Posts Tagged ‘coping’

Changing the Narrative

Posted on: July 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote about our collective back to school blues. I’m still living through this; grief is a process and I don’t know that I’ll be fine for a while. In learning about all who are impacted by COVID-19, including my own children, I feel grief. Last night, I spent almost two hours on the phone with my aunt talking about homeschooling. In my heart, I want to pour every inch of my soul into Dametrius’s education. Also in my heart, I’m grieving that he may never know “normal.” From this paradox, I actually see a piece of myself. I’m going to share it with you.

That Nagging Feeling

photo of a farm house at end of dirt road

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast (previous farm owner)

Throughout my lifetime I have always had a nagging inside of me. The nagging says to me, “this isn’t it,” as I navigate life. While many people may equate this to anxiety and unsettledness, I know differently. This nagging inside of me is a combination of my knowledge and experiences and when I follow it I always unturn a new truth. The truths I find run the gamut from personal to professional but all of them guide me.

You see, I see the world differently, and when I follow the nagging feeling I can unpack both the loving-kindness and the lion inside of me. I think everyone has this nagging feeling inside of them and when I read “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle it was confirmed. You may not be a lion but you know what is inside of you far better than anyone else in the world.

If we collectively listened to these nagging feelings, we could challenge ourselves and our leaders to unwind from a world based on fear and build a new one based on love.

So, back to my nagging, that piece of me that pushes me. My internal nagging has moved me through every stage of my life. It’s like a path I walk along, stopping for a while at a few spots to enjoy, fight, question, and then move on. I often meditate and see myself on a path with a deep light at the end. I know I’m walking toward that light in this life and not towards death.

During the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, my nagging had me under its thumb. I sat in the middle of my beautiful home, with my dream career, 3 beautiful children, husband, and dear friends and I was utterly confused. How could this not be it? I had to sit and take a critical look at my situation to discover what was ‘wrong.’

What is Normal?

I was living in suburbia because the world had told me this was the goal and I listened. The world doesn’t know have my knowledge or experiences, so it occurred to me that I have been listening to the wrong authority for most of my life. Shit. Well, once I knew that I was listening to the wrong authority, a mental pandora’s box was opened in my mind. What else had I been believing as gospel because society told me it was so? Shit. Again. How can I unpack what is truly me and what the world is telling me is me? How can we all do this? And if we all do this, can we actually build a new world?

Deep inside of me, I believe the answer is “yes.” We can change the narrative. We don’t have to keep living in a world built on the foundation of broken systems and systemic disadvantages. There are solutions to our problems and those solutions are in our hearts. Believing in the goodness of people as a whole is the light I see in my meditations–where I want to go. And I want you all to come with me.

In order for me to honor my own nagging feelings, I had to thoroughly unravel my life. I sat with myself and asked, “well what now?” Answer number one? Get the hell out of suburbia, you hate it here.  While a great many people love the suburbs, I am not one of them. I need the country like I need air to breathe.

I also need my sister and my family. Like, I really need my sister and family.

I buried both of these truths while I built a business out-of-state and settled into the suburbs. So, I asked my team at Instructional ABA Consultants, “Can I move home to Ohio and still be a good leader?” I got a resounding yes, followed by a fabulous discussion about what all my leaders needed in their own environments to thrive. They shared their feelings. I had no idea what most of my team really wanted!

I hope with all my heart Ingrid makes her way to Paris while running our company! I know that woman can do it. Once I got the resounding message of “it’s OK, we’ll support your dreams because you are honoring ours,” I told my husband. His feelings aren’t there yet, but he’s working hard to find his own truths so when I change things up it won’t be too hard for us. He told me (lovingly) that if Ohio makes me happy and I need the country he’ll follow me there. I know we’ll struggle through this as he finds his own truths and I am so, so grateful that he’s standing beside me.

Saddling Up & Moving to a Farm

Once I realized these personal truths, that life could go on, I started looking for farms. And do you know what happened? We bought a horse farm. A fricking horse farm!* A realtor was supposed to line up properties for us to see when we traveled in June. One night we got sent information on the farm we ended up buying. I pulled the info up and if I had drawn a dream home when I was five years old this was it!

The universe honored my newly discovered truths and literally planted a 3-acre horse farm in my lap. The kicker? It’s only twenty minutes from my sister’s home! My dad agreed to drive over and see the property and within 24 hours, against all logic, we bought the farm (literally). It makes no sense! I can’t explain it to anyone, yet my heart is telling me loud and clear to go for it. For the first time in my life, I’m saying yes to my true feelings and believing that honoring them will guide me through all odds.

After we made the choice to move, a lot of other factors have come into play, as other factors tend to do. When you make a big decision it impacts everyone around you. I will deeply miss my dear friends here in Naperville. I’m grieving for my dear friend Dana who has been raising Henry and Declan for the last three years while Martin and I work. I don’t think kinder soul than her exists in our world and when she finds her true feelings I’m sure angels will sing.

Living two states away from her won’t be easy, yet I know I’ve gained a sister through our time together. It’s hard to change course, to follow a knowing beyond ourselves, but I know that the light promised by following my true feelings is real. Yes, I’m sad to leave and yes, I know that in following my path I’m honoring myself and getting ready to light the world on fire. To do this I need the country, quiet, and family.

On my farm, I’ll get to truly be myself. I will joyfully get eggs each morning, grow a garden, can food for the winter, sew, sit on a porch swing each night, and swim in the love of my family all around me. I will get closer to nature because I don’t like the accepted ‘speed’ of the modern world. I might even write letters to my friends. It’s a mystery to me what day-to-day activities will look like, which makes this unplanned future even more exciting for me.

I know to be true; when I honor myself I honor the world and the same is true for you. Your truth is probably not a horse farm in Ohio. Your truth also isn’t what the world has been telling you to do.

My aunt in Colorado sent me a quote, so I’ll leave you with this, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise & get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis

 

Xoxo,
Jessie

 

  • *I can’t bring myself to drop the F-bomb in my blog. Maybe I’ll get worked up enough someday…

My Promise to You

Posted on: July 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In closing the last series I felt a sense of peace. Since March, like many of you, I’ve been struggling to sort out what’s happening in my mind and heart as well as process what is going on in the world. In Brene Brown’s podcast she mentioned that anyone who doesn’t answer, “how are you” with, “it’s complicated,” isn’t being honest. We are all collectively living in a time where we are scared, anxious, mourning and the like. Yet through our pain we are also offered the opportunity to heal. At least, I believe this to be true.

Prior to March this year I was still in a place where I believed negative emotions were something to be ashamed of and avoided like the plague. That I should just, “be happy.” While I was honest with honoring my own story, I wasn’t seeing pain as my messenger. I was just trying to make sure it didn’t happen again. I don’t know if this is true for other survivors but it is true for me. I’m very hypervigilant and can get overwhelmed by a lot of stress or noise in my environment. Each time I have a bad day I sit in my own head and wonder how I could do better and from that not experience negative emotions. I think we’re all taught this to an extent. If you don’t feel “happy,” the pharmaceutical giants are more than eager to write you a prescription. Now please don’t get me wrong, medication can be a wonderful thing for people who need it. I needed it during my postpartum depression. What I’m saying is that the messaging to be happy is very loud in our society.

One night during April I crashed. I sat in a bath crying to the sky. I couldn’t think my way into a happier day and declared, “what do you want from me?!” to who I believe to be God our Mother. Relief immediately set in. I felt so deeply that what was wanted was for me to feel. Feelings are meant to be felt. They are messengers telling us what is and isn’t Ok with us and our world. They aren’t meant to be silenced or problem solved away. I got it. No more planning to be happy, plan to live fully.

After realizing that my emotions were meant to be felt I’ve shifted into a very raw space. I’m being honest with you because I’m honored you log in every week and read what’s in my heart. I hope it serves you the way it serves me. From my rawness I’ve pretty well sat in vulnerability daily. It feels like being a walking bruise, no kidding. I’ve decided to give kindness to each wave of negative emotions, celebrate joy, and to live authentically from here on out. I know I’ve got a lot to learn about who I am, what I have to give, and what I want to share. I also know I’ve never been this excited or humbled in my life. I’m making every decision from my guide within.

In listening always to my inner guide I don’t know who I will find. Who will you find if you do the same? To me there is a lot of environmental conditioning and years of learning how to be in our society. I want to find my truth without that noise and in the same way I want you to find yours. I feel that if all of us took the time to lean in and find out who we were before the world told us who to be, our existence would change overnight. We could find our joy. We could listen to the pain of the world, hear it’s story, and provide guidance. I don’t know about you but I can’t hear when I’m not me.

Forging Ahead

Here is my promise to you. I promise to dig in and find me. To share my story as I undercover the conditioning that made me and the strength I hold beneath it all. From my strength I want to change the experience of children with autism. I want to eradicate gender norms. To be the badass woman in business I am. Just publicly now. I want to live largely and freely. In sharing my story I want to shine a light on your strength too. Who are you? What do you want? What’s holding you back?

I’m changing the narrative. I’m going to begin writing for those who are on a path to healing. For those who know pain. For our children. For the lost. For those who are willing to show up with an open or curious heart. So that all of us know we are enough, can raise our children to know their worth, and live freely. Because collectively, if we do this, we can change the world.

Yes baby, you are enough. I’m oh so glad you’re here.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Release of Perfect Parenting

Posted on: July 9th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the course of the last month and a half I’ve written to you all about imperfect parenting. Honestly COVID-19 has been a do or die for me. Prior to COVID-19 I was spending too much time on the seesaw of authenticity and perfection. It was exhausting. Since I’ve been home I’ve written to you about lying and stealing, putting down busy and picking up peace, understanding anger, and daddys. Yep, that’s it. That explains my COVID experience in a nutshell. Blog done. Just kidding. Today I want to end the series with a small essay on embracing authenticity.

Parenting Memos Are Shifting

photo of outdoor garden and flowers

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast

Currently I’m reading “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle. She says everything better than I’m going to but please let me try (also please read this book)! One of her chapters writes about parenting memo’s. In the 1950’s the memo was birth your baby then make sure they are seen and not heard. In the 1980’s the memo was birth your baby and continue on with wine spritzers and cigarettes. Fast forward and today our memo is birth your baby, then engross yourself with their every waking moment, and even in doing that you’re failing.

It’s a rat race. We are all losing. I remember when I had Henry I felt overwhelmed by him. Now a big piece of that was my own postpartum depression but another piece of that was feeling that I had all the scholarly knowledge in the world and could not keep up with the Joneses. There was/still-is so much societal pressure to be a perfect mama. But who are they? That stupid Jones family? Why the hell are we all trying to keep up? Personally I’m done.

In being home with my children since mid-March I was given gifts I will always be grateful for. The first gift is that by stepping into Shelter-in-Place I could not keep up my pace as perfect mama and authentic mama simultaneously. That struggle had to stop. The second gift was I was able to step away from the noise of society to think about what I truly wanted for my children and myself. My new reality was surrender. And when I thought I’d surrendered, I surrendered more. Through not having a society to keep up with or standards to measure myself against I was able to show up. Truly show up.

Here’s what I learned

The day-to-day decisions and rules I made for myself and the children didn’t matter. Really. How many grams of sugar consumed, screens seen, or books read did not make or break my children. Furthermore the “social” environments (music class, swim class, story time, etc) that I was beginning to run them around to also did not matter. Also, for me, social standards don’t really matter either. I’ve got some really wonderful core friendships and if I never see a cocktail party again I’m good. Really. In sheltering without my own “rules,” I found my children have natural interests. I knew this prior to sheltering, but only honored it when I wasn’t trying to be a perfect mama. This looked like observing them on a prairie path vs. structured art time. Sheltering took me into observation mode daily as I surrendered. My children know what they want to do and what they are curious about every minute of every day. I don’t need to create this for them.

In our home what matters is being seen and loved for who we are; my children, my husband, and myself. It’s my job now to honor who I am and be a model for showing up as myself. Not showing up as I’m told to be. By doing this I’m allowing my children to show up for who they are supposed to be.

I do not know what this looks like yet beyond messy. I know we’ll have to say, “no,” to a lot of old, “yeses.” I know I’ll continue the good fight to raise my children closer to nature than technology. I know that before I discipline I’ll seek to understand. And I know that I’m here to listen to my own soul so my children can listen to theirs. What we find on the other side of this journey is unknown. But us Topalov’s? We’re going to live fully.

My hope is that you and your family live fully too. Collectively, that we can all say goodbye to the rules that tamed us and show up for our authentic lives. That through this authenticity we can in fact bring healing, joy and a new future to our children and thus the world.

New birth memo: birth your baby, love them with your whole heart, let them fly and let them fall, while flying freely yourself.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Rumble; The Challenges of Anger

Posted on: June 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote about my own journey during COVID-19 as an over functioner in my imperfect parenting series. If you missed it check it out. It’s good stuff. This week what I’d like to expand on how anger shows up as I’ve written a lot about anxiety.

Anger is no stranger to me. It’s also the emotion that I experience that I feel a ton of shame over. In the moments that I’m angry I feel pretty much like the scum of the earth. I go into a cycle of feeling like a horrible person and mom. Over the past year with two young children I’ve had a good amount of these shame spirals.

photo woman sitting in forest

Dealing with anger

Dealing with anger is personally very hard for me; I’ve had a long journey with anger. As a survivor of domestic violence I see an outburst of anger as a warning sign. I either feel like a person around me is becoming a threat or am fearful I will become a threat. In my early years and through young adulthood I used anger to protect myself (get bigger so I wouldn’t be hit) and to express the internal hurt I was feeling. Through my 20s as I stepped away from violence I healed my wounds and told myself, “never again.” In my 30s a new form of anger has come into my life as a wife and mama of young children. That is where shame popped up big time for me. While I have never hurt my children physically and never will I have experienced anger with my children and it kills me. I tell you this because I had forgotten until recently that anger tells a story that needs to be seen.

I know as a practitioner that anger is a secondary emotion. This means that anger is present when there is something else going on emotionally. Tara Brach did a recent podcast on anger and she reminded me of this. While in my head I knew this to be true for some reason it didn’t stop my own shame cycle as anger popped up for me these last three months at home. It wasn’t until a fight with my own dad in Ohio that I realized why I hold anger and what to do with it.

One afternoon he took our boys to a spot I couldn’t see them. I asked next time he gave me a heads up. He blew up, feeling I didn’t trust him and I got about as big as I could verbally until he walked away. It hurt like no other. It was the first explosion in 15 years I’d seen. But this time I did something different. I walked away and held myself in my heart for about 20 minutes. This looked like breathing through my belly and washing light into my body with visualization. Then I walked to my dad and asked him what hurt. That’s when I found out my dad was having an awful time adjusting to us because he too had been alone for three months and was over functioning prior to our visit. Through this interaction I was able to honor my own trauma story.

I had realized as a trauma survivor that when anyone (including my kids) screams or hits I felt like I needed anger to make myself big and protect myself. While it doesn’t seem logical that a screaming, hitting toddler would trigger me, my limbic system doesn’t know the difference. In seeing my story clearly I have melted the shame and know personally self care (walking away) is absolutely necessary for me when I’m overwhelmed. It feels silly to say I can’t see the difference between Henry kicking me hard and being physically beaten. But feeling silly and shameful does nothing to serve my soul.

My story may be your story

This is the story of anger. It holds on to each of us until we can find the core. What is your story with anger? When do you explode? What do you say to yourself? I believe wholeheartedly that anger is a messenger. Only when you listen to the message and provide yourself radical love will anger melt away. From the exhausted parent going about it in a way that brings shame, to a nation crying for change, anger is speaking to us all.

So what can you do? What can we all do? I don’t think everyone will have the same privilege I had to confront my dad and my own anger together. While it hurt immensely the night it was incredibly healing. I do think each and every person can ask their anger, “Why are you here? What do you need to say to me?” This can look like journaling, walking in silence, and reading wonderful books (try Harriet Lerner “The Dance of Anger”). Most important is to get curious while you are compassionate with yourself. Through your curiosity and kindness anger will speak and then melt away. When you learn the lesson anger leaves.

My darling ones, we can all fly free.

Xoxo,
Jessie

A Juggling Act; Putting Down Busy & Picking up Peace

Posted on: June 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written in my imperfect parenting series. The world has been hurting and it turns out so was I. I’m grateful for my own personal struggles and awakening this past week but man it was hard. I’m going to put down perfect (remember I promised I would?) and tell you my real deal.

Sheltering in Place 2.0

photo of woman sitting on large porch relaxingA week ago Saturday we were all packed and ready to head to Ohio where my family is. After almost three months at home we decided we could shelter with family verses sheltering by ourselves. In the days prior to the trip I had run a marathon. I’m sure it sounds familiar to a lot of moms. I ordered groceries for the car, a Target pick up, met the dog boarder for Simon, took Simon to the dog boarder, laundry for everyone, bags for everyone but Martin, car activities, iPad charged, extra sunscreen, and a stack of books for me. We got in the car at 7:00 am and I was exhausted. My husband turns to me and goes, “thank you (I pause ready for praise!) for remembering to get gas,” in utter sarcasm. My heart sank as it usually does in these scenarios. I grabbed my laptop and buried myself in our family budget.

Our first stop was my uncle’s Lake House on Lake Erie. Sounds like a dream after 3 months at home. We got to the house and I did potty, diapers, lunches, sunscreen, and swimsuits. I’m already exhausted, remember? The kids get packed up again and we’re off to a secluded section of the beach where my uncle has jet skis. We’re unpacking three kids and one dog (Teddy is too old to board). Henry and Declan are like flies to the light once they see the water. Martin? Jumps on a jet ski and rides away. For a god damn hour and a half. Luckily my cousins were there and saw my panic with my children and the water. They jumped in to help supervise. Me? I was livid. Here I was exhausted after three months feeling like the primary caregiver with the addition of prepping for traveling and my husband was nowhere to be found. I’ve also successfully ran a company and prepared it for some awesome growth forward to serve more people. I wasn’t just physically exhausted on that Saturday, I was mentally done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand my husband needed to chill out. He’s also been trapped for 3 months in our home. I’m sure enough women have been through this scenario enough times that it’s easy to blame my husband for his inaction on getting ready for the trip then riding away. Leaving me with the burden of responsibility is equally our responsibility. Let’s dig in.

I’ve often referenced Brene Brown and her amazing work. I hope I’m lucky enough to someday say thank you in person to her; she’s changed my life more times that I can count. Her latest work is a new podcast, “Unlocking Us.” After moving through the tough emotion of feeling very alone about the responsibility I bear at home I needed this. I plugged in “Brene on Anxiety, Calm + Overfunctioning.” For the next 40 minutes I listened to Brene call my bullshit while giving compassion to the anxiety I held during COVID.

COVID-19 and Self-Care

I’ve written to you all many times about self care during COVID. I also personally wrote about over functioning and underfunctioning. I took surface steps (like a bath at night) to calm down my over functioning just to jump out and start my cycle all over again. I was writing these words to you while calling myself awful names (bossy, controlling) and feeling helpless stopping the process of managing our home. It took me actually stepping outside of our home and getting a break with the kids (this came later at my parents house) to see what I was up to.

Going into and during Sheltering in Place I turned on over functioning to volume 100. I was so scared of the virus coming into our home and grieving the life we had before the virus. I was worried about Henry, Declan, and especially Dametrius being new to us. Martin and I were also on a journey to a healthier marriage. And I was also deeply worried prior to the PPA Loan about my employees.

In my work I was and am the luckiest woman in the world; truly. My team honors my heart and leadership. They bring these amazing skill sets and systems to support my vision. Instructional ABA Consultants is a space I no longer over function. God bless my team. Home? No one calls my bullshit and I went to town running this house like a navy ship. My husband is a classic under functioner and slinked away.

When I’m not in a stressful place in life I still struggle with over functioning at home. Like I mentioned before Martin and I are still figuring out what our partnership means to both of us including how that plays out day to day. It’s a journey. A piece of that is that when I get anxious I immediately move to control every outcome and Martin prefers to hide when he’s anxious. We’re a perfect storm. In listening to Brene I saw myself and my husband so clearly. These three months and the visualization of the jet ski’s incident was the message I needed to hear.

Originally when I was going to write about the juggling act I’m guessing I was going to write about putting down your home projects that don’t serve you and find time to be present. On the surface that’s great but if underneath you’re still screaming it won’t serve you (or me). Here’s what I suggest to everyone. Rest. No really, rest. There is no way to come out of over functioning or under functioning if you’re exhausted. Or to even identify if you were doing it to begin with. Very personally I was able to do this through our trip and am now working to call my own bullshit because Martin’s not there yet. In the same sense he can work on saying when he’s overwhelmed versus hiding in the Iphone. We both have work to do but through it we can pick up peace.

The world is hurting right now. Me too. I’m guessing you too. If we can collectively reset and be kind to our body & minds peace is on the way.

Xoxo,
Jessie

It Matters to Me

Posted on: June 2nd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote to you about imperfect parenting. It’s my intention to complete this series. This week it was on my schedule to write, “A Juggling Act; Putting Down Busy & Picking up Peace.” While I still think this is a valuable thing to write about, I’d like to write a personal piece in lieu of current events. I hope in some small way this article serves you but this one I needed to write for me.

Black Lives Matter

Photo of woman sitting near river on logOver the course of the last week, we as Americans have watched another tragedy, a murder, take place. George Floyd was an innocent man killed by the hands of a white police officer. It was hate. In relation to this hate, our country is screaming, crying, hurting. The riots are happening to demand change and yet from them, some people are still acting selfishly. The looting and violence do nothing to honor George Floyd but we must remember this ugly behavior is happening to show a pain not healed. Black lives matter.

Blue lives, however, are not all tainted. There are countless good men and women serving us in the police force just doing their part. In the midst of the hurt, you may find yourself taking a side. I beg you, stop. Take a deep breath and open your heart to love. See that the murders cannot continue, the people looting are broken and need your prayers, and change must happen. Do not put another person down. The hate can stop with us. Together we can fight this hate and choose a different way.

In order to find a different way, here is what I implore you to do–look beyond yourself. America and the world would not be in their current states if more people did this. Please, don’t get me wrong; I know there are millions of wonderful people throughout the United States and the world. My concern is that, in some way, selfishness can come for all of us and it can feel overwhelming to make a change that does matter. I do not know all the answers, this I can promise you. What I do know is that if we as Americans were more informed, by making the active choice of informing ourselves, the world could change overnight.

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

COVID-19 came to us and fear set in. It’s still here today. The world was asked to stop and in doing so we all had to adjust how we were doing things. We also had to battle the many anxieties the disease brought to each of us. During this time I felt it was a reset for us, for the world. A message from a being greater than all of us to slow down and listen. That the speed and way in which we were living was not sustainable for our planet and good of our race. I’ve seen so many of my friends pick up things they would never have had time for before. Fishing with the kids. Learning to make pancakes. Sewing a new teddy bear. Trying their best to find a way to slow down. It’s beautiful, truly. However, all of my friends hold a similar financial status to me and our basic needs were met.

What about the others? What about the people that, due to COVID, were desperate to get their basic needs met? Or those struggling with domestic violence? Or those dealing with safety in their neighborhoods? My sister Kristen stated, “This pandemic is the closest thing I’ve experienced to being scared for my life and the life of my family–to even leave the house. And it’s not discriminatory or based on anything about me that I can’t change. I’m over it and it’s been 2.5 months. I cannot imagine what it’s like for black communities and other people of color. To live like this their whole lives? It’s bullshit.”

Yes, the world slowed down and from it I believe we were asked to truly look at how we were living and consuming. To me, with evidence from our planet, our current way of life is not sustainable. The riots are telling us something else is also not sustainable; racism and hate. It’s tragic to simply have to write that. I had the police talk with my son Dametrius yesterday because he is bi-racial. You know the speech? “Hands up when you get pulled over, do whatever they say, try to record the situation if this ever happens to you.” My heart was breaking, I was crying. Dametrius? He shook it off. “Yea I already know this, can I go play Fortnite?” How is this acceptable that he lives in a world where this is second nature? Also in one where I can tell you, “you know the speech?”

Consumerism & Selfishness in America

To me, this goes beyond race and class. It goes to the larger problem of, “it’s not me, it’s not my problem”. But this is our problem. All of this matters to me. It matters to me who manufactures my clothing and shoes because I don’t want to wear child labor on my back. It matters to me how animals are raised before slaughter. Prior to COVID, I ate local meat. We are now vegetarian in response to the treatment of immigrant workers in meatpacking plants. Follow Michael Pollen now to understand this more.

Also know meatpacking factories have the highest COVID death rate in the United States and its immigrants that are dying. It’s not OK with me that technicians at the nail salons work 100+ hour weeks using American names. But if we stopped going they wouldn’t have jobs, so what is the balance? It matters to me that people still go to puppy stores and those puppies come from puppy mills. Don’t you see it? The list goes on and on. Everything that matters to me is driven by the dollar? Each dollar that you and I spend fuels hateful industries and also lines the pockets of our elected officials.

Consumerism has a cost. A huge one. Each dollar we spend tells a Corporation or local business, “yes I like what you do/have.” Corporations grow, make more money, and with that money buy out our elected officials; giant corporations are essentially making our decisions for us. And here we are today. With a government not addressing racism or murder, and driving an economy that actively causes harm to others.

I realize I’m most likely not going to be the most popular person for writing this. Like I said before, that’s OK. It’s in my heart and I need to say it. What I’d like to communicate most though is a plea. A plea to see things from the perspective of your brothers and sisters from every walk of life. Change must come.

That change begins with you and me. Pay attention and stop this nonsense of turning a blind eye. Stop buying products that hurt others. Start voting in your local elections. Demand a zero-tolerance policy nationwide to address murders based on race. And offer a helping hand to anyone who needs it. A seed planted that is nourished in love is a fruit that always blossoms. Oh won’t you blossom with me?

From my aching heart,
Jessie

Imperfect Parenting: Lies, Stealing, and Other Survival Methods

Posted on: May 27th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week, I wrote that I’m going to a mini-series on imperfect parenting. Remember when I told you that while toilet training Henry I told him pants were a privilege? This week I’m pretty stoked to share all the immoral things I do to survive mommyhood. Just kidding, I mean, it’s not that immoral.

Photo of woman smilingIn becoming a mama, I, like anyone else, had this grand idea of what it would look like and who I would be. I spent 6 months building the perfect nursery off my Pinterest ideas, deciding what outfits were Henry’s “style,” and buying things off my baby spreadsheet. That happened. All of it. It’s hysterical to write now.

When Declan was just about due (3 weeks to delivery) I had turned him from breach and was on rest. I sat around my home and realized I had bought nothing, I’m serious, nothing for him. You know why? Because I co-sleep my babies, breastfeed them, and use cloth diapers. He didn’t need anything. I tell you this because in my dreams of having a baby I thought it came with all this stuff. Once I had a baby I realized it wasn’t the stuff or the picture I created. Being a mom is just like that.

Creating Your Own Mom Values

In being a mom, I, of course, have a list of values, ideas, and dreams that I want for my children. On my best day I’m able to be present and implement small pieces of this. This can look like being super present, playing, reading, cooking, and talking to listen with my children. In my head, every day looks like this. In reality, moments of each day look like this–the rest is up for grabs.

I’m going to tell you some things I do to survive. Don’t judge, we all do them! The first and most important lesson I have learned as a mama is to lie hard. This little lesson came to me when I was teaching Henry to stay in his big boy bed. I would lay him down, he would cry for me to stay and I would gently whisper, “It’s okay mama needs to go potty she’ll be back in 5 minutes.” Henry would feel assured and fall asleep. I never came back, ever. Martin would sit on our stairs and shake his head. What’s worse is I’ve now taught Dametrius and his babysitters to simply tell Henry they are going potty when they lay him down. We are all lying and it’s working.

I also lie almost every morning to Henry. It looks like this; Henry watches a show while I get ready for work (go back and read my post about technology prior to COVID for other parenting fails). I set a timer for 30 minutes and when the TV goes off Henry needs to get dressed. He asks me “Mama can I watch Daniel Tiger downstairs?” I say, “Sure baby, let’s get dressed and brush our teeth.” Henry always pops up and does his routine. We get downstairs and he asks again. You know what I say, “Maybe later.” I also tell Dametrius to do this when he gets Henry ready.

Do you know why I lie to Henry? Because it’s easier, plain and simple. If I told him TV is all done he’s gonna scream and I don’t want to deal with this. Neither does anyone else in our home. I know it’s wrong, I know I should just take a deep breath and say, “No,” but I don’t want to. I want to get my little man dressed without feeling like I’m wrestling an alligator. I won’t lie about the important stuff, promise. But as long as my kids don’t have long term memories I’m using this one.

I suggest using the line “maybe later,” instead of, “No,” I swear it works wonders. “Can I have a popsicle, ice cream, pizza, watch TV, see Grandpa…” The list goes on and on. “Maybe” avoids tears in our home.

Surviving as a Mom

OK, so now you know I lie to survive. I also steal! I told you about a piece of this last week. That in toileting training Henry I would take his prizes every night and put them back in the prize bin. What I didn’t tell you is that in the middle of COVID I realized I was spending my entire day picking up toys.

One item on my pre-baby Pinterest board was wooden toys organized in bins. Almost 3 years later and we are overflowing with plastic toys. After a few glasses of wine one Friday night, I announced to my husband I was becoming a minimalist again. I was one before a husband and kids. Well, more of an imperfect minimalist. Our Amazon delivery driver disagrees but I digress.

On this particular Friday, I told my husband that we never wanted our kids to have so many toys because they don’t appreciate them. So why are we living this way? During naps on Saturday, just like the Grinch, I packed up their toys. Like 75% of them. I put them all in the basement and set a timer for a month. If no one noticed they were gone I was going to donate them. It’s been a month, no one noticed, so those toys are long gone!

There was one tiny T-Rex that I hated and kept putting in the garage donation box that Henry kept rescuing so I finally gave in and stopped stealing that. It actually felt so good to downsize. Now I have to remind myself not to downsize on a daily basis. We picked the toys they have and we now have a one in one out rule again. But man, getting rid of the stuff not only freed up my time it also helped me get realigned with my own values on materialism. On a side note, I’m also doing the 33 challenge and loving it.

A Few More Parenting Tips

I think lying and stealing are the biggies at our home to survive parenting. To give you some smaller ones that I think are helpful I’ll list a few. Bribing is always lovely. If you’d like your child to do something, like come inside without chasing them, I recommend it. We give a lot of chocolate for coming inside vs. chasing. Passing the problem to your partner is a good one. For example, Henry wants a toy to do something very specific, I can’t figure it out, and say “Daddy knows how!” I also recommend making it a pattern to have your partner doing things you don’t want to. Henry likes someone to lay with him after books, so I told him “only daddies do that.” It’s almost a year later and you know who Henry asks to put him to bed every night? Daddy. But hey, maybe that’s because I lied. Who knows?

Parenting is hard work and raising small humans means every day is going to be different. At some point, you just have to do you. If what you choose to do causes no lasting harm to your children sometimes you just have to do what works for you.

I hope reading this brings some joy to all the imperfect parents out there. I’m not perfect, but being naughty can also be a blast (even for parents).

Xoxo,
Jessie

PS

As I write this, Henry is sitting behind me with an empty flask. Don’t worry, we’ve never actually used it… we don’t have anywhere to go!

The Bridge Back Home

Posted on: May 6th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

A phrase I often use is “the bridge back home.” I’m not sure who coined it or if it’s just a phrase that I’ve used so many times it comes from me. What I call the bridge back home is really the way back to myself when I’ve been out of alignment with my authentic self.

photo of woman on porch thinkingLast week I wrote about what lies underneath my own fears and the need to control outcomes. I questioned if my own human experience rings true for others? Do we all engage in behaviors when we fear to avoid feeling the fear? After following the work of the amazing Brene Brown, I think the answer is a resounding yes! We’re human. To have a fear or fears that have transferred over into patterns of behaviors is so real I can touch it. These behaviors can be internal (things we tell ourselves) or external (things we do). Either way, they can make us feel better or worse in the short term and always make us feel worse in the long term. Let me try to explain.

The Only Thing to Fear…

When we are experiencing an emotion that doesn’t feel very good we typically exhibit either high or low energy behaviors. We then have an internal dialogue telling us all the ways we are not good enough. I’m a high energy gal when it comes to external behaviors. High energy looks like overachieving, micromanaging, perfectionism, and the like. Low energy behaviors look like eating high-calorie foods, sitting for long periods of time, lack of exercise, sleeping a lot, and so on. Each of these types of behaviors tells our brains we are anxious, stressed, or depressed. The more we engage in them, the more anxious, stressed, or depressed we become. It’s a loop.

To break the loop there are some really cool things you and I can do. This is what I call the bridge back home. Home is the way to me.

To begin, you need to know there’s no order with fear. Remember, being perfect is part of a loop so it’s going to get us nowhere. I’m going to write some different methods for you to try. I hope some of them resonate with you.

Identify Your Behavior

Identifying if you are in a high or low energy guy/gal is a piece of the bridge back home. What do you do when you don’t feel like you? And what can you do differently? For my high energy behavior readers, the key is to slow down. For my low energy readers, the key is to speed up. A key piece of this is knowing you are out of alignment.

Let’s go there for a minute. When we are out of alignment we engage in our fear-based behaviors. These are anxiety, depression, frustration, bitterness, anger, deep sadness, and the like. If anyone feels these stretches of emotions for more than a few days, I’d go out on a limb and say you’re out of alignment. If they go on for longer than a month I’d recommend reaching out for some clinical support. At the beginning or late stages of fear, a large piece of healing is to notice we are not ourselves. It’s another piece of the bridge.

The next piece of the bridge back home is to do something to realign your energy. This goes back to knowing if you are a high or low energy behavior type. For the high energy behavior types, a big piece of this is creating space in your day. Try to not book things back to back. Find a welcome rest, as well as time for self-care. I can tell you as a high energy person that this shit is hard for me. I have to make an active effort to slow my energy down when I’m in fear. I try to be careful with my schedule, limit my technology use,  try meditating, saying “no,” and doing a ‘home spa night.’ When I’m not in alignment I am not doing these things. When I am in alignment I do some of these things each day. Truly. I am careful because once I’m doing too much my fears kick in. Then I’m not my best self. Remember the loop?

If you are a low energy person a key to your bridge is little steps toward doing more and consuming less. This means making small efforts every day to do something active and to tone back things like high-calorie foods and technology (technology is not great for either of us!). If you’ve been stuck in low energy-mode for a while, you cannot expect yourself to run a marathon. But you could take a 15-minute walk outside or jump in a pool for a bit. Moving is key here because the more you slow down less and less serotonin and dopamine are produced by your brain. This is your loop.

Finding the Bridge Back Home

OK, so we’ve got some steps to build the bridge back home. We know to identify that we are not, in fact, ourselves. We know to classify ourselves as high or low energy and some steps to help heal our energy type. What now? Here is the most important piece of information: show yourself some serious love. It is not fun for anyone to be responding to our negative emotions or our operating in fear. It just isn’t. If you spend all your time tearing yourself down you are not showing the world or yourself any kindness. You are imperfect, you do shit that is embarrassing and mean, but you know what? Me frickin’ too!

If I tore myself or others down every time a mistake was made, what help is that? As a mama, I teach my children it is OK to fail. It’s OK to have bad days and act in ways that none of us agree with. Remember my oldest son Henry? He is learning this every day! From there I teach them to vocalize how they feel, give them a huge hug, and we move on. My kids expect the same from me. Seriously!

I can’t stay calm for a solid 24 hours. I just can’t. I’ve got two dogs, three kids, a husband, and a business to run. And I’m human. But when I lose my cool at home I will say, “Mama was mad, it was so noisy, I’m sorry.” We kiss and makeup. And you know what? I do this exact same thing for myself. “Jessie, my love, it’s OK darling. Breath deep. It hurts, but we need to try again.” I parent myself how I want to parent my kids.

I know I said there is no order but this is the key to the bridge: Treat yourself with love and kindness when you fail and get hurt. Then, from that space, stand tall again and come back home.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Behind the Fears During COVID-19

Posted on: April 22nd, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week in my blog I wrote about compassion and grace. I hope it served you. After identifying my own fears, I realized that so much more was going on behind them. It took guts to accept this followed by a bit of hard work to find what was really behind them.

Let me backtrack for a minute. There is nothing wrong with fear itself. Fear is a very useful instinct and absolutely necessary to survive. Fear tells us when we are in danger(remember, the amazing Tara Brach teaches about this). Fear told us over 10 thousand years ago how to survive; it’s instinctual. The problem with modern-day fear is it often becomes a story we’re making up versus a true danger. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. So when we go behind our fears we have to sort them. Is the fear real, a story, or a mix? How do you know what type of fear you’re dealing with and what do you do with the fear once it’s named?

Recognizing Fear

photo of a woman in a park reflecting on lifeLet’s start with the types of fear we deal with as humans. The first is physical fear within our control. This is a lion charging at you, a car that ran the red light, and anything else that could cause you physical pain or death. Our limbic system kicks in when we are dealing with these kinds of fears. Fight, flight, freeze. Our body ramps up to tell us how to respond and protect ourselves. If we have the right resources in that moment of fear (ex: brake pedal for the car coming at you) we can protect ourselves from the threat. This fear is super helpful and protective. However, our other fears like to dress up like physical fear and, in this guise, tell us they too are helpful. Let’s talk about them.

The next type of fear is fear beyond our control. This fear is a threat that comes into our lives that we cannot control. There is no brake pedal for this metaphorical speeding car coming full speed at you. These fears are almost always medical or life-altering in nature. These fears are a cancer diagnosis, heart disease, a baby born too early, divorce, being fired, a house burning down, etc.

These fears present themselves to let us know they are there. We usually have some options available to us to address them, but fears we can’t control often have outcomes we can’t control. When you or a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, you/they can choose the treatment course with medical guidance. But what we can’t control is how the body will respond.

If you are fired from a job you cannot control working there again, but you can find new options for employment. These fears hurt. They just do. We see them, do what we can, given the resources available, but the outcomes are almost always beyond us. Not being able to control an outcome when a threat is present is hard. COVID-19 falls right into this category.

Rejecting Irrational Fear

This leads to the last type of fear; make-believe fear. This is the sticky, icky fear that we, as humans, create to try and cope with physical fear and fears beyond our control. It’s the story we’re making up and it causes anxiety. Make-believe fear tells us it’s helpful while driving us absolutely crazy at the same time.

As an example, let’s look at sanitizing per COVID-19. The truth is there are good sanitizing measures we can all take to reduce our exposure to COVID-19. A story you may be making up is that you need to sanitize your high touch areas 10 times a day and that if you don’t everyone in your family is going to contract COVID-19. Let’s look at another one. If you are afraid of how you’re parenting during COVID-19 you might tell yourself you are failing terribly. In response to this, you either step it up or scale it back to validate the fear. In both cases, you’re exhausting yourself mentally and putting yourself down. The reality is you can’t control kids being home 24/7 but you can just show up and do the best you can.

Is this making sense? Let’s keep it simple. Each fear we hold that is a story we’ve made up is not helpful or kind. This type of fear convinces us that if we behave a certain way that the fear will magically disappear. But it’s not gone–it’s amplified! The fear is driving the car. To put this fear down for good we have to name it, shine a light on it, and stop engaging in the behaviors associated with this fear. When we stop engaging in the behaviors associated with the fear it always hurts. That hurt sucks but is far kinder than tearing ourselves up in behaviors to avoid outcomes we cannot control. And in that hurt is a truth about what we really, truly need.

Using Fear to Stay Safe

Each story we’re making up is unique to all of us but as humans, it’s usually along the lines of needing love and belonging. To be seen. To be accepted. To be safe. Here’s the thing. We can be safe by identifying real fears versus stories. We can be seen by others once we see and know our authentic selves. Being accepted. That lives in your own heart, not anyone else’s. But when you love and accept yourself you can honor what you need from others.

This is my ask beautiful ones. Take this week to find some of the stories you are making up. Then put down the behaviors surrounding those stories and pick up some behaviors that show yourself some major love. Find a way to take care of yourself and through this, I promise you’ll be able to care for those you love too.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Compassion and Grace

Posted on: April 14th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In starting this blog, I wanted to create a space for parents to come to know they are not alone. In the midst of COVID-19, I think this space is super important. On any given day we are all experiencing the ups and downs of isolation as well as a variety of fears related to the virus. I’m struggling with this just as much as anyone. When people ask me how I’m doing my honest response is, “no two days are the same emotionally.” They just aren’t. I think this is true for a lot of us. But I think what is also true for a lot of us is that it’s hard to honor the struggle.

photo of a woman sitting on log at forest preserveWhen a physical threat is around us it’s so natural for our fears to take over. Just look at the toilet paper crisis. We’ve all got this fabulous limbic system I wrote about in reference to toddler years deep inside us. Fight/flight/freeze is an over 10,000-year-old response. Just search, plug in and listen to one of my soul sisters, Tara Brach, for more on this. Our brains are predisposed to scan for threats to our physical bodies and respond. Tara calls it our “our caveman brain” and when thinking about toddler tantrums it gives me a little smile. As an adult in our modern world, it’s a response that’s harder to deal with. We, of course, need to know when we are in physical danger. But when it comes to an invisible predator as well as all the fears related to it our brains go into overdrive.

Mentally Dealing with COVID-19

Think about it. COVID-19 came to all of us in waves. First, we heard of the virus as being specific to Wuhan, China. Then we saw it was spreading but not to the United States. Our government turned a blind eye as did many Americans thinking this isn’t “our problem.” Then, as cases started to increase, individuals who were watching the world began to panic. Maybe you were one of them? We saw you stock up before any of us. I saw my husband do this. Finally, in a series of reactions our governments acted and our worlds all halted in almost every aspect.

In each of these waves, we as individuals were trying to navigate the threat from wave to wave. Fight, flight, freeze? There is not a wrong response. How can there be? You and I were just doing the best we could as information came to us. For professional reasons, I’ll leave my views on the government out of this piece.

When we got to the final wave of Shelter in Place, a new series of threats came. We worried about working, childcare, access to food, our loved ones, the virus entering our homes and so much more. As a business owner, I worried about this for myself and my employees. As a woman, I worried about my family, my friends, and our world. I’m still having a hard time sleeping. I am scared, I know you are too. But here’s what I want to hold space for. What I think our community really needs to hear: your fear(s) are no greater or less than my fear(s). This is where we can all use compassion and grace.

Handling COVID-19 with Compassion

I’ve heard countless friends not want to air their frustrations surrounding COVID-19 because their frustrations don’t seem to compare to what other people are struggling with. In reality, a very small percentage of us have someone close to us who is affected. If you are in that small percentage, please know that you are my sisters and brothers. I see you, I feel your pain, and I’m so sorry.

But for those of you who have not lost a loved one, seen someone get sick, or lost essential needs like housing or food, your fears are still real. It’s OK. You can look at them, hold them, and still give compassion to the person suffering more. Honestly, I think this is the only true way this is done.

I learned a little phrase from yoga, “the light in you is the light in me.” I think it is also true that the darkness in me is the darkness in you because we are all human. And as humans, we all feel pain, fear, and have days–even years–where we are not our best selves. But if we push down those fears and mistakes without giving ourselves permission to have them we are not being our best self. We’re making ourselves miserable and unable to see each other. To see the other we first have to see ourselves.

So here’s what I suggest. I suggest everyone taking a collective deep breath and honoring our fears. If we don’t label our fears because we’re afraid they don’t hold a candle to what everyone else is going through, we can’t release them. It’s that simple.

Working Out Your COVID-19 Fears with Grace

Here are some of my fears. I’m afraid to go on walks with my children or grocery shopping for fear of bringing the virus into our home. I’m anxious every time we get a package if brought inside within 24 hours. I’m afraid I’m not cooking enough quality food for my children. I’m upset I can’t get my meat from the farm right now. I’m worried I’m not being a good enough boss, wife, and mother all at the same time. I’m worried about my mom and aunt who have weak lungs. My cousin too. And, of course, I worry about the virus overtaking my children, husband or myself.

If you name your fears and honor them you have then given yourself compassion. You’ve said it’s OK to feel what you feel. If you can give yourself compassion you can give it to another person. Empathy is born from comparing your own feelings to someone else; it teaches you to hold the world in your heart.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about my friend grace (not my adorable niece Grace). Grace is knowing that it is OK to fail. Has anyone else yelled at your kids while pulling up the news lately? Or snap at your husband when he interrupts you trying to do a work email? Yeah, me too. Walking through a time of fear is messy. Learning that honoring your fears isn’t taking away from someone else’s hurt is hard. Giving yourself a mental hug when you lose your shit or walk up the stairs 15 times to see if you can breathe? Absolutely necessary.

It’s Ok. The world is hurting and you are too. But together we can hold ourselves close to our own hearts and by doing so hold the entire world close as well.

Xoxo,
Jessie