Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Building a Wall Around My Bubble


As things have increasingly heated up over the last couple weeks, I've found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with information, with emotions, with uncertainty.  At times I'm overwhelmed with disbelief and even anxiety.  But above all of these things, I'm totally and completely overwhelmed with negativity.

And that is going stop.  Now.

At the risk of coming across as too apathetic, I'll admit that I tend to live my life inside a comfortable and selectively clueless bubble.  My bubble is filled with family, friends, and community.  Inside of it I teach my children to be good people.  I partner with a man who makes me feel like we can move mountains together. I strive to be the best me I can possibly be. I make goals and work hard to achieve them.  I share myself openly with those I like, care about, and love.  Lately, though, my cozy little bubble feels at risk for popping.  And I'm not willing to let that happen.

So I'm going to build a wall around my bubble.

I make no outlandish claims that someone else is going to erect this wall for me. But build it, I will.

And the only "immigrants" I will defend against at my borders are hate, overreaching power, reversal of hard fought progress, division, and this ceaseless stream of negativity that threatens to terrorize us all.

I have work to do.  I have boys to raise.  A marriage to nourish.  A business to build.  Friendships to foster and tend.  I refuse to set these things aside and tread water in this vicious, turbulent sea of uncertainty.

I will rise above it.  I will continue working hard.  I will never give up on my dreams. I will keep an open heart and lend a helping hand. I will be positive and self reliant and strong.

In short, I will be AMERICAN.

So maybe I won't build that wall after all.  I don't believe it will help anything anyway.  I'll just let my bubble do what it does best...float up, up and away from it all.

IMAGE CREDIT: weknowyourdreams.com

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Case for a Crazy Christmas


I don't know what to say, except that it's Christmas and we're all in misery. 
-Ellen Griswald

Lately I’ve seen an article here or there making the case for a cozy little Christmas at home with just the immediate family gathered round.  And I totally get it. The absence of busy airports or crabby kids on a long car ride, the avoidance of days of packing to go and days unpacking to get resettled at home, the potential for sleepless nights with kiddos not tucked into their own beds, and a litany of other headache inducing drama that goes hand in hand with a Christmas that involves extended family.  Not having to deal with all that and more has big appeal.  
But here’s the deal for me and mine.  Christmas just isn't Christmas without all that. We’ve committed to spending Christmas with our extended family as long as possible, even though it’s sometimes outrageously difficult.  Here’s why. 

  • For us, part of what is fun about the holidays is we relax and I don’t mean we sit with our feet propped up.  We ease up on rules, we don’t fret about precisely implemented nap and bedtime schedules, and we let them eat dessert for basically every meal.  It’s hard to be that loose at home.  
  • Being surrounded by a bunch of adults who love your children and have a familial responsibility for their welfare allows you and your partner to actually relax, feet propped up and all, for a while. Maybe you can even get out for a date without paid childcare, even if it is only to a dinky theater an hour away with a screen scarcely bigger than your living room set. 
  • I’m paying it forward.  I’m making big deposits into the grandparent karma account in the hopes that when my kids are grown with children of their own, they will choose to spend their holidays with us.  Tenuous I know, but can’t hurt to try.
  • Obviously you’ve seen Christmas Vacation.  Being one of my all time favorite movies ever, I just have to insert some of that Griswald-esque mayhem into my family Christmas or it falls a little flat for me.  I’m just that kind of crazy.
  • Our family is full of storytellers.  Yes, I’ve heard some of the same stories too many times to count, but it is in the retelling that we feel connected as a family, that our children learn about those that came before them, and we internalize our place in this wide wide world.  Many hours of our holidays are spent telling and listening to stories and we only get that when we gather round those that lived to tell them.
  • I grew up thousands of miles away from my extended family.  I had a very limited relationship with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  I promised myself that my kids would have what I didn’t and with Christmas, I’m making good on that promise.
  • Finally and most importantly, we won’t have the chance to be with these loved ones forever.  As someone who has experienced the loss of a beloved parent I know first hand the very real value of spending every bit of time together that you can.  If we are fortunate, we will have many Christmas’s to come as an immediate family unit after they are no longer here to enjoy it with us.  Until then, they can count on us at Christmas.  
Image Credit: Me

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Open Letter to My Baby Maker


Dear Reproductive System,

It's been a long, exciting, and sometimes nail biting ride but like a teenager that's tapped into her second bottle of Boone's Farm, I'm sorry to say it's time to cut you off.  Before heading into surgery bright and early tomorrow morning, I wanted to take a minute to properly acknowledge your contributions.  

To my ovaries, I want to say thank you for producing healthy, viable, single eggs each month with the precision of an expensive Swiss timepiece.  Two of those lucky eggs, thankfully 36 cycles apart, met up with some fantastic sperm friends and resulted in the finest baby boys a parent could dream to create.  And though you may continue dutifully to push those eggs out onto their yellow brick road to a new world, I'm afraid to say that henceforth, they will be met with a road block too perfectly engineered to subvert.  

To my uterus, it's been an honor.  I felt merely a bystander as you grew to such astonishing size while safely housing growing humans and the organ that nurtured them for 40 awe inspiring weeks, not once but twice.  I was equally as dumbstruck with the speed in which you contracted back to a pretty much normal size in the weeks following your inhabitants ejections.  I wish I could say the same for the flesh surrounding you.  

Sweet, circular cervix, thank you for opening up and accepting the outsiders that combined with our eggs in order to spark a new life on two earth shattering occasions.  It would have been nice if you'd been a bit more of a team player that first time around with dilation and all but who's keeping score?  You were a pin hole and became a turtle neck.  I couldn't ask for anything more.

Finally, fallopian tubes, your smooth and straight path made it all possible.  Without your easily navigable and wide open roads, those tiny balls of female DNA would never have partnered up with those microscopic tadpoles and I'd be sleeping in on Saturdays.  Tomorrow morning, you're going under construction, never to be opened for traffic again.  

We've been a remarkable team in this thing called creating life.  Thanks for all the hard and noble work.  Moving forward, I will rejoice in foot loose and fancy free sexual contact with my spouse, free from ovulation imposed limitations.  

In the seven minutes we have to spare, we will let it rip and never ever again pee on a stick!  

Hasta la vista,
The Rest of Me

IMAGE CREDIT: Me

Friday, October 14, 2016

In the Wake of Pussygate


First of all, this is not a sob story.  I'm not asking for sympathy or support.  This is simply a sharing of my experiences.

I find myself stunned to admit that a certain Republican presidential candidate has managed to inspire me.  Recent political bombshells have prompted thousands of women to open up and speak out.  So scratch that.  It is not him or his actions.  It's the responses of the women that are inspirational and inspiring.  I want to count myself among them and add my voice to our collective uncovering.

And why shouldn't I?  If you believe the statistics, as many as 1 in 5 women experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime.  But how can you believe any stats on this subject when there is so much shame, retaliation, and fear wrapped up in all this?  Women don't report at all or are not taken seriously when they do and worst of all, we as an entire society do not view many of these assaults as actual crimes or real problems.

Regardless of what the laws say, I don't think we collectively agree on what sexual assault even means.  When does it become an assault?  When does the line get crossed?  We have this boys will be boys, men will will be men mentality that has fostered a culture of quiet, shame, and ambiguity on the subject.  But the events of the last week have made one thing crystal clear.  We have to open up.  We must stop being quiet.

Cultural shifts happen slowly over time as attitudes, actions, and perceptions change.  In an effort to contribute positively to that change, I want to throw my hat in the public ring.  I have a story, too.  A few, actually.

Like most women, I cannot even recall or count the number of times someone has groped my ass or my breast in public as I walked through a crowd.  I cannot even recall or count the number of times someone made me feel like I should be thankful for their unwanted advances because of who they were or the position they held.   I cannot even recall or count the number of times totally inappropriate language, gestures, or attention has been given to me that I did not want, ask for, or condone.  In many such instances I was called a bitch or a cunt for daring to deny someone their will with me.  I can recall, however, that I've never been grabbed by the pussy, so I guess I should consider myself lucky.

We had a neighbor who lived across the street from us who was much older than my brother and me but he would come over all the same.  He liked to play steam roller where we'd lay down and he'd roll himself across the bed until he'd roll right over me.  But he'd stay on top of me for too long.  I didn't even realize it was sexual until much, much later in life.

I was 6 years old.

I was asleep in my room and was woken up to someone's hands under my shirt.  The hands then moved into my pants.  I sat up and that someone scurried off.  It was a friend of my brother's who was spending the night.  He never spent the night again.  And they are not friends.

I was 9 years old.

A few of us worked at a local video store, our first ever real jobs.  The owner only hired teenage girls.  He would move past you from behind and get a little too close to you for comfort.  He'd linger.  He'd press.  He'd breathe.  Rumor had it that he sometimes offered money in exchange for watching him masturbate.  He never propositioned me for that but I heard first hand accounts from others who had.

I was 15 years old.

I came home from college for the weekend as I often did my first year.  I went out drinking with friends.  I woke up with a guy I barely knew on top of me in the cab of his pick up truck.  I was saying no.  He wasn't listening.  The next day I was made fun of for "hooking up" with a younger guy.  Apparently it didn't take long for him to start bragging about his conquest.  I felt so ashamed and confused that I couldn't defend myself.  I couldn't tell them that actually I'm pretty sure what he did was drug me and screw my completely unaware and nonparticipating body.  I couldn't use the right words.  I can't even today.  There is still some part of me that wonders if I asked for it.

I was 19 years old.

So there it is.  All out there in the open.

And I am not ashamed.

And I am not to blame.

And I am most definitely not alone.

In this dark and dreary political cycle, let's realize a silver lining.  Let's normalize open discussion.  It is the acts of aggression themselves that should be abnormal, not the discussion of them.

Image credit: Me

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Smooth(er) Sailing

                                                    
                                                    
365 days, countless crying episodes, hours and hours and hours of reflection, thousands of words written and a few thousand more spoken, hundreds of hugs given, and yes, about a million beers ago, my dad died.  I can't believe it's been an entire year.  But as my brother said this morning, I can't believe it's ONLY been a year.  It seems like a different life.

I expected this to be a long, emotional trip around the sun and it certainly lived up to that expectation. In a major way.  What I didn't expect were a multitude of silver linings.  As I find myself a lot less rough around the edges than I was when this journey began, I'm able to see the
 bright side more clearly.

I grew to appreciate my children even more than before as their light and joy brought me comfort and happiness, even on my saddest days.

I gained a much deeper understanding of the human experience through the illness, death, and grief I experienced front and center.

New relationships began that continue today and I realized a strengthening of bonds with those whom I thought I couldn't become more closely attached.

I feel certain that I can handle just about anything life throws my way because I handled this.  I didn't do it gracefully.  I didn't do it with ease.  But I did it.  I survived it.

In short, losing my Dad has been the absolute worst but hey, at least it made me into a more capable, understanding, connected and evolved human being.

You know, like being WITH HIM always did.

Of course, I miss him and I always and forever will but I can look at his picture and smile.  I can think about him and laugh.  I can tell my new friends that I used to have this really amazing father but he's gone.  And I can TELL them that, with actual words from my mouth that don't turn into an ugly cry.

I still go to call him sometimes.  Only for a fraction of a second but it's enough.  Enough to register how much it sucks that I can't.

If I could call him, after we lamented the Longhorns' loss last weekend, I'd be telling him all about our new house.  He'd have come for a visit and walked every square inch, analyzing and taking it in, appreciating every corner, and telling me later in a handwritten card that he absolutely loved our home and that he can't wait to see what we do with it.

If he were still here, he'd listen closely to my worries about venturing into business for myself and provide calm and sure advise and encouragement that would leave me feeling more confident and sure that I was able.  He would lift me up and I would rise to his expectation.

If he could read my words, he would be my biggest fan.  He'd tell me to keep it up...that I have always had a knack for this but I'm getting better with age and experience.  But he'd also tell me to stop harping on all this grief stuff and get back to being funny already.

If I could see him, he'd smile and hug and kiss me and pat my husband on the back.  He'd high five my little guys and he'd listen as I bragged about them.  He'd be patient and kind with them but he wouldn't take any shit either, in a diaper or otherwise.

This has been one hell of a year and it is one that I will always look back on with amazement.  Can't believe I got through it.  Can't believe how low I got.  Blown away by the love and support we received from so many people.  Astonished by how many lives he touched and how deeply he impacted this world from a little Texas town.  The pride I feel for him is overwhelming.  The gratitude.  The humor.  The light.

He burned so damn bright.

After a year of being without him, I can honestly say that I'm finally feeling a little less jagged.  My heart is not so broken.  My soul is not so searching.  I'm smoother.  Stronger.  More able.  Less fragile.

And it's all because of him.

A couple of weeks ago our nearly five year old randomly turned to me in the kitchen and said, "Do you remember when Grampa had that cancer?"

I couldn't help but laugh.  Yea...I remember something about that.

He then launched into a story about some PopTarts he shared with his cousins when we were living there.  In his mind, the experiences were inseparable.

The grave matched seamlessly with the mundane.  The tragic with simply joys.  Something that meant everything with something that meant nothing.

Like life itself.

I'm getting more comfortable in this life without him and am even beginning to appreciate the majorly positive ways the loss has impacted my life.  Of course, I'd still rather he be here, but I'm feeling less jagged without him and the road ahead looks smooth.




Friday, August 19, 2016

Cheater


As I packed up our home, box by box I stayed calm.  I never felt antsy.  I never cried.  I didn't even feel particularly stressed out.  

As I spent a sunny day and late night with my best friends, ladies I would no longer have at my fingertips, my eyes stayed dry and I felt at ease.  Even as we pulled away and headed north to our next chapter, not a single tear fell.  

I kept telling my husband, I feel like I'm cheating.  

Normally I would be crying.  Normally I would be stressing.  Normally I would be a hot steaming mess of emotions.  

But I wasn’t.  

Rewind about two months prior.  

The scene around me was entirely different. Nothing particularly stressful would happen, but yet I would be tight chested, explosive, consumed by this panicky feeling.  I was STILL crying at the drop of a hat, very frequently, even though Dad had been gone for nine months by then. Physically I felt exhausted, despite my regular exercise, very early bedtime, and healthy diet.  

I chocked it up to ongoing grief that was exacerbated by a combination of other life changes and stress.  I assumed it was a normal human reaction to an unordinary combination of factors. Wrapping up Dad's estate, selling his house, buying one in our new city, selling the one we lived in, keeping our house show ready with two boys and two dogs, vacating it daily to let people look at it, regular crazy parenting stuff, preparing for a move, preparing to leave my friends and family and go to a place where I have virtually no one…it’s enough to make anyone certifiable, right?

Turns out maybe, but maybe not.  

I was having a really hard time sleeping in general but one week I suffered through two nights of having barely any sleep at all.  I mean, I got MAYBE two hours the entire night.  When the boys would wake and I would have to be on point, exhausted or not, I felt like absolute dog shit.

That was my turning point.  With a pounding head and scratchy chest and baggy eyes and heavy heart I came to accept that although my reaction may well be perfectly human and normal, I needed help. 
Professional medical help.  Immediately, if not sooner.  

This was major for me because typically, I would just buck up and carry on.  That is my way.  It is my mother's way.  It was my father's way.  It was the only way I knew.  

But I also knew that my boys deserved a healthier, more able mother. That my husband deserved a wife who was more interested, less aggressive, and capable of being his partner in this.  That this was temporary and I just needed a crutch to get through this time. I just needed to get through this period with my sanity intact and I could worry about walking on my own two feet later.  

Just having that first appointment booked made me breathe easier.  After going through that first appointment, I left feeling kind of shocked, quite relieved, and something I hadn’t felt in a while…optimistic.   

I held three prescriptions in my hand and a depression coupled with general anxiety diagnosis in my head.  

Depressed? Humph.  Anxious?  Duh.  But depressed?  I was truly surprised.  

I’m down to just two mediations now.  My sleep is very much back on track so I don’t need support there.  And I’ll be phasing out the anxiety medication soon.  But I think I’ll stick with the ol’ antidepressant for a while longer.  Now that I’m thinking more clearly the diagnosis is not all that surprising. 

My friend came to help me pack some things and to let our boys play one last time in our house just down the way from them.  She asked how I was feeling, how I was handling.  She’s known me forever.  She knows what she would normally expect to see.  I shrugged.  I told her , “I don’t know how I am.  I’m on drugs.”

And the drugs are working.  

Even though they make me not cry.  

So I feel like I’m cheating. 

Image Credit: www.wileyspharmacy.com

Thursday, July 28, 2016

You call that a vacation?!


When we told people that we were planning a two week adventure in Peru with our little ones we received many reactions.  All of them were strong; few of them were positive.  One person actually said, "what are you thinking?!" We knew we were taking on a challenge dragging our not yet 5 and 2 year old sons with us but we were certain we were up for it.

Much like parenthood itself, a trip of this magnitude with your kids is not something you can completely prepare yourself for; you just have to jump in and figure it out as you go along.  And although we questioned our decision to bring them along (and hell, even give birth to them at all) many, many times on the trip we experienced just as many awesomely high moments that absolutely would not have happened if they weren't there with us.

For all those brave (or delusional) parents out there with an itch for adventure (or those who just want to laugh at our folly) here's some totally candid advice based on what it is really like out there in the great wide world.

When planning the trip, pair it down to essential destinations and then make at least one more cut.  When my husband and I take a big trip we go balls to the walls cramming as much in in the time we have.  It should go without saying that you can't do that with littles.  We chose three major destinations and even that turned out to be pretty damn ambitious.  In total we took four flights, three train trips, and one road trip to make that happen.  That's enough to make most adults motion sick.

You should throw several things out of your mind and out of your pile of luggage.  Your kids' schedule is gone.  Forget about it.  They will stay up until 11 and may only nap in your arms on a bumpy bus winding up an impossibly skinny mountain road.  You can also leave the travel crib at home.  Everyone will pile in bed together and if you think you're going to stop it, you're wrong.  Family bed will be in full effect.  Which leads to another thing you should pretty much forget about.  Sex?  Not happening.  Or at least not much.  Plan to get busy in the bathroom.

I thought I was overdoing it when I realized I had three toiletry bags full, and I mean zippers bulging full, of every medicine known to man for children and adults.  By the end of the trip, we'd collapsed down to one bag due to consumption and purchased antibiotics for all of us, twice.

Expect excrement of every variety from every child every step along the way.  There will be poop.  There will be puke.  They will puke in cars, beds, toilets, floors, sinks, and of course, all over you.  This is going to happen.  Luckily, all of the poop stayed where it should go with the exception of that one time our youngest dropped a log on a white leather chair when we were snapping some early morning ethereal naked baby photos.  Kind of killed the moment, but in a really funny way.

Expect amazement at how curious, resilient, determined, and open minded your children are.  Your shy baby will bloom into a social butterfly before your eyes after realizing that all this loving attention being thrown his way is pretty darn nice.  Your intellectual boy will make you sit back and smile as he strikes up an adult-like conversation with some local women about the customs of the Uro people, teaching them things they didn't realize about a subculture of their country.  They will walk, hike, eat completely foreign dishes, sleep in different beds every few nights...they will be completely at ease in a completely different place, lacking judgement and absorbing worldliness.

Be prepared for well intentioned, but sometimes a tad overbearing, advise from local women regarding your children.   It was winter there and though it did sometimes dip into the 40's at night in the mountains, for the most part we were out in daylight and it was very mild.  But in the eyes of the Peruvian women, it was simply not possible that my baby's head was warm enough without a wool stocking cap.  Most of this attention was fine and well but don't get me started about that one lady on that boat who tried to show me how to rock my inconsolable toddler while offering him cookie after cookie.

Finally, try to be chill about things.  Try to take it all in stride.  There will be tantrums, there will be tears.  Sometimes they will be yours.  Soak in the views.  Have an adult beverage at lunch.  Even though it's hard work, you are on vacation and you should enjoy yourself.  Take turns with your partner having time without them.  Let him explore the local market while you let the kids nap.  Go to the hotel sauna while he lets them run wild in the hotel bar.  Be present and be relaxed.

When it's all said and done, If you kept them alive, you did your job.  If you were also able to enjoy yourself, you've excelled.  After you return and sleep for 12 hours a night for a solid week give yourself a pat on the back for what a brave, badass parent you are.  After all, you've done it.

You've given your kids the world.

Image Credit: Me