Monthly Archives: May 2015

BROKEN HEARTS and FIFTEEN

In 2008 Taylor Swift released her second album, “Fearless”. My daughter was 8 years old and already a HUGE Taylor fan. So was I. Maddie & I have never missed a Taylor Swift concert tour. Im ok to admit I love her. I love each album she makes more than the previous. I am a music lover and from Eminem to James Taylor to Boston to Taylor Swift I love all music. There was a song on that album that Maddie and I talked about. It’s called “Fifteen”. If you are a Mom, of a girl, you know it.

I remember at the time having the talk with her about sex and boys and love and decisions and high school. She’s always been very mature and she asked a lot of questions about the song. And about the decisions I made at 15. I’ve pretty much told my kids everything. We’ve always talked openly about sex and drugs and decisions and the things I did in the past. I was far from perfect. Still am. And I don’t expect or want my kids to be. And I don’t have the most conventional beliefs like some parents. I’m not the parent that says “NO SEX UNTIL MARRIAGE”. I’m not the parent who says “YOU’D BETTER NEVER EVER DO DRUGS”. I’m not the parent that thinks her kid will never take a sip of alcohol or go to a party or try to smoke a cigarette or make some seriously stupid decisions. Im just not.

And that may not be the way Im “SUPPOSED” to do it but I don’t care. I stopped caring what other parents thought a long time ago. I have good kids. And a real idea of what life is and throws at you. Perhaps brain rot and autoimmune diseases and my Dad’s early death jaded me….or maybe it made me face reality and know that not all people are blessed with a “charmed life” full of no loss and no hurt and no bad stuff. My kids are too smart and too in tune to what is happening to think life is perfect all of the time. Its just not an option for us. So we are REAL. It’s funny…when she asked if I ever did anything I regretted I could think of a few small things I did to hurt other people’s feelings…that makes me sad. I wish I could take back every time I did not take the high road. I wish I could go back and be nicer. But I have absolutely NO regrets about anything I’ve ever done. EVER. I am who I am because of those experiences.

And now she will be 15 years old in 6 weeks. Holy Shit! When I listened to the song I don’t think I thought of her being 15 one day. I don’t think I pictured HER in that scenario. And when It becomes a reality you freak out and don’t want your own kid to get hurt. So we talk about broken hearts. Because really…that’s what the song is about. It’s funny you’d think at 42 you would have escaped the whole “broken heart” thing. But you don’t. My heart breaks when my kids get hurt. My heart breaks when I watch brain rot progressing. My heart breaks for friends who are going through horrible things. And my heart breaks when friends hurt me…or turn out not to be the friend I thought they were.

So when she asks if getting older prevents heart break I have to be honest and say “no”. I was thinking about the real shape of the human heart in comparison to the sweet symbol we use for the heart in everyday life. When drawn on paper its a pretty, symmetrical, solid, flawless form of what looks like two opposite angel wings merging. Its easy to draw for Valentine’s Day and its easy to color in smoothly with a red crayon. The human heart….quite different. Many chambers and arteries and blood and pumping and moving and beating and detailed and intricate and not smooth and not perfect. And sometimes it breaks.

I wish I could paint her heart with symmetry and no flaws and complete. But the thing is…if you get to the end of your life and your heart looks seamless and pretty and solid and unbroken…you can bet you saved yourself a LOT of pain and sadness and tears. And you can bet you never felt love. And THAT is sad. I’ll take the cracks and holes and tattered up taped together heart I have at 42 over a perfect heart any day. It means I’ve lived. It means I’ve loved.

I hope she opens hers. Because as much as I’ll want to stop it—the pain and heart breaks and tears and joy and happiness and butterflies are all a part of life. And isn’t that beautiful.

“TAKE A DEEP BREATH AS YOU WALK THROUGH THE DOORS IT’S THE MORNING OF YOUR VERY FIRST DAY…..”
~Taylor Swift “Fifteen”

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WHEN I WORKED IN A JAIL

When I graduated from college I moved back home with my parents. As is common for most. However, Im not sure most parents give you 8 weeks to “get a job and move on”. I know. Cruel, right? It explains a lot about me however. I am kidding of course. They had two other kids and Im pretty sure plans to rent my room out but whatever.

So in December of 1995 there was no such thing as an Internet Job Search Engine. Or if there was the Ellis’s did not have access to such new technology. Yes- I am old. So job hunting had to happen the old fashioned way. Newspapers and hitting the streets. My grandmother had told me that she worked for the City of Denton for a few years and loved it. They “had good benefits” she said. So off I went to the City offices to look at job postings. And let me add that a 22 year old girl with a degree in Psychology and work experience at a Deli and a tanning salon is in HUGE demand. HUGE. (Sarcasm).

So I looked at all of the job postings and wrote down all of the descriptions of jobs and contact information. One caught my eye. It paid the most. Like $24,000 a year. Which to me was totally off the charts. I would be RICH! Job Title: Juvenile Detention Officer. Sounds easy enough. I typed up my resume, proudly displayed my degree in Psychology across the top and sent it in. Im pretty sure via snail mail. And what do you know….they called me. For an interview. I was so pleased to tell my Dad I had an interview and would be out of the house and on my own as timely as I could. And then I told him the job title. And he might have grimaced a bit. Or been nauseous Im not really sure which. What could he say, though…he TOLD me to find a job.

As if you didn’t already picture this as my childhood I was a bit sheltered. I grew up in middle class, white suburbia. Not a whole shit ton of exposure to crime, domestic violence, drugs or broken homes. So walking into a jail for the first time (well OK an American jail…thats another blog) was quite eye-opening and a tad scary to be honest. But my interviewer was female and cool and put me at ease. She did look at me funny when I first walked in. “UMMMMM are you Jennifer Ellis?” she asked. I MIGHT have been a tad smaller than she expected, or blonder, or both. Let me just fast forward here and say I nailed it. The interview that is. I was funny. And charming. And scared shitless. And might have embellished how deep my desire was to help wayward youth. I just needed the paycheck. HIRED! Hired? Holy crap. A mix of happiness and total fear filled my parents. And me.

It was everything you picture it to be. It was sad and depressing and eye-opening and life changing. Working in a Juvenile jail. I worked there for a year before moving to Austin to work in Juvenile Probation there for several years. I learned more about the world, about me, about people, about everything in that first year working than I ever did in years of college. That job shaped my beliefs….political and social. It changed the way I look at people. It slapped my stereotypes in the face. These kids and their families taught me more than any book ever could have.

One of my first night’s on the job two 16 year old boys were brought in for murder. I spent 8 hours a day for a year with them. Taking them meals, walking them to class, giving them chores to do, medication, walking them to visitation, speaking with their families, walking them to court dates. You really get to know someone when you spend 8 hours a day with them. They were tried as adults. And sentenced to 75 years in prison. I don’t have much to say about that. Except that I still think about those two boys sometimes.

When I tell people now that I was a Juvenile Probation Officer they laugh, then look at me and say “Seriously?”. It seems like a bazillion years ago. I guess it was. I had my hair pulled out, was bitten, spit at and had a few things thrown at me. There were moments I was scared. But the good far outweighed the bad. Those few years…before kids, before you get old and jaded, when your mind is open…I wouldn’t trade them for anything. That job changed how I thought. And shaped how I raise my kids. How I look at other kids. I am so grateful I was too stupid to realize how stupid the whole idea of me working in a jail was. Funny how things, moments, people can affect your life in so many ways, for so very long after they over.

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BRAVE

I think when I was younger I just assumed I’d never leave Texas. I am a 5th generation Texan. Seriously- thats a LOT of years and a LOT of family born and raised there. There’s this sense of security and safety that comes from staying near family. From living where you are familiar. From knowing there are a 100 relatives within arms reach. Especially if your parents are there. And when Patrick & I bought our last house in Texas it was 2.5 miles from my parents house. I cannot express to the degree at which I was certain, CERTAIN it would remain that way.

No matter how old you get having your parents near is a very cool thing. Well….most of the time. We had built in babysitters when we needed them. And the thought that if I ever needed anything or had to “escape” or feel like a little girl again for just a bit-was supported by the fact that in 5 minutes I could be at their house. My parents’ house.

I had never lived outside of Texas. I was born and raised in North Dallas. I went to college in East Texas and Patrick & I lived in Austin for a few years before kids. That is as far as I had ventured…Austin. Damn cool city by the way. Although I don’t have an NRA card or know any farmers or have ever ridden a bull as all the stereotypes would assume- I am Texan through and through.

When my Dad was killed I was 33. My kids were 4 and 5. And my plan went to shit. How dare he die. How dare my ideal image of life go up in flames. God damn deer. It’s funny that a lot of people I know live what I’d call a “charmed life”. They do not know tragedy or loss or illness or any of that crap. And I would be lying if I didn’t have a tinge of jealousy over that. That ideal life is pretty cool.

When I left for college it was 3 hours from home. I cried. I was nervous and scared and I’d never lived in a dorm or away from home before. But as I’ve blogged about before my second Mom, Lynda, convinced me it would be the right thing. And she was so very right. Im so grateful for leaving home and learning and failing and falling and getting back up on my own. SO. GRATEFUL.

So my Dad died suddenly and Patrick got brain rot and my pretty little plan unraveled. And when your husband has brain rot and asks how you feel about leaving your home and heading for the mountains you pause a second and then remember Lynda saying “GO”. Because why not?

So up and moving your life across the country is quite normal for a lot of people. Military families do it all the time. They are better than me, though. And to this girl- moving to Colorado was HUGE. HUGE. And the honest truth is I had to have a conversation with myself about my future. If my husband is no longer around and my kids are off at college am I going to be OK in Colorado with no family? Alone? It’s just a question I had no choice but to ponder. I never considered myself all that strong or independent. I liked having family around, I liked having support, I didn’t like being alone or left to handle things on my own. But that was before. Before motorcycle accidents and brain rot. And that girl had to grow up.

In the days and weeks after Dad died I was sick to my stomach at the thought of my Mom alone in her house. I hated that for her and wondered how she was going to survive. Now I know I was an idiot- she is a very strong person. And so am I.

I cry and worry and get anxiety and hate brain rot and have my bad days. But I KNOW I am a tough girl. Unfortunately I watched my Mom be that. Fortunately I got that from her.

It’s funny the things you think about as your kids get older. Maddie starts High School in the Fall…Andy wont be far behind…God willing….and that means in 5 years it’s just Patrick & I. That is crazy to me. CRAZY. The time flew. And I know…I know and am acutely aware that it could be just me. Of course not one of us knows exactly the amount of time we have on Earth. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. Im so grateful for the wisdom and strength and bravery and fortitude that was passed down to me that gave us the courage to move at the very time we probably should have stayed close to family. But life is short and opportunities arise at the strangest of times and if Im going to pass down to my kids the strength, the courage, the fortitude, the “why not” attitude….I needed to shit or get off the pot as my Grandad used to say. Actions speak loudly. I have embraced every part of Colorado. It has been the perfect place for my family. It is. Patrick is happy. My soul is happy and my kids are happy. Texas will ALWAYS be home. ALWAYS. But sometimes I think that fate or God or whatever you want to call it knows exactly where we are supposed to be at each turn in our lives. I am right where I am supposed to be.

My hat’s off to all the single parents out there, to all of our military families, to those who’ve lost loved ones, to the ones who have felt “all on their own”….YOU are the brave ones.

As I get older I realized that the things worth doing, the things you SHOULD do are the things that make you nervous and scared and anxious. If it doesn’t make you those things……is it really worth doing? Do scary things. You are braver than you think.

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