Photo by Bob Foran
By Marji Wisniewski
I always enjoy sitting down with Sarah Whitsett, our fierce and inspiring publisher of The Brick Magazine. I know that she’ll always surprise me with something that she’s up to now. Working with someone like Sarah who empowers and entrusts her team is so refreshing. I enjoy our yearly December interviews and encourage everyone to take a few moments today and reflect on their 2021 year. Did you give space to what brings you joy?
Here we are at the end of 2021 already. I feel like it was just December 2020, and I blinked to find that another year has passed. Although we weren’t as locked up in our homes as we were last year, we still had the reality that this pandemic is with us for much longer than we’d hoped. Like many of you, I forged ahead as best I could and tried to cautiously live my life to its fullest.
As publisher of The Brick Magazine, the team and I committed to a theme of Spaciousness for this year. We defined this as “letting our work breathe, taking up space that we want to take up, building and working from a place of enjoyment.” Not only did I find myself devoted to this philosophy at the magazine, but I also carried it over to my nursing job and personal life.
I turned 45 this year, and I realized that I really needed to be clear and honest with myself about what feels good and gives me energy. I made an effort to focus on what sparked joy in my life. Maybe I was inspired by Marie Kondo and her unique philosophy for tidying. By focusing on what brings me joy, I’ve been able to find a much healthier, happier version of me. In a time where there has been much worry and fear around our physical and mental health, this has given me peace.
Last December, I shared that I had gone back to nursing in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. It felt like coming home. I’d been gone for nearly 15 years, but so much of it felt familiar, and that was comforting. I was drawn to the cause of helping care for the very sick patients who had contracted COVID-19. I knew that I could be useful during those early days of the pandemic when nurses were so short-staffed. Unfortunately, we are still very short-staffed.
It was heartbreaking to care for so many who would eventually die in our ICU. At times I felt sad, helpless, and hopeless. However, so much light and encouragement came when the vaccine started to roll out at the beginning of this year. It was a feeling of relief and elation that I won’t forget. I celebrated getting my first dose right before Christmas; it was the best gift I’ve ever received.
Unfortunately, I’m seeing the number of patients in our hospital with COVID going up again. The majority of the people that we’re seeing in the ICU now are not vaccinated. It’s hard to watch people suffering from COVID who chose not to receive the vaccine. I’ve witnessed firsthand not just one, but a number of patients beg me for a vaccine right before they get intubated. It’s heartbreaking to have to tell them that they can’t get the vaccine now, that it’s too late. It makes me sad because they had a chance to make a different choice, and they didn’t.
I never had intentions of leaving the ICU, especially with a nursing shortage and the fact that I love all of my coworkers. However, I was recently offered a different role at the hospital. It was a fantastic opportunity, one that you just don’t say no to.
The transition was so fast. Only two to three weeks passed from hearing about the job to moving to my new department. I’m now a Research Coordinator at Michigan Heart and Vascular. My main responsibility is to enroll and track patients in our cardiovascular studies. It feels like a really good fit for me so far; it was hard leaving the ICU, but having weekends and holidays free has been a welcome perk.
As some of you may know, I have three boys: a freshman in high school and twin seventh-graders. My freshman son is going for his learners permit this week. That’s terrifying! I think we’ll be practicing in parking lots for a long time.
All three boys are back in school full-time this year. Usually at the start of the school year, they’re griping that they don’t want to go back. But this year, they were super excited to go to school and see their friends. They’re all just really happy to be in-person this year. They really missed all of their sports and extracurricular activities, too.
Watching the boys grow, change, and live through this turbulent era has taught me so much. They are really paying attention to the world around them, even when I think they’re not. I might say something that I’ve always said, and they will say, “Mom, you can’t say that anymore.”
Last week at my family’s farm, I noticed that one of the horses, Snickers (ironically named), had gotten into the corn and ate way too much. I started teasing him by saying, “Snickers, you’re all chubby from that corn and you didn’t share any with the other horses.” My son corrected me: “Mom, don’t fat-shame the horse.” I had to apologize and say that I shouldn’t have said that to Snickers, horse or not.
My other son watched his first episode of Seinfeld and gave his review: “It’s a really funny show, Mom, but it’s also really sexist.” And I said, “I guess you’re right. It is.” When the show came out it seemed funny, but now looking back, I see that many of the jokes didn’t age well.
Things in society and culture have changed so much since I was their age, and I’m thankful to them for making me aware of what I’m saying or watching and allowing me to continue to learn and work to be a better person each day.
In turn, I focus on teaching them kindness. My one rule with them is “Just don’t be an asshole.” I’m just trying to raise my boys not to be jerks. They’re growing and changing so fast, and if I can allow them to feel all the great things that come with being a young man but also teach them not to be jerks, then I’ve done my job.
The job of being a mom is never an easy one. Sometimes, people label me as a single mom. But that’s not quite true; the boys have a dad who is very involved in their day-to-day lives. I’m not doing it all by myself — I would rather say that I’m co-parenting with their dad. I think that’s an important distinction to make, because for the women who are actually single moms, who do it all on their own — that’s an entirely different kind of strength. Single moms bear the sole responsibility, and there’s no one else to fall back on. Co-parenting is hard, but being a single mom is much harder.
I’ve been co-parenting for about seven years, and we’ve got it down pretty well. Our challenge these days is when the boys “play” us a bit. One son might say, “But Dad said I could go.” We have to check in with each other more frequently just to keep them on the straight and narrow. I think this is a product of the kids’ lives getting busier with their age, and of things generally getting busier as we work through the later phases of this pandemic.
Even the dog goes back and forth with the kids to their dad’s house. If our dog, Jack, doesn’t end up making it over to their dad’s, they will call for me to bring him. Actually, while I’m working on this article, I’m getting loads of texts from the boys to hurry up and bring the dog tonight instead of waiting until morning!
Before lockdown, I had been dating someone for several years. It was a relationship that I didn’t think was ever going to get serious, but I welcomed the company, especially when the boys were young. We ended things in February of 2020, not knowing that the country would be in lockdown shortly after.
I used that time to focus on my family and my re-entry into nursing. That fall, I dipped my toe into online dating. This was a strange and new experience for me. I didn’t love it. After three first dates, I started dating one of the men. But between our work schedules, children, and the pandemic, we could only meet every few weeks or so. When spring came, the relationship just faded away. Although short-lived, I am grateful for him; it was refreshing to have adult conversation during that time.
This past summer I decided I’d give online dating another try. I went on three first dates again; just like before, third time’s the charm. I’m still seeing the third man I went out with, and it’s been fantastic. Facebook Dating has a loose understanding of “25 miles or less,” but we’re making the best of a longer drive between our houses.
MAKING ROOM FOR MORE JOY
In taking stock of life this year, I realized that I was spreading myself too thin. I realized that after ten years of running a marketing and leadership consulting business, it was no longer bringing me joy. I’m thankful that I was financially in a position to close up that part of my life. It organically faded away as I completed projects and didn’t renew accounts. I said goodbye to that part of my career with a grateful heart, as it had allowed me to be home with the kids when they were younger. It also introduced me to a lot of really cool people along the way.
Speaking of really cool people, I’m so proud of all of the amazing women we have featured on the cover of The Brick Magazine in 2021. I refuse to choose a favorite. However, I will say that I love what a diverse group of talented and inspiring women we featured! I also think the photography was a highlight this year. I loved seeing all of the different photographers and their styles paired with the stories. It didn’t hurt that all of our cover women were just gorgeous, inside and out.
My favorite part about my job as publisher is seeing our team get excited about an upcoming cover story or idea. They start to buzz at a fever pitch, and there’s just such a great vibe flowing. I love that!
For 2022, the team and I have decided on a theme of Resilience. Resilience, to us, means the ability to cope with life’s adversities, to withstand and adapt to hardships and trauma and emerge on a path that leads you to be stronger and wiser. We hope you enjoy the stories as they relate to this theme and welcome new photographers and writers who have something they’d like to share with us. I’d love to have more writers, photographers, and advertisers involved in the magazine to share with our community.
The magazine itself has exhibited resilience over the four years since its inception. When we first started, we were just trying to get out all of the kinks. I’m proud that we continue to learn and get better and stronger with each year. This past year, we really focused on building and growing our social media presence. Going forward, our focus remains the same: telling women’s stories in our community. We are fortunate to have an abundance of interesting, amazing women willing to share their lives with us.
NEW YEAR, NEW FOCUS
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do set intentions. To me, intentions are things that I want to work towards. I didn’t sit down on January 1st and make a list of things that bring me joy versus things I wanted to let go of; I just held onto a thought or intention as I moved through the year and hoped that it worked its way to the front of my mind when I needed it. Taking stock of my year for this article has made me realize that they did.
So, what do I plan or intend for 2022? I’m just going to enjoy my free time now that I finally have a little. With the freedom my new job has afforded me, I’m looking forward to spending more holidays and weekends with loved ones. I plan to focus on my boys (I only have a few years until I’m an empty nester) and of course the dog. I don’t have any hobbies that I’m planning to work on, but I have time to figure that out now. And that sparks joy.