You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

Four Years Ago…

Four years today ago my life changed in the biggest, best way possible. I brought home my first foster, Cindy (now Nellie).

Looking back on my blog posts from the first few weeks we had her, I had forgotten how much I didn’t know!

Cindy was a puppy mill mama to a “T,” and while they are the most rewarding fosters, they are also the most work, the most depressing (because of their pasts) and the most stressful. I had forgotten she refused to eat for the first few days, snapped at Lucy and had fluids leaking everywhere. I forgot she had no idea what toys were, what food bowls were and what a soft, comfy couch was.

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She was quite the complicated foster and yet from day one I was hooked. I can’t fully express how rewarding fostering her (and every other foster) was. It really hit home when she was adopted. We drove her to her forever home and after getting her settled with her new family, Marty and I got ready to leave. And then she followed us as we made our way to the front door. I remember sitting in my car and seeing her standing at the glass door watching us. It just about broke my heart and I cried the whole way home. But looking back on it I realize the fact that she wanted to follow “her” humans meant I did what I was supposed to do. I made her trust humans; I let her know people can be kind, unlike the humans from her past; I taught her what being a pet is.

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Cindy was the first of six fosters to date. The stress of the first few days with each foster always makes me question why I do it but then after we settle in a new routine, I wonder why I ever questioned my decision.

The rest of my fosters were equally rewarding:

Clearly I’m more than anxious to foster again but now that I’m living on my own in a teeny, tiny apartment, I need to wait for the right foster. My complex doesn’t allow bulldogs (I got in before that rule was passed, so Lucy is fine but I’m beyond annoyed) so I’ll have to wait for a pug or Boston from SNORT. I work further from home than at my previous job which is a negative but I do have weekends free so I know I can make it work. I won’t pretend it will be easy to foster and be in charge of the care for two dogs but I really need to foster again. I have a few hobbies but NONE bring me this level of fulfillment.

One-Year Adoptiversary

Guess what happened one year ago today? Snowy (now Violet) was adopted!
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I simply cannot believe it’s been one year! Some days it seems like just yesterday she and Lucy were snuggling on the couch and in other ways it’s sometimes hard to remember the specifics of day-to-day life with Snowy. I do know for sure that she was one of our most fun and sweet fosters and I miss her every single day.

I mean, come on, does it get any sweeter?

I mean, come on, does it get any sweeter?

Snowy/Violet and Cindy (now Nellie), our first foster, were both puppy mill dogs. Snowy was a few years younger than Cindy but still had had more than a handful of litters. Unlike Cindy, though, she was in much better physical shape. Her eyes were not good, her skin needed some TLC and she had entropian surgery several months after I got her, but for the most part everything was fixable (and thank goodness her cancer scare was just that – a scare!). Her joints were really good for a bulldog, she had no breathing issues and had (and still has, I’m sure) energy to spare, at least for a bulldog.

She loved being outside.

She loved being outside.

In contrast to Cindy:

Those joints and that back sway always looked so painful.

Those joints and that back sway always looked so painful.

Of all our fosters, Lucy was definitely closest to Snowy. Cindy tended to get a bit cantankerous with Lucy from time to time (don’t get me wrong, they snuggled and got along 99% of the time but Cindy had no issues letting Lucy know when she wanted to be left alone 🙂 ) and while Buddy and Lucy were great together, I think sometimes Buddy’s energy got to Lucy. Snowy, though? There were never two better buddies.

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They loved each other so much.

They loved each other so much.

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People always ask me how I can stand to give up my fosters. I’ve written about this on more than one occasion but there are several reasons, the first being money. SNORT features all short-nosed dogs (hence the name, Short-Nosed Only Rescue Team) and more often than not, short-nosed dogs have health concerns and/or are high-maintenance starting at a young age. In short (no pun intended), they are expensive dogs to own and neither Marty nor I are in lucrative careers.

The second reason is that I love fostering. If we owned a larger house and had more regular schedules (and a larger income), perhaps we could have more than two dogs at a time which would allow us to adopt another dog and still continue fostering. Unfortunately, our apartment is not big and two dogs are our limit; therefore, if we kept any of our fosters, we’d have no means to continue fostering and that is something I definitely want to continue doing.

That doesn’t mean that seeing a foster adopted isn’t hard; it is really hard. All of our fosters have been with us for a minimum of three months so we obviously get really attached. And for the most part Lucy gets attached, too, with the exception of Isaac (she is SO done with him!). Therefore, it’s very emotionally difficult and draining to see them go. But every single foster we’ve had has gone onto the most perfect of forever homes. Honestly, these dogs are far better off in the long run in their current forever homes and that’s the whole point of fostering.

Thus, it’s comforting on anniversaries like this to look back on our time with each foster while also being so thankful they moved onto perfect forever homes. We miss you, Violet!

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Happy Five Months?

Can you believe we’ve had Isaac for five months already??

One of the first photos I ever took of him. And still one of my favorites.

One of the first photos I ever took of him. And still one of my favorites.

I, for one, cannot believe it’s been five months. Despite him not being our easiest foster (due to his determination to dominate Lucy), these past five months have flown by. We’ve now had him for nearly as long as we had Snowy and just one month less than we had Cindy, who has been our longest foster to date.

What’s different about Isaac is that for the majority of these past five months, he’s been healthy, which most certainly was not the case for our other long-term fosters. (I consider Buddy a “quick” foster because we only had him three months but even he had a host of health concerns). Isaac’s missing fur on his sides was not deemed to be caused by anything significant and his thyroid levels returned to normal really quickly once he was put on medication, which he no longer has to take.

So for five months we’ve enjoyed a healthy and fun second dog – certainly a change with no surgeries, medications, etc. to worry about. But that also means that for five months this perfectly healthy and handsome dog has been searching for his forever home and has yet to find it. Five months of his life that weren’t spent with his perfect family.

The longer we have him, the more I fall in love with him. Partly because it’s pretty obvious he also loves me, not to sound too self-centered. But he follows me pretty much everywhere and Marty says that every morning after his breakfast, he stares at the garage door waiting for me to get home from CrossFit. I can’t tell you how great of a feeling it is to have such unconditional love! I don’t even get that from Marty 🙂

A very, very common sight when I'm home.

A very, very common sight when I’m home.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that if he got along with Lucy we’d keep him, especially since he’s not getting any adoption applications. He is such a fun, healthy and active dog. But he doesn’t get along with Lucy, even though he probably thinks he does. She is getting very aggravated (as are we) with his persistent humping and let’s face it – he’s not getting any smaller and she’s not getting any bigger, so he will always win.

While it is possible to teach an “old” dog new tricks, it certainly isn’t a guarantee. Isaac’s learned “sit,” “down,” “touch” (i.e. “come”) but try to teach him not to hump Lucy? So far an utter failure.

I know Isaac’s perfect home is out there – a dog-free home with plenty of open space for walks and running (he loves running through the park next door to us) and maybe even kids; he’d be fabulous with kids. I’m sure people are turned off by his age (8 1/2) but I’m not exaggerating when I say he has the energy of a two-year-old dog, if not younger.

Hang in there, Isaac. We’ll find your forever family soon!

ALWAYS happy. Except when I cut our walks short.

ALWAYS happy. Except when I cut our walks short.

Resolutions…2015 Version

I know, it is isn’t even Christmas yet and I’m already talking about New Year’s resolutions. I honestly don’t know why I bother to make them because, like almost everyone else in the world, I never follow through. For instance, here were last year’s resolutions:

1. Find Snowy her perfect forever home – DONE

Violet (aka Snowy) and her sisters in her forever home.

Violet (Right) (aka Snowy) and her sisters in her forever home.

2. Budget money so we can juggle Lucy, her constant vet visits and any other potential future fosters – Not so much. I definitely paid more attention to my money and where it was going and we were able to afford what Lucy needed, but I definitely didn’t save as much as I wanted.

3. Continue to work on my patience when it comes to Lucy and her stubbornness – Again, not so much. I mean, I guess I worked on my patience but without any actual improvement.

"Keep working on that patience, Mom."

“Keep working on that patience, Mom.”

4. Take the dog(s) for at least six walks a week; we all need to watch our weight and Lucy always has energy to burn off! – Sort of? Since getting Isaac in August we’ve walked at least 14 times a week and same when we had Buddy, but Lucy has definitely not gotten as many walks as she needs. And now she’s fat(ter).

Buddy, always up for a walk.

Buddy, always up for a walk.

One out of four. Pathetic.

I have a lot of non-dog resolutions rattling around in my brain for the upcoming year but this is a dog blog. So in keeping with that theme, here are the resolutions I will make and may or may not achieve:

1. Shift into a career that allows me a more “regular” schedule to continue fostering and allow me to help SNORT in more ways than I am currently able.
2. Keep on top of cleaning! That means vacuuming, dusting and even just keeping the dogs themselves cleaner (wiping paws, more baths, etc.).
3. Continue fostering.

That’s it. Not exciting but with effort, all three are doable.

Birthday Weekend

This weekend I turned 30. I never wanted to be one of those women who hated getting older. But I kind of am. I think it’s mostly because I’m not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I thought I’d be married. I thought I’d own a home. I thought I’d have kids. I thought I’d be in my forever job. I’m 0-for-4. Not exactly a stellar batting average.

Now, it’s not like I haven’t accomplished anything or even have any real room for complaints. Life’s been pretty good. I just think it could be better. Fortunately I have the important things – family, friends, Lucy, a job, a home, etc. Looking forward to the next decade. Sort of.

Anyway, we had a very low-key weekend, which was perfect. I even busted out the “real” camera today to snap a few pics of Lucy now that’s she’s feeling better (thanks to everyone for the well wishes, by the way!).

Her favorite stick.

Her favorite stick.

She has ups for a bulldog.

She has ups for a bulldog.

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Concentration.

Concentration.

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A man and his dog.

A man and his dog.

I even found this picture of Buddy left on the camera. What a cutie.

His sun spot at my parents' house.

His sun spot at my parents’ house.

So, a great weekend if we can just forget about the whole 30 thing. 🙂

Buddy Found His Forever Home

This evening I dropped Buddy off at his forever home.

Sebastian (L) and Buddy (R)

Sebastian (L) and Buddy (R)

As is the norm, I didn’t say much of anything leading up to his adoption because until the foster dogs are actually in their homes, I don’t like to count my chickens before they’ve hatched!

On the way to meet his family!

On the way to meet his family!

Buddy is a very lucky boy, though. His family actually lives in the same town as us! I know, the odds of that are practically zero because I live in the middle of nowhere, but he is literally a 90-second drive away. His family is also a “pug family.” Their current pug, Sebastian, is a 10-year-old rescue pug (and looks like Buddy’s dad!). Their previous pug (I think her name was Sassy) recently passed away and the family was looking for a buddy for Sebastian. So Buddy will now be Sebastian’s buddy!

Like I did with Snowy, I wanted to make a list of sorts about what I want to remember about Buddy:

– He is a Velcro pug. Wherever we (Marty and me) were, so was Buddy.

It's my bed but it's Buddy's world.

It’s my bed but it’s Buddy’s world.

– He LOVES his walks. At least twice a day I took Buddy for a walk. I’m going to gain approximately 10 pounds now that he’s gone.

Always up for a walk.

Always up for a walk.

– On a similar note, Buddy would only poop on a walk; I think once in the months we had him did he actually poop in our yard.

– Also related, Buddy would spin around and around in a circle, maybe 4-5 times, before pooping. At least he gave us warning. And it was as hilarious as it sounds.

– Buddy was/is a barker. Barks at the TV. Barks at the train that goes by. Barks when no one is paying attention to him. If he were sticking around we’d definitely do some behavior training with him but his new family can now address that issue if it bothers them!

– He and Lucy got along but I wouldn’t call them best buddies. It’s hard to describe. They didn’t not get along and a lot of times they would cuddle. But they also didn’t really play together. It’s almost like they were just aware of each other’s presence and liked having company, but that was as far as it went.

Ok, they were really cute when they cuddled.

Ok, they were really cute when they cuddled.

– Buddy enjoyed car rides but only if he was given free reign of the car, meaning he hated car rides with us because we made him ride in his crate. Otherwise I would have spent every car ride keeping Buddy off my lap while I drove; not safe, not fun.

Buddy looking deceptively happy in his crate; trust me, he was not happy.

Buddy looking deceptively happy in his crate; trust me, he was not happy.

– Buddy’s cough. He sounded like a goose and it was only bad when he got excited. Alarming at first, normal after a while.

– The way he usually left some breakfast or dinner on his chin.

– His sweet, sweet eyes. He really did have the most soulful eyes.

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Man, we’ll definitely miss Buddy. Unlike Cindy and Snowy, he wasn’t a mill dog and knew exactly how to be a pet. He was house-trained, knew what toys and walks were and was used to life in a home. For that reason he was definitely our “easiest” foster but certainly not easy to say good-bye to. I just love his personality and little quirks. I’ll miss his big eyes staring at me when he wanted to be on my lap and I’ll miss having a shadow follow me around the apartment.

I’m going to be a wreck, as usual, for more than a few days. He even tried to run out the door after us when it was time for us to leave. 😦 It’s so sad to say good-bye and I’ll be thinking of how he’s doing every day. Even now I think about Cindy and Snowy just about every day and wonder how they’re doing (even when I know they’re doing spectacularly!).

What next? This time I’m going to try and take a serious break from fostering to make our lives a bit easier for a while but I know we’ll be back at it after not too long!

We’re Exhausted

Phew. What an incredibly fun and incredibly long weekend. As previously mentioned, we left Pennsylvania on Thursday evening for Marty’s triathlon and returned Monday afternoon. We left Lucy and Buddy with my parents which was a bigger help than I can say. Not having to worry about the dogs while we were at Marty’s race made the weekend more relaxing than it otherwise would have been!

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Squished

From what my parents said, the dogs were great. I knew Lucy would be – she knows the rules of my parents’ house (i.e. no couch!) and is always really well behaved. And Buddy was, too. I’m told he and my mom took a LOT of walks!

"Buddy can take all the walks he wants. Leave me out of it."

“Buddy can take all the walks he wants. Leave me out of it.”

Marty raced Ironman 70.3 Eagleman – that would be a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile half-marathon (another reason it’s tough to bring the dogs – it’s a really, really, really long day). While Marty will be the first to tell you he’s not happy with the results, I’m allowed to brag regardless of how he thinks he did; what he puts his body through for months leading up these big races is ridiculous and Sunday’s conditions were less than ideal (it was hot to say the least).

Heading out for a little half marathon after 57.2 miles of biking and swimming.

Heading out for a little half marathon after 57.2 miles of biking and swimming.

While not as stressful as racing, spectating is still really stressful. At this race, the bike and run courses were single loops so I only saw Marty as he was heading out for each – I had no idea what was going on while he was actually on the course which makes me nervous and stressed; add to that the fact that I was on my own with no one to talk to and it makes for a long day!

So, while Marty may not have been satisfied, as always I was just happy he crossed the finish in one piece!

About to cross the finish.

About to cross the finish.

One of Marty’s teammates has a bulldog; while he didn’t bring his bullie to the race, either, we’re hoping for a bullie playdate at a future race! Of course we talked bulldogs after the race and shared the countless photos we all had on our phones. 🙂

Now it’s time for Lucy and Buddy to recover from a long weekend of travel and fun with my parents!

A Weekend with the “Grandparents”

That’s right, Lucy and Buddy are going to enjoy a weekend at the grandparent’s!

"You can just leave us here, we'll be fine."

“You can just leave us here, we’ll be fine.”

Marty competes in triathlons and this weekend is his “big” race of the summer; it’s in Maryland and because it’s his big race (a qualifier for the World Championship Ironman race), we’ll be in Maryland from Friday through the race on Sunday afternoon. We always book a pet-friendly hotel in case we need to travel with our dog(s) but let’s be honest – like with kids, it’s a million times easier to travel sans-pets.

"You saying I'm difficult?"

“You saying I’m difficult?”

If we’re between fosters (or before we started fostering), my parents generally had no issue watching Lucy but it’s a lot to ask of them to babysit two dogs, none of which are their own! So that’s why the other weekend when my dad offered to watch both dogs this coming weekend, I thought he’d done so in a momentary lapse of judgment. But I double-checked with him (and my mother) and they’re on board with dog-sitting both Lucy and Buddy this weekend!

Now, they’ve met Buddy before and my mother in particular adored Buddy so I’m confident things will go well. Marty and I will drive to New Jersey and spend the night on Thursday then leave the dogs with my parents while we make our way to Maryland on Friday morning. Then, after the race on Sunday, we’ll drive back up to New Jersey, spend the night then hit the road for Pennsylvania on Monday morning.

It’s a lot of driving but this allows us to break up the trip a bit, see my family (however briefly) and make our lives a lot easier by not having to travel with Buddy and Lucy. Hopefully it’s a good weekend for everyone!

Oh, and I am not going to get ahead of myself or jinx things, but we’re slowly making progress on Buddy’s adoption process!

Professional Development

I know, two posts in as many days; that’s what the end of the spring sports season will do! Except this post still has a tiny connection to work. See, for the past four years I’ve been accruing professional development money. With budgets increasingly tight, I know that my office is going to have to provide more and more action shots for our sports teams than ever before, in addition to headshots and team shots. So, I thought I’d enroll in an online digital photography course.

And guess who my practice subjects will be?

"Just don't make us move, Mom."

“Just don’t make us move, Mom.”

I have a LOT to learn but it’s been interesting experimenting in shooting outside the auto mode.

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She got bored quickly.

She got bored quickly.

I need to pick a more scenic background next time but I hope to get lots of practice in this weekend seeing as it’s supposed to be nice the rest of the weekend.

"It's hard being me."

“It’s hard being me.”