Saturday, December 27, 2014

i wanna see you be brave!

As the holiday season and entire year come to a close, I am yet again feeling that exciting shift inside as life moves onward and upward. Over the past 18 months, I have to say I am super proud of myself as my awareness about so many things happening to me and around me occur, and for me to allow them to happen without trying to change the trajectory.  My former self was so controlling that I could never be OK without having a say in every single detail of my own life.  I was such a control freak that I would literally alter the outcome of everything in my life by steering the ship of my life in the exact way I wanted it to go. Now, I am much happier being a passenger. I've become less antsy about just sitting at home all day in my pajamas or cuddling in bed a few extra minutes.  Less and less regimen has really helped my overall happiness and also started to shift many other details of my life too. The old me wanted the most perfectly wrapped presents under the tree, every detail for every Christmas meal planned out, and up to the minute itineraries for New Years Eve and New Years Day on everyone's calendar so we could all coordinate. So much of that has changed.  Becoming Harper's Daddy and Sabin's spouse has helped, but even with that, I just had to have a come-to-Jesus with myself that life is way more fun when you let there be surprises! I feel lighter (in spirit, not weight) and so much more free!

This Christmas was magical. As Harper started to understand more and more about Santa and tradition, I am learning that the best thing about Christmas is watching the wonderment in her eyes. We had a packed house and lots of laughing, amazing food, and of course lots and lots of wine! That with the pairing of late night "Heads Up" and "Cards Against Humanity" and an amazing steak and crab dinner that might go down as the best meal I've ever had really made for one of those "movie worthy" Christmas' as our house. Harpers grandparents and Aunt and Uncle came from Sacramento and with our best friends who live across the street, we were able to shock Sabin and Harper with the newest member of our family, a 9 week old Boxer who they promptly named Penny who arrived in a big Santa tote on Christmas morning.  I've never ever ever been an animal person. Like not even kinda. But I see the joy that animals add to a home and I've never had a brand new puppy to care for and watch grow up, so Penny was also a gift for me.  Already she and I are working out the kinks, and overall I am in love with her in ways I never thought were possible with anything that is four-legged!

I spent the first two weeks of December in Edmonton, Alberta Canada as my company opened our first International location.  Yes it was cold. Yes it was a lot of work. But overall I am really proud of being part of such a milestone for my company, and over the whole summer I worked with the entire Edmonton management team and helped train them on all things buybuyBABY. They were awesome and even though I was supposed to be the trainer, they actually taught me a lot of things as well. Some exciting changes at work are also happening, although it's way too early to discuss the details. But I am really looking forward to these changes in the next few weeks.

Perhaps one of the best parts of December is watching my amazing Mommy going through her own big life changes! Everyone knows that I am a HUGE Mama's boy.  Part of the way I even survive my three to four hour work commute per day is because my Mom is usually on the other end of the phone (on Bluetooth of course) to talk to me about everything. In addition to being my Mom, she is also my therapist, cheerleader, realist, news source, and even personal comedian.  Just like every other parent/child relationship, we go through struggles too, but overall I look around at other grown kids and their parental relationships and am forever indebted to her unwavering support and love for me. That being said, I've also had a birds eye view into her personal life and watched parts of her start to shift into someone that I always knew was not her true and authentic fun loving, funny self.  She was caught up in a relationship where she continuously filled up the gas tank, meanwhile her reservoir never seemed to ever get filled up in return. I would listen to her tell me, "I just want you to find someone who loves and adores you" yet I knew she didn't have it in her own life.  She gave the best advice but didn't always see how that looked through my eyes as I watched her basically cater to someone who was an irresponsible, immature, grumpy, and overall gloomy presence and who shrunk the magical light inside of her. Everything she wanted for me was basically the opposite of how her own life looked to me. Of course, I couldn't tell her that it made me so sad to see her light fade when I knew how much she had to offer. How do you tell the person who is your closest woman on earth that the person whom she chose as her partner sucks? You don't. I never ever wanted to risk our relationship because of this person either, so I remained close lipped. I avoided visiting or even talking about visiting. It caused tension. When I would visit I would have to witness with my own eyes how bad it actually was, which caused even more animosity.

And then Crystal died. And Mom wasn't there- not because she didn't want to be but because once again she was the sole supporter of an entire household, while her partner struggled to find/keep work and she simply couldn't afford to come for her own step-daughters funeral. It caused one of the worst fights we've ever had. It was ugly. It was a time when all I needed was her and instead we were fighting because we both were hurting and wanted the same thing, but couldn't have each other to lean on.

There were times when I would get calls from the area code where she lived where I was scared to answer. This person she had chosen to be with seemed unpredictable and capable of switching
personalities at the drop of a dime and those calls could be that maybe he had gone off the deep end or one of their fights went too far.  They moved several times, once close enough to drive to see my sister and her Dad, yet again her partner couldn't hold down a job and in the year that they lived there, she was too strapped for cash to go more than twice to visit because she had to keep herself and him afloat. When my Grandpa (her Dad) died this fall, I think she finally permanently removed the rose colored glasses. She attended the funeral alone and came back to absolutely zero support.  She once again found herself in a new city, a new job, and no one to help fill up her gas tank or return the support.

While I was in Canada I got the message that she got in her car and left without looking back. At first, I thought it was just a temporary thing and she would be back by the time we spoke. Then I got to skype with her a few days later and saw on video with my own eyes my Mom in a light (literally and figuratively) that I had been missing for the last 14 years. Even though she was sad (and maybe because she had been crying) but her eyes looked greener than I could remember and the tone of her voice and the way she spoke seemed to have reverted. She spoke with clarity, and for the first time in forever I was seeing the woman who raised me stand up and be strong for herself. It was magnificent! Not only did I get my true, fun, funny Mom back, but she returned back to Michigan to be close to her siblings and Mom. It's been only a few weeks, but even in that short time I know that she knows that something had been missing from her life for a long time and I also think she can see the same miraculous changes that I do.  Her voice, her entire demeanor has changed and morphed right back into that familiarity of me being a child. She already landed a great job that she will start in a few weeks. I am not sharing her story just to air her dirty laundry, but instead to remind myself (and perhaps others too) that one act of bravity can change the entire outcome of your life.  I am super proud of her-not because I get my super Mom back in a whole new way-but because she was willing to listen to that inner voice urging her to just take the plunge and don't look back. Of course no one knows how the story ends, but she gets to wrap up the entire previous book and start with her sequel which is a must read for me!

Cheers to an amazing 2015. For now, being content, planning the fall wedding to the true love of my life, and watching my amazing family grow is what I am most excited about for the new year!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happiness is Bountiful

Here I sit on my 31st birthday full of love and gratitude for all of the blessings in my life.

This has not been an easy year.  Earlier this month marked one year since I lost my best friend and sister, Crystal.  We had our first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthday, and Mothers Day without her.  Strangely enough, those haven't been the hardest.  The most difficult days have been that random Wednesday when you're sitting in traffic on the way home from a regular day and realize that you can't call and just shoot the breeze.  Or on the day when life presents an opportunity or challenge and you can't call and get advice from the one person who would give you the brutal truth that you need to hear.  Life goes on, but a part of my soul went with her last year on August 5th and I am not sure it will ever return.

Two days after that anniversary, my amazing, patient, hysterically funny Grandpa went to join the love of his life in heaven.  It was sudden, but peaceful and all I can think of when I remember he is gone is how happy he must be to be celebrating with Grandma Terrie.  My Grandpa was full of love, acceptance, and gratitude for his giant clan of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and extended family of siblings, nieces, nephews, and adopted children and so many friends.  He taught me to never ever sweat the small stuff- "and most of it is small Age."

Last Friday marked 17 years since my Dad passed away.  Since it was a difficult month, Sabin planned a nice weekend get-a-way to Palm Springs for us to relax.  We got to the amazing resort and as soon as we opened the door to our private villa overlooking a beautiful lake, I saw a edible arrangements bouquet on the table and a bottle of champagne.  I went to open the card attached to the arrangement, when I turned around to Sabin down on one knee asking me to spend forever with him.  I was in shock, and he was shaking so I pulled him up by the face and said YES!  The ring is incredible, with 52 black diamonds set in four rows, but the best part of the engagement is realizing that I get to spend the rest of my life with the most incredible man I've ever met.  We've begun planning our dream wedding for Fall of 2015.

It is totally cliche, but also so true that beyond the storm lies a rainbow.  Despite heartache and pain, I love my life and am beyond grateful for all of life's outstanding blessings.  I've come to dread the month of August, but now I will forever be filled with memories of that amazing Palm Springs afternoon when the person who was designed to complete my life asked me to share forever with him.  Cheers to the next 31!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My inner voice is urging me to write

Once again, five months have gone by since my last post. It's also Sunday-or in the Fernandez-Rich household Super Soul Sunday. On this day we watch OWN all day, usually cook a big breakfast, BBQ with friends and relish in all of the blessings around us.  Earlier this year, Sabin and I found ourselves moving into our dream home on Marguerite Street; the house itself had been gutted and rebuilt with a large fenced in yard, garage, 3 bedrooms, and all of the trimmings missing from our cramped apartment, but what makes our new home the best is the fact that it is directly across the street from our best friends. We are taking over the entire neighborhood! The fact that we can walk across the street and visit/cook/watch TV and movies/drink wine and then skip home is extremely gratifying. We've also taken the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" to a whole new level by including everyone in Harper duty-and the fact that we are literally surrounded by loved ones makes things like school (yes, she is now in pre-school) and life with a toddler so much easier.  Speaking of the three year old Princess, she continues to blow my mind every single day. She is thoughtful and charismatic and elicits so much joy from any person that she meets. She turned three two weeks ago and was surrounded by friends and family in a barbecue here at our new dream home and it was exciting to watch the outpouring of love that she has. She is now a full fledged "person" who can carry on full conversations, vocalize what she wants and does not want, and overall is extremely easy and carefree.  Last Super Soul Sunday, Sabin and I watched an episode about conscious parenting-something I've been unconsciously and unknowingly trying to do since Harper was born- but it was nice to hear it spoken out loud and given a name.  The basis is about being more in tune with your child and breaking down the long-culturally-driven-philosophy that our kids are our property or possessions that we have to discipline into conforming into the people we want them to be.  Instead, the conscious parent models the right behavior and ideally the child responds by mimicking that, therefore almost eliminating the need for discipline and authority-except in extreme situations of course. I know it sounds new agey and a little out there, but the rest of this post follows this same type of philosophy so if you're already thinking I sound off my rocker or hear yourself thinking, "I'm gonna pray for AJ" I urge you to stop reading here and close your screen.

I've been on a spiritual search for the last five years. It all started when my sister got her cancer diagnosis. On that very day in August of 2009, I will never forget that inner voice who had once been taught to pray for strength or lean on God felt so very much alone. I sat on the sidewalk of the hospital in front of Boise Mountain State Tumor Institute and I was paralyzed, emotionally drained, and wanting to fall back on what I'd always known to do-pray that God fix everything and make it OK. But I also knew that, for me, this simply didn't work.  It had been a few years since the big man upstairs and I had a real conversation, and Crystal's cancer was just the icing on the solidarity cupcake.  On that very day, my wife was already in India exploring her own spiritual journey and the realization that we were drifting further and further apart had consumed my mind as I made the 9 hour drive from Sacramento to Idaho the day before.  From the outside, everything seemed picture perfect, but my insides were screaming for me to listen and start searching.  And now this---my rock and one of the only people who knew the real me---may be losing her life. It nearly pushed me to the edge.  Somehow, I kept up the charade that everything was OK for another year. Shea returned from India, we made trips to and from Idaho, and kept up with what had become expected of both of us by continuing to prove that the fairy tale story was indeed real when I (and I'm guessing her too) knew it was not. When I look back on this time now, it was all so clear, but as they say hindsight is 20/20. I would come home from a job that did not fulfill me, watch hours of recorded reality television shows and not engage with those around me, and whenever the spotlight hit me, like a broadway star I could turn on the "picture-perfectness" that most expected from me; the production deserved several Tony Awards.  I remember being at a ice-cream shop with my Mom in McCall, Idaho on a visit to see my sister and our entire family and in just a moment of alone time with her and I, she grasped my face (her hands were cold) and she said to me, "I wish you could sit back and enjoy this, but your mind seems to be moving faster than your heart."

Finally, I allowed Shea to become the villain and found my way out. Those were some dark days. Most thought that it was because I was so heart broken, but in truth it was because I realized that the gig was up and the real me would be exposed soon enough. I still would not pray and I still felt alone, maybe even more alone than I had ever felt before and I tried running away and hiding in Chicago to prolong the inevitable.

My real spiritual self started to emerge when I got back to Sacramento and started working with a psychologist who had me start the story over from the beginning. It was the first time in my life where I could just get it all out-not just the recent stuff about the dissolution of my marriage or my sisters illness, but all of it. Growing up with all of the luxuries any kid could dream of, then having it all disappear in what seemed like an instant, followed by the loss of my Dad, a childhood where I became keen at "fitting in" with everyone by pretending to be something or someone I wasn't. First loves, first heartbreaks, high school, college and the insatiable desire to please my own ego so that I could prove to everyone how much of the golden child I really was and how I could NEVER stoop as low as my Dad did and be so selfish to take my own life. Truth is, I did battle brief bouts of depression pretty consistently- days where one more drink before driving or one further act of promiscuity could have ended it all, but thankfully I always had the wherewithal to know where to draw the line. It was during these sessions and right before Harper's birth where I finally started to awaken that real voice inside of me that had always been there that begged for authenticity.

Harper's birth changed me as a human-my mind, my spirit and my life's purpose, but my heart was actually changed by the one person who everyone thinks actually broke it---and that was Shea. When we brought Harper home from the hospital we ended up moving back into our home that we owned. On the very first night Harper came home from the hospital, I sat on the back patio drinking a beer and I started crying and trembling and shaking. We had been at the hospital for days and her birth was so dramatic, and my body was shutting down because it had been in overload. I was also depressed because while I was experiencing fatherhood for the first time and no one from my family was there to be a part of this with me (Crystal ended up driving through this night and came the very next day). Shea came outside and we had one of the deepest talks about spirituality and what we wanted for this beautiful baby and that evening was transformative.  Also, a few months later when I finally came out, Shea was the first person I told.  She, at that moment, held all of the power to say false things like she had always known this about me or how this was her ammunition to get away from me and take Harper with her. Instead she hugged me so tightly, cried and said she was elated for me and wanted me to be happy more than anything. Her reaction was honest and sincere and based on that, I was finally free to start opening up and digging deeper.

On one of our first dates, Sabin and I had the religion talk. He was raised by extremely conservative Christian parents who still are not comfortable with the fact that they have a gay child. I remember as soon as it came up, we both stopped and thought a lot about our answers. The rest of our initial conversations seemed to flow with such ease, but this one was different. When you know you've found the love of your life, you don't want something as important as religion to dismember such a great thing. I think we were both on a similar page. We both have a firm faith in God and an understanding that there is something far bigger than us guiding and directing us. The other thing I've found with him is that my observations of life and the joy that comes everyday by being as blessed as we are is catapulted by the fact that he feels the same way. We are constantly reminding each other of the multiple blessings we share every single day and we are thankful for them. We have had single friends say, "how can I find what you have?" We don't have an answer, but I know that being aligned spiritually and giving thanks for the greatness in our life is a driving force in our deep connection with one another. That mirrored by a mutual respect and immense desire to see the other succeed. We aren't partners in the gay way---we are really and truly life partners in the real-life literal meaning way.

Since Crystal's passing (almost nine months) I still have lots of bad days, but it's more like sad moments.  We just celebrated what would have been Crystal's 33rd birthday this month. I hear and see her in almost everything I do.  The craziest part of being on this spiritual search is how in tune I am becoming with my surroundings. I can SEE better. I can SMELL better. I don't watch nearly as much television as I used to, instead I sit on my front porch and watch the amazing sunset every night that I can. I play hide and seek with Harper and drink red wine with the love of my life almost every night. I ask more intimate questions of my friends and loved ones and I try to really listen to their answers. I am working harder than I ever have before, but my bosses are noticing and I am feeling more fulfilled by my work than I ever have before.

It's a work in progress and I know I am still so far from even scratching the surface of where this all goes or what any of it means, but the potential excites me and has awakened a new (better) version of me. I'm thrilled to see how everything unfolds, and I'm trying not to project what I want to happen, but instead sit back and relish in what is already happening around me and within me.