It was time to come home.

I’ve tried to write this post about a dozen times over the last year and just could not find a rhythm for it. Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post titled “When you’re married to the boss” and ended it with:

Success is the real vulnerability in Entrepreneurism – because once you prove you can, you have to keep proving you should.

Fast forward 5 years and last April we made the announcement that Aaron had successfully sold his company of 15 years. Elevator Up was acquired.

The reactions were varied, but mostly confused, if I’m being honest. People were excited for us in an arms-length sort of way. There were a lot of jokes about being able to retire now, and what were we going to do with our millions of dollars, which, I have no words for. The idea that we made bank was implied, it was a huge leap for people to take and they didn’t even look around for warnings – they just jumped; we haven’t, and won’t discuss the financial side of this sale. But in the very quick assumption by most people looking in from the outside, we immediately felt lonely and vulnerable.

Selling the company wasn’t an overnight decision, it didn’t “just happen”. Back in 2014 we had started talking about what the future of his company looked like. Could he see himself doing the same thing in 5, 10, 20 years? We were constantly having the conversation about what’s next? Not just for the business, but for our family, for us.

Aaron felt the weight of the burden of proof every single month. The company grew, which was amazing, but so did the monthly nut it took to keep things going. Demand for higher wages in a midwest lifestyle, more flexible work schedules, more more more. Being the owner, we learned long ago, meant we weren’t confidants or friends – although we always tried to be there for whoever was working on our team. We invited them into our home, we fed them, we cared deeply for the people who chose to spend their time with us, in any capacity.

Next week Aaron starts a new chapter, he will be an employee again, and this also confuses folks. How can he go from being the one in charge to being “just one of the many” underneath someone else? You’re asking the wrong questions. You’re assuming he’s never had a boss before, he’s never worked on a team, instead of just leading one. His new role has plenty of autonomy for him, but the last year he’s been able to spend at home decompressing from the last 15 years, going to therapy, being available to our kids and learning how to be bored has been the real gift.

We are beyond fortunate enough to even have had the opportunity for Aaron to take a gap year. We’ve been frugal, we have no debt, and Aaron has been a wonderful provider for our family. But selling Aaron’s company (and later the same year, his other companies) had very little to do with finances.

It was time. Aaron was burnt-out. He was angry, tired and weary. He was suffering. I learned a very valuable lesson almost 16 years ago when my dad died of cancer; Aaron and I were in our first year of marriage and we were expecting a baby: Life is too fucking short, you guys. It’s not about the dollars. It’s about the value in your life, and Values.

Have you made memories? Did you love someone well? Do you even know how to say yes? What if you just said no? Maybe, just maybe the answer isn’t always what everyone else has done, will do, is doing. Quite possibly, it’s the wackadoo idea in the back of your mind. The dead-end road you’re curious about, the sign that says “open”. What are you even curious about? What lights you up like the 4th of July? Do more of that. Read about it, learn about it, do it for free, volunteer for it, cheer for it. Become its biggest fan. One day you’ll find yourself in the game and it will have all been worth it.

Every day that closes the gap between this year and the next adventure, I get a little more emotional. Right now with all the social distancing and quarantine happening for Covid-19, Aaron’s more accessible than ever. Right in the back yard, near us, close to home, here.

And next week he’ll be out there. Over there, away, gone … again. I used to tell my therapist that the best way I could describe how I was feeling as the wife of an entrepreneur was this: we (the kids and I) were standing on a dock watching Aaron sail away on his big idea. It was hopeful and exciting and there was a plan for the ship to return … but the longer it went on, the farther he went. And instead of being able to see the ship from the shore, eventually it got so far away that we couldn’t make out its shape against the horizon. We were left behind.

The ship came back this past year. It docked, he disembarked and we had the reunion of a fucking lifetime. He came home.

And it was good.

March 17 // Coronavirus Quarantine Day 2

March 17, 2020

We got this. We can do this. Yesterday was … how do you say … hard. I think the vast amount of information I had been taking in finally caught up with me. That and coming to terms with the loss of privacy or alone time hit me hard yesterday. But today is a new day and already I’m feeling better.

March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020

Yesterday started like I’m sure every day will start for the foreseeable future: the kids were awake before me checking their email and getting a jump start on their studies for the day. Or pinteresting. It’s hard to tell. I made my coffee, did the dishes, sat down for a minute and then freaked out.

Aaron has been able to set up an at-home office here so he’s generally only a hundred feet away, in the tinyhouse in our backyard, and he was getting our daughter signed up for some online learning, among other things. Like I mentioned earlier: the vast amount of information I had, to this point, been digesting really hit me. Add to this the onslaught of new accounts to sign-in to, more online systems to learn and oversee and the general sense of overwhelm I started to feel: this is what broke me.

March 17, 2020

I politely asked for everything to please stop. As in, stop sending me invites to new things. I cannot with the amount of tasks at hand, give a shit about a family slack channel. Also, please leave me alone. We don’t have any carrots in the house and how am I supposed to make the lunch I planned without a carrot to chop?! WE NEED CARROTS.

I went there, guys. I went dark. Everything fell apart over a slack channel and carrots. There were actual tears. And then we made lunch (a new, different lunch plan) and the kids were getting along and I announced we would be LEAVING THE HOUSE TO FIND SOME NATURE FOR A WALK.

March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020

It. Was. Awesome. So we hiked Sanctuary Woods (with most of Holland) and driving away from the house in a car felt like rebelion. It was naughty and I wanted the chance to explain to everyone who saw us that we were just going to a park, away from people, to be outside.

After our hike, there was more school work to complete and then a lot of down time until dinner. I put my headphones on and disappeared for a while. I started drinking wine and feeling better and texting family and friends.

March 17, 2020
March 17, 2020

The kids learned how to play Jacks and we ended up watching old home movies for hours past their bedtime, which is relative at this point. They finally went upstairs and Aaron and I sat there staring at our phones with a mindless show as background noise. It was a day. And we got through it.

Coronavirus Quarantine Day 1

Quarantine day 1

Yesterday was the first day of my kids’ schools being canceled. We have one in the public school system (high school) and another in a private school (middle school). Our high schooler doesn’t have any instruction from school yet, school just … stopped. And our middle schooler has a school-issued laptop where emails stream in with instructions and google-classroom work and the engine keeps moving.

Quarantine day 1

I decided to pick up my camera and document the everyday moments of the quarantine. I’m immunocompromised as a type 1 diabetic and we’re staying on top of the information available. We had expected school to be canceled and in my 24 hours of prepping mentally for it, I had grand ideas of schedules and menus and regular exercise. We did go for a walk yesterday, I did make a bunch of food, as planned, but I spent a lot of time on my phone digesting new and ever-changing information. I listened to hours of podcasts with headphones on in the same room as my children while they did school work, called friends or read. We played a game, Aaron went to the office and recreated an office here at home. At one point, I took a shower.

Quarantine day 1

And then it snowed.

We watched a movie together before sending the kids to bed and all my anxious energy finally had a place to go: up and out of me. Suddenly I realized that I would have to repeat today all over again. And again. And again. I haven’t had any feelings of panic about this situation until last night. It sounds irrational when I write it, and selfish. And yet, here I am. In day 2 of some weird version of Ground Hogs Day.

The upsides are this: I’ve always wanted to try homeschooling my kids. At exactly these ages, which is weird and awesome and I will rock Home-Ec like no other. Personal Finance, Credit building, How to obtain a mortgage, buy a house, balance a checkbook. I’m here for it. We’ll plan a garden, bake bread, and dance in the living room.

I haven’t decided how yet but I want to use my huge picture window in the front of our house as some sort of message board. “Free bread” “We’re all in this together” or just opening the blinds and turning all the lights on when it’s dark outside and slow dancing. A moving picture for whoever needs one that we still get to be held, loved, wanted, needed and together.

Here’s to life

Today marks the 15th year since my dad died. He had lung cancer, diagnosed about 17 months before the cancer took his life. In those 17 months of knowing he was going to die, he really lived.

Number ONE!

And so did I. I got engaged just before his diagnosis, then married, and when he died, I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter. We had just found out she was a girl, it was one of the last lucid conversations I had with him. Told him I was having a baby girl, what we planned to name her (at the time, which isn’t her name now). He was in his hospital bed in the living room next to the windows and all this natural light was flooding the house. Everything was brighter those last few months. I, of course, didn’t live at home anymore, so I was visiting sitting on his bed next to him and we watched the ultrasound video together. We both cried. I knew the hardest ending of my life was coming and in the midst of it, the very best beginning was already on her way.

Four and half months after he died, I gave birth in the middle of the night. There was almost no light in the room. I wore my dad’s watch and my mom was in the room with us. She came out perfect and I later learned the cord was wrapped around her neck. In those moments I didn’t know how serious it was that she get out NOW, my doctors were patient and careful with me. Everyone in the room knew why it felt heavy … and then all of a sudden she cried. My mom was crying, Aaron was crying, my breath was taken away, she was here! She was here. She was finally here, with me.

Jessica meets Pappy

Those first few months and years are really blurry in love and pain. Grief is a weird salve, life is often a great distraction. But I can’t help but wonder if in those four and half months after he died and my daughter was still in the womb, did they know each other? I know how that sounds, and it’s ok. I’ve made peace with where my grief goes sometimes. But she’s always known who Pappy is. She has always known her grandpa. As a very little girl, she would have dreams about him. I used to think it was because we kept him alive for so long, in memory. We would talk about him and tell her stories and remember what it was like when he was with us. But then, 3 1/2 years later our son came and he did the same thing.

Some of the most important men in my life

Life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would when he was still walking the earth with us to listen to my hopes and dreams. In a lot of ways, it’s better, in other ways, it’s just different. New, undiscovered. Things I hadn’t even known I could hope or dream for are now my life and I credit most of that awareness to the time spent with him. To being a student of his life. Watching him love, and hunger for living.

He was well enough to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, with my birth-father. I had both of my dad’s flank me as I walked towards Aaron on a beautiful August afternoon.

Given away

364 days later he died.

That was 5,478 days ago.

I’ve missed him every single one.

But here’s to life: to learning how to live with no regrets, how to be generous in our love, time and efforts and to always picking up the check. To letting the people you love know, often, how much they mean to you. To chasing every dead end road we can find. To doing the weird thing, like packing it in to a motor home or camper for 6 weeks and traveling the country. Why? The answer is always, always: Why not?

Why not live this messy life wild? Why not capture each emotion on a mountain top? Why not take hundreds of photographs that maybe only ever take your own breath away, but make you remember what it’s like to be breathless? Why not say yes? Why not say no? Why not?

In the fifteen years of time passed since Wayne walked here with us – my grief rounded her edges, my writing found a rhythm, my heart softened towards love, and my regrets and mistakes that held me hostage have lost their teeth.

Now instead of being sad that he isn’t here, I am so, so thankful that he WAS at all. Whatever he was for me, I started to wonder what I was, we were, for him. And I have so much happiness in knowing that we were actually everything.

We sure were lucky to have him, but he left totally fulfilled. Maybe early, but ready.

And damn it, if there was ever a way to go. That’s it.

My dad and I

An Icelandic stopover and The Blue Lagoon

We left Copenhagen at 10pm and got to Raycevick, Iceland around 11:30 or so (there was a time change, we went through so many time changes. Not only traveling but then we also went through Denmark’s “daylight savings time” in the middle of the trip. If we were worried about jetlag, we shouldn’t have been. Nothing made sense ever, we just woke up and ate when our bodies told us to. It all worked out, somehow.)

Iceland is set-up so well for these stop-overs. Or long layovers with connecting flights, it’s actually quite something. But because of the time we got into the airport – our hotel didn’t have transportation for us, so we hired a taxi and got to our hotel where we were able to get into our room without a hitch and all fall asleep. Hard.

It was the best night of sleep, ever. We stayed at the Geo Hotel for the night and were able to get a free breakfast and free transit to the Blue Lagoon the next day.

If an Icelandic stopover is part of your trip at any point, I would suggest doing all the research and booking the appropriate things as soon as you can. I knew we were going to do the Blue Lagoon but waited until we were in Copenhagen to book anything. It worked out, there isn’t any cost saving tips – Iceland is expensive, period. So be aware of that. Just know what you want to do and commit. I kept looking at other options and trying to make the most of our 18 hours in Iceland and finally had to just tell myself we were only going to be able to see one thing well.

The Blue Lagoon is amazing, Iceland is this other worldly experience. And I’m so glad we did and saw this. I honestly don’t think I ever need to go back, not because I didn’t like it, but had we not had a stop-over, I would have never chosen to go to Iceland on our own. I’m so glad we ended our trip this way, though. It was the perfect ending.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

You need to book a reservation for your party at The Blue Lagoon ahead of time. You can spend as much time as you want there (average time spent is about 4 hours) but if you’re reservation is for 9am and you stay until they close, it doesn’t cost any more or less. The reservation system is just to keep the locker rooms from being over crowded.

There are different packages available for you to purchase when you make a reservation but we stuck with the “Comfort” package which included a locker (which locked), a face mask for each person, and one drink for patrons over 14. Our son was free to swim because of his age so if he wanted a drink (they serve smoothies, pop and alcohol) we just needed to purchase that separately. You also get a wristband which is pre-loaded with your freebies and then connected to your reservation/locker/credit card. So if we wanted more of anything while we were in the lagoon we just scanned our bracelet and settled up when we were all done for the day.

We all enjoyed our face masks, free drinks, and a couple of us decided for an additional drink. Champagne? Yes. I signed up for that, thank you.

You bet I did. Those bubbles did everything they’ve ever promised me, in my adult life.

Once we were done soaking and trying the saunas we decided it would be a good idea to get out and eat something before we headed back to the airport for our last leg of the trip home.

We had some time before the shuttle bus to the airport came (which you need a reservation for, so book this ahead of time, also) and we used that time to explore just a little more.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We flew home, all our flights for this trip were with Icelandic Air, which I cannot recommend more. It was seamless and a wonderful experience. Especially traveling with kids. Arriving in Chicago was euphoric. Reading street signs, driving a car, smelling the familiar air … and coming home to a place that, without a doubt, feels like home was beautiful.

I can’t explain what this trip was for our family. Years in the making, dreaming and planning. And we had no idea that when we planned and booked our tickets for the trip it would be bookended by one of the biggest decisions we would ever make.

It’s been hard to translate this for people when we get asked about this trip. We don’t need to go back to Copenhagen, we’ve already been. There are places in the world I love to go back to. Towns, houses, memories I want to visit over and over again. Copenhagen is more of a tide change in our lives than a vacation. It was an experience. An opening to the rest of the world for our kids. It was the beginning.

And what’s next? I have no idea, but it’s ahead of us. Not behind us.