Taking The Long Road

When my daughter Maddie asked me to write something about overcoming the loss of a fairy tale (I don’t think those were her exact words), I didn’t know where to start. I knew what she was looking for theoretically, but putting important experiences into words is her forte, not mine. Mine is just plain old perseverance. I make lists. I check things off the lists. It’s what I do. I even make lists for other people. Ask my husband; he loves lists. He always knows what I’m looking for based on his list. Nope, no mind reading or mixed messages in our house. Just lists. Now that I think of it, my wedding vows to him were a list: Top Ten Reasons to Marry John Brooks—presented in full color—Letterman style. A big hit.

Maddie taught me about lists. It was in the wake of getting dumped—again—by someone I really loved. I was sitting at my kitchen island crying with her sister Casey consoling me when she called. Her words would change my life and how I looked at everything. She asked me if I remembered the movie Runaway Bride. I said yes. She asked me if I remembered Julia Roberts’ character only eating the eggs her fiancés liked. I did. Her next few words set off a light bulb in my head—a bright one that still burns.  “Mom, you need to decide what kind of eggs you like.”

Casey and I then started my list. We listed every attribute I was looking for in a partner—something I had never thought about in my 38 years. These are the attributes beyond attraction. These are the ones that make for a real live lifetime union, the ones that meet the in-sickness-and-in-health standards. I was so busy trying to fulfill everyone else’s criteria, I had never stopped to create my own. I had doomed myself to misery and lost fairy tales by not looking beyond nice teeth and a sense of humor. Brilliant work, Jennifer.

So, from here I will take what I have learned and share it with you in list form. It’s not the same as my other bulleted lists; it’s more of a numbered tutorial on survival. This is a list of what-ifs and what-to-do-ifs when the road to happiness gets rough…or turns into a Thelma and Louise kind of ride.

  1. Keep on Truckin’: These are the only words I remember from my first wedding—a toast aimed at my groom, delivered by a large, bearded, biker-looking dude I had never met, and who I would have feared had I met him in a secluded area. Looking back, that toast would become my unspoken mantra, not my ex-husbands. For me, that first fairy tale (yes the first— I’m a slow learner) ended abruptly. It wasn’t good; waking up at age twenty-two and realizing you’re not a real princess, after finding out the night before that Charming cheated on you, makes for a real dream crusher. Throw in two baby girls and one on the way in weeks and your fairy tale dreams are not just ruined; you are in the dungeon alone with your kids and a fiery dragon named What the F*ck Do I Do Now. Moments like this tend to bring clarity. If the immediate moment fails you, as it did for me, plan a family outing to the social services office to apply for welfare. Here, your babies may be offered bubble gum by a very large, braless, toothless woman wearing jeans and a laundry-bag-mesh shirt. Wait… did I mention braless? Yeah. That brings clarity. This is where I learned I didn’t like Dependent Housewife Eggs. I liked College Education Eggs. So I got me some.
  2. I Knew I Loved You When You Crushed that Wiffle-Ball: This should have been a warning sign. If that wasn’t enough, his mom asking if he was going to wear the same wedding ring he did in his first marriage (at our engagement dinner), should have been. These weren’t bad people. They were actually great people—in their own way. They were just different. Really different and from the other side of the tracks, where tact was a tool used by commoners. This roller coaster of backhanded compliments and uncomfortable dinners became secondary—wait, no—forgotten—when we faced the terminal diagnosis of our eight-year-old daughter, Stephie. Remember I told you about life wrecking fairy tales? This is what I’m talking about. This is one of those times when even the best relationships are pushed to their very limit, or even break. Ours broke. This situation was an evil, gritty test of love and respect. Hindsight says it wasn’t a reduced level of love or personal abandonment; it was that people grieve differently. We learned that in grief counseling with the kids—after we separated. I learned that he didn’t mean to leave me isolated with my grief. But he did. This is where I learned I didn’t like Surviving Really Bad Sh*t Alone Eggs. I liked Team Eggs. So I started scouting.
  3. Somebody Call 911. Yeah. It’s that cliché:  So the list is made. I’m over the in-betweener guy who dumped me. I’m obviously 15 pounds lighter from love sickness and I’m tan—real tan—’cause it’s summer in Maine and my friend has a boat. This was one of those summers I hoped I ran into the ‘tweener so he could see how fiiiinnne I was looking from afar and hate himself for letting me get away. It happened. Yay me. And in that summer, I actually found not being in a relationship freed up a lot of time for running with Justin Timberlake while he sang “Sexy Back” to me over and over. I was in the zone. You know the one. Needless to say, I was also in therapy trying to figure out why I made the same mistakes over and over. I sat in a calm room with an odd man named Mark who wore round, red glasses and who would never let me joke about anything. Self-deprecating humor was apparently not his thing. Every time I tried it, he answered with, “Why is that funny? That’s not funny.” Then, I would cry. Ultimately, his message was the same as Maddie’s, just more expensive. We only met for a few months. I had learned enough from him and if I had questions in the future, I could call Mads. The last time I saw Mark, I was crying about my grief, a diagnosis of PTSD, and no one understanding me. I was tired of telling my story and was longing for someone to just know what I had been through so I could stop explaining it already. He was empathetic, but direct as usual. I don’t recall his words, but I think I heard, “Let it go. You’re on your own.” Whatever.

As fairy tales and fate would have it, he was wrong. Take that red, round glasses man. I bumped into a parent of one of my students at a hockey game. He was talking about renovating his house and picking out paint colors. I told him my summer job that year was interior design and that I could help if he’d like. I picked his paint colors and we talked. A lot. He was nice. I liked his dimples… but I was working on not being superficial, remember? I actually liked him a lot, but resisted liking him, because while I knew he met most of the criteria on my new list, it was unfamiliar territory to be treated so well without having to hit a wiffle ball over the neighbor’s roof. I fought through it though, spending a lot of time talking myself into letting it happen—force feeding myself an Egg I Think I Might Like. Then came the deal sealer—the part that makes others refer to our story as a fairy tale or fate or something else even bigger than us.

A few months after the hockey game, we were talking on the phone about him needing tile picked out for his new bathroom. The conversation went here and there as they do. He talked about raising money to honor fellow firefighters who were killed in a fire in Charleston, and I talked a little about Stephie and fundraising events we did to raise money for scholarships in her name at the Maine College of Art. As I was talking, he was very quiet, until he finally interrupted me. With a calm, cautious voice he said, “I was there.” I was confused and trying to remember him at our fundraisers. I asked, “Which one?” He said, “No. I was there. At your house.” He was talking about the one call we had to make to 911 for Stephie. She had a massive seizure that stopped her breathing. It traumatized all of us. It was the basis for my PTSD diagnosis. He told me it just hit him at the fire station that day—he had been on Engine 8 that night and came to our house. He remembered the call. He told me how the ambulance took too long to get there because of a train blocking the road. He was right. He described my house and Stephie’s room. He was there. He had no memory of me, just Stephie and Casey, who was running back and forth beside me while I did CPR on Stephie, yelling “Don’t let her die, Mama! Don’t let her die!” He remembered Casey’s big brown eyes staring up at him while she asked to say goodbye to her sister. As he talked, I remembered his voice in the ambulance telling the driver, also named Jen, that she could slow down. “We’ve got her, Jen.” I could hear his voice so clearly in my head. I thought he was talking to me that night when he said Jen. His voice eased my anxiety on the way to the hospital. He and his crew brought Stephie back to us that night, long enough for her to make it to her goal—my birthday—27 days later.  The 27 days that gave us some tiny touch of serenity in our grief. She passed the day after my birthday after a bittersweet conversation about being a very good angel in heaven. She died peacefully after giving me one last smile and a roll of the eyes when I told her not to be a slacker when she was on duty up there in the clouds.

After hanging up the phone that night and crying for another few hours—I was a little overwhelmed. It was weird to me that he was there. I was happy, relieved, and freaked out all at the same time. I got what I asked for. That was weird. Then, I thought further and bigger. Maybe my fairy tale and road to the Good Egg I now call my husband was being paved all along—maybe my path was just a crooked, bumpy gravel road. Perhaps life offered me the lessons on that road that I needed to care for and cherish a real love so it would not be trivialized, under-appreciated, or wasted. I don’t know. Sometimes I think it may have just taken a little help from above—yes, I’m talking to you, Stephie—to land me in the right castle with the right Prince. But why over think it or try to figure out the hows and the whys, right?

I should go. It’s date night and there are a couple of dimples calling my name.

Jen and John’s wedding photo from their personal collection

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  • Ceebee

    I’m in so much tears – the gravel road is still a road that leads somewhere.
    I am so bawled over how all the happiness that you may have missed, lost, wasted, came to you in return WITH interest, Maddie-Momma

  • One More Sara

    I don’t normally cry THAT much with APW posts… sometimes a tear or two on the big ones. Meg, you were SO NOT KIDDING about this post being NSFW. (luckily I’m in my living room so I can cry by myself in peace). I don’t really have anything to say about this post except thank you thank you thank you for writing it.

  • Shiri

    I’m so, so happy you’ve found someone who makes you happy, who deserves your love, and who understands and respects the pain you’ve had in your life. May you have many joyful, listful, years together.

  • ES.TR

    Hot damn Maddie’s mum! If “putting important experiences into words” isn’t your forte then I hate to think how good you are at lists!

    • meg


    • Maddie

      Seriously. She is the BEST at putting important experiences into words. The lady taught me everything I know.

  • charmcityvixen

    Thank you so much for sharing!!! This is a beautiful post, and I’m so glad I’m working from home today (and not in my cubicle) so that no one has to see how much I just cried. Beautiful. Best of luck to you and your husband!!!

    And it’s funny that you mention Runaway Bride… I just told my friend that she needed to find the eggs she likes too :)

  • And I’m crying. I am so sorry you had to endure those hardships and so glad you found happiness. (Side note: I totally typed heartships at first and now I think that has to be a thing) Thank you so much for sharing.

  • JT

    Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your story. I love how hopeful this post is. It reminds me of the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which the concierge tells one of the guests, “Everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” It is also an excellent reminder that real life is so much more interesting than a fairytale.

  • Jillian

    Oh my gawd…. so beautiful and so much strength and resilience in this story. Thank you for sharing and may you have a beautiful life full of too many blessings to ever list :)

  • carrie

    Oh goodness….sooooo NSFW. My road was also bumpy to find my Good Egg, in a very different way, but it still resonated with me so much. Thank you so very much for sharing, and may you and and yours have so much happiness.

  • This was so beautifully written and romantic and moving. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Jen.

  • Oh, I’ve been craving some momma-style wisdom lately, and this completely fits the bill.

    Team Eggs are the best for getting through the rough times. So many Team Eggs.

    • Yay for Team Eggs!

      And yes, tears EVERYWHERE.

  • I got goosebumps reading this

  • Gahhh you weren’t kidding about the snotty tears. Damn. This is powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing…

  • Well, I have some hope now. Thank you.

    • meg


  • B

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Congrats on finally finding your prince charming. I am so happy for you I don’t even mind how hard I’m crying…. in a public library…

  • Catherine B

    Ooof, not even SFW on the second reading. Big plopping tears on my paperwork. Thank you for sharing your list with us today.

  • Wow.

    That was incredible. Thank you so much for sharing with such a striking combination of humor and depth. Rarely do I both laugh out loud and cry real crocodile tears in a post.

    I’m so glad that you’ve found happiness – in part because it makes the rest of our gravel roads more bearable.

    Thank you.

  • Class of 1980

    This may be my favorite APW post ever ever ever.

    All the twists and turns of life are there. I’ve seen these strange coincidences and happy endings … as if the Universe is just waiting for you to get up to speed before it bestows it’s gifts.

  • Bridget

    well dang.

  • Class of 1980

    Also, Maddie’s mom is cute. ;)

    • meg

      Maddie’s mom is HOT. Actually.

  • Ana Maria

    When I first started reading APW the posts were just words. Someone else’s stories. But now I understand more about love and relationships thanks to these stories. And I feel I can give and receive love more truthfully and fully. Before I wouldn’t cry after reading a post; now that I understand love on a different level they really hit me. Thank you for sharing.

    • mimi

      I totally agree. That’s why I love APW!

  • Oh. Wow. This is so powerful. (And NSFW!!) Thank you so much for sharing. And I’m so, so happy for you that you’ve found happiness.

  • Jashshea

    Amazing. Such wonderful advice and written with such grace. You’ve certainly been through the ringer, Maddie-mom and thank you for sharing how you came through.

    BTW: You are a gorgeous team, you and Fireman Dimples!

  • Beautiful! I just shared this with my own Mama, I think it will mean a lot to her, too!

  • Maddie

    It’s funny, I helped my mom edit this post before she submitted it and it didn’t make me cry before. Now, reading through it again, I’m in tears. Love you, mom. :)

  • Emme

    Jen — Your post just made me smile. Way to find happiness on your terms!

    I got married for the first time and had kids pretty young as well. I figured out a few months before our first child was born that we were on different wavelengths emotionally. But I’m stubborn and idealistic. 2 more kids, 17 years of a lopsided marriage, 1 hideously jarring medical diagnosis and 1 mistress later I threw in the flag.

    The following couple of years was pretty effin’ ugly. It’s amazing how much crap a person can put up with if their self-esteem has been shot to hell systematically over the years. To this day when I allow thoughts of things that I did and relationships with idiots that I entered into in that time period creep into my head, I still wince. But it only takes seconds for the wince to turn into shrug and then a full on smile because I know I went to some version of hell on earth and came out of it standing.

    And yes – I met the guy, the real guy, the guy who as Seal says “helped me know my name”. Finally. And together we are a pretty cool and ever evolving force to be reckoned with…..

    Sometimes I think about the differences between people getting married 30 years ago and now and I wonder if, inherently women inparticularly are stronger now you know? More willing to stand up for themselves from the get go…..instead of waiting for something from someone that will never come? And instead of eating eggs that they can get down okay that they are actually chowing down on eggs that they can’t get enough of. I hope so.

  • Jessica

    Oh my goodness. I’ve never commented before, but this post has me in tears and I just have to say — I think this may be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. Congrats on finding your Good Egg, and thank you so much for sharing your heart!

  • I vote more posts from Maddie’s mom! Jen, you are an incredible, strong woman.

  • Jackie

    This post really resonated with me today. My marriage is not a happy one, and right now I’m in the process of trying to figure out whether or not I can keep eating these eggs (although the analogy I’ve been using is whether or not I can continue to try to force myself to wear this pair of shoes even though they don’t fit).

    Thank you for writing this, and thank you for showing me that there is light ahead.

    • Stephanie

      Me too. :)

  • Wow, this is so beautiful! Great writing! And I totally cried. You have a wonderful angel up there watching over you!! :)

  • daynya


    This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. I definitely am crying at my desk.

    It’s so inspiring to hear stories like this. You guys look so incredibly happy to be with one another, it is awe-inspiring.

    More wise stories, please. This is definitely your forte!!

  • What a beautiful, beautiful story. We have a banquet coming up for our high school girls and the female teachers have been invited to share our wisdom with them. I’ve been trying to think of a way to tell them to hold out for what they really want in a guy and I think your egg analogy will be perfect. Team eggs, for sure.

  • Snow Gray

    A beautiful and definitely tear-inducing post.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  • So very beautiful and moving. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your story, and thanks, Maddie, for sharing your mom with us!

  • Thank you so much for writing so beautifully about your journey.

  • “Maybe my fairy tale and road to the Good Egg I now call my husband was being paved all along—maybe my path was just a crooked, bumpy gravel road.” Ahhh what an amazing line and piece of wisdom! This whole post was fantastic.

    Also, I love that APW knows to call something guaranteed to make you weep “NSFW.” Because…yeah, that term really should not be limited to inappropriate photos and YouTube links that have F-bombs.

  • Dutch

    Holy cow, this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Jen Mull-Brooks

    Thank you very much for the thoughtful and heart-felt responses to my first website / blog moment ever. I feel very lucky for the opportunity to write /share this … and even more lucky for having such a gutsy daughter who loves to tell it like it is…and make others do the same. :)

  • Our mothers are all so strong and such good sources of wisdom. I wish they would sit down and write entries like this more often!

  • stacey

    damn it, I did cry. I tried not to, but to no avail.

  • I was not expecting that when I started reading. I have goosbumps all over! Thank you for writing, thank you for showing that there is always room for a happy ending, even if the road to get there is not quite what you expected…

  • KatieBeth

    Holy NSFW, Batman! This was not only beautiful but also funny and full of non-preachy, “I’ve hoed that road, sweetheart” advice. What a wonderful analogy, too – I’m glad you found your Good Egg! And that you’ve been through so much to appreciate the Good Egg that you have. It made me think of the other day when a friend of mine was complaining about dating and being single again, how there were no good guys out there that were hot, funny, understanding, etc. Now I think I should have told her to stop focusing on the Hot Egg or the Accomplished Egg or the We Have Great Sex Egg – find the Good Egg first and then focus on the condiments ;-)

  • Sara

    Truly without a doubt the best post on APW to date. Jen, your writing is gorgeous and your wise words clearly mean a lot to each of us, regardless of where we are in the egg tasting contest.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, both your heartache and your joys.

    Maddie (and Casey and Stephie) are so so lucky to have you!