On clearing out the crap…

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I feel like I spend the majority of my days recently on the verge of crying, but never actually doing so. I just don’t have the time for it. There’s always something more pressing that needs tending to. Right now, it’s my eight-month-old and two-year-old daughters that will.not.nap.

I’m making every attempt I can to disengage from everything that “triggers” me and that has meant a significant downturn in the amount of news I’m willing to let myself read. Basically, I’m going all “konmari” on my emotional and mental health. If it doesn’t spark joy, it’s out. It turns out that my personality type (typically ISFJ, sometimes INFJ) gets really triggered by willful stupidity. So you can imagine how frustrating my life is right now, considering the current political climate we’ve thrust upon ourselves. It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt truly joyful or happy. It’s hard to feel that way when I’m constantly tired and stressed and sick and busy. That’s not to say I’m unhappy with my life. I have a beautiful life…my husband and my children are everything and, for sobbing out loud, I’m living in Japan! My life is everything I’ve ever hoped it would be in so many ways.

But my current life comes at a cost. I missing my partner in crime, my daughters’ father, my helpmate. When he’s gone, everything is harder. Obviously. Despite having “signed up for this”, it doesn’t ever get any easier. We’re nearing the end of this deployment and the tail end always feels the hardest. I get angry and frustrated more easily. My daughters lose their cool more easily. No one is sleeping well. We all just want something, but to be honest, we don’t really know what it is we want.

This whole year has been awash with incredible highs and overwhelming lows. It’s been hard to take the time to process all of it. My mind feels excessively cluttered and my heart is taking a beating from that. I’m sure that’s the reason I continuously want to minimize everything in my life. I look around my house and I just see STUFF. Everywhere, every surface is littered with things. It’s like I can’t get any part of my physical or mental or emotional space under control enough to relax into it.

We’re moving (yet again) in a few scant weeks and I’m already looking forward to the pre-packing purge. There’s just so much stuff in the house and I don’t want it anymore. But while I wait for my husband to return (and hopefully purge a ton of his stuff too), I’ll be spending time on my mental health and decluttering the crap from my heart and mind.

On processing the pain…


Photo Credit: Amanda Glenn Photography

“Mothers cannot give from a depleted source. Every mother needs emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual validation, nourishment, and support. When a mother is respected and well cared for, she and her whole family will benefit.” ~ a motherwoman principle. 

I am nearly eight weeks into raising my second daughter. Which means I am nearly eight weeks into my second battle with post partum depression. When we first found out I was pregnant again, my husband and I had several long conversations about how I and we would manage my PPD, should I have it again. The likelihood greatly existed that it would present again since I’d already had it one time. This just gave us the opportunity to plan for it in ways we just couldn’t last time.

First pregnancies, first labor-and-deliveries, first children…it’s all kind of a shit show. I just had no idea what to expect so I either expected the best or the worst.  And I wound up with both…just in the opposite way. I expected to have a movie-like pregnancy and delivery, complete with horrible morning sickness and a labor that would last days and days. Nope. I had a  super dreamy easy pregnancy and my L&D experience was nothing short of miraculous (to me). It was short and it was relatively painless (in the grand scheme of the horrible pain that is labor and delivery). I also expected that I’d have an easy baby who would nurse easily and love to snuggle and generally just sleep and be chill. NOPE. She was (and remains) kind of bonkers. As soon as she was out of my womb, it was a disaster that lasted over a year.

And the whole time, all I thought was, “Okay, everything I’ve ever read or been told was a lie and that’s fine. I hate you all, but it’s fine. This is obviously what’s actually normal.” So I went with it. I accepted that my body was just taking a really long time to heal and that it was normal to feel that much pain weeks after delivery. I accepted that my baby was just a shitty nurser and I’d probably be using a nipple shield the entire time. I accepted that I would be tired for the rest of my life. I accepted that I had a short temper now. I accepted that my marriage was suffering because a baby will do that to a couple.

It wasn’t until my husband forcibly made me talk to my midwife that I realized absolutely none of this was normal. My body wasn’t healing properly, my baby didn’t know how to nurse, I flew off the handle way too easily, and while a baby will strain a relationship, it doesn’t mean a baby should up-end and damage my marriage. But tired? Oh yeah. That’s definitely normal. I’m planning on being tired for the next eighteen years, minimum.

So I got the help (and medication) I needed and I started talking much more openly about my struggles as a new mother. I started talking crassly about my issues. I made caustic jokes. And frankly, I started feeling normal again. I demanded time for myself every so often. I asked for (and got) more help with my chores around the house. I was filling my cup.

But here’s the thing with my second go-’round with PPD: I am experiencing it much more acutely.  I am painfully aware of the state of my mental health. I know what my triggers are and I feel them so much more deeply. When I start to feel the weight of my responsibilities, it’s like I’m having an out-of-body experience. I feel like I’m watching myself shut down.

My second daughter is so much more chill than my first and for that I am eternally grateful. But she has her moments of epic meltdown. She won’t nurse, she won’t sleep, she wants everything and nothing all at once (I have no idea who she gets that from). She’ll just scream and shriek until she konks herself out. All I can do is hold her and wait. I have to wait while she screams in my ear and I just sit there and stare at nothing.

I feel so overwhelmed and sticky and unshowered and flabby and sad. I felt all of those things the first time and thought it was normal. I thought it was just part of the territory. I assure you, it is not. So when I feel it this time around, I have the wherewithal to hand the baby to my husband (or my parents, since we’re living with them for a few weeks) and go take a damn shower. Just because I have a newborn doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to care for my own basic needs. I will happily hand over the baby so that I can drink a full cup of warm coffee, so that I can shave and put on lipstick, so that I can take a quick nap.

Post partum depression needs to be taken seriously.

I’m what I call a “Mount Vesuvius of Rage.” I will stay dormant for a very long time. But that means I’m building up an explosion and there’s really no telling when it will go off. And there are two things that can set me off very quickly: chaos and excessive noise. Guess what a baby comes preloaded with? Yup. I get ragey a LOT, even if it’s just internally. I feel like I’m going crazy. I have the fortune of retrospection when it comes to this + PPD. I’m able to see that while this is a normal part of my person, it’s a) not healthy and b) much more exacerbated because of the PPD.

I’m able to recognize what I’m feeling as “not normal,” but that also means I’m feeling much more deeply. I’m finding that I’m much more emotionally in tune with my person and my mental health this time than I ever could have been last time. It’s this weird self-empathic thing I have going on. Because I feel out-of-body so much of the time, I’m able to react a little more empathically to myself. I’m able to have a measure of grace with my emotions that I wasn’t able to have before.

It also means I find myself much more sad and lonely and overwhelmed sometimes. While it’s true that I’m able to more quickly recognize my PPD symptoms and behaviors, it’s also true that they affect me more than before. And unfortunately, my current set of circumstances aren’t really allowing me the time and space I need to fully process my emotions. I have experienced some fairly profound loss and disappointment in the last several weeks. There just hasn’t been time to process anything. I think that’s what is making it the most difficult this time around. I thought I’d be able to process leaving my last home. once I got to my parents. But then I had to rehome my dogs. Then we move to another country. Then my husband deploys. Then he’ll come home (and have to reintegrate in our family) and then we have to move again. Seriously, there just isn’t any time to process everything that I’ve experienced in the last two months.

That’s probably what’s hardest and I think that’s part of why I’m feeling everything so heavily. I’m sort of taking my own advice from years ago: Feel every emotion fully. Get it out and be done with it. 

I guess if I can’t process it, I should at least fully feel it.

And so I do.

I feel completely. I rely on my friends, near and far (and most of them are far at this point). I depend on my husband.

But (and this is the important part) I don’t feel guilty for having post partum depression. I don’t apologize for it. I won’t make excuses for it. PPD is part of my story. I’m not less of a person or a mother because I have it. I just have it. It’s as much a part of my whole person as singing and writing are. It’s part of who I am and who I will be.

PPD looks like me.

On the songs of my baby…

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Photo Credit: QuoteFancy.com 

I’m roughly six weeks out from the impending delivery of my second baby. Technically speaking, I’m eight weeks out, but my midwife is fairly confident this one will come early since the last one did. I’m also hopeful she’ll come early…it will give me substantially more time to recover before moving across the country and the world. So there will be much red raspberry leaf consumed by moi in the coming weeks.

At any rate, I’ve been working on my labor and delivery playlist for several months. This is something that, even with my first, I just knew I wanted – music that calmed me or energized me or made me think of how much I already knew I loved this tiny human. With Godzilla, I pulled together my playlist kind of last minute, but it was also rather easy. She was born during the Christmas season and since I love love love Christmas music, I just grabbed 200+ songs from my very extensive collection, added in some Britney and Taylor and called it good. It was perfect.

And I never used it. Not even once during my nine hours of labor did I want to hear music. I thought about it once, in the middle of a particularly awful contraction (aren’t they all kind of awful?) and just the thought of music made me angry. So that was a hard pass on music.

With Mothra’s playlist, I’ve found myself carefully curating songs over the last seven months. There are currently only 36 songs on the playlist, running about two and a half hours. It’s a pretty schizophrenic list, but then, so is my general taste in music. It contains pop, hymns, bluegrass, the 80s, rock, miscellaneous covers…it’s one of my favorite playlists I’ve ever created.

But there are two songs in particular that hit me hard every time I listen to them…for vastly different reasons.

“Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding.
For a lot of people, this song is associated with one of the most poorly written and ill-conceived books ever released. I’ve never read the book (just selected passages. It’s terrible) or seen the movie. I just love this song. The first time this hit me as a birthing song was over the summer, while I was walking with Godzilla in her stroller. Almost every line of the song can very easily be translated into labor and delivery:

“You’re the light, you’re the night, you’re the color of my blood…” – Yep. She’s going to come at whatever time of day or night she chooses and no matter how she makes her way in the the world, she and I will be the same color, covered in the same blood, even if for just a few minutes.

“You’re the cure, you’re the pain, you’re the only thing I want to touch..” – Delivering a baby, especially in the, um, very traditional sense, is everything at once. It hurts like hell, but the moment she arrives, all the pain is gone. It’s like I’ve been waiting my whole life to touch this tiny creature.

“Fading in, fading out, on the edge of paradise. Every inch of your skin is the holy grail I’ve got to find.” – Every contraction can feel like you’re about to pass out. It’s 30-120 seconds of agony followed by maybe two minutes of sweet relief….until it all happens again. Over and over for hours on end. But every moment brings me closer to the absolute ecstasy of holding my baby for the first time, pressing her sweet, sticky skin against my chest and hearing her cry for the first time.

“Yeah, I’ll let you set the pace cuz I’m not thinking straight. My head’s spinning around. I can’t think clear no more. What are you waiting for?” – This is the first line that made me think of labor and delivery. It reduced me to tears on that walk. There is no way to tell a baby when it should or shouldn’t come into the world. It’s all up to her. She decides everything. And she will decide everything from the moment I go into labor until years later. I have to let her set the pace. I have to let go of the control I want to have and just wait…sometimes calmly (as in the first several months of pregnancy), sometimes impatiently and agrily (like during active, awful, bone-crushing labor).

“human” by Christina Perri
This one hit me harder and in a much more painful way. It made me immediately think of breastfeeding, which, frankly, was not a great experience with my first baby. I’m cautiously hopeful that it will go better this time around, but I have pretty intense memories of the first time. So when I hear lines like:

“I can hold my breath. I can bite my tongue.” – I remember how painful it was. The searing pain that shot through every fiber of my body as she latched for the first time…and for 13 months worth of times after that.

“I can stay awake for days if that’s what you want. Be your number one…Give you all I am” – I am not looking forward to another year or more of restless, sleepless nights. But I am what keeps her alive. My body nourishes her so I wake up with her and I suffer through it. Because it’s not all suffering. She will smile, she will laugh, and – mercifully – she will sleep.

“But I’m only  human. And I bleed when I fall down. I’m only human. And I crash and I break down. [The] words in my head, knives in my heart, [they] build me up and then I fall apart, cuz I’m only human.” – I was diagnosed with post-partum depression when Godzilla was around five or six months old. It was a simultaneously freeing and brutal thing to grapple with. Finally, I had answer to some of what I was feeling. Finally, I had a way to cope with all of it. Finally…I felt a little bit of fear and failure. Nothing was going right. I couldn’t feed my child enough. I couldn’t love my husband the way he deserved. I didn’t want to be a mother. Everything I had ever thought I wanted, I finally had and I couldn’t deal with it. The words in my head crushed me.

“I can do it. I can do it. I’ll get through it.” – And I did. I did it. I fed Godzilla on a near constant basis. I accepted the magic of formula. My friends and my husband encouraged me and brought me coffee and reminded me that I wasn’t just doing enough for my daughter. I was literally doing everything for her. I may not be the perfect mother (far from it), but I am the perfect mother for her. I was reminded to take time for myself and that asking for help isn’t admitting defeat or weakness, but rather significant strength. To know when I’m about to break and to ask for help is one of the strongest things I can do as a mother. We’re fed line after line that we can have it all, do it all, and be it all, but when we aren’t, it feels like we’ve failed in every  possible way. Whatever happened to “it takes a village”? My tribe has taught me, over the last two years, that asking for help means I’m willing to be vulnerable and that I trust those closest to me. It also means that when one of my tribe starts to falter, I will be there to prop her up with coffee, wine, wisdom, time, a listening ear, whatever she needs. I have learned that “mother’s intuition” extends so far beyond my own child…it weaves its way into the lives of my mama-friends. We start to know exactly when and how to best help each other (like when one of my newest tribe members brought me a chai latte and a surprise cherry danish the other day). We just sense each other. We respect each other. Sometimes, it feels like we are each other.
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So these are the songs that have made the biggest impact on me during my second (and probably final) pregnancy. There is so much left to accomplish in the few remaining weeks before Mothra arrives. At least, it seems that way. But what I know with absolute certainty is that I am ready. I am excited. I am prepared – emotionally and mentally – in ways I just couldn’t have been the first time.

I am patiently and uncomfortably awaiting her arrival.

I am ignoring the thoughts of doubt that seep into my subconcious.

I am ready.

On knowing I have plenty…

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Photo Credit

It’s the new year and I’ve decided to try two new personal projects for 2017:
1. Don’t buy anything that isn’t necessary.
2. Do ten minutes of yoga every day.

Surprisingly (to me), it’s the second one that’s been the most challenging so far. I’ve done yoga once since January 1st. ONCE. I have carved out ten minutes for myself one time in five days. And even then, Godzilla was screaming for me the entire time (Sailor was home and handling it, but it was far from the zen ten I was hoping for).

But the “no spending” thing? That’s been oddly easy. I didn’t buy any car candy or frozen pizza at the grocery on Monday. My Target spree yesterday was actually entirely necessary items (milk, diapers, a birthday card for my dad, etc.).

I think it’s because I’m trying this thing where I really evaluate what I think I need. And what that comes down to is the word ENOUGH.

I have enough. I have plenty. In many ways, I have more than enough (I went through my lingerie drawer last night and found more than a dozen pairs of unworn underwear and at least as many that could be gotten rid of. My bras are another beast entirely…I have probably thirty of varying sizes, but two rounds of pregnancy have taught me that boobs change size on a whim, so I’m keeping all the bras…for now). Clutter generally stresses me out. I like seeing wide, clean spaces (like my countertops). It’s hard to manage this with a toddler. She has SO MUCH STUFF! I don’t want to get rid of her toys just because it stresses me out. But I do wish we had a room that could be devoted just to her things because seeing it all the time makes me crazy. I spend more time picking up after her than anything else. It’s not going to be any easier with an added tiny human. So I do what I can with my own things. I’m trying to be fairly brutal with my closet, but that’s also challenging because I’m pregnant so who knows what I’m going to fit into in a few months? The one thing I know is that I’ll be able to off-load much of the maternity clothing I’ve amassed. That’ll feel good.

But the thing about “enough” that’s proving more difficult is the part where I AM enough. I think a lot of us struggle with that. There’s always some area of life where we feel somehow unfulfilled or underfulfilled.

Recently, that’s been motherhood for me. Two year olds are hard work. That wasn’t a surprise to me. But my ability to manage her has been less-then-stellar. I get angry with her a lot. I yell more than I want to. I ignore her when I just can’t take it anymore. I’m supposed to be one of the only people she knows will love her unconditionally…her attitude and behavior shouldn’t affect the way I treat her. I always want her to know kindness from me.

But ohmigod, she is a real pill sometimes. She gets so worked up that there’s just no reasoning with her. I just have to let her cry her tears and throw her tantrums and generally be insane…and sometimes that lasts for way too long. It’s frankly no different than when she was an infant and would cry up to twenty hours a day. It’s just louder now. Much, much louder.

It causes me to wonder: am I doing enough? Am I challenging her enough? Do we do enough activites? Do I read to her enough? Do I discipline her enough? Do I hold my ground enough?

The one thing I know I do enough of is love her. God, I love that little girl. She’s crazy and difficult, but my heart seems to grow bigger every single morning when I get her from her crib and she reaches up with her big, sleepy eyes and says, “Hi mommy!”

Up until very recently, I had legitimate fears that I wouldn’t be able to love both my girls enough once Mothra arrived. Would I love Mothra more? Would I love Godzilla less? How can one person possibly be expected to love more than one person with every fiber of her being?

It turns out, the closer Mothra gets to making her arrival, the more my heart seems to acquire the space.

I don’t know that I’ll ever feel adequately “enough” to manage two little girls. We will fight. We will yell. We will say mean things. I know…I have experience being the daughter of a headstrong mother. I will probably always feel like I haven’t done or given or taught or prepared them enough.

But I know that I will always love them enough. I will love them Beverly Goldberg style. I will love them until it annoys the hell out of them and they push me away and it will hurt me in ways I’ve never been hurt before. But I will love them enough.

And in the meantime, I’ll be making space in my house and getting rid of excess things I have enough of…and try to do some damn yoga.

On the depths of my soul…

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It’s exactly one week until my favorite day of the year. It’s better than my birthday. Better than Valentines Day.

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year.

When I was younger, Christmas Day ruled all. I think that’s true for a lot of us. As children, we look forward to presents and Santa and seeing the tree in the morning. It was my favorite day until I was in my early 20s, I think. My parents did the most wonderful job of making Christmas magical for my siblings and me. The decorations always sparkled. We left out cookies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph (he was always welcome in our house). There were hoofprints on the roof in the morning. The tree was beautiful. The fire was always warm and crackling. In fact, none of that has changed. I’m nearly 37 years old and my parents still do everything the can to make Christmas morning magical. We still get gifts from Santa, wrapped in the same paper for the last 30-plus years.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of wonder has shifted a little. Don’t get me wrong: I still love everything about Christmas morning, especially at my parent’s house. But the magic isn’t there anymore. It didn’t disappear. It shifted. It changed. It evolved.

The culmination of the entire year happens on Christmas Eve. My faith relies heavily on what happened that evening (which, yes, probably actually occurred sometime in the fall). Without Christmas Eve, my faith doesn’t even exist.

Every Christmas Eve, I look forward to midnight mass (or “the eleven o’clock service”, as it’s more commonly known in the evangelical world). It’s quiet and reflective. It’s peaceful. It’s serene. It’s basically everything that birth is not and everything that my life to that point hasn’t been. A year of chaos and noise comes to a grinding halt on Christmas Eve. Life’s busyness subsides and I am able to rest in the quiet and the candlelight, even if for just a moment.

It feels like Christ himself is breathing new life into my soul. Like I can hear Him say, “That feeling you have right now? That’s me. That can be all the time if you’ll just slow down and let me.”

That’s where the magic is for me now. When in the bustle and madness and fear and unknown of everyday life, I can sit quietly and honestly think, “Yes. All is well.”

So the magic of Christmas is still there for me. But it’s not in the lights or decorations or cookies.

It’s heavy. I can feel it’s weight.

It is the deep magic.

On wanting what I have…

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With only two-ish weeks left in the year (and thank God for that), I’ve started thinking about New Years resolutions. I do this every year. But the last ten or so years, my resolutions are more about deleting something from my life than about adding.

One year, I vowed to go to chain restaurants as little as possible. That one really stuck. Well, until I moved to southern Maryland where chain restaurants are really the only available options most of the time. I love seeking out new places to eat and discovering little hole-in-the-wall family-owned dives that just know what they’re doing with whatever food they’re serving. I’m looking forward to getting back to that when we move next year. That was easily one of my best resolutions to date.

This coming year I’ll be thinking more about subtractions. I want to simplify and minimalize. I want to spend less and do more.

For the last few years, ever since having our first baby, I’ve felt a constant need to get rid of things. I feel like there’s a lot of clutter and chaos in my life and a baby (or two babies, as the case will soon be) doesn’t lend itself to a lack of stuff. And the things we do actually need for the tiny humans are quite large. I’m beig overrun by toys, diapers, and shoes right now. It’s overwhelming a lot of the time. So I end up violently purging my own things a lot of the time. I’m vicious when I purge. I give zero regard. If I don’t currently use or need it, I want it out of my house. To the point I don’t even care if I can sell it. I’ll give it away if I can just get rid of it!

So my personal goal for 2017 is to buy fewer things. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually need, much less want. A friend recently told me about a friend of hers that went an entire year without buying anything new. I would love to try that sometime. I don’t think it’s at all realistic for someone with a husband and children. But it’s certainly something to keep in the back of my mind every time I go to Target or the grocery store or log on to Amazon.

One great thing about having two girls is that I don’t really need to buy anything new for the littlest one. She’ll get a few of her own things, but by and large, she can just wear her big sister’s clothes. And let’s be honest: babies and kids grow out of clothing so quickly that most of her things are still in fabulous condition! And there are some things that my first just didn’t get to wear for long enough, so it’ll be fun to put her sister in those tiny, cute clothes!

There’s also a really good chance that I’m going to need some smaller clothing once I’m done being pregnant and have hit my goal weight again. That’s a ways off, but it’s a reality. Granted, I have a TON of pre-pregnancy clothing that I can’t wait to get back into, but I know I’m going to want to treat myself to a couple new things. I think that’s fair. Plus, I’m going to need a new dress for when the sailor comes home from his next deployment (whenever that is).

But beyond that, there’s just not a lot of need or want in our family. We have everything we need and more. And what we want? Those aren’t really tangible things. I suspect that’s partially a product of getting older. I’d rather just spend time with my family than buy a new gadget.

Except for a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. I really want one of those.

On firming it all up…

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Photo credit: Someecards.com

Can we talk about etiquette for just a second?

At what point did “maybe” become an appropriate response to an invitation? When did it become okay to just not respond to an invitation until well after the requested RSVP date and at the near-harassment of the host?

I sometimes feel like social media has made us far lazier and more rude than was ever intended. Why, Evite, is “maybe” a response that can’t be eliminated when creating an invite?

I hate the “maybe” response. Why? Because it makes me think you’re waiting to see if something better comes along. It makes you look incredibly inconsiderate. It makes it damn never impossible to plan for food and drinks, which makes it really hard to budget. Would you respond “maybe” to a wedding invitation? If you would, I’m really going to need you to evaluate how you run your social life.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had no less than three  friends tell me they’re having the worst time nailing down RSVPs for parties they’re throwing. Look, folks. It’s not that hard. FFS we’re all attached to our smart phones. It’s not like you don’t have access to a calendar literally all the time. Check your dates and respond appropriately to an invitation. There is no “maybe”. You’re either going or you’re not.

And please don’t regale me with tales of how you might have to work or you’re trying to get out of working or you don’t know if you can find a babysitter. I get it. There are legitimate reasons for saying “maybe” to an invitation. But don’t. Just don’t. Figure your schedule out and respond. It’s one thing if a sitter falls through last minute or you suddenly become violently ill and have to cancel. Of course life happens. That’s not the point. The point is, you are either planning on attending or you are not.

It makes it really hard for the host to not feel like an asshole when they try to follow up  with you Maybes. And why should the host feel like that? YOU should feel like a jerk for not responding appropriately in the first place.

It’s the time of year when people are planning and hosting parties basically every night of every weekend for the next four to six weeks. Do your hosts a favor and respond. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing right now and respond either “yes” or “no”, “going” or “not going” and put it on your calendar. Give them a chance to throw a kick ass party without having to hunt down half their invitees and feel like a jerk for doing it.