Co-Parenting: My Daughter’s Two Mom(s)

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These are Olivia’s moms. Plural. I’m on the right. Jess is on the left. She met my ex-husband two years after our divorce and now they have a little boy named Luke that my daughter loves more than me. She told me so and I adore her for it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear her voice become nurturing and sweet when she talks to her brother. As moms of siblings, Jess and I are nailing this co-parenting thing. Olivia has recently tried to order another brother or sister and Jess announced that it was my turn, “You’re up, Sister Wife.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

Jess has a killer sense of humor and we spend every Christmas morning together making our weird little family work.

She also loves my daughter which makes me love her. She sent me a text several months ago to let me know she was concerned about some of Olivia’s comments surrounding body image and beauty, “She said no one cares about smarts. Not ok.” She immediately changed messaging in their home and asked for advice, “Liv is gorgeous, but she’s also brilliant and hilarious. We need to talk about how smart, clever and funny she is and dad is on board. No more telling her how pretty she is…”

Jess was there for Liv’s school orientation, she’s there for school plays and once she was there dealing with a bully when I was on a business trip. She picked Liv up that day, handled the fallout and was ready to go toe to toe with the parents if needed. The best thing I could have ever hoped for was that my daughter would be surrounded and raised by strong women who want the absolute best for her in life.

This is unusual, I know. It shouldn’t be.

Mutual friends give each of us the heads up when we may run into one another, concerned for a scene or an awkward encounter and we both laugh. Sunday night we ended up in the same suite at TMobile Arena to see the wonder that is NKOTB. Jess immediately gave me a hug when we saw each other, “They warned me you were going to be here and I was like, ‘I like Jeanette! We’re cool!'” Other mutual friends have called me before big events to warn me I’ll run into her and my ex-husband and I immediately announce, “I love Jess.”

When people respond with confusion or say, “I couldn’t do that,” I argue that you can, but you have to get out of your own way. I often remember the advice I was given in the required parenting class I had to take when I filed for divorce, “You have to die to the relationship you had and create a new one. You are in the business of raising a child together. No more who did what.”

You have to forgive the past, shed the hurt and there is no room for jealousy. You also pray the woman on the other side is secure, mature and willing to recognize your role as a parent. She has to be willing to meet you in the same place. Before Jess there were girlfriends who were uncomfortable with my frequent conversations with my ex-husband, our Christmas morning tradition that was created both out of divorce and a joint promise to our child, the photos we would text one another as milestones or memories were achieved. Those who have never had kids don’t realize that the ex doesn’t want your man anymore. She doesn’t show up to insert herself in your relationship or remain on his mind. She just wants him to be a good dad to their child and it takes a secure woman to understand the difference.

There is also a hell of a lot of respect. Jessica makes it clear that I’m mom and what I say always goes. She will always defer to me. I also back her up when Liv is in trouble with her and we both recognize that we need breaks. We all know that we are healthier parents when we have vacations, time to work on our own relationships and interests. It brings us back to the most important person in the equation with a much stronger, healthier mindset.

I always prayed that the woman that would end up in Olivia’s life would love her (almost) as much as I do. It would be the best thing for all of us.

We lucked out.

And Liv lucked out. She has an(other) amazing woman in her life and a baby brother that looks at her as if she herself hangs the stars.

And, if I’m honest… another thing I didn’t expect, but which has been a pleasant surprise?

I love Olivia’s brother too.

Life can be beautiful in all it’s weirdness… as long as you let it.

Dear Dads: An Open Letter to Men Raising Women

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Dear Dads:

They say there is nothing like the relationship between a daughter and her father. You are our heroes, our dragon slayers and The Keepers; you keep us safe, guard our little hearts and build the foundation for the woman we are to become. When we are little you are the strongest man we’ve ever met. You can do no wrong. Until we get a little older and boobs and boys come knocking.

Then you turn crazy.

Well, my dad did. I hope you managed to keep it together better than mine. Boys completely knocked him off his Superhero game. In the event you haven’t gotten to those days of dating and independence, let me give you a little insight taken both from personal experience and interviews I’ve conducted with women on the subject of self esteem and messaging.

You, dear dads, will teach us boundaries and how we should expect to be treated by men. You alone are the example we will weave into our relationship fabric and we will either be subconsciously conditioned by your messaging or consciously decide we want the exact opposite of you and what you’re trying to sell.

Wouldn’t you rather consciously navigate the years where we scare you the most?

How you speak to women, be it our mother, the women in our community and those that work for or with you, we hear you. We hear the compliments. We hear the scorn. We hear the, “Oh, you women…” or “Just like a woman…” and the teasing smile on your face doesn’t make it any less impactful, What about us women? Do all guys just put up with us? We must be a real handful. I should just be thankful to have one that deals with me.

We also hear the way you talk to or look at women when you are with your friends. If you flirt with women other than our mother, degrade women, even jokingly, we are being told we are lesser, other, and if we have our wits about us, we begin to lose respect for you. That hero you once were suddenly looks weak, flawed. Our foundation begins to shake because we could trust you when we toddling, eating solids and writing letters, but navigating social circumstances are the bigger lessons, dad. They’re the ones where we need you to come through for us. We need to see men who respect us behind our backs. Now more than ever.

When puberty begins, please don’t roll your eyes, disappear or leave it to our moms. We need to believe we’re normal and still your little girl when our bodies are betraying us. That’s how it feels. Did you know that? We are mourning our little girl days and scared of new attention. Men begin to look at us differently and we aren’t ready for it. We need our fathers to treat these moments as milestones and have the hard talks. When you hide from us or tell us to cover up the bodies we don’t know what to do with, you are telling us there is something shameful about what is happening. In my interviews with women there is a direct correlation between self esteem around sexuality when parents don’t talk to their children about the “birds and the bees” or act as if a woman’s body is shameful. It breeds the understanding that a woman is for the pleasure of men, which leads to promiscuity, when puberty and conversations around sex are ignored and pretended away. Please don’t fail us here.

In the past 72 hours I have had conversations with two very different women from two very different walks of life who attribute their self image to comments their fathers made about their bodies. One worried she may be betraying her father’s legacy by acknowledging that his warnings about her burgeoning shape, and hips more specifically, colored the way she viewed her body for the rest of her life. The other also shared that her diminished relationship with her body was a result of the “Freshman 15-ish” that her father aggressively encouraged her to lose.

Both dads were great dads. Neither realized their messaging was doing damage in a society that teaches a boy his body is a machine and how to fuel it for maximum performance, yet teaches a girl that she is her size and gender. The ad men are not kind to us, dad. We need you to take that into account.

My father didn’t talk to me about weight. That never came up and for that I am thankful. It was his viewpoints on modesty and men that did me in and it wasn’t intentional. I was taught that my body was something to hide because of what it could cause men to do or how they would respond to me. It was shameful and I believed any attention I got was a direct result of how I presented myself. My dad, a good man and a great father, had no idea I began to disconnect from my own body. I have spent most of my life hiding under clothes too big for me so as to not bring on unwanted attention. It took me until this year to wear yoga pants outside my home or the gym and it was because of a dare.

Oh my God, yoga pants are so much more comfortable than jeans on a four hour flight. Bless you, Jess, for that dare.

Dads, please don’t be scared of us. Don’t disconnect. We need you when you think it is time for mom to take over. Maybe you can’t have the same conversation, but you can be the man that, through your presence, convinces us that no man who thinks we’re gross or annoying simply for being a woman is worth our time. That is part of your charm –your protective nature. You are the first man in our life. We just ask you to consciously set the standard for the ones who come next and realize your words are indelible.

After all, we will always be your little girls at heart.

Love,

J

 

 

My Dearest Livi Rabbit on Your Sixth Birthday

 

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My Dearest Livi Rabbit:

Yesterday you turned six and my heart hurt a little. In that bittersweet mom way that includes memories and pride. In that way that makes me want to wrap you up in my arms and tell you that I’ve got this, you don’t have to grow up any more, I’ll take it from here. You’ve already told me that’s not possible and I love the way you are so logical and so funny at the same time. You have the best sense of humor and dear God, girl, sense of self. I won’t have to worry about you in life. You know who you are and I promise that I will always honor that about you.

I love watching the new facets of your personality shine forth. I giggled inside when you hit the Emergency Stop button on the escalator at Dillards and then pretended you didn’t know who did it when the alarm went off. You slid your little hand in mine, your co-conspirator, eyes straight ahead as you trusted me to get you safely away without telling on you, “I won’t do that again.” I love that you trust me and oh how I hope that when you are hitting life’s Emergency buttons in the future you will trust that I’m still a soft place to land.

When you downloaded over $300 worth of Apple apps I shook my head. You very responsibly helped with chores around the house until we “paid off” your debt. Your heart hurts that I hide my passcode from your sneaky little eyes now, but we had a gorgeous conversation about responsibility and I saw how conscientious you are through and through.

I love what a big heart you have and I have adored watching you become a big sister to your dad’s new baby. Your voice becomes very soft and nurturing when you talk to him. You have a maternal quality about you and he is very lucky to have you. You will be the most important influence in his life and I know this because I know you. You leave little pieces of yourself with everyone you touch.

The other night you crawled into bed with me because your growing pains were keeping you up. You snuggled your head into my neck and told me I smelled like lavender before your breathing slowed and you fell asleep. I felt a tear slide down my cheek as I remember a very specific night in your nursery when you were only a few months old. I had just slathered lavender lotion on you, fed you a bottle and swaddled you. You dug your little upturned nose into my neck and made the same little sweet sounds as you breathed deeply at first and then fell asleep. I know these moments will be fewer and farther between, but I will always be here to comfort you, lavender or not.

As I told you the morning you were born – I will always choose you. I will always be here to advocate for you, hold you, help you, be your biggest cheerleader and safety net. I will try to do it in a thoughtful way so that you are wise and prepared when you experience the bad things we all have to in order to grow. When those lessons and heartbreaks come your way, I will be there with bandaids, snacks, be it Goldfish or wine, and a soul’s worth of support. You will never doubt that you can slide your little hand in mine.

You, my love, are so bright. You have the world awaiting you and I adore your strength, your voice, your inquisitive nature. You have pure light running through your veins. I am truly honored to be your mother. Thank you for picking me.

Love you to the moon and back, bigger than the Universe, deeper than the Ocean and more than chocolate or shoes,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

Keep An Open Heart

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We took a selfie one day, giggling in the snow. The snowflakes stayed in tact when they landed in her soft curls while my hair looked every bit wet dog. It’s an image, a moment, I can’t find in my phone, but forever burned in my brain.

We’d ski, drink spiked hot chocolate and share crazy stories. There were so many trips, date nights and dinners in pajamas with glasses of wine. Our friendship was one of ease and in the past few weeks I have seen her everywhere. In the profile of a woman at a conference in Salt Lake. In dark curls bouncing through a crowd. The freckles in someone else’s Instagram post. I randomly found myself in the same restaurant we were in during a blizzard in Utah. I ordered her favorite salad without even realizing that’s what it was until it was placed in front of me.

What are you trying to tell me, Briar?

I hold enormous guilt. You see, we had a falling out before she died. I was there for her the day she was diagnosed with brain cancer and I was there for a long while. When she first fell into a coma her husband and I walked behind the bed the surgeons were wheeling her away in as we clutched each other and cried the big tears that you don’t wipe away. Then I went through a divorce and stories were twisted and I saw how the pain of my breakup was hurting her. After I shared my tearful side of the story I heard her sob after she thought I’d hung up the phone. I felt selfish. She was undergoing hardcore chemo and radiation therapies and I was talking about my problems. I decided not to talk to her about it anymore.

She tried to get us back together. She begged. She asked me to keep an open heart, to listen to her, to accept a marriage intervention of sorts. I stopped talking to her altogether because I was in pain. I was hurting and I was hurting her and it was easier to hide inside myself. So I did. She sent me emails, texts. I explained that it was hard to see her because I knew she was spending time with my ex and that we used to be couple friends. That I just needed some time to get over everything.

I didn’t have time.

She didn’t have time.

My ex husband called me almost two years ago, “Jeanette, Briar is dying and you are going to regret it if you don’t see her.”

The doctor had determined it was the end. She had maybe a week and I immediately left the office and went straight over to her house. I felt her in my chest as soon as I entered the room. It almost knocked me over. Her pastor and several friends were sitting with her while I wished them away. I finally realized they were there for her and whatever was about to transpire. They knew our rift was the last thing she had to resolve so were firmly planted, no excuses.

I took a deep breath to steel myself, “I have to say this….” The room got incredibly quiet, “Briar, I was never mad at you.”

She immediately started crying, “I know.”

“I was hurting and I was so broken and I didn’t want to talk to you about it. I was losing my family and never once was I ever mad at you. Never once. I need you to know that.”

Now, in hindsight, I realize I probably could’ve included another sentence or three, “I knew I was losing you as well. I was too weak to handle all of that loss at the same time. I’m a jerk.”

We both sat there crying, softly sobbing and nodding. No more words needed to be said and before long her pastor asked if he could say a prayer.

Briar lost consciousness soon after my visit and passed away several days later.

Sometime before that day and between the emails, texts and tears, I shared the biggest gift she ever gave me and I know it filled her heart. She brought me back to faith. I’d forgotten the God of my childhood and I found some semblance of him; different, more amenable and forgiving, in the prayers that came after Briar’s first seizure. I thanked her for helping me find the courage to give something bigger than me a chance again.

At her funeral her mother and I locked eyes and moved directly into each others arms, crying. I apologized through sobs and she shushed me, “She loved you so much. That was her unfinished business. You helped her let go. Thank you.”

I felt guilty for my tears, guilty that I was mourning someone I’d abandoned. I didn’t feel deserving of my grief or time with Briar before she passed. I ran from the loss rather than facing it head on. I also didn’t know that I was still carrying all of this with me until this past week.

When I saw flickers of my friend in the life of others.

I’d like to believe she was sending me a message. That she’s ok. That she’s at peace. That WE are at peace and all is forgiven. I don’t think she’d say it exactly that way. I’m pretty sure it would be like, “I’ve seen your tears. Cut that shit out. We’re good. Have you seen my wings? They’re ridiculous.”

She’d probably have a beer in hand.

Say the things you need to say to the people you love. Say them before you can’t. Forgive like its your job. Love them when they’re in front of you. Love them hard.

And, in the words of my friend, “Keep an open heart.”

Miss you Briar.

xo

Love Yourself Some You

loving-yourself-revolutionMy inside-and-out beautiful friends at Kaia Fit asked me to guest blog for Valentine’s Day and I jumped up and down and said, “Yes, pick me!” It felt fitting as LORE turns two today! I’ve reposted my article for them below and I am so excited to spend a week with them in Belize in March to dig into the love letters process. Well, in between all the diving, hiking, yoga and such, I need a vacation.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers!

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is on the mind. I’d like to use this occasion to remind you of the most important love affair of all and that is the one with yourself.

I first began collecting and publishing love letters from women to their younger selves over a year ago. Successful women took off their shine to virally mentor those women who are still in the struggle. What I didn’t expect (nor did they) was the deep, cathartic work the writers would undertake. As I began to interview them about the process, it became clear I was on to something pretty amazing. Since that time I’ve been gifted stunning letters by incredible women. Donna Brazile, the former Chair of the Democratic National Committee, shared that she felt it was important to reflect, pause, and give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished. Emily Nolan, a plus-sized model and author, expressed the deep love she found for herself after years of severe body dysmorphia. Many themes bubbled up around forgiveness, boundaries within relationships and learning to ask for what you want in your life. Every woman shared how important the work had been, but one message stood out among the rest and on the heels of Valentine’s Day, consider it our gift:

You have to love yourself. First. Foremost. Always.

Easier to read than practice, granted. I’m not talking self care. Self care is now almost medically approved. Many studies have been done to show the direct correlation between self care in all its iterations and life happiness, longevity and the avoidance of disease. I argue that one of the most loving things you can do for yourself is to dig in, do the work, learn who you are under all the layers you’ve put on and start to love yourself some you. Release all the stories you’ve been told and in that blissful, painful work you will begin to see the you your children and lover see. I’m here to get you started.

The instructions are easy. Imagine a younger version of yourself. Is she 5? Is she 8? Is she a teenager? When you see her, really see her, trust your gut. What do you want her to know? When I began this exercise I was completely blown away by my first sentence. I had an overwhelming desire to tell this dejected little girl I imagined that she was so loved, so worthy. The first sentence hit me like a ton of bricks,

“You will spend most of your life believing you are unlovable.”

I had to take a deep breath and sit back for a moment, shocked at how true that sentence was and how it had colored so much of my life and relationships. It is ok to take a moment as you write. Just don’t leave it because the feelings are too heavy. There is no growth without pain, my love. If you have to wait until the kids are in bed and you have your glass of wine and a box of Kleenex you do it. Give yourself the gift of time to feel your feelings. If that means you write one sentence and have to process it for several days before you get back to it, you are still on the path. I have found most women need time, because the unlocking of these truths have a bit of a whiplash effect. They bring up memories and misgivings that no child should believe about themselves. With all that said, if you begin unlocking repressed memories or find yourself reeling or having dark thoughts from what you begin to feel, please seek the counsel of a professional therapist.

As women have complete these exercises I have found that the ages they choose are typically aligned with the moment right before or during a tragic or painful event or memory. One writer, Chelli Wolford, a survivor of sexual violence, wrote to the four year old that was being molested by her uncle, “It’s not your fault.” It took her until she was forty to realize she’d carried so much of the responsibility for the behaviors of others on her shoulders and what a relief to finally put them down.

You will also notice that your tone changes. The harshness which you likely view yourself today, get it together, sister, falls away and is replaced with, it’s not your fault or you are perfect the way you are, love. You will find that you begin to guide your younger self with the tone of an older sister. One writer suggested that if we could be as gentle with ourselves today how much healthier we would be.

Once you imagine that younger version of yourself and start with your first sentence of the letter, begin to scan over the distance between that version of yourself and who you are today. How did that first message you’d share with your younger self play out over the course of your life and do you want to carry it with you?

Some questions to ask yourself:

What is one thing I’ve always known about myself? My greatest strength?

What is one thing I’ve always known about myself that was negative? How was it originally triggered? Was it reinforced by my family? Is it true?

What is the best thing that has ever happened to me?

What was your most humbling experience and what was the lesson?

What was I missing as a child?

Who or what do I need to forgive? Is that person me?

The act of writing the letter and referring back to it helps excavate old programming, memories and feelings that you’d like to release and offers you a chance to start fresh at a new point in your growth.

If, after you’ve written your letter, you realize you have something you’d like to share with other women or girls to further help our gender, I have the platform to do that and would love to publish your letters for others to read. If you would like to keep it personal, then thank you for having faith and trust in yourself to do the work and I hope you will share your experience with me.

I will be teaching a workshop at the Kaia Retreat in Belize in March and so look forward to meeting you lovely Kaia women in person!

Happy writing!

Love,

Me

An accomplished author and public speaker, Jeanette founded LORE Advocacy, a network of professional women who aspire to change the world through a gender lens. Jeanette also founded “LORE and Little Things” in 2015. It is a platform for women to discuss issues relevant to professional women and mothers. Her articles and “Love Letters to Myself,” a viral mentorship program, have been seen on Huffington Post.

During the day Jeanette is a Senior Vice President and Institutional Client Advisor within the financial services industry. She serves on the boards of Spread the Word Nevada, the President’s Advisory Council for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and a large charitable foundation. She is a member of the Hall of Fame of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Nevada and a 2016 Vegas, Inc. Woman to Watch.

Connect with Jeanette at http://www.loreandlittlethings.com, on Twitter @msjwrites or Instagram @msjwrites and @loreandlittle. Letters can be sent to jeanetteschneider@gmail.com.

“Love, Me” featuring Emily Nolan

The Love Letters project began a year ago with Jessica Moore’s letter to her younger self. I found that as I got to know the writers I was privy to insights and gems readers were not. I had questions about their struggles and how they overcame, which they very openly shared. I wanted to make the experience more dimensional for everyone involved and began filming interviews over the summer.

We had fits and starts as we worked through storylines and production, but the result is gorgeous. I am so excited to debut the very first “Love, Me” webisode featuring model and author, Emily Nolan. We sat down in Phoenix in August to discuss her love letter (see below) and I was taken by Emily’s willingness to be vulnerable and her deep faith in something Divine. She was a few weeks out from a breast explant and spoke so openly about her lifetime struggle with body dysmorphia and what she hopes to share with every woman and girl.

**Please see submission guidelines if you are interested in sharing your love letter**

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Emily Nolan –

Dear Emily,

You are eighteen years younger than I am and you’re already so incredibly smart, strong and beautiful inside and out. You are the greatest gift God’s ever given the world and you are perfect just the way you are. You were born to be a brave leader. And, most importantly, you’re a fierce lover. You lead with love so divinely well; it’s a special gift you’ll always had unlimited access to. Use love as much as possible.

Dear warrior, use your bravery to listen in to who you are throughout the years. There will be challenging moments that make your heart break, sadly, and you’ll need to be there to love yourself fiercely. You’ll need your friends and family, too, to lean on for help, because you can’t do everything, always. Sometimes you’ll need help. Everyone does.

Those moments of listening to yourself feel like “listening to your gut,” and choosing not to believe in a bully or someone else’s unremarkable opinion of who they think you should be or what you should look like. Later in life, you’ll know those brave moments to be God’s grace. Which is also your own divine grace.

You’re a child of God, Emily. Your parents’ divorce and the bullying at school, and other moments to come that might make you feel icky and sad inside, they do not decide your worthiness. God does. You do. And because you get to decide what a miracle you are, continue to be brave enough to listen in and honor your own inner voice that says, “I’m awesome!” This way, no one will be able to rent valuable space in that precious little noggin of yours. You are a holy vessel. Be brave enough to always believe that. It’s not arrogant to think your God’s greatest gift, its love. And remember, love is what you’re best at.

You’re strength is in being bravely unique. You’ll feel that looking like everyone else is boring and has very little divine purpose. Like, what in the world are we accomplishing here by trying to look pretty? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? Like who’s on second base and how we’re going to get the third out?

Your fierce bravery will be a rising tide that lifts all boats. Most of your girlfriends are waiting for you to make the move, to feel good enough, just the way that you are, and to allow them the same feeling by being brave enough to own it. They’ll thank you for your courage and permission to be beautiful, just the way they are. And they will support you immensely in the years to come. That bravery you own will make you feel full and good and happy. You’ll say things like, “I’ve never felt closer to God. I’ve never felt closer to myself.” Little me, you were born to be pretty brave.

Being an athlete has taught you that your body is a tool to be used for movement that’s fun and life-giving. Your body is not meant to look a certain way, it’s meant to work! To be useful! Being an athlete makes you a leader; leadership and teamwork will be as important to you as going to school and learning. All of the leadership training you’re getting now, by wearing heavy catcher’s gear every weekend, shouting directions across the field to your teammates, committing to team goals, attending every practice, calling the signals and telling your teammates what to do when the ball comes to them, conflict management with girl drama, all of these skills will be absolutely necessary in your life.

One day, you’re going to have enough courage and leadership skills to believe in yourself. You’ll believe that you can teach women and men and girls and boys that they’re great enough, just the way they are. You will share your love with them in so many kind and gentle and generous ways.

I also want you to know that you’re brave enough now, to ask Mom for help, whenever you need it. Bullies, diets, body image, questions about your body, questions about boys and friendships, ask Mom; she wants to see you win, not suffer in silence. She wants to elevate your bravery, lift you up! That’s her medicine, let her support you. Never feel ashamed to ask her questions. Talking to Mom is always going to help you and you’ll feel so good you did it. Your thirty-year-old self promises.

You are a remarkable young woman, Emily. I love your pigtail braids, dirt smeared across your chin from your catcher’s mask, and your fierce bravery, going onto the softball field shouting out positive affirmations to your teammates. You’re going to use all of these lessons in the next eighteen years as tools to inspire and motivate others to keep moving forward on their own journey until they find the light, which is essentially the love, for everything and everyone, including themselves.

You’re a complete magic trick—how could your precious, pure spirit be so perfectly tucked into that beautiful, capable Earth Suit of yours? I just love you so much. You are a miracle. How could you not be, Emily? You’re a child of God. And you are perfect, just the way you are.

I love you forever,

Emily

Emily Nolan is the author of My Kind of Life.com. She’s also a model and the founder of TOPLESS yoga. #TOPLESSbyemily is a bras on, bellies out self-confidence event used as a tool for self-love. This event is about exposing vulnerabilities by practicing radical self-acceptance.

Emily’s effort to share what is real and authentic in media was the catalyst for the #HealthyBellySelfie social media project contributing to the global conversation around body image.

Emily publicly speaks about her journey through 10 years of disordered eating, plastic surgery, body dysmorphic disorder and shame. She believes that honesty in conversation can spark individual transformation. 

Emily is on Instagram and Twitter @iamemilynolan and Snapchat / Periscope @MyKindofLife_Em

Dear Lil’ TK by Tania Katan

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Tania Katan doesn’t take the stage. She becomes the stage. She also becomes the inspiration for those who have the privilege of watching her shine as they sit breathless wondering, what’s next? Few have such a gift.

I met Tania at Girls For Progress 2016, a conference for girls. It was created by the very talented 12 year old entrepreneur and philanthropist, Aleena Valdez. Aleena asked both Tania and I to speak and what came next was pure magic. Tania very quickly achieved rock star status for the 12-17 year old girls that lined up for an autograph and a selfie with the lady wearing a cape that gives them hope. She is the brains/soul behind the #itwasneveradress campaign. I now see signs of her influence wherever I go. I recently spoke at Kaia Fit’s Annual Konference, which was hosted at South Lake Tahoe High School, and stopped short on my way to the girl’s rest room. Even without the official #itwasneveradress swag, girls across the country are inspired by this amazing woman.

I asked her to write a love letter and send in a photo of her younger self. Of course she sent me a shot of her as SuperGirl at age 4.

We call this foreshadowing in the writer world.

 

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Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the very unreal Tania Katan – 

 

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Dear Lil’ TK,

You come from a long line of outsiders; people who didn’t, and would never, fit in. Suckiest DNA ever! Especially because, right now, the ONLY thing you want to do is fit in. I know. You want parents who pack snacks for you, who have ordinary jobs, who eat dinner at a certain time, who own a freaking dining room table! You want to live in a home, with married parents, not a shitty little apartment with one parent and the other parent on the lam. You want a mother who isn’t a French citizen, doesn’t make you look up words in the dictionary because she doesn’t know English. You want a father who went to school and knows the nuances of his native language, English. You want some other 8 year-old to learn phrases like “ends meet” and “Section 8 housing.” You want a mother who doesn’t throw parties with belly dancers and stinky French cheeses and artists and joy. You want a father who doesn’t have “BIG IDEAS” that compel him to bet on horses and get-rich-quick schemes. You want friends. You want normal. You want consistency and you want it NOW!

Well, I gotta tell you, Lil’ TK, it’s BECAUSE of your outsider birthright, not in spite of it, that you will do—and be—some amazing things!

All the times you eat lunch by yourself and wish you had friends so instead you write skits, plays, jokes, and funny operas in your notebook; all the ways you rewrite poverty, how you use humor to reframe a crappy-and-routinely-magical childhood. These practices will create a foundation for you to leap from.

Eventually, you’ll realize that the same parents who embarrassed you by being themselves are delightfully idiosyncratic, which in turn, inspires you to be delightfully yourself. You’ll realize that your single-mom worked two jobs and took care of three unruly kids (you, included), and yet somehow managed to take you to every arts festival, event, and space under the sun! And even though she had trouble making ends meet, Mom always found a little cash (usually stashed in her bra) to buy art supplies. Mom will show us that commerce can be a creative pursuit with the Barter System. To this day she still pays the guy who fixes broken stuff around her house with homemade quiche!

Dad also found creative ways to provide for us, namely, gambling. Once, Dad found himself down to his last 100 bucks. Instead of getting a job, Dad gambled his life savings on a craps table in Laughlin (couldn’t even afford the real Vegas). Within 20 minutes of rolling the dice, Dad turned his misfortune into a $500 jackpot. One could say that Dad was the outsider pioneer of the “work smarter, not harder” movement. Or one could not. It’s a fine line.

Our parents inadvertently taught us how to be creative, value creativity, gamble and have fun! Which are pretty much the hallmarks of arts, innovation, and everything else worth doing/being in this world!

You will go to university and study Theatre. You will meet other outsiders in Theatre, the freaks and geeks who compete in Speech and Debate, write plays and stand upstage left—which is really to the audiences’ right (still confusing). You will finally feel like you fit in, just in time to jump into the workforce. Don’t panic! You will have many jobs, most of which won’t make any sense to you or your employers; that’s ok, it’s part of what makes you awesome later in life.

You will spend years selling crap, bagging groceries, serving pizzas, slinging coffee. You will wonder how you can be creative while working in non-creative fields. You will write plays and stories and even books that will be performed and read and published all while working day-jobs.

In your thirties you will realize that when you hate your job, it’s because you’re not doing your work. You will start doing your work, the work of a creative, even in places that aren’t designated CREATIVE. This shift in consciousness will lead you to your calling, your vocation, which is sneaking creativity into all the nooks and crannies of work and life, even when people and places say KEEP OUT or NO SOLICITING or NO TRESPASSING, you will go inside with all of your outsider skills. You will call this Creative Trespassing.

So, hang in there little tiger, keep writing, observing, and performing because you’re gonna win awards for your writing, travel across oceans to perform, and help create a campaign that millions of people around the world will embrace as an emblem that celebrates outsiders everywhere!

Love,

Me

Tania Katan is an award-winning author, keynote speaker and creative trespasser who believes in storytelling at all costs! Katan has performed her stories at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, NPR, Comedy Central Stage +. Her work has been written about in the New York Times, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed +. She has been a featured speaker at Business of Software, S.H.E. Summit, TEDx +. As Brand Evangelist for B2B SaaS company, Axosoft, she cut her teeth on Agile + Scrum methods. She holds a degree in Theatre, is a graduate of Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program and is certified as an Anti-Bias & Diversity Trainer. As a Speaking Coach, she works with best-selling authors, TED speakers and CEOs empowering them with the tools and techniques to engage and inspire audiences. Katan is a whiz in disruptive marketing strategies, audience engagement and radically activating spaces online and off.

You can find Tania at www.taniakatan.com or on Twitter @theunrealtaniakatan.