Stephanie Kocer

Writer. Editor. Vagabond.

Author: Stephanie Kocer

What the Minnesota Vikings Taught Me About Love


On the day I was born my dad brought two kid-sized footballs to the hospital—one red for Ohio State, one purple for Minnesota Vikings—and politely asked the nurse if he could put them next to me in the little plastic box they put you in when you’re minutes old. I guess the nurse said it was OK, because my dad still has the pictures of moments old me next to two footballs slightly bigger than my head. To this day, those little footballs sit on a shelf in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Minnesota.

When I was really young, before my little brother was born, my dad used to dress me up in a mini Ohio State cheerleader uniform on Saturdays, and a Cris Carter jersey on Sundays. We would sit together on the couch and watch the games as he told me things about the players and how the rules worked.

So it seemed fitting that on Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 7:15 p.m. (CT) I was once again sitting on the couch at my parents’ house with my dad watching the Minnesota Vikings about to lose embarrassingly. Again. All my life the Vikings have, for lack of a better phrase, fucked it up. My dad used to talk about this mystical Vikings team from long ago that actually won things, even making it into the Super Bowl four times (losing every time, of course). There have been rumors of curses over the years, and even Brett Favre couldn’t help us. The Vikings have always been down and out. Always. No one believes in us. And that was the feeling in my parents’ basement as we all bowed our heads in silence as the boys lined up for one more play before the clock ran out.

The next 10 seconds, as Paul Allen would say, are Minnesota history.

I’ve truthfully never cried at any sort of sporting event until last Sunday. And I was really trying hard to not let my dad see. For years, he and I have argued about football. I’ve pretended to not really care about football just to get a rise out of him. He gets so annoyed with me, and I don’t blame him. But the truth is, football is so ingrained into my being because of him that I have no other choice but to love it. My dad always says that, “everything you ever need to know about life is on the football field.”

It wasn’t until Diggs crossed into the end zone that I realized my dad has always been, as usual, absolutely right. Continue reading

No Man is a Failure

For as long as I can remember, my mom has always made us watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” the week before Christmas. It’s one of my favorite movies. Who doesn’t love watching Jimmy Stewart discover the real meaning of life with the help of an adorable angel named Clarence?

At the very end of the film Clarence leaves Stewart’s George Bailey a note in his old copy of “Tom Sawyer,” saying “No man is a failure who has friends.” It’s meant to sum up the lesson of the film, but my family has always used the line to remind each other, at any time of year, that the love of family and friends makes you rich.

This December as I turn 25 I’ve been reminding myself of Clarence’s words. A year ago I was in a very different place than I am now. I was struggling with a lot of things in my life and as a result I alienated friends and family. I had gone through a terrible break-up that left me confused about who I was. It took a lot of work and self-reflection to get past that period. Throughout the spring and summer I began to feel better and was feeling happiness again. Then, I started dating someone new. This new guy was perfect in a lot of ways. He was smart, sweet, and fun and we had a lot in common. He never made me feel unsure of myself. He was good to me and made me feel safe. Every moment I spent with him I felt my confidence coming back. Although I don’t believe that a woman has to have a man to make her feel complete, in a lot of ways he helped me return to my old self. Everyone in my life commented on how happy I was. They were excited for me. And I was very happy.

We broke up last week. There are many reasons why a December birthday is awesome (decorations, sharing a birthday month with Jesus, etc.), but it’s not the most ideal time for that all too real phenomenon of the holidays that makes you face the reality of a relationship. Maybe it’s the present thing. It’s a dilemma for couples who haven’t gone through the holidays together yet, and unfortunately, our problem was that one of us was fully ready to get the other person gifts, while they panicked.

This break-up is different than my last one, though. For one, in the end it was pretty mutual. I love and respect this guy so very much, but there were a lot of things working against us. We were trying to do long-distance, living nearly four hours apart. And as great of a guy as he is, he has a lot of things he has to figure out before he can truly commit to someone and it wasn’t fair to me to have to wait around for him to figure it out, especially when it seems like there’s a good chance he never will. Continue reading

When I Talk About It

I believe that true love lasts a lifetime. There are only a few things I’ve been in love with my whole life:

  • Pizza
  • Christmas Lights
  • My dog
  • The Lion King
  • Flannel
  • … and Dave Grohl

I know that’s not an original opinion. Everyone loves Dave Grohl. But I feel like I have a little more street cred now that I’ve see Foo Fighters live.

They came to Des Moines last week. I’d been looking forward to the show for months, and I’d always imagined that a Foo Fighters show would be really grand, but also humble. After all, they’re not Taylor Swift. They’ve still got plenty of class left after 22 years.

Twenty-two years. That’s how long Foo has been a band. And last Friday was the first time they had ever come to Des Moines, maybe even Iowa. So needless to say, the over 14,000 people that were in the arena with us were excited. And there’s nothing better than a crowd with that much energy. But we also all knew from the moment the set started that something was a little off, even if we had never seen them live before.

Dave didn’t seem like Dave. Or rather, Dave didn’t sound like Dave. It took only four songs into the set before he addressed the issue. His voice was hoarse. From a cold or from touring, who knows. But in true Dave fashion he wasn’t going to cancel the band’s first-ever Des Moines show. “I don’t know if you remember but I’m the guy that broke his fucking leg and continued playing a show. So there’s no fucking way I’m canceling this show because my fucking voice is hoarse.”

If that isn’t the most Foo Fighters thing to happen, then I don’t know what is. And my fan girl heart was happy. And it was even happier when Dave said Taylor Hawkins was the “love of his life.” God bless.

I also believe that music is true love.

What Doesn’t Kill You, Only Makes You Blonder

I met my best friend Audrey when we were in second grade. A lot of things about being in second grade are fuzzy now, but I remember that day so perfectly in my mind.

I was in the parking lot of our Catholic school at recess playing with a classmate that will remain unnamed. If memory serves me correctly, she was trying to convince me to follow her around and perform random tasks for her. Why is that always a stage kids go through? Just like adult Steph, little second grade Steph was not happy about being pushed around. Unlike adult Steph, second grade Steph was painfully shy and afraid to stand up for herself. Lucky for her, Audrey was not far away, observing what was happening. She marched up to me and the classmate and said to me, “you know you don’t have to do what she says if you don’t want to?”

I was shocked! You mean to tell me I didn’t have to do everything someone told me to do? I could have my own opinions on a situation? I could say no to something? I grew up with very strict parents who made me deathly afraid of getting in any sort of trouble. My job was to be quiet and do whatever was asked of me.

Audrey changed my world that day. She asked me if I wanted to come play with her. We sat and talked while we watched all the silly boys in our class play football on the pavement. We hung out the next day at recess and started eating lunch together every day.

The rest is history, I guess. We lived through the hell that was high school together and went to separate colleges, but always remained just as close. I didn’t realize until this last year that Audrey taught me how to be myself. When we were little she was never afraid to say what she was thinking. She always stood up for herself, whatever the cost. She would always tell me to not be afraid to be myself. “Who cares what other people think,” she would ask. “Your happiness is more important.”

Over the years I went from shy little second grader to the girl that recently got into a fight with the older woman in a box office over will call tickets. (I take tickets very seriously.) Sometimes when I’m in a situation where I need to be strong-willed I ask myself what Audrey would do. How would she stick up for herself?

Finding my voice hasn’t always been easy. But I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who has always loved me for who I am and has challenged me to become a stronger person. The last few years of my adult life have been a real rollercoaster. I’ve made major career changes, big apartment moves, bought a new car, and had my heart broken by a boy. That last one is something I have a really hard time admitting to. It took me a year to get over him and before I did I was in some really dark places. But, the light at the end of my tunnel was my friends and family. They vigilantly watched me, took care of me, and got me help. At all hours of the night when I couldn’t sleep or when I was at work feeling like I might have a mental breakdown, Audrey was always just a phone call or text away. She would listen patiently and always tell me, “we’re going to get through this.”

And then I got the call. Continue reading

A Little Patience

I make my best decisions on impulse. Less thinking, more doing. If I have to think too long about something then it’s probably not worth it in the end. Not every impulsive decision I’ve ever made has turned out the best, though. Shocking, right?

Case in point; I recently moved apartments. I had been hoping for a while this past year to move into a new place. There was nothing wrong with my old apartment. It was in a good neighborhood with good neighbors. I had a nice big bedroom with lots of closet space and a kitchen that was functional. It wasn’t anything fancy and it kind of looked like it was straight out of 1964, but I was comfortable there. At the same time, though, I had this feeling of needing to move on. I had lived a lot of life in that apartment and it felt like I needed a new space to make home. A place that felt more like me.

One of my goals for 2017 was to be a better me. I know myself better than anyone and due to events in my life I felt like I was losing touch with the type of person I want to live my life as. So I started apartment hunting. I didn’t find anything at first that I really liked. I also had a budget I needed to stick to. Then my coworker showed me an opening at an apartment building close to downtown that I fell in love with immediately. It was in a good location and it was affordable. I called the property management and was able to tour the building right away. The place was old. Like, old. Probably built in the 20’s or 30’s, it was as gorgeous at it was dirty. It had original everything and that creepy yet satisfying old carpet smell. The entry way had marble floors and old-timey mailboxes that looked like something Carrie Bradshaw would definitely approve of. Sure, the place could have used some upkeep, like maybe sweeping the back steps once in a while and getting new windows in the hallways so Hector can’t easily get in and perch for his afternoon nap. But all in all the building was cool.  Continue reading

Record Year

I’ve been a liar my whole life.

You see, I have this secret that I’ve been trying to keep hidden since I was seven. A secret that, if exposed, would definitely hurt my street cred. But there gets to be a point when you have to let some things go. If there’s one thing this last year of heartbreak has taught me, it’s that you have to stop making excuses for the things and people you can’t change. So I’ve decided that it’s time to tell my secret.

It’s common for people to ask me what the first album I ever owned as a kid was. I pride myself on being a music savant and I feel like I get asked that a lot because people are trying to test me. Am I really who I say I am? My answer has always been standard: Bon Jovi’s “Crush” album. In hindsight, that answer is a little embarrassing for other reasons, but at least it fit with my brand. Too bad it’s not true.

I first fell in love with popular music when I was seven. But it wasn’t “It’s My Life” that did it for me, although it served as a close second. My mom wouldn’t allow me to listen to Britney Spears or NSYNC just in case it caused me to be a midriff bearing teen in later years. Her solution was to instead offer me her approved list of music, which included, but was not limited to things like: Aerosmith, Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Allman Brothers Band, and Meet Loaf. Because if I was going to run around the house singing “Satisfaction” it was damn well going to be the original version remastered and not Britney’s re-imagining. Continue reading

(Just Like) Starting Over

My goal after graduating college was to be like everyone else; appear to have my life together. It wasn’t until after college that I realized nobody in their 20s has anything together.

I used to tell myself that if I got a cool job then everything else would fall into place. I have a cool job now. Or, at least a job that I enjoy on most days. And yet, the last year of my life has been a shambly mess. It seemed like the more I succeeded in my professional life the more my personal life fell apart.

Of course, those two pieces of me aren’t necessarily always related, nor do they have to be. And I suspect that I threw myself into my work life because I felt so hallow and empty in my personal life.

It’s funny. A year ago I would have shamed myself for the next thing I’m about to say, which just goes to show how much I’ve changed. All of this restlessness started with a boy.

Gross, right? I have never been the girl to let a guy get the best of her. I let my guard down for a minute and let one in. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting a guy in, either. Sometimes it comes with wonderful results. I just made the mistake of letting a bad one in. A really bad one. I knew from the moment I met him that I was going to get crushed. And I let myself fall anyway. And when he decided I couldn’t live in his world, well, I unraveled.

I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I started drinking too much. I lashed out at friends and family. And worst, I stopped writing.

It took me a long time to snap out of whatever spell I was under. And I’m strong enough now to admit that I still have bad days. Slowly, though, I’m making my way back. There’s so much to my story, but for now I’ll just say that asking for help is never a sign of weakness. And so, I found some help and tried to focus on how to be me again. Continue reading

New Season Brings Adventure


I’m very happy to say that since April I’ve been working for Special Olympics Iowa as their Marketing and Communications Manager. I get to edit the website, write articles and press releases, talk to media, and run social media. It’s a dream job for me, but one that I never saw coming.

Those who know me know I’m not always the most warm and cuddly person. I certainly don’t like organized group activities or even the idea of fundraising. And yet, here I am. Working for a nonprofit and somehow feeling a strange sense of determination and purpose.

This new role has brought new challenges and stresses to my life. It’s a 9 to 5 job, but not always in the traditional sense. Last weekend we held our annual state Summer Games. Since I’m the new kid in the office I had just over a month to prepare all of my small parts that make this very large, very important event function. I brought work home with me every night. I replied to important emails after 9 p.m. I even got a text from our CEO after midnight once because that’s just how hard everyone works. Continue reading

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