Unlock Your Financial Future with PurePoint Financial


Unlock your financial future with PurePoint Financial | The Champagne SupernovaThis post was proudly sponsored by PurePoint Financial. I think this bank is pretty groovy and all opinions are my own. 

We all have savings goals.

However, to successfully meet your savings goals, you need to have a WHY.

WHY are you doing this?

My and my husband’s WHY is our two children.

We save money to give them experiences and opportunities that will provide the best possible chance of success in the future and so when they are adults, they fondly remember their childhood.

Education.

Vacations.

Sports.

Hobbies.

Making memories.

What is YOUR why? (There’s no wrong answer, but you do need a WHY if you want to succeed.)

And whether its for big dreams or unexpected unknowns, we are all saving for one thing: the future.

Right now, PurePoint Financial, a new hybrid digital bank, is surprising Tampa Bay residents by letting them literally open the door to the possibilities ahead with the “Unlock Your Future” red door art installations at their banks and an opportunity to win $10,000 toward their saving goals.

What is “Unlock Your Future”?

Lemme tell ya.

This past week, PurePoint Financial placed red doors across Tampa at the International Mall, Channelside, and at PurePoint Financial’s Westshore location. These red doors unlocked murals by local artist Carlos Culbertson, which are inspired by what Tampanians are saving for.

Put your money in a savings bank at Purepoint Financial | The Champagne Supernova

Did you know that 47% of Tampanians stated a dream vacation was their inspiration for saving?

Nearly 50% of Tampanians are saving for a down payment on a home or to make improvements on their existing home.

Not all the savings goals are fun. 28% of Tampanians are saving for family health and wellness expenses.

Never heard of PurePoint Financial? It is a bank that facilitates the modern way to save- online, over the phone, and in person. PurePoint offers market-leading CD and savings rates, no monthly fees, and all the flexibility and convenience of online banking with 24/7 access from your computer, tablet, or mobile devices. PurePoint has financial centers at select locations staffed by knowledgeable team members who are committed to providing exceptional customer service.

Save money for your future at PurePoint Financial bank | The Champagne Supernova

Each PurePoint Financial center has a modern and cashless experience with a smaller footprint than traditional banks, with each facility averaging only 2,000 square feet. The financial centers have beautiful decor, a relaxed setting, and hospitality area. Sixteen PurePoint Financial centers are open in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and Tampa areas, with others, including New York, scheduled to open later this year.

If you can’t make it to see the doors this week, don’t fret. Between now and June 30, 2017, you can still enter the sweepstakes for the chance to win $10,000 at any of PurePoint Financial’s three Tampa Bay financial centers, which are located at:

  • 1510 N. Westshore Blvd., Tampa, FL;
  • 2421 4th St. North, Suite 102, St. Petersburg, FL; and
  • 30541 US Hwy 19 North, Palm Harbor, FL.

Cheers to PurePoint Financial and good luck in meeting your savings goals.

    Photography: How to Style Your Family for Photo Sessions


    Photo credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    Let me start by saying that I am not a style blogger and don’t consider myself a fashion icon.

    Most of my outfits come straight from the sale racks at stores like Nordstrom, Zara, and H&M. (Out of principle, I won’t pay full price for something.)

    There have been many mornings before work where I’ve worried whether my outfit looked alright and resorted to asking for advice from my husband and two kids.

    However, I’ve done a ton of family photo sessions over the years and understand the struggle and stress involved with getting out of the house looking presentable and keeping everyone in a good mood so we are happy in front of the camera. Or at least look happy in front of the camera.

    I’ve blogged about the suckiness of family photo sessions here.

    Spoiler alert: it ain’t for the faint of heart. On the same token, it gets a lot easier as your kids get older, so moms of really young kids, you’ll be out of the woods soon!

    We recently did a family photo session with Synthia Denis, the talented Tampa-based photographer behind the lens at Synthia Therese Photography. We met Synthia five years ago when she was one of the teachers at the daycare my oldest daughter attended. She subsequently developed a photography hobby that morphed into a business and it’s been fun to personally watch her grow, both creatively and professionally.

    How to Dress Your Family for Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    What to Wear for Family Pictures | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    I am so glad to have our yearly family photos out of the way with a final product that was amazing. (Another spoiler alert: these photos will be on our Christmas cards, so I was able to cross another item off my to-do list.) Synthia asked me to pick my five favorites, but because I loved all of them so much, I ended up buying all of the 60 photos she took at the session. (Yes, she’s that good!)

    We took these photos at Cypress Point Park which is just south of Tampa International Airport. (I live in Ballast Point and #aintnobodygottime to drive with a 3 and 5-year-old all the way to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, even though it’s a gorgeous location.)

    How to Dress Your Family for Family Picture Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    How to Dress for Photography Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    Here are some takeaways on how to style your family for photo sessions:

    1. Coordinate Without Being Matchy-Matchy. In this session, I based my and Jason’s outfits around the girls’ outfits, which I purchased at a Hannah Kate trunk show my friend hosted at her house. As you can see, the girls’ dresses coordinate, but don’t match perfectly. I pulled colors from their dresses when choosing my and my husband’s outfits, which were items we already had in our closets. I got my chambray dress from Zara last year and while they are sold out, you can get a similar one of good quality here.

    What to Wear for Family Photography Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    2. Get Inspired from the Internet. If you’re at a loss for what to wear, this is where Pinterest and Google come in handy. Also, plan a couple weeks in advance of the session so you have time to order outfits online if you want something brand new. The internet has some nice color palettes you can use as inspiration for coordinating outfits. I found one this one from Pinterest to be helpful. Remember that light and airy colors appear best on camera and are often the most flattering on any skin tone and hair color.

    How to Dress Your Family for Photos | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    3. Avoid Distracting Patterns or Accessories. My usual philosophy with little girls is “the bigger the bow, the closer to God.” However, many otherwise great photos can be ruined by an unnecessarily enormous bow on a child’s head that blocks features of another family member. For photo sessions, I try to choose bows that lay flat on the girls’ heads and avoid patterns or accessories that are distracting. I want the primary focus of the picture to be of me and my family and not a statement necklace or a logo. Also, it’s best to avoid extremely small patterns such as gingham or teeny tiny polka dots because most professional cameras have a hard time picking them up and they can look psychedelic in the final product.

    How to Dress for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    What to Wear for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    4. Keep Non-Staining Snacks on Hand. To avoid “hangry” meltdowns, keep snacks on hand that won’t stain your children’s clothes. For a personality pick-me-up (and since I can’t/ won’t give my kids Mountain Dew or Red Bull like I’ve seen on those pageant reality shows), I like to keep Smarties and Altoids in my purse. They won’t stain your kids’ clothes, but in case of an emergency, also pack stain removal wipes for the photo session. I’ve also been known to bribe my kids with ice cream after the session if they do a good job and smile pretty for the camera.

    How to Dress Your Family for Pictures | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    5. Show Your Photographer Your Outfits in Advance. Ask them for their honest opinions. Before my beach session with Synthia, I snapped a few photos of two outfit choices and texted both of them to her. She chose the outfit she thought would work best for the session. We didn’t have to worry about any outfit snafus or misunderstandings because we both were on the same page.

    How to Dress Your Family for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    6. Dress Appropriately for the Location. If you’re taking photos at the beach, consider wearing light-colored flowy outfits with open toed shoes. If you’re doing your photos in a metropolitan area and it’s in the evening, consider wearing something more flashy like sequins and high heels. Avoid wearing clothes that blend in with the backdrop. Below is an example of what not  to do based on a mistake I made last year. My photographer for this session specifically told me we were shooting in a public park, but I didn’t dress for the location and showed up in a cute dress and heels, which kept sinking into the dirt. (My bad!) Our outfits would have been more appropriately suited for shooting on a dock with sailboats in the background at the country club, not at an outdoor, woodsy park. Lesson learned!

    How to Dress and what to wear for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    7. Ensure Your Photographer Has Experience Shooting Young Kids. (That sounds weird, but you know what I mean.) Our recent family photo session with Synthia went quickly (around 20 minutes) because Synthia was intentional about her vision and how she wanted the photographs to ultimately look. She gave the kids specific instructions on where to stand, what to do with their hands, and where to look in relation to the camera. This is so important when young kids are involved. You don’t want a photographer who doesn’t have an advance plan who will have the kids wandering around everywhere and hoping for a good picture. Doesn’t work that way and will drag the session out and drive everyone crazy. You want to make this as painless as possible.

    What to wear for family photo sessions | The Champagne Supernova

    Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

    Thanks to Synthia for a great session.

    Cheers!

    SaveSaveSaveSave

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      Divorce: The Unobvious, Dirty Truth


      Things people need to expect when they are divorcing with children that most people won't tell you | The Champagne Supernova

      First comes love, then comes marriage… and sometimes comes divorce.

      I was recently reminded of this unfortunate truth when one of my favorite bloggers publicly and bravely announced that she and her husband were divorcing. They were high school sweethearts and share two young children.

      I have several friends and acquaintances who are either separated or divorced from their spouses. My own parents got divorced when I was in law school and while their maturity and religious faith enabled them to be good friends who get along well (thanks, Mom and Dad!), I witnessed the more difficult parts of their post-marriage journey as it was happening and while the wound was fresh.

      Divorce should be a judgment free zone, although it doesn’t usually happen that way. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors or truly understands the complexities of a relationship. Nobody appreciates how the intricate details of a childhood, career, and the very nature of our own idiosyncrasies play into a marriage.

      These divorce issues got me wondering about the aspects of divorce that most people don’t think about before they file? Sure, everyone anticipates that it will be really hard to share custody of their children, but what are the things that happen “in the dark” that people don’t realize until they are sitting in it?

      While I am an attorney, my forte is not family law. So with the help of Tampa family lawyer, Christina Anton Garcia, and two of my divorced friends, John and Rachel, I got the good, the bad, and the ugly about the things people don’t realize about divorce until long after everything is signed and sealed.

      While all three of them had different insight about divorce, there was a common denominator: make the marriage work if you can. Go to counseling. Ask other people to support and pray for you. Be honest about your struggles. Do not get a divorce unless it is truly a last resort. “While it may not be ideal for business, Garcia says, I consider it a victory when a couple reconciles or if they reach an agreement that everyone is happy with and productively move on with their lives.”

      Hopefully these tips from people who have seen the trenches can help others who are considering or going through a divorce. And while all divorces are different, these tips focus primarily on those where children are involved.

      If You Have Kids, The Divorce is Never Really Over. Your former spouse will always be in the picture, whether it is during holidays, birthdays, weddings, custody pick-ups/ drop-offs, and even having to communicate with them if your child has a bad report card or gets in trouble at school. You will always have to contend with your former spouse, so you better make sure for you kids’ sake and for your own that you get along. Fighting with your former spouse and speaking poorly about them to others and to your children only makes the kids more stressed out and will not make you feel better. Absent something truly egregious, you should be civil with your former spouse and treat other with respect. “You have to get used to the flavor of your own tongue by “biting it” when considering an argument,” advises John. “You have to ask yourself how the argument will affect your children and if its really worth it.”

      The Silence Can be Crippling. “The Sunday nights my daughter goes to her mom’s house can be lonely and quiet,” said John. “This was especially true immediately after the divorce. While the loneliness has waned over the years, without fail I always recognize the silence when I walk through the door after I drop her off. It can be tough looking at her books or toys knowing she will be living ‘her other life’ for the next week.” John deals with the silence by setting up dates, meetings with friends, and working out on Sunday nights in an effort to productively deal with the loneliness. Rachel also recommends working out. “I was in the best shape of my life right after the divorce because I worked out all the time to avoid going back to my apartment and succumbing to the loneliness. At least you will have a rocking body and it’s healthy compared to other bad habits,” she said.

      Life Goes On. It is strange that weddings can involve years of planning and plenty of celebratory fanfare, but a divorce is over with the stroke of a pen. John recalled the day of his divorce, a Tuesday, went on as normal for the world around him but seemed surreal at the time for him personally. While he is happy to be divorced and knows it was ultimately the best choice, he was faced with a complex array of taxing emotions that he would not wish on anyone. Rachel described her divorce as a “permanent wound that never goes away, you just have to heal to the best of your ability. When it flares up and eats away at you, you have to put the Band-Aid back on and keep moving.”

      The Dating World Has Drastically Changed Since You Were Single. Couples dating for a decade or longer likely did not have to deal with the complexities of social media, text messaging rules, or “Netflix and chill” style dates. When I met my husband in 2005, dating websites like Match.com were considered taboo. Now they are common and accepted. (Popular dating apps like Tinder and Bumble did not exist.)  I didn’t have to adhere to rules about posting my husband’s picture on Facebook, whether it was too soon to be “checking-in” with him at a specific location, or worrying about how soon I should respond to a text message. John warns, “these are all very real issues in today’s dating world and you must learn the ropes.”

      There Will Be Lifestyle Changes. Rachel and her former spouse were both professionals who earned six-figure incomes. However, she said it took her 6 months to a year after her divorce to learn how to budget without her spouse’s financial contribution. Even though Rachel earned a nice income, she was making poor financial decisions and spending money on unnecessary things. “I was still living as if I had a partner who could contribute to a fancy vacation or a shopping spree. Everything started adding up and I watched my savings as it dwindled,” she said. Rachel now tells those on the verge of divorce to start living like they are single and stop expecting the other spouse’s help. She advises those without high earning capacities to retain a good attorney who will help obtain adequate support and to be prudent with money. Realize that life may never be the same. You may not get to stay at the Ritz anymore. You may not get to play tennis at the country club. You may not be dining at Michelin-rated restaurants. You may have to sell your 3,000 square foot home and move into a tiny rental. While these luxuries are not the “important” things in life, they are things Rachel wishes she would have kept in mind post-divorce.

      You Will Have to Find Other Ways to Fill Your Time. Life after divorce can be drastically different. Friends you and your spouse hung out with as a couple are no longer there. People can feel awkward and change around you. You will not always want to go places as the single person and be the fifth wheel. The divorce itself can be all-encompassing but once it’s over, you will have to find new ways to fill your time and there will be a void. It can be easy to fill this void with drugs, alcohol, or other people and relationships. “The last thing you want to do is jump into dysfunctional activities or relationships without giving yourself sufficient time to heal from your marriage just because it’s easy and temporarily fills the void. You will only be more damaged in the long run,” advises John. You can productively fill the void by exercising, getting involved in professional and civic organizations, and putting energy into developing your talents and hobbies.

      You Can Become Engulfed in Emotions. Even in situations where the divorce is a positive thing, you can become engulfed in emotions. Rachel chose to end her marriage and while she doesn’t regret that decision, she has a difficult time remembering her painful post-divorce emotions. “After the divorce, I tried to act strong in public but sitting in my tiny apartment I was a complete and utter emotional wreck. I couldn’t look at my child without crying that I had done this to her. I would sit on the porch at my apartment at all hours of the night smoking cigarettes, crying, and staring off into space. Inside the apartment I felt a loneliness I had never felt before. I was scared of the future. I was scared of the present. I was just flat out scared and alone. Sure I had friends who came over all the time. They would listen and ask questions but they always left and the loneliness would engulf me. These feelings lasted nearly a year.”

      You Will Need to Seek Professional Help. Everyone agreed that weekly therapy from a professional counselor is necessary to productively survive a divorce. Counselors specialize in helping people get through the process and you can talk to them about things you will not or cannot talk about with your friends or family. You also need to understand that you will likely get depressed or anxious. There is nothing wrong with temporarily taking medications if you need to do so. It is also acceptable to succumb to the sadness. While nobody died, the end of a marriage feels pretty close to it.

      You Will Need to Focus on Creating a Safe and Loving Environment for Your Children. You will need to put your own emotions aside and work hard on creating a home environment where your children will feel safe and loved. Forget about all the “things” you no longer have like the big kitchen, large master bath, the pool, and the two-car garage. None of those things matter. What matters is that your kids feel like they are loved and like they are safe. Rachel advises, “your children will get through the divorce experience substantially better if they come out with good memories of their new living arrangements rather than remembering their parent constantly complain about how inadequate it is.”

      You Will Need to Stop Being Petty. Deal with child custody arrangements first and then move onto the financial aspects. “My spouse and I had a brief war over who got what skymiles and hotel points… it’s not worth it,” warns Rachel. “Kids should come first. Stop being petty.” Further, unless you agreed to a lump-sum divorce fee, family lawyers bill by the hour. Arguing with your spouse over trivial things will cost you.

      You Will Need to Be Positively Comfortable With the Custody Plan. Be sure before you sign off on a parenting plan that you think it’s the best option for you. Once the judge approves the parenting plan, it is very difficult and a very hard burden to get changed. Think about the logistics of the proposed plan before you agree to anything.

      You Will Need to Be Prepared to Be Judged. Post divorce, friends, family members, and acquaintances will judge you for everything, so be emotionally ready for it. People will take sides even if they only heard one side of the story. They will judge you if you date and they will judge you if you don’t. They will judge you if you continue working and they will judge you if you take some time off. They will judge you if you take on new hobbies and they will judge you if you become a recluse. You can’t win and you won’t win. While it will hurt, you need to be prepared to shake if off.  The good news is you will learn who your true friends are.

      You Will Need to Be Ready to Co-Parent. Gwyneth Paltrow famously used the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce from Chris Martin. Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck famously take their kids on family vacations together. “My ex and I took our daughter to Disney for her birthday because she wanted both of us to be there. While I had anxiety leading up to it and my friends thought we were crazy, we both put on a happy face so our daughter could have her birthday wish of all of us being there together,” recalls Rachel.

      You Will Need to Realize Life May Never Be the Way You Thought it Would Be. Accepting this is the final step toward recovery in a divorce.

      Feel free to reach out to Christina Garcia if you have questions about divorce or need recommendations for marriage counselors.

      Cheers!

        How to Prevent a Hangover


        Foolproof way to prevent a hangover | The Champagne Supernova

        I recently attended a wedding just north of Atlanta the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

        The bride is a close friend and I was excited to get outta dodge for 36 hours to see her get hitched. I had plans of waking up early on Sunday to get the first flight back to Tampa so I could spend Mother’s Day with my family.

        My Mother-in-Law, Leslie, has a house near the wedding venue and was my “date” for the event, as my husband was also out of town on a marketing trip for business. (I know many reading this are shocked, but I hit the MIL jackpot. She’s young, not annoying, and doesn’t tell me how to raise my kids. We good.)

        As Leslie and I were getting ready for the wedding, I told her I was going to limit my alcohol intake to two glasses of wine the entire night.

        Famous last words.

        The wedding was truly spectacular. Gorgeous flowers. Beautiful scenery. Good company. A great song playlist. Delicious food.

        The party was rocking and the wine was flowing.

        And flowing.

        And flowing.

        I was over-served somewhere between Sweet Child O’ Mine and Summer of 69.

        (I also need to add this was a Jewish wedding. Which is relevant because anyone who’s ever attended a Jewish wedding knows there ain’t no such thing as a bad Jewish wedding. The tribe knows how to throw down.)

        Me with the handsome bride and groom.

        I ended up passing out in my dress and a full face of make-up.

        The latter, for me, is a cardinal sin.

        I woke up in the morning feeling terrible and not knowing how I was going to muster up the strength to get to the airport, which is an hour drive from Leslie’s house.

        I felt so horrible that I couldn’t eat or drink anything all morning.

        Not water.

        Not Gatorade.

        Not Advil.

        Not alka-seltzer.

        Not even crackers.

        In fetal position on Leslie’s bathroom floor. Sweating. Shivering. Whimpering. Dizzy. Bargaining with God.

        How on earth am I going to make it through the car ride to the airport? How will I get on a plane and make it through the entire flight back to Tampa?

        I wanted to die.

        Through tears, I found the strength to get dressed, get myself and my suitcase down stairs, and into Leslie’s car.

        Leslie subsequently told me she knew it was time for me to go home when she looked out on the dance floor and saw me whipping my ponytail around like a helicopter propeller.

        At the airport, I looked like someone beat me up. Sweaty hair slicked back in a bun. Zero makeup. Red, swollen face.

        No bueno.

        When I arrived at my gate, I heard an attendant announce the flight would be full so “everyone get cozy.”

        When I got on the plane, I bolted straight for the nearest window seat. Probably not the best choice given my situation, but I am terrified of flying and need to be able to see what’s happening outside.

        I found a vacant seat near an older man wearing a Marines t-shirt. The middle seat was empty until “teen mom” came along (she couldn’t have been older than 19) with her 18-month old son, who remained on her lap the entire time. He kept touching my leg, kicking the seat in front of him, and screaming, but I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my beating head.

        Midway through the flight, I started feeling sick.

        Oh no!

        I grabbed the bag that was inside the seat pocket in front of me, wedged myself between the back of the seat and the window, and threw up as quietly and classily as possible.

        (And I will say, it was pretty darn quiet. Nobody turned around or gave me any strange looks and I couldn’t hear anyone talking about it.)

        When I was finished, I sat back in my chair and awkwardly made eye contact with Teen Mom next to me.

        She looked confused and disgusted. Like “is this really happening?”

        So I said the first thing that came to mind.

        And I’m not proud.

        Sorry…. I’m pregnant and have morning sickness.

        (Look, I know pregnancy is nothing to joke about and is absolutely a non-P.C. thing to say but, in my mind, lying about being pregnant was better than having this stranger think I was a 35 year-old irresponsible lush who can’t hold her alcohol and was trying to get back to Tampa to be with her kids for Mother’s Day.)

        Teen Mom looked at me with sympathetic eyes, likely because she remembered feeling sick when she was pregnant with the tyke on her lap.

        She then glanced at my stomach and said:

        Awwww…. I can see your baby belly!

        I was mortified.

        No honey, I thought, what you’re seeing is a combination of last night’s beef tenderloin, brussels sprouts, and challah bread. 

        I deserved the comment. And it was hilarious. And proof there’s a God and He’s got a sense of humor.

        I had it coming.

        I didn’t feel sick again the rest of the way home.

        My flight arrived back in Tampa at noon and I spent the rest of the day with my husband and kids at our neighborhood pool.

        I couldn’t eat any food until 3 p.m.

        Then I got to thinking. At my age and life circumstances, nothing is worth a hangover. Nothing. Sure, the wedding was a blast, but I should really have cooled it after the second glass of wine.

        The only real way to completely prevent a hangover is to not drink a dang thing.

        Mazel Tov and Cheers to the happy couple. I’ll never forget their wedding or the crazy story that came from it.

        And I never want to see a glass of red wine ever again.

          Your Kids Don’t Care About Your Imperfect Body: They Care About You


          Stop body shaming yourself. Don't let your insecurities about your body prevent you from having fun with your kids. They don't care how you look- they care about YOU! | The Champagne Supernova

          Body shaming.

          We hear about this all the time. About how we need to stop body shaming other women and nurturing an environment that creates unreasonable expectations about how we should look and sets a bad example for young women.

          But what about when we body shame ourselves?

          I was scrolling through my camera of photos from a recent family vacation when it caught my eye.

          The hotel where we were staying on this vacation had a duck pond near the pool area. The kids and I had a blast feeding the ducks, swimming, and playing pool games. One of the pictures, which my husband must have taken, was of the kids squatting along the edge of the pond tossing food pellets to one of the ducks.

          In the background of that picture was an elderly woman wearing a one-piece swimsuit. She was also bent over feeding the ducks, with her aged, flat booty facing the camera.

          Then I looked closer.

          It wasn’t an old lady.

          It was me.

          I gave the camera to my husband, pointed to the picture, and asked him if my butt really looked that way in real life.

          It wasn’t a firm and round butt.

          It was a stereotypical flapjack style middle-aged mom butt.

          I think it was a bad angle. You’re standing in an awkward position.

          Lies. My husband was avoiding the question.

          Then I got all lawyer on him and the deposition began.

          How long has my butt looked like this?

          Do you think it’s because of all the wine we drink?

          Or because I’ve had two kids?

          Or because I need to start doing a thousand lunges a day?

          Perhaps its because I’m getting older?

          Maybe I’ve got a hormone imbalance, like a bad thyroid?

          Do you think I can start contouring my butt with makeup like the Kardashians contour their faces? 

          I stressed and obsessed about my mom butt for a couple days.

          The self-shaming was out of control.

          I started discussing it with some of my mom friends.

          Then I quickly discovered that they all have insecurities, too.

          Saggy boobs. Flabby stomachs. C-Section scars. Double chins. Thinning hair. Adult acne. Cellulite.

          One afternoon, when I was in the middle of a phone conversation with one of my girlfriends talking about our mom butts, I looked over and saw my five year-old daughter playing legos by herself in the living room.

          I got off the phone and started playing with her.

          We laughed, we smiled, we told stories, we worked on a school project. We made ice cream sundaes and giggled when I accidentally spilled multi-colored sprinkles all over the floor. We made figurines out of play-doh and pretended to work in a restaurant. Her waitress name was Flo and mine was Linda. She took customer orders while I prepared the food. Today’s Special was beef stroganoff and fried cod.

          We had the best day.

          And then it dawned on me.

          My daughter didn’t care about my flapjack style middle-aged mom butt.

          She cared about spending time with me.

          The same is true for the way all children feel about their moms. They don’t care about your saggy boobs, flabby stomach, C-section scar, double chin, thinning hair, adult acne, or your cellulite.

          They care about you.

          Spending quality time with you.

          Laughing with you.

          Playing with you.

          Making memories with you.

          When your kids are adults, they won’t remember your minor physical imperfections. What they will remember are the memories you created and the relationships you nurtured. The fun you had together and the lessons you taught them. They will remember that you made them a priority. The way you loved them.

          That’s what they’ll remember.

          Not the small details about your body.

          They think you’re perfect just the way you are. 

          And you know what?

          Who cares if we have mom butts?

          We are moms, after all.

          We need to stop body shaming ourselves.

          So ladies, as summertime and swimsuit season are upon us, don’t be afraid to jump in the pool and go swimming with your kids because you are trying to avoid being seen in a bathing suit. Don’t be ashamed that you’re wearing a one-piece instead of a Brazilian cut bikini. Don’t worry about getting your hair wet because it’s curly and dries funky. Take the plunge.

          You are your own worst critic and nobody else is paying attention anyway. Don’t let your own minor imperfections rob you of enjoying experiences with your kids while they’re still little. Don’t let your insecurities steal your peace of mind.

          Cheers!

            How to Talk to God


            MC Hammer A wise philosopher famously sang:

            We got to pray
            Just to make it today
            I said we pray(pray) ah, yeah, pray(pray)
            We got to pray
            Just to make it to pray
            That’s word, we pray.

            Yet so many people don’t want anything to do with prayers. They think they are foreign and reserved for religious fanatics.

            I can see where it’s hard asking for help in the midst of our shame and guilt.

            I’ll go first.

            I’m not perfect. Sometimes (lots of times) I cuss. I have regrets from the past and sometimes wonder if I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose. I might beat myself up over a flabby stomach or eating too much junk food. Or maybe I get snippy with a co-worker who didn’t deserve it. Perhaps I took a bad day at the office out on my husband when I got home. Or I feel like I’m screwing up my kids when I’m not in the mood to read them a book before bedtime. It may be that I lazily slipped Cool Ranch Doritos in their lunchbox instead of an organic, gluten-free granola bar.

            Don’t we all have our days where we are feeling “less-than”?

            Good thing I have a God who I can turn to who will comfort me and help me lay all my troubles aside.

            I can see where having an intimate, trusting relationship with God can be difficult. Especially in these volatile times where so many around the world are fighting in His name.

            There is a belief that God is a punisher to be feared. That He is an intolerant critic who is disappointed in our bad choices and will send us to the fiery furnace on judgment day if we don’t immediately clean up our acts. That He has ordered His followers to be the “sin police” and polarize those who don’t adhere to His commands.

            This belief suggests that God is an ornery old man incapable of forgiveness and compassion.

            How terrifying. It’s understandable why so many people are too afraid of God to love Him and let Him into their lives. I can see why so many are afraid to pray. They don’t want to go there.

            That is not my God. My God epitomizes love and benevolence. He teaches forgiveness and love. He is a genius with a sense of humor. He is inclusive and a good parent who loves all His children the same. He created a set of life tools to direct us toward our best lives and not because he is trying to rob us of a good time. He is a best friend who created the inner depths of our hearts and planted our struggles so we can come to know and trust Him. Which is exactly why He has his own compassionate judgment for each of us that we on earth can’t comprehend. (He is the judge: not us.)

            Nobody who knows me would describe me as a Bible Thumper, but the relationship between me and God is strong and it is real.

            And you see, that’s all he cares about. The relationship. A good one. You and Him. Together. BFFs. 

            I pray several times a day. Here’s how I do it.

            The urge pops into my head and I just go for the gold.

            It ain’t formal and it sure as heck ain’t frilly.

            Sometimes the prayer is five words and other times it is twenty sentences.

            The prayers can be silly.

            Please God, don’t let me murder my husband for leaving wet towels on the floor.

            Dear God, if you cure this hangover I won’t ever drink again. This week. 

            Other times the prayers can be serious.

            Please heal the cancer in my friend’s brain.

            Please Lord, help that father find a new job so he can feed his family.  

            There’s usually no kneeling or hand-folding (although you can certainly do that if you want to.)

            No rosaries or candles.

            No gospel music.

            No priest to confess anything to.

            It doesn’t have to happen in a church or a synagogue or any other traditional place of worship.

            Good prayers can happen anywhere. 

            At your desk when you’re waiting for someone to respond to an e-mail.

            At the gym on the treadmill.

            In the carpool pickup line.

            At grocery check-out.

            In the front office waiting for your doctor’s appointment.

            God doesn’t care. 

            You can be in your bathing suit or your pajamas.

            On a yoga mat in the studio or on a towel at the beach.

            In front of the TV or behind a book.

            Doesn’t matter to God. It just matters that it happens. Come exactly as you are. No formalities and nothing fake. 

            You see, God doesn’t want the fancy, Shakespearean language. He doesn’t want you to feel like you have to dress up.

            He just wants you. 

            After all, he is the One who created you and will be the first to know if there’s any insincere B.S.

            He wants you to go to Him when you have problems and for you to completely trust Him. Even when you are hurt and confused and angry and defeated. (But especially when you are those things.) He wants to give you His peace and His blessings. He wants you to thank Him when you are grateful.

            He wants you to pray however suits your fancy. 

            Just do it however you do you.

            Cheers!

              Saving Money: Why Ting Mobile Makes Perfect Sense


              How Ting Mobile is a great way to save on your cell phone bill | The Champagne Supernova

              This blog post is proudly sponsored by Ting Mobile. However, all opinions are the real deal. 

              I like saving money.

              As a working parent, I work hard for my earnings and see them dwindle away so quickly each month.

              Dance recitals. Tennis lessons. Gymnastics. Birthday parties. School uniforms. Doctor co-pays.

              Sometimes I feel like The Bank of Mom.

              As my monthly cell phone bill with my current provider is $150.00, I was excited about the opportunity to work with Ting Mobile and learn about their (extremely) low cost cellular services.

              Low. Very low.

              In fact, the base cost for Ting is $6 per month (you read that correctly!) for a phone line. Usage is shared across all devices. The more phones on a Ting account, the less you pay per phone.

              Ting is pay-per-use, so you don’t have to sign up for any type of plan. Your usage during the month (phone minutes, text messages, and data) is what you pay for at the end of the month. What’s great is that minutes, messages, and data are all billed separately.

              There are no contracts, overage fees, or other hidden B.S. (Pardon-a my French). You can try Ting for one month and leave the next month if you aren’t happy.

              The vast majority (80%) of all phones manufactured in the last few years will work with Ting, so it’s likely the phone you already own is one of them. All you need is a Ting SIM card to get started. You can buy the phone from the Ting shop here (they are a verified seller of Apple iPhones!) or bring your own phone, based on your preference.

              Ting has an easy-to-use phone compatibility checker you can use here so you can check RIGHT THIS MOMENT whether your phone will work with Ting.

              Another great quality of Ting is that you don’t have to worry about having bad service. This is because Ting uses both Sprint and T-Mobile towers- you can choose the network that has better coverage in your area. In other words, Ting clients have identical network experience as people who are signed up directly with these carriers.

              I can vouch firsthand this is completely accurate, as I used my Ting phone in a rural area of Georgia (along the Appalachian trial) earlier this month with zero coverage issues and complete service. High five, Ting!

              How to save money using Ting Mobile | The Champagne Supernova

              My littlest homey loves Ting!

              Ting has also created an eBook on how to lower your data usage, which helps Ting customers save money on their monthly bills. Read it here.

              One of my favorite things about Ting is their customer support involves calls that are actually answered by real, live people. No more having to press a series of numbers to get to the right department. Gone are the days of waiting on hold for twenty minutes to have your questions answered. Say adios to fruitlessly having to communicate with a computer.

              I witnessed this personally when I called Ting last week after I was having (minor) issues setting up the Wifi on the iPhone 6 they sent to me. I was greeted by a friendly woman named Melissa on the second ring (!!) Melissa walked me through a couple steps to help troubleshoot the issue. She even called me back five minutes later to ensure there were still no issues.

              You read that correctly. She called me back.

              How is that amazing customer support for you? 

              (Check out Ting Mobile’s Youtube channel highlighting their bar-none customer service here.)

              Another thing I love about trying Ting? When switching over from your carrier, you can keep your existing phone number.

              You don’t need permission from your provider to keep the number. You just keep it.

              That means you don’t have to waste precious time sending mass texts to all of your contacts notifying them that you have a new number.

              (And nobody wants to be held hostage on a mass text, anyway.)

              Setting up my Ting took five minutes. I got the new iPhone directly from Ting, activated the SIM card online, and set up the iPhone. Boom. Done.

              Give it a try and find out why Ting is the mobile that makes sense.

              Use the promotion code of jennifer.ting.com and receive $25 off your bill. So you’re getting a month for free as the average bill is just $23 a month per phone.

              Cheers to saving money! Cheers to Ting!

                Life and Focusing on What Matters: The Give a Damn List


                Create a Give a Damn List to help you balance the things and people that really matter | The Champagne Supernova

                We have a limited number of damns in our lives.

                Yet, we somehow end up giving them away on the dumbest, most insignificant things.

                Confession.

                I can be a compulsive damn giver-outer.

                Doling out the damns like Oprah gives away cars.

                You get a damn!

                That other person gets a damn!

                Everyone’s getting a damn!

                People who don’t really matter.

                Things that are stupid.

                Stuff that happened in the past that I can’t control.

                I’ve had it.

                I recently traveled out of town to attend a conference. The main attendees were women like me: moms of young children who were bloggers and authors. All of them were in their mid 30s and the majority were married.

                When we arrived at the conference, we were randomly placed in small groups where we performed team building activities and brainstormed about how to grow our businesses.

                Here’s the problem.

                Despite our ostensible similarities, I really had nothing to talk about with these women. Yes, they were friendly and no, there was no drama, but beyond the casual formalities, I just had nothing. to. talk. to. them. about. (The three-hour time change and my exhaustion didn’t help things. Being forced to be “on” does nothing but perpetuate my pre-existing social awkwardness.)

                Some people you click with and some people you don’t.

                There wasn’t any deep and meaningful clicking.

                Bummer.

                On the plane ride back, my negative thoughts started getting the best of me.

                Why couldn’t I connect with these women?

                Is something wrong with me?  

                I called my close friend and former roommate, Amy. She’s usually the voice of reason.

                Tell the truth, is there something I’m doing wrong?

                No…. and be honest with yourself, do you give a damn about any of these people anyway?

                Silence.

                No.

                No, I don’t.

                Which forced me to consider why I give so many damns.

                In an effort to be proactive, I got out a journal and created a list of people and things I was going to give a damn about in the future.

                A Give a Damn List.

                Moving forward, the list will serve as the Holy Grail of things and people that do and do not matter.

                Things I will make a priority and things I will not.

                That way, when I am wallowing in self-doubt and stress, I can open up the journal and refer to the list.

                If the “trigger” is not on the list, then I’m not going to give a damn.

                (Realistically: I will try really hard to not give a damn. Old habits die hard.)

                When you are trying to figure out what matters in your life, create a Give a Damn List in your journal. This contains a list of things that will be a priority. | The Champagne Supernova

                The journal that contains my personal Give a Damn List.

                Here is my hierarchy of people who get my damns.

                1. God;
                2. My husband and two daughters;
                3. My parents and sister;
                4. Other relatives who are close and super special (e.g. my grandparents);
                5. A group of close friends. Some I have known for twenty years and some I’ve known for only a few years. The type who I love and love me back… amazing friends like the “Ashleys” I wrote about here– the type of friendships where we are there for each other in a bind and can be forthcoming about life’s tribulations; and
                6. My boss. Because bills.

                Then, there was the list of things on my Give a Damn List:

                1. Fostering a close relationship with God;
                2. Marriage/ family time and making memories;
                3. The emotional and academic growth of my children;
                4. Nurturing the relationships of the people listed in 2-5 above; and
                5. The blog work and “work work”.

                That’s it.

                There’s all my damns.

                I don’t have any more damns to give. And here’s the thing. None of us do. 

                Even those damns are damn consuming.

                Anything and anyone else is just icing on the cake or nonsense, depending on the situation. If something does not facilitate the growth and nurturing of someone or something on my Give a Damn List, then I’m not going to stress myself out about it.

                (Important note: this doesn’t mean to be dismissive or unkind to someone or something that is not on the Give a Damn List, it just means you shouldn’t prioritize it and shouldn’t worry too much overthinking about it.)

                Go ahead and make a list for yourself.

                It feels good to write those names down.

                It feels good to write the things down that will be your biggest priorities and then refer back to the list later when you’re feeling frustrated.

                The modern American family is stressed, rushed, and tired. No more. We need to stop spreading ourselves so thin and start worrying about who and what really matters.

                Here’s to giving a damn about the people and things that matter most.

                Here’s to the Give a Damn List.

                Cheers!

                  Educators Weigh In: How to Raise Successful Children


                  Teachers give advice on how to raise successful children | The Champagne Supernova

                  Is there a magic formula for how to raise successful children?

                  What are the common denominators for children who flourish versus those who fail?

                  In my life, I’ve witnessed some children grow into successful, contributing adults and others  fall into the trenches and never seem to recover.

                  In this post here, I wrote about an adolescent friend who came from a background of abuse, neglect, and poverty. While unfortunate, it was no surprise she grew into an adult who couldn’t overcome her rough upbringing and has already taken steps to repeat the sad cycle with her own children.

                  On the other hand, we also know children who seemingly came from loving and supportive homes (while not knowing what goes on behind closed doors) who also managed to fall off track.

                  We’ve also heard of the kids who, despite terrible upbringings, beat the odds and manage to become adults who are financially secure leaders.

                  As the working mother of two very young girls, I often wonder “what gives?”

                  And while my children will ultimately make their own decisions, I want to arm them with the best resources and emotional support possible to ensure those decisions are good ones.

                  Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

                  Although there is no such thing as a parenting expert, which I wrote about here, and no absolute way to prevent parenting screw-ups, there must be some commonalities in parenting styles that pushes children toward success.

                  To learn these denominators, I enlisted the help of four longtime educators.

                  These educators have taught a range of age groups between preschool and high school and have a combined total of one hundred fifty years of experience.

                  Yes.

                  150 years.

                  ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS.

                  150 years > My five years of experience in winging it with raising my children.

                  150 years > My observations of the 18 years my parents raised me.

                  150 years > My own 35 years of life experience.

                  These educators have taught children with special needs, troubled youth, and teen moms.

                  They have also taught children who were go-getters and natural born leaders.

                  They have students who have been murdered during violent acts and other students who became CEOs.

                  Most importantly, these educators have been around long enough to see which students have failed and which have succeeded.

                  What gives?

                  We already know that kids whose parents read to them are more likely to succeed.

                  I wanted something more than that.

                  I wanted to dig deeper.

                  Based on their observations, I have compiled these denominators of success that are not always included in lists from parenting magazines, the Internet, and Dr. Phil.

                  If you want your child to have a better chance at succeeding…

                  1. Let them Fail. Children will never learn important life lessons when their parents constantly fix grades, do their homework (e.g. “Daddy-Did-It-Science-Fair-Projects”), meddle in their social problems (absent bullying or safety issues), have a fit about not making a sports team, and pout about not being elected to student government office. Children need to learn from their own failures. While it can be hard for parents to watch this happen, sometimes it’s the only way.

                  2. Encourage them to Self-Advocate. If your child gets a poor score on an exam or project, encourage them to ask the teacher why. If your child is shy, have them read the assignment back to you and explain where they may have gone wrong. Then ask what the teacher’s exact feedback was. Often, these discussions are eye-opening for both the parent and student. The worst thing a parent can do is contact a teacher and accuse the teacher of being unfair or demanding a complete explanation the second the grade appears. Let your child take ownership of the problem and figure out a solution. Of course, if both of you look at the assignment and honestly do not understand, a calmly written email that is non-accusatory works best.

                  3. Let Teenagers be Teenagers. They do stupid things. They date the “wrong” people. They forget things. Their brains have not fully developed and they do not think clearly. As long as being stupid doesn’t cause bodily injury or trouble with the law, accept that it happens. When it does happen, give appropriate consequences, but not with a life-long label.

                  4. Limit Social Media and Electronics. Things like social media and texting have hurt the way children interact with each other and with adults. Encourage your children to have emotional intelligence. This means picking up the phone or sending a good “old fashioned” card to a friend for their birthday instead of a text. Teach them to resolve problems in person and not over email or publicly through Facebook. For those who do have social media, know all of their passwords and continuously monitor their profiles. Set firm times on when to unplug electronics in the evenings before bed.

                  5. Show an Interest in their School, Education, and Interests. Make the time to attend Open House, parent-teacher meetings, school plays, science fairs, field trips, and sporting events. Consider joining the PTA. While this can be more difficult for working parents, make it a priority to show your children that their education and interests are important.

                  6. Do Not Live Vicariously Through Your Children. Just because you dreamed of being a star quarterback does not mean your son wants to sweat and hang out in the locker room. If your son wants to take theater, so be it. If your daughter wants to play football, make sure she has a chance to do so. Their dreams are theirs; your dreams are yours. See also:

                  7. Do Not Push Them into Classes. No matter how intelligent your child is, if they say they are not ready for high school classes in middle school or college classes in high school, then let it go. Research is now showing that neither really help and many of these students burn out before they get to college. No matter how ready younger students are academically, very few are ready emotionally. More colleges are saying, “That’s nice you had Spanish I and II in middle school, we still want two years in high school.” Instead of pushing college courses to save money, encourage children to take something that interests them that they will never again get the chance to explore.

                  8. Have Clear, Concise Rules. Stick to these rules with clear, fair punishment. Children need consistent boundaries.

                  9. Provide the Presence of Caring Adults. In the age of the Modern Family, this looks like different things. It can be caring parents, grandparents, friends’ parents, coaches, teachers, or church leaders. These adults need to be there to listen, provide guidance, and set developmentally-appropriate expectations. Notably, children who have supportive adults in their lives often have better vocabularies and increased senses of trust.

                  10. Be Open with Them. Talk about sex, alcohol, drugs, and other difficult subjects. Talk about this some more. If you don’t, their friends will.

                  11. Exhibit Mutual Respect. While parents need to remember that they are not their children’s friends, they need to give them respect and dignity. Children who feel a sense of respect from their parents will often have respect for themselves.

                  12. Teach Them Compassion for Others. Successful children are emotionally intelligent. They had adults who taught them that their actions can impact other people and life isn’t “all about them.” They are able to verbally express themselves well to both adults and peers. They are considerate of other peoples’ feelings and do not put others down to make themselves feel better (we know this doesn’t work anyway.)

                  13. Let Them Decide Where to go to College. You are a third generation Gator, but the fashion marketing program at FSU is better; get over it and let the child go to FSU.

                  14. Do Not Involve Them in your Divorce. It is not their fault your relationship failed, but they blame themselves. You must love your children more than you dislike your former spouse. Keep them out of the drama. Show respect to the other parent. Be an adult.

                  15. Provide Them with Coping Skills. Many adults and family members do not like children. A child must learn to cope with that person and when a child knows they matter to somebody, they cope in spite of the negative vibe. This can lead to success because they learn positive ways to cope at an early age. You don’t want them turning to things like alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity to cope with life’s trials.

                  16. Give Them Access to Experiences. Successful children often have access to experiences beyond the classroom. They are involved in sporting teams, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, 4-H, vacations, and cultural experiences. This does not always require tons of money. Young kids can learn as much exploring the beaches of free, local parks as they can on lavish vacations.

                  There you have it. Common factors of success that have been observed by educators with 150 years of experience. 

                  Cheers to you for wanting to raise children that will succeed. Cheers to their success.

                   

                    Life: The Playing Field is Not Equal


                    Life is not always fair and we are not always on equal playing fields | The Champagne Supernova

                    We are not all on equal playing fields.

                    Life isn’t always fair and, for some, it will never be fair.

                    I observed this pretty early.

                    The summer between 7th and 8th grade, my parents moved me and my younger sister from private to public school in my hometown of DeLand, Florida.

                    Speaking from experience, the middle school years can be especially tough for adolescent girls. Probably tougher than high school. Already trying to figure out who I was and navigate my way through the world, I was now faced with starting from scratch at a new school where I didn’t know a soul.

                    I was terrified and didn’t want to be “The New Girl.”

                    The week before school started, I had my parents take me to the local mall so I could find a trendy Yaga t-shirt (which was actually too big) and Vans shoes (that looked ridiculous on my skinny legs) so I had something to wear on the first day that screamed, “I’M COOL. BE MY FRIEND.”

                    The first day of eighth grade was a success, mainly because I met a girl named Michelle in homeroom.

                    Introduced herself, acquainted me to other classmates, and made me feel at home. By lunchtime, we were already exchanging notes in class (we had three together!) and talking about which boys we thought were cute and how we hope we didn’t have to “dress out” in P.E. since it was just the first day.

                    Michelle and I instantly became best friends. We would even sign our notes “BFFLAENMW” which is middle school shorthand for “Best Friends For Life and Eternity No Matter What.”

                    It was the beginning of a serious friendship.

                    Michelle had tons of amazing qualities. She was smart (way smarter than me) and easily caught on to complicated algebraic equations I could never understand, even if I was armed with a fancy calculator.

                    Michelle wanted to be a doctor when she grew up.

                    Not only was she hilarious, but she was also socially gifted and could easily navigate a conversation with a diverse array of groups that included the skaters, jocks, “hicks,” teen moms (yes, we had some), and even the faculty.

                    Everyone knew and liked Michelle.

                    As the school year progressed, I started seeing things that were unusual.

                    One of five children, Michelle’s parents were divorced and her mother had sole custody of all of them. One had special needs. Michelle’s mom had a medical condition that apparently precluded her from working and she was on Disability. Michelle’s dad lived in Ohio but kept in touch.

                    Michelle didn’t have a landline at her house. Her mother couldn’t afford one and these were the days before cellular phones, so if I needed her to call me, she would have to walk to the convenience store near her house and call from a pay phone.

                    She routinely came to school wearing clothes that were either stained or were what she wore the day before.

                    Her shoes had holes in them, exposing her equally-holed socks.

                    While Michelle was open to going to other peoples’ houses (the logistics had to be planned days in advance because of the phone situation), she was guarded about having anyone come home with her.

                    My first glimpse into her housing situation came one day in English when a boy, who happened to be one of her neighbors, embarrassed her in front of the entire class by loudly declaring that her house was “disgusting.”

                    Like a scene from a movie, Michelle literally ran out of the classroom mortified and hysterical.

                    Apparently what her neighbor said had struck a nerve.

                    (I subsequently saw her house when my parents drove her home from school one day. It was a two-story yellow dilapidated wood frame house with a wrap-around front porch littered with trash, clothing, and old furniture. Michelle’s family was poor beyond comprehension. Not long after, the house was condemned by the local government as unfit for human occupancy.)

                    As time went on, Michelle confessed that her mother was mentally and physically abusive. The stains on her clothes were usually remnants of food and beverages Michelle’s mother would sinisterly throw on Michelle and her siblings as they left for school. Through tears, Michelle confided that her mother routinely said unthinkable things to her.

                    I should have had an abortion when I was pregnant with you.

                    You’re garbage, so eat this garbage off the floor.

                    I wish you were dead. 

                    There were many times when Michelle would come to school with bruises and her face would be swollen from crying.

                    Sometimes she would tell the truth about what prompted the tears, and other times she would make excuses.

                    Toward the end of the school year, Michelle moved to Ohio to live with her dad. Though I was broken hearted for losing the other half of my BFFLAENMW, Michelle’s relocation was for the best.

                    Eventually, life got in the way and Michelle and I lost touch.

                    For whatever reason, Michelle returned to live with her mother our junior year of high school. By that time, I had a new group of friends with similar interests and backgrounds as me.

                    While I tried to include Michelle in my established life and friendship circle, it appeared we had too many differences. My friends and I were active in student government, service clubs, honors societies, and preparing for college. Michelle was interested in skipping class and smoking in the school bathrooms.

                    Things changed. We changed.

                    One summer when I was home from college, I took a part time job hostessing at a popular restaurant. To my surprise, Michelle was also working there as a waitress.

                    Like our middle school days, Michelle showed me the ropes and got me acquainted with the staff.

                    I remembered why I had been instantly attracted to her charisma and sense of humor so many years before.

                    As the weeks went on and during work breaks, Michelle and I were able to slowly catch up on happenings of the last few years. She dropped out of high school when she got pregnant following a one-night stand. The State declared her an unfit mother and took the child away. She was arrested on multiple drug-related and prostitution charges (she claimed she was set up). She had been in several abusive relationships and was living with a man two decades her senior in the outskirts of town.

                    She thought she might be pregnant.

                    Michelle still had a lot of animosity over the strained relationship with her mother. The physical and mental abuse never stopped and was driven primarily by her mother’s own self-loathing, which she projected onto her children. All of Michelle’s brothers and sisters had significant emotional and developmental problems.

                    Michelle told me that her mother was addicted to crack cocaine and living in a shed behind a friend’s house.

                    The type of shed someone would use to store things like ladders, paint, and lawn equipment.

                    Michelle was having a hard time and we again lost touch after I returned to college when summer was over.

                    Fast forward fifteen years.

                    My knowledge about Michelle’s whereabouts is limited to Facebook posts and digging around on the Internet.

                    Michelle has had four children taken away from her and has been incarcerated more times than I can count. She’s been hooked on drugs and her once beautiful smile has fallen victim to addictions like nicotine and methamphetamine. According to one family member, Michelle has significant problems with depression and has been Baker Acted multiple times.

                    Michelle was good and smart and kind and ambitious.

                    However.

                    Based on her upbringing, Michelle never stood a chance.

                    There is a school of thought that in America, the land of opportunities, everyone has an equal chance to learn, lead, and to be successful.

                    “All you have to do is work really, really hard and success will naturally come!”

                    A belief that we are all on the same playing field with the same opportunities.

                    It’s not true.

                    We are not all on the same playing field.

                    Kids whose parents are doing drugs and physically abusing them are not on the same playing field as kids who come from a loving, stable household.

                    Kids whose parents mentally torture them are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents are ready and able to provide emotional support.

                    Kids whose parents live in and perpetuate an environment of cyclical poverty are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents provide basic needs such as food, shelter, electricity and clothing. (Let alone the kids of parents who are able to provide the lavish comforts of country clubs, exotic vacations, and prestigious boarding schools.)

                    Kids whose parents don’t care what they are doing and who they were hanging out with are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents observe their friendships and hold them responsible for making wise decisions.

                    Kids whose parents show no interest in academic success are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents help them do their homework and hold them accountable when they earn poor grades.

                    Kids who are emotionally and physically abandoned are not on the same playing field as kids whose parents are exposing them to books, hobbies, and spirituality.

                    The playing fields aren’t always even and this disparity makes a huge difference in the long run.

                    Michelle is proof of that. Based on her upbringing and short of a miracle, she never stood a chance of being the doctor she wanted to be.

                    She never stood a chance at much of anything.

                    All of us know a Michelle. I have known and observed many Michelles, both personally and in my career. If the dice were rolled differently and I was born into a different family, I could have been a Michelle. So could you.

                    Sure, there are always outliers. The people who overcome unimaginable adversity and go on to be contributing members of society.

                    But that is not the norm.

                    In the United States, 21% of all children live below the federal poverty line. Nearly 700,000 are abused annually. More than 8 million children live with at least one parent who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs.

                    Persistently poor children are 13% less likely to finish high school and 43% less likely to complete college as their peers.

                    If you have parents who gave a damn about you and met your basic needs, then you’re lucky.

                    Does this mean that kids who come from families that are intact and financially responsible should be punished for things they cannot control?

                    No.

                    But it does mean that we should want to see disadvantaged kids succeed, even if it means they are receiving assistance or special privileges to push them along the way.

                    It does mean that before we judge someone’s outcome, we should seek to understand the bigger picture of how they got there to begin with.

                    It does mean that we feel sincere compassion and empathy for other peoples’ unfortunate circumstances.

                    Cheers.

                     

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