For All of the Dads Who Chose Their Daughters

This Fathers’ Day is bittersweet for me. As a girl with two dads – one biological and one stepdad – Fathers’ Day has often been a balancing act. Whenever it became difficult, I reminded myself that I was fortunate to have the problem of two dads to honor.

My relationship with my biological father has often been strained, with long periods of time not speaking with him. While my parents divorced when I was a young three year old girl, and thus I have few memories of that time, the negative fallout over the years has been a struggle. As I have grown older and pieced more things together, I have realized that my mom had incredible courage to leave my biological dad and forge a better path ahead for us both.

I have strived to find a healthy way to have my biological father in my life during my adult years, and through many ups and downs – trying to figure out frequency of contact that would keep things positive and not destructive, celebrating when I thought I had a successful visit with my dad, apologizing for things I should not have apologized for, calling my father on Christmas Eve/Day to wish him a Merry Christmas during the past two years and then crying because he berated me on the phone, sitting silently by while he spoke ill of my family, trekking up to far Northeast Iowa multiple years to visit him when he never once left his farm to visit me or even meet me anywhere as an adult – I have determined that in an emotionally abusive relationship, there is no healthy balance. And so, with the turn of the calendar to 2019, I was done. I could no longer carry all of this on my shoulders.

Of course I will always love my biological father. That goes without saying, even if I cannot have a healthy relationship with him. He has good traits that were passed on to me, and I wish it was possible to have him in my life. At this point, it is not.

But wait, I led with the sad part of the story. The happy part is on its way!

After my mom divorced my biological dad, she met a wonderful guy named Dave and married him. At that point, Dave was my dad too. He never treated me as anything less than his daughter. Same with his family: I was their niece, granddaughter, cousin, etc. My stepdad even attempted to adopt me, but my biological father said that would never happen. So rather than go through a big battle, my last name remained Gesing. But to my stepdad’s family, I was a Schulz anyway. I didn’t need a document saying it.

As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate just how much strength and love it took for my stepdad – whom I call Dad – Dave to not only accept me, but to love me wholeheartedly, as part of a package deal when he married my mom. And when they had two kids, Sarah and Mitch, they were immediately my full sister and brother. We are all close, and I love it.

Dave was the dad who was there for it all: my first day of kindergarten, when I lost my first tooth, reassuring me when I was terrified to start driving (Crazy, right?! It’s true!), rebuilding my first car – a sweet red 1990 Plymouth Sundance with a sunroof, smiling proudly when I was named valedictorian at my high school graduation, helping me through the process of buying my first new car, patiently listening to my political rants, giving me a hard time so I laugh when perhaps I am taking things a little too seriously, and the list goes on.

So, on this Fathers’ Day, I say thank you to my dad Dave and all of the dads who chose their daughters and sons. Your positive impact in our lives cannot be measured.

This Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day

I am pretty accustomed to being single on Valentine’s Day. Most years I don’t really think much about being single. And then during other Valentine’s Days past I had:

A few years when I was casually seeing someone, found myself to be “miraculously” on my own when Valentine’s Day rolled around, and then became a hot item again a few days later. Remember that book “He’s Just Not That Into You”? Yep. Here’s your sign.

A few bitter years.

A few lonely years.

A few years where I was the “coupled up” girl and received flowers from great guys.

Valentine’s Day 2019 comes after a personally brutal January 2019. It’s been tough to process, let alone put into words.

My brutal month involved removing a few toxic people from my life whom I still love but had to separate myself from for my own mental health and self respect.

Simply reaching these decisions was messy, as I had to come to these conclusions on my own. And I am the person who often has to push the envelope one more time, test my boundaries one more time, to get to that point of saying, “enough.” This naturally had a ripple effect on others outside of the situations.

Thankfully my friends and family who know me best and love me unconditionally were able to give me enough rope, stand just within reach, and trust that I would find my internal strength to do what needed to be done. For that I am eternally grateful.

We often think of Valentine’s Day and love in romantic terms, but I challenge all of us to think of it a little differently. We should also see it in terms of all of those who mean the most to us and stand beside us during thick and thin.

My best friends are my valentines.

My mom and stepdad are my valentines.

My siblings are my valentines.

And my nephew and nieces are most certainly my valentines.

Today my dogs are also my valentines.

This Valentine’s Day, I raise a glass to everyone in love, recovering from heartbreak, navigating through some tough stuff, finding peace in solitude, or anything in between.

You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Holiday Letter (with a two year update)

Greetings from the south side of Des Moines!

Since I have blogged very sporadically for the past two years, I will try to somewhat briefly catch you up on the “Life of Mel.” 🙂 A lot has happened since I blogged more consistently before the crazy election year of 2016! If you want the crazy election year details, you can find a few of those in my past blog posts.

My niece Ruth Gianna was born on September 23, 2016, and I was overjoyed to become an aunt and godmother for the fourth time. To illustrate how crazy that time of the year was: I left the hospital in Muscatine on the day she was born to travel across the state to Council Bluffs for a Republican women event early the next morning.

I returned to the Target Optical world in December 2016, and that brought me back to Des Moines. Jag the cat was excited to return to his old stomping grounds of his youth, and Percy the puggle loved moving into our new apartment near his new favorite walking trails at Gray’s Lake. I was excited to be blocks away from a Starbucks and a winery!

I managed the Target Optical Urbandale location and kept my toe in politics, as I joined the Board of Directors of 50-50 in 2020 the Friday after Election Day. I was excited to have an opportunity to help recruit and train women to run for office in a bipartisan atmosphere. You can check out more about 50-50 in 2020 at www.50-50in2020.org.

My brother Mitch married wife Hannah in California in late 2016, and we celebrated their union “back home” in June 2017. I love my new sister in law! We had a great party in Cedar Rapids, complete with most of my best friends and many family members joining in on the fun.

I enjoyed a couple of road trips and concerts with my best concert buddy Jen that summer also: U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago; and New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

And that brings us to 2018.

Unfortunately, last year had a rocky start, as my 15 year old cat Jagger Q passed away on January 21, 2018. I was devastated. He was my first adult pet and traveled across the country to Houston and back with me when I moved there from 2004 – 2006. Percy even missed his feline brother, roaming from room to room searching for him during the days after his passing.

While Jag will forever be irreplaceable, Percy and I knew we needed a new family member. Gemma Louise, a spunky three year old Corgi / Chihuahua mix, joined our family on February 7, 2018. Whereas Jag and Percy took a year to simply peacefully co-exist, Gemma and Percy were instant soul mates.

In late February, I visited my brother Mitch and his wife Hannah in Camarillo, California. Mitch was stationed at Point Mugu when I visited, and he is currently deployed overseas with the U.S. Navy. Mitch and Hannah will be moving back to Iowa after his enlistment ends this coming fall. I am so excited to have my little brother close by again!

Summer 2018 concerts included Counting Crows and Live at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, as well as Billy Joel at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. If you ever get the chance to see Billy Joel in concert, do it. He is an amazing talent.

My niece Kateri Elizabeth Ann was born on August 1, 2018, making me an aunt and godmother for the fifth time. I am so fortunate to live just over two hours away from my sister Sarah, brother-in-law Jeremiah, and their five kids: Gabriel, Lucy, Amelia, Ruth, and Kateri. I always say that if I don’t have my own kids, being an aunt is truly the next best thing.

I left Target Optical in September to pursue my long time dream of starting my own consulting business. The Executive Director of 50-50 in 2020 was retiring, and they were looking for someone to take the reins. With it being a contracted position, it was a natural fit for me. I set up my new business, Red Goose Solutions L.L.C., and began my work with 50-50 in 2020 on October 1, 2018. My spare bedroom “Hotel Mel” has now been converted into my headquarters for everything girl power. 😉

When I am not on the road spreading the good word about 50-50 in 2020, traveling to see family and friends, or going to concerts; I can be found in Des Moines plugging away in my home office, networking at various area social gatherings, trying out new restaurants, playing outdoors with my fur kids, sipping wine with friends, or curling up with a book. Life is not just good – it is great. I hope this letter finds you happy and healthy. From our home to yours, happy holidays!

Mel, with Percy Power and Gemma Louise

Brother Mitch is HOME!

Brother Mitch is HOME!

Unless you never read a thing that I post on Facebook and Twitter, by now you know that my brother Mitch is back in Iowa after being deployed with the U.S. Navy. I went ten months without seeing my baby brother. And I was not alone. His friends and our family, as well as his girlfriend, endured the same length of time without seeing Mitch in person.

baby4A lot can happen in ten months:

  1. My sister Sarah became pregnant with baby number four.
  2. Our dad retired from his sales and marketing job of 19 years.
  3. I crossed off a bucket list item when I appeared on the Today Show on Caucus Day.
  4. Nephew Gabriel and Niece Lucy completed another year of school.
  5. Gabriel, Lucy, and and Niece Amelia all grew a ton. I feel like they grow too much when I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks. I can’t imagine how different they are after ten months!
  6. Numerous terror attacks took place across the globe.
  7. Iranians fired missiles at my brother’s carrier.
  8. My brother’s carrier was featured on CNN for setting a record number of bombs launched against ISIS.
  9. Mitch’s deployment was extended by one month.
  10. As if I wasn’t emotional enough in my normal state, I now get teary eyed around anything patriotic, having to do with the armed forces, etc.

Mitch Navy ProfileMitch shared some amazing photos and videos with us during this past week. The views were breath taking, and the sleeping quarters were insanely small. They provided a unique glimpse into my brother’s new life as a sailor.

Hannah MitchWe only have a few more days with brother Mitch before he goes back to base. This time he is taking a piece of home with him though – girlfriend Hannah. So, while this big sister is fighting back tears, I will be so excited for the new adventure ahead for the two of them together.

troopsThank you SO MUCH to everyone who has offered words of encouragement, given hugs, and simply let me babble (happy babble, interchanged with the-world-is-going-to-end babble) on and on and on and on. We know there will be another deployment, and I will always need my tribe to talk me off the ledge and then hand me a glass of wine.

Mel, G and L: Overfed Ducks and Missing Diapers

On the final Thursday of September 2013 – September 26th, to be exact – I watched G and L for the full day, as my mom “Nana” was on a mini-vacation with my stepdad. I was so excited to have a full day with my favorite little people!
I met brother-in-law Jeremiah at his school to pick up the kids. Jeremiah informed me the kiddos were way excited to spend the day with me and even had a brief meltdown when they did not go straight to my place and had to make another stop on their way to Davenport that morning. I do not want to wish toddler and four-year-old meltdowns on anyone, and yet that makes me smile. 🙂
We traded cars to prevent the agonizing feat of installing two car seats into my Smurfette, so I had fun driving Mary Todd, the Lincoln Zephyr, for the day.
Upon walking up to my apartment entrance, I realized we were missing something: the diaper bag. We went back to the car and looked inside. No diaper bag. As a prepared aunt, I have a lot of child necessities at the ready. The only thing I did not have was diapers for Lucy. (And of course she became potty trained only a month or so after this!) So this aunt had to corale the kids back into the car to make a quick trip to Walgreens. Play-doh had to wait another 20 minutes. I resisted multiple pleas to buy random junk at Walgreens, and we left with one pack of diapers. As we left Walgreens, I realized this was my first ever time having to purchase diapers for either one of them. Crazy!
At last we made it back to my apartment, and the real fun began: Play-doh, window markers, Sophia movie, princess tent, lots of artwork.

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G and L with their Target One Spot water bottles 🙂
Then it was time for lunch. The hot dog stand guy was out that day. Yea!

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We took a walk down to the river to feed the ducks. Of course G and L had to check out the fountain on the way.

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As we approached the river, I noticed all of the ducks were swimming. And two people – both adults – were feeding them oodles of bread and other stuff. Grrrr. I had even remembered the bread for once! I used the situation as an opportunity to teach G and L not to over feed animals. Of course they did not really care about that and still wanted to feed the ducks. Alas the ducks were full and were not interested in us.
So, we found some other ways to have fun. I attempted to get a cute photo of G and L with Centennial Bridge in the background.

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Then we walked down to the Freight House playground.

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After that, we trekked back to my place for puzzle time.

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Of course we had to swing through the Starbucks drive thru on our way back to Bennett for late nap time. G and L received kid drinks while I ordered a venti caramel latte. I needed more energy after all of this! L delighted me by saying “frappucino” for the very first time. The force is strong with Miss Lucy, my friends.

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Once we reached our destination, I carried L to her bed and G to the couch (because he likes to half wake up and wants to watch TV). As I kicked back and savored my latte, I realized I had never checked Mary Todd’s (the Lincoln Zephyr’s) trunk for the diaper bag. Ugh. I refused to ruin my sense of accomplishment with that discovery just yet. So when sister Sarah arrived home, I had her check the trunk. Sure enough, there was the diaper bag, with diapers. Nothing like a self created crisis to keep an aunt humble. 😉

Mel, G and L: Happy Birthdays

G and L officially have the birthday thing figured out. First was my stepdad’s birthday on February 21st, then mine on February 27th, and my brother Mitch’s on March 12th.

When we celebrated Papa’s birthday on February 24th, G and L gave their best birthday singing performance to date:

During my birthday celebration on March 3rd, it was all about “cake time!” and dancing to Aerosmith, of course.

And poor Mitch didn’t get enough recognition during his “happy birthday party” on March 17th. G decided it was Toby the Tank’s birthday instead.

Now G and L are looking forward to their birthdays. L is first up on April 26th, with G next on June 18th. G has already told me numerous times about everything he wants for his “happy birthday.” Yes, he adds the “happy” in front of “birthday” every time. I suppose it makes sense since birthdays should be happy, right?

Mel, G and L: Slumber Party

I love babysitting G and L. When my sister asked me to watch them on Saturday, March 9, I was disappointed that I had already scheduled myself to close at Target Optical that night. The earliest I would be able to arrive at Bennett would be 6:30 p.m., and that was IF everything went perfectly with getting out of work for the night. (Ha ha.) Alas, Uncle Mitch came to the rescue and kicked off the evening for me so my sister and her hubby could get to their evening plans on time.
Every once in a while I allow myself to go into the children’s areas at Target and shop for G and L. That week I spotted cute pajamas for each of them, and when I later decided I would be staying overnight in Bennett so I could attend mass with them the next morning, I realized that the pajamas were the perfect addition to our slumber party. I also brought along sugar-filled snacks for them and wine for me.
I really didn’t expect G and L to go crazy over their pajamas, but they insisted on putting them on right away and had to act their parts of “Princess” and “Bat Guy”.

We had a fabulous evening. After we all played for a while and watched the Smurfs movie, I rocked and read books with Lucy (we managed to only read three without too much protesting) and asleep she went.
G was a different story. That boy is a night owl and a serious negotiator. I wanted to watch a non-animated movie and tried to deter him from the Scooby-Doo movie by explaining the monsters would give him nightmares. G was ready. He said the monsters are not real, and I could put my head under the blanket if I was scared. OK, G. You win.
I also tried to tell G that I would get in trouble if I let him stay up too late. His reply, “No, it’s OK Mel.” G – 2, Aunt Mel – 0.
And G was watching me as closely as I was watching him. On a couple of occasions my eyes became droopy. That is, until G would exclaim, “Wake up, Aunt Mel!”
So, G and I were still watching his movie when his parents arrived home.
The next morning we all went to mass together, me following behind their car in Smurfette. And might I add, you have not experienced mass until you have attended alongside the extended Costello clan at St. Ann’s in rural Long Grove, Iowa. 🙂

Top 12 of 2012

12.  Bestie Jen’s pre-wedding, wedding, and post-wedding festivities

This is first listed because it consumed most of my year – so fun!

Dress shopping, Creston bridal shower, Kansas City bridal shower, Chicago bachelorette weekend, the main event in Loose Park in Kansas City, reception and dance at Boulevard Brewery.  Of course we jammed out at the dance.  😉

11.  Bestie Lexi’s first baby – Charlotte (Charley)

Another bestie moment.  I love my friends like family – just ask the Andersons back in the Burg.  🙂  I only wish we all would see each other more often.

10.  G and L

I continue to spend as much time as possible with my favorite little people, my nephew Gabriel and niece Lucy.  I like to brag about them here in my G and L series.

9.  Social Media

My love affair with social media continues.  Where else can you have Ivanka Trump, John Rich, Kate Snow, and NBC’s Rock Center retweet and/or reply to you?  Twitter is my favorite!

8.  M-A-D-O-N-N-A!

Jen and I made it onto the big screen in the Sprint Center when were were dancing it up during the opening show (of course).  Madonna had the #1 best selling tour in 2012.  I know why – simply amazing.

7.  Denver with cousins

Lots of good eats and drinks, along with cousin bonding time.  And I didn’t go to bed that much earlier than my 20-something cousins each morning.  😉

6.  Career moves

When I left Target Optical at the end of 2011, my regional manager told me I’d be back.  I laughed then, but he is laughing now.  While I enjoyed my time as a Business Development Associate for Rainbow International Restoration and Cleaning in Davenport, the bullseye pulled me back.  I became Optical Team Leader of the Davenport store in August.

5.  Jagger Q

Jag the cat turned 10 years old in August.

4.  Political nerd forever

Still actively involved in political stuff and enjoyed five minutes of fame when Romney came to town in June.  A few people told me I need to smile when on national TV.  Noted.  (In my defense, I was trying not to make a funny face and it was HOT that day.)

3.  iLove

Best book I read last year was Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  And I finally bought an iPad.  Best investment since my iPhone and Dyson purchases during previous years.

2.  Melify

My sister coined this term, and I embrace it.  I am always keeping busy with one project or another, whether it’s with SendOutCards or organizing random stuff.

1.  Holiday spirit

After a long day of work and post-work shopping on December 19th, I returned to Smurfette to find a card on her window.

Fridays with G and L: The Chapter Ends

I felt like a bad aunt.  I had talked to G and L about the possibility of a new job since November.  And my gut told me after the first interview that I had a very good chance of landing this new job.  It was a great opportunity for me.  However, it would mean no more Fridays with G and L.  I’d just have to make a little more effort to carve out time for G and L after the first of the year.

It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about MY day with G, and then both G and L, over the course of the year and couple of months between October 2010 and December 2011.  When each of those kiddos was born, I vowed to be an aunt whom they would know well and be able to come to for anything.  I am very fortunate to live only 30 miles away from them, so it’s not like I was never going to see them again.  But yet it would be different.

Then I thought of all of the milestones yet to come, and how I needed to brace myself for those.  I could continue be a strong presence in their lives without my own day.  While I felt selfish at the moment, the tables will turn soon enough when they are older and making decisions in their own lives.

I thought about all of the families who are living hundreds or thousands miles apart.  And I thought about those who I am close to whom I don’t see all of the time.  It’s about the effort and quality time.

And it was time to start a new chapter, as painful as it might be.  I needed to find my career path again, as I felt I had been floating around since I left Victory Enterprises in early 2010.

My sister and brother-in-law have endlessly thanked me for babysitting their kids.  I always tell them I enjoy it, and even that is an understatement.  I learned so much from my Fridays with G and L.  They inspired me to start blogging about them.  They reminded me how trivial my problems were when I saw their faces light up.  While I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would when I drove home that night, I dreaded bringing this chapter of my blog to a close.  So I procrastinated with these final posts.  I didn’t want to type and cry at the same time.

Then I realized I had all of this new material for a new chapter: “Mel, G, and L”.  A NEW CHAPTER.  When one door closes, another opens.

Fridays with G and L: Final Friday

December 30, 2011

My final Friday with G and L; also the final Friday of 2011.

It was a bittersweet day, but of course G and L kept my mind off the finality of everything.

We started the day by creating blanket tents.  G and L’s dad hung out with us for a little bit before he went off to work.

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Kentucky Fried Chicken was our Final Friday lunch spot.  Lucy loved it, but G was being a little crabby.

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G’s mood improved when we went to get a cupcake.

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Then we had to jump on the bed.

And we needed to add an ornament to the tree.

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One must not forget that ribbon is an awesome toy.

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Once back in Bennett, G and L showed me how to properly play with their race track.

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And that’s a wrap!  What a fabulous year and two months spending nearly every Friday with G and then with L also after her arrival!  This series all began with my first “G” post on 10-10-10.  Time flies with my nephew and niece.  Love them to pieces.