I was swallowed by a career and just survived getting shit back out.
Career day in elementary school wasn’t a gathering of kids with big dreams of someday being underpaid, under-appreciated, mid-level employees facing brutal criticism and daily disappointment.
Upon graduating from high school, I thought I was making an incredibly sensible decision in abandoning the pipe dreams of being an actress to get a degree in Telecommunications.
Shit, I didn’t even walk.
I picked up my diploma from an office and started applying to jobs. Hundreds of jobs. Mostly radio jobs, where the salary offered wouldn’t have been enough to survive on without roommates and lots of Top Ramen.
When nothing panned out, I moved in with my mother in Miami and starting working as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble.
Little did I know, that would become my favorite job to date. That’s despite having to wear a ridiculous witch hat on Harry Potter nights.
No brown nosing.
I wasn’t giving up my sense of self either. Hoodies and jeans.
Deal with it.
Within a year, I was a full-time associate producer. Within 2 years, a regular producer.
I would sit at bars with co-workers and hash out the bullshit of the day, an alcoholic post-mortem always punctuated by my comments about how it would be “When I run shit someday.”
Four years later, I got sick of working overnight, paying my dues in sleepless nights, power naps that left a dent in my forehead from the edge of my desk.
Daydrinking because it was normal.
Breakfast baked potato from the 24-hour Wendy’s in the ghetto.
I took a position in Tampa with every expectation I was on the fast track to becoming an Executive Producer.
I watched my mom go from Associate Producer to News Director in less than 6 years.
I had this on lock.
Not to mention that the News Director who hired me referred to my cover letter as “beautifully written.”
He called my resume impressive. Once I started, he said he thought there was no way they were going to get me to come on board.
I was too good for THEM.
I met my husband and had a couple of kids.
Along the way I went from weekend producer, to weekday 11, to weekday 6.
Then, suddenly 2 years ago, I was doing the Noon show.
Then, they told me they were moving me back to weekends.
After 9 years.
I gave my notice the same day.
I don’t have some awesome other job lined up. I am not just giving up a job, I am giving up a career that I once loved very much.
While I couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to focus on being a better parent to my children, there is also some sadness over a dream that has died.
But, as one of my very best friends said, “Defeated doesn’t suit you.”
Somehow I allowed this business, this job, to dig its hideous black talons into my spirit and squeeze out the very guts of who I am.
Enjoy my entrails.
Consider them the breadcrumbs that lead to another world, one where I am free to aspire to be something greater than I am every day.
Chew on that.
So, I just finished up a story about a 19 year old accused of violently shaking his 2 month old daughter until she had a fractured skull, ribs and bleeding in the brain.
I’m still waiting to update the story on the 150 people killed in a plane crash in the French Alps.
Before I started that one, I wrapped up the arrest in the cold case murder of a 64 year old, unarmed hotel security guard who was shot twice in the back by a robber.
In-between stories, I cried all over the desk after reading a friend’s blog about her friend’s 21 month old son who died unexpectedly last week.
Yesterday, I sobbed on the drive home after a stop at the vet’s office to get my dog’s medication. I saw a woman holding a little boy on her lap in the parking lot as they wept over a dead pet.
When I have a spare moment, I am overwhelmed by sadness over my mother’s struggle to care for my grandparents alone.
They have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
She works full-time in the news business too and comes home every night to soggy adult diapers stuffed in the dog food canister and profanity-laced tirades from my grandmother who is perpetually threatening to kill herself or escape. (When she’s not berating her husband, who has no memory of her insults just moments later.)
Last night as I worked out, I sweat, cried and worried for a friend whose marriage is falling apart.
Along with the endless sorrows of this life, I had to fight off panic today when I realized I missed a phone call from the day care because Alma was screaming that her eyes were burning for some unknown reason.
Then, I cried because I feel like a shitty parent. For missing the call. For not being able to rush to the school to pick her up.
Then again for the mother I don’t even know who just had to bury her son.
I am worn thin from the misery, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I love hard, even though it means I hurt deeply.
I care for complete strangers and take pride in my empathy.
I hurt for my family and friends, but I also celebrate their joys like it’s my own private party.
And at the end of the day, when I put my daughter to bed, she will give me a real hug and a kiss on the cheek and tell me she loves me and it will be enough to prepare me for another day of tragedy and despair.
My son will ask me to read him a book and rub my arm nonchalantly and lay his head on my shoulder and I will feel like I can walk around with the weight of the world on my shoulders forever.
Working in news, you have to be detached, even jaded.
You must be bitter, hardened and borderline soulless.
People cope by making dead baby jokes and cracks about crackheads.
I am just as guilty as the next guy.
But, there are days when the stories we cover feel absolutely unbearable. The weight of cruelty crushes your spirit. The injustices, the death of innocence piles up and blinds you to the good in the world.
Today was one of those days.
An unthinkable crime. A father clutches his 5-year old daughter to his chest, lifts her up, then throws her off a 60-foot high bridge into the frigid water to her death.
I first read the headline when I woke up at 5:30 a.m.
It was easily shoved into the back of my brain as I worked out, showered, got dressed and drove to work.
Then, I arrived at work and had no choice but to listen to the coverage of the story. I could feel the tears begin to well up.
Then, I see the first pictures of the little girl. Her name is Phoebe and she’s a cherubic little blonde.
Then, I hear the owner of the daycare she attended talking about how she was terrified of water.
Now, I can’t STOP crying.
The terror she must have felt. Did she survive the fall? Did she struggle to swim? What went through her mind when she realized her own father had just sealed her fate?
MAKE IT STOP.
I could say this makes me want to rush home and hold my children. It does, but it doesn’t make up for the gnawing sorrow in the pit of my stomach, the grieving for a child I’ve never met.
The worst thing I’ve ever had the urge to do to my own children is drop an F-bomb in front of them.
This is unfathomable.
I did see a wonderful post on Facebook where a man similarly darkened by the cloud of gloom suggested everyone use it as an opportunity to post one thing they love about their child.
Just one? Impossible!
I love that my son randomly pets my arm while we sit together on the couch, then looks at me out of the corner of his eye and smiles so I will know that it’s no accident.
I love that my daughter asks every night if it’s my turn to put her to bed and when it is she shouts “Yesss!” and runs to hug me.
I love that my son really believes that if he wears Batman pajamas that he IS Batman.
I love that my daughter demands we call her “Flash.”
I love that my daughter wants to cook me with every night and when that’s actually a realistic option, she squeezes my legs and says, “I love you, mommy.”
I love that my son comes to his sister’s defense when we say she’s being naughty. “Alma’s not bad. Alma’s good!” (Even when she was in trouble for hitting him.)
I love that my daughter asks me if I’m “okay” when I lose at a game.
I love that my son doesn’t just give you a half-assed hug when you ask for one. They’re long and warm and heartfelt.
I love that my daughter is under the impression she can run incredibly fast when in reality it’s more of an awkward sprint.
I love that my son can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before asking, “Wanna play ball?” or “Want punching time?”
I love that my daughter asks a million annoying questions and when you finally give her a real and complicated answer, her eyes get big like her mind just got BLOWN.
I love that when she asks my son for a turn politely, he hands over whatever is, no matter what it is and without argument.
I could go on forever… and now I feel, only slightly better about the world, but fantastic about MY world.
Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
In less than a year I will become the sole member of my family to still live in my hometown.
It’s something I never could’ve predicted.
At 13 years old, I came home from school to find my father standing by the front door with a suitcase.
The year that followed the stunning revelation that my parents were getting divorced is a collection of fuzzy memories and cloudy snapshots.
My oldest brother was away in college. My other brother chose to live with my dad in our grandparent’s house.
I stayed with my mother in the house I grew up in, discovering the glorious distraction of the world wide web. Late nights with the green glow of the computer screen on my cheeks making the empty rooms disappear.
We started renting a tiny house, the color of mud, with terrazzo floors, jalousie windows and a sketchy neighbor who wore an eye-patch and mysteriously knew our names.
It wasn’t long before our dog Patches died of cancer and the only house I remember from my childhood was sold.
My mother had a job as a librarian at a school for “troubled kids.” She quickly parlayed that into a position as a “media specialist” for the world-renowned Poynter Institute. Months of watching presentations focused on the ethical dilemmas of Journalism and she landed her first gig in T.V. news as a writer at the small station in Sarasota.
This meant she worked overnight and slept during the day and was painfully absent during some of my most formative years. But, her determination earned her a position as a Producer at a Tampa station within a year. A year later, she was the Executive Producer at another station in town. By the time I left for college, she was running a 24-hour news station in Austin, Texas.
My dad was cheating the system and living in a senior living apartment complex.
I was without a “home” to call “home.”
I have always envied those college kids who were able to return home for a long weekend to their moms doing their laundry, home cooked meals and the stuffed animals from their childhood still cozying up together in their bedroom closets. I imagine them sighing with relief, enveloped by a quilt embedded with some comforting and familiar smell.
Fast forward to present day. My mother lives in South Carolina. My brother lives in Massachusetts. The other one is in Orlando. My father is about to retire and move permanently to North Carolina.
I am the last of the Fields to reside in Tampa Bay, although my last name is no longer the same.
Granted, I returned here after four years in Gainesville and four more in Miami.
But, I am HOME.
I cannot gaze dreamily at the white eyelet canopy above my childhood bed. So, instead I stare squinting at the Florida sun.
I can’t smell my dad’s barbecue chicken on the grill, the smoke filling the sky with the smells of summer.
But, I can dig my toes in the same sand I did when I wasn’t even old enough to swim.
Watching a palm tree, strained and bent by the gusting wind of a summer storm can bring me to tears.
My cheeks hurt from smiling hard while watching the “heat lightning” from my son’s bedroom window.
My Facebook friends probably find it annoying how frequently I talk about my love for this state. I post pictures of the sunset more than could be considered normal.
Florida is my home, my family, my childhood, my stability and my solace.
While I can’t be sure that I will be able to provide my children with their “childhood home” to return to some day, I am going to dry my darndest. But, they will always be coming home to my home.
My roots here run deep and my loyalty is fierce.
You might hate dressing up for Halloween.
You might prefer an event where your cup runneth over with booze.
You might want to spend your Saturday night cozying up with a good book.
But, you… had… children.
Now, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU.
We initially had plans to attend a neighbor’s adult Halloween party, a highly-anticipated event in our hood.
Instead, I traded Jello shots for rum and Coke Zero at my mother-in-law’s house.
I planned to be something cute for Halloween, but couldn’t squeeze into the beer girl costume, probably because of all of the beer I’ve consumed trying to cope with parenthood.
Instead, I wore an oversized Anna costume with a wig and felt like a chunky Disney princess with head lice.
Alma wore her Dolly meets Elsa wig and complained about it the entire time, but refused to take it off.
The kids consumed just enough candy to become raging assholes for bath time.
Sunday rolls around and Oktoberfest is just around the corner from our house at the horse track.
Instead we head to Cracker Barrel and a farm in the opposite direction so the kids can enjoy a DRY fall festival.
At the restaurant, a waitress named Cessie is regaling us with stories about how much children love her while mine sit and sulk, refusing to answer any of her questions. (There’s nothing more embarrassing than someone asking your child how their food is and watching them scowl and shovel pancakes into their mouth with complete disregard.)
Can I vent for a moment about the perilous journey in and out of the Cracker Barrel lobby with toddlers? You are fortunate if you make it through there without one of them demanding a toy, grabbing a toy, breaking a toy.. or worse, breaking some super fragile, expensive Christmas tchotchke.
We make it to the farm and remember why we were reticent about going.
We tried a few years ago when Alma was just a baby.
She could’ve cared less.
We spent a shitload of money in order to check out some miserable bunnies, cranky goats and comatose pigs.
We were offered a free hot-dog and soda, for which you only had to stand in line for about 45 minutes.
Upon arriving, we are greeted by sour-faced, wrinkle-tanned, apathetic volunteers in neon green tee-shirts.
They are haphazardly snatching up kids by their armpits to place them on zombie ponies. (Picture Santa’s Elves at the mall in A Christmas Story)
I overheard one little girl request a specific pony and a volunteer with rotting teeth said, “Honey, I want a Ferrari, but oh well.”
Alma rode her horse like a stunt man from Seabiscuit. I was so proud… and then depressed while calculating the cost of riding lessons.
The kids got to feed a sketchy llama who kept whipping his ears back in irritation. They probably caught the next Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Goat Flu in the petting zoo.
I went to get on a choo choo train with the kids because I saw other parents boarding and the volunteer said snarkily, “Only one parent per train car, I thought I made myself clear.”
Awesome. You just go ahead and speed off in that unregulated vehicle with my unbuckled children as you zoom around your horse-shit ridden farm packed with miserable caged animals that don’t belong.
There were lemurs.
On a farm.
And a Zorse.
The highlight for me was plucking individual grains of food out of the dirt for the poor, neglected donkeys who they had penned just outside the petting zoo.
Alma was obsessed with the hay stack.
Huxley got to throw balls at a pumpkin.
The kids has a great time.
I stared longingly at the city block-long line for food and drinks, even though there was no pot of beer at the end of that rainbow.
Back at home, I carved pumpkins with the kids.
All that really means is that my husband ran out for pizza while I carved pumpkins solo with the kids staring at me and repeatedly trying to grab the ridiculously sharp cutting tools.
I had to yell at my son every few minutes that he was about to amputate his own finger.
Let’s be honest, does anyone actually enjoy digging out pumpkin guts or that pumpkin fart smell that fills the room? Does anyone who doesn’t use a store bought pattern actually end up with a pumpkin they’re satisfied with?
They rode ponies, they played in hay, they watched someone else do all the hard work for Halloween and what did they get most excited about?
Daddy returning with pizza.
Then, it’s laundry, pre-cleaning for the cleaning lady and battling my daughter to get her to go to bed.
By the time it’s all over, all we want to do is watch a good scary movie on Netflix and even that is impossible.
We pick one… it’s foreign and dubbed over in English.
We choose another movie, it’s got subtitles.
I am too tired to try and read while watching a movie.
We end up watching a few minutes of something I don’t even remember and go to bed.
All so I can get up at the butt crack of dawn, brave rush hour traffic, get cut off by some douche in a Mustang, fall asleep during a meeting, drink too much crappy station coffee, get jittery and write about dead people.
Well, it’s not about me anymore.
At least they’re happy.