re having now. Happily ever after is the whole, it’s the combination of the laughs and memories and kisses and fights and resentments and bills and exhaustion, and knowing that beyond this moment, beyond this hard, hard time you’re facing, you still love your spouse. Yes, they’re a butthead in the moment. Yes, living in a small apartment while pinning ideas for a large home is hard in the moment. Yes, not seeing your plans come to pass is crushing in the moment. But beyond this moment, you love your spouse. Beyond the pain, on the other side of it, you love them and they love you. That’s the whole. That’s the happily ever after. It’s not letting a day, a month, a season define your marriage because it’s only a day, only a month, only a season.

Not once was I shown debt-free ever after. I’ve never heard of a princess who lived healthy ever after, employed ever after, fertile ever after. What we wanted was happily ever after, and at the end of the day, when observing the whole, that’s exactly what I have.

I know, I know. There are some who will look at me and say, “Oh, Jen, you young whippersnapper, 11 1/2 years is nothing.” Some will say, “Wow, Jen must be pretty old to have already been married for 11 1/2 years.” Guess what? It doesn’t matter. I don’t live “comparatively ever after”. I’m not concerned about living “happier than…” ever after. It’s my husband and I, just us, and our happily ever after isn’t determined by the happiness going on around us. We’re not happier because we’re not facing what someone else is, and we’re not unhappy because someone else is having an easier time. Our marriage, between us, is about happily ever after, every day. We’re not in a contest, we’re in a covenant. And we are proud of our 11 1/2 years, we’re excited by them. We can smile and laugh and celebrate not because we haven’t faced some hard times. We’re not rich. We’re not famous. I don’t weigh what I did on our wedding day. We’ve walked through some dark valleys and some hot fires, and I’m not so naïve as to think they’re all behind us. But I know I’m not alone. I know that whatever has happened and whatever awaits is not the whole of my marriage. I know that a chapter isn’t the whole story and the pieces are not the same as the whole. And I know that deep in the mud, covered in tears, with hurt feelings and disappointments and insecurities abounding, I will still be in love with him, he will still be in love with me, and the whole of us is greater than that momentary piece.

So I encourage you, friends, take a step back and observe the whole. Don’t hold on to pieces and call them the sum of your marriage. Don’t think that because you’re unhappy right now you won’t ever be happy again. Don’t get caught up in the idea that it being difficult means it’s not right. Don’t misunderstand and believe that happily ever after means happily every day after. It means ever after, in a continuing line, you can observe the journey and see, as a whole, that it is a happy one. Your very own, very real happily ever after.