Wednesday, February 22, 2017

To The One Who Will Change The World

Oh, Freckles.

It's that time of the year again. You know the one...when you get a year older, when you start asking me if I've written your birthday letter yet, when you prepare elaborate slideshows (never with stock photos) detailing the things you'd like as gifts.

That time.

The slideshow was sitting in my inbox last weekend.

As I'm writing this, I'm staring at your eternal pile of stuff, the one that is ever present on the couch in the living room. The place you've just staked out as yours in the house.

In that pile, the one that frustrates me every time I walk past it, is you. So much of you.

Little pieces of who you are, not just the physical representations. You leave a trail behind you, wherever you go. Always have.

There is the rainbow flag, the one that you had to have. The one that magically appeared on our doorstep one day. The one that usually resides in your backpack. The one that you've used as a cape during protests. The one that hangs in the classroom during the meetings for the gay/straight alliance. The GSA that exists because of you.



You know that you have a supportive family, that you have a great circle of friends. You know that there are other kids out there who don't have that support in their lives. You created this so that they would have a safe place, so that they'd have a room full of friendly faces who loved and accepted them.

You did this.

There's the sweatshirt you acquired from my closet. As you do.

There's the t-shirt that just came in the mail from your godmother last night. The one that she knew you needed to have. The one that would just make sense.


There's the bowl of cereal left behind...because there is always a bowl of cereal left behind. It's the gluten free chocolate one, of course.

The kitty cat headphones you couldn't live without and squealed over on Christmas morning, the ones that are the constant accompaniment to the ipad full of youtube videos. All the videos.

The envelope holding the receipts from all the boxes that arrived in the last month for that project you've been working on. I have to say...it takes a lot to make me say WOW and you did it a while back when you told me what you wanted to do for your NJHS service project. And you did it. You did it big. You managed to collect enough feminine hygiene items to fill up the van, all to benefit homeless and at-risk youth.


I know you hate talking to people. I do. I know that you get nervous about asking people for help. I know that you loathe giving speeches and meeting new humans. I know. You come by that honestly, by the way.

But you do it. You've already learned to force yourself to do the things that scare you.

And it's awesome.

You have piles of music on the couch. Piles and piles. You basically taught yourself to play piano just to spite your brother, which amuses me tremendously. The folder from district honor band, perpetually on the couch or table, as if it's on display or something. You'll be joining him in marching band, in steel drum band, in concert band. Maybe even drumline.

ALL THE BANDS ALL THE TIME.

It is totally a lifestyle choice.



You'll be in the Medical and Bioscience Academy too, finally taking all the honors level classes you should have been in all along. I'm totally serious about making you a paper chain to count down the number of days left in middle school. I'm doing it.

91 days

I spent all morning signing you up for leadership summits and technology programs and we still have to figure out which one of us is taking you and your sister to the science olympiad next week.

Nerd.

You're a nerd. A science nerd. The best kind of nerd.

But, unlike your mother, you don't care at all what anyone says or thinks about it. When I was your age, the sun rose and set on other people's opinions of me. You just don't care. You love what you love, you're good at the things you are good at, you spend time on what you like and you don't care what people say. And it's amazing.

Looking through the pictures of you in the past year, I'm a little teary. And a little humbled. And a lot in awe.

You're a badass.

An occasionally terrifying badass.


For real.

You are smart.
You are compassionate.
You are driven.
You are stubborn.
You are caring.
You are funny.
You are self-deprecating.
You are weird as hell.

To be all those things as an adult would be remarkable. To be those things at 14?

Amazing.

I mean, yeah....you're already disappointed in most of the people in the world. You spend time every day being pissed off about things. You see things most people are content to ignore. You care about so many things, whether they affect you or not. You can comprehend privilege in this society. You understand inequality and injustice already. You want the world to be fair and equal, and not in the superficial ways, but in the ways that matter. You understand the nuances and complexity of why things are the way they are and you want to get in there and fight and demand that they be better.

You want people to be better.

You demand that people be better.

I'll deal with the trail of cereal bowls as long as you keep leaving a trail of change behind you as well.

Stay angry.
Stay passionate.
Stay weird.


And always, always, always wear the tiny glittery cowboy hats.

I can't wait to see what you do with this next year.

And holy crap, kid. I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of you that I could practically burst.

Happy birthday, baby.

I love you.

Mom

Friday, February 10, 2017

Six Years

Six years ago this morning, my father died.

I used to try and find more delicate language about his death, say things like "passed away" or that we'd "lost him". I stopped doing that a while back because I think part of our society's twisted way of dealing with death stems from our general inability to talk about it in real terms.

We focus on youth and health because the alternatives scare us.

We talk about how brave people are when they fight cancer, as if that really has anything at all to do with whether they live or die, and we do it because it creates this illusion of ownership - like we're somehow in control of whether cells metastasize or not simply based on effort.

It gives us a false sense of security, but does no favors to those who've been through the hell on Earth that a cancer diagnosis truly is.

My dad died of cancer, and nothing about it could possibly be romanticized. It was ugly and painful and heartbreaking and then one morning it was over.

And none of it is fair.

He should still be here. I should still have him around. His grandchildren should have a chance to get to know him, instead of only ever really being exposed to him though the stories we tell.

I wrote a long-ish post on Instagram last night after I left work. I'd spent the night playing songs that remind me of him, telling the people I was subjecting to the music that it was all in honor of my birthday.

It was for him.

Me, trying to finish my blog for work,
but finding myself entirely distracted today.
They were the songs he sang, the ones I remember watching him dance to, the ones he'd whistle in the car. My love of music comes from him, and it is one of the things that I'm deliberately and consciously passing down to my kids with intention.

In that rambling Instagram post, I was trying to say something about how the past few months have been very difficult for me personally. I hit yet another bottom of sorts, this time stemming mostly from years of my perceived inadequacies and failures. Depression and anxiety don't play well together, and they're terribly convincing liars.

Among the many personality traits he refined in me as I was growing up, strength. Strength in the face of adversity, strength of such a stubborn variety that it can (and does) cross the threshold into a denial of sorts.

I am so independent that I don't want to need other people.

I am so strong that I convince myself that I can take care of things by myself.

I'm that way in large part because I am his daughter, and he made me this way. Partly deliberately. Partly through his own examples. Partly through the conflicts that ran between us for the first twenty years of my life or so.

But it isn't always a good thing, this resolute strength and independence, because when I'm sinking down down down to the bottom of the pit, I can't always pull myself out alone.

I need help sometimes.

And I'm completely terrible about asking for it.

I don't want to need it.

I want to be okay without anyone else's involvement being required.

And I can't always do that.

At this point in my life, I'm not just still learning the lessons he taught me, but I'm learning to unlearn them too. To tease out the nuances.

To save myself, I have to do the thing that scares me the most in the world - rely on someone else.

When I am at my most vulnerable, I have to be willing to ask someone else to help me.

And it sucks.

If he were still here, I know that he'd be worried about me. I know.

The number of times he whispered into the phone that I could just come home whenever I needed to, I couldn't even tell you.

Halfway down the aisle on the day of my wedding, he was still giving me an out.

And until he died, I had one.

Once he was gone, I was left here floating in the universe without that safety net.

So I had to learn to build one for myself.

And that net, it's messy. It has a few holes. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it needs to be cast a few times before it catches anything. It doesn't look like a net should, it's woven together in part by people I've never even met but who reside in my computer.

To create this net, I have to do this here. I have to write.

I have to because it is what has saved my life more than once, and it is what has built this network of people willing to grab me and hang on.

He'd worry.

He'd think I was sharing too much.

He'd worry that I was being too vulnerable.

He'd call and make sure I was really okay.

I'd give anything for just one more phone call, but I've lived here on this side now for six years in a world where that phone doesn't ring anymore.

I'm a realist. Sometimes painfully so.

I'm so different than I was when he was here. I wonder sometimes if he'd even recognize me.

I know he'd have some questions about the tattoos. Heh.

But, I think he'd get it...I think he'd get me, and I think he'd understand because he was always the one person who seemed to know me better than I know myself. My brother has sort-of stepped into that role these days.

My dad was the first one to refer to me as a writer, even before I called myself that. He followed me, read everything I published while he was here. He knew that I needed to do this for whatever reasons I needed to do this, and he never focused on the end results. He knew it was about the process, the journey. And he knew that it made me better. Safer. Healthier.

Even if sometimes I have to exorcise my personal demons to get there.

I think he'd be proud of me. I hope he'd be proud of me.

I'm proud of me.

Sometimes being strong isn't about being independent at all. In fact, sometimes it is exactly the opposite.

It just took me this long to learn that lesson.

Thanks, Dad. I miss you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

At least I did this.

I was standing in the hallway tonight, urging my toddler to fall asleep in his bed, awaiting his recurrent footsteps towards doorway when something hit me.

I didn't completely fuck it all up.

At least I remembered to do this.

Next to me on the wall, five ceramic wall hangings in various shapes, sizes and colors. Two with imprints, the others just painted whimsically. Each one with the name and a date on them, each one containing the footprints of a different child of mine.

Each one was created on their first birthday.

The actual day of their first birthdays.

Not three months late or whenever I managed to remember. The actual day.

I have a similar group on display downstairs. Pictures of them all playing with their feet on the day they turned six months old. Again, on the actual day.

I finally got the last two sets footprints hung up in the hallway today.

The baby is almost two and a half. I've had his plate, the last of the bunch, for well over a year now. His older brother is eight. Eight.

(I know, I know...timeliness isn't one of my strong suits. I'm aware.)

Anyway.

I was standing there, begging this child to finally lay down long enough to realize just how tired he was, when it hit me.

I didn't fuck it all up.

And I have proof.

You see, earlier tonight, in the car, I confessed to another of my children that I had postpartum depression. I told the oldest last year.

I told this one tonight in the way I told this one because I was trying to communicate the fact that none of us are immune to these mental health struggles and just because it usually appears that I have my shit together, I absolutely do not always have my shit together.

So, here kid.

Here's a figurative picture of the shit sandwich I was served all those years ago.

The kid...was...quiet. Surprised I think.

And then I admitted that I don't remember the entire first year of their younger sibling's life. And by extension, part of their childhood.

And let me tell you.....that's not a fun thing to admit to anyone, let alone your own kid.

Shit sandwich, coming right up.

I wondered tonight, just as I wondered last year when I opened up that particular closet for the oldest, whether I was doing the right thing by telling this kid. Maybe they'll see me as more human. Maybe they'll understand that I understand them more than they realized up until that moment. Maybe they'll appreciate the fact that I trust them with this stuff. Maybe they'll think I am an abysmal failure as a parent.

That nagging self doubt.

That part of it never really goes away.

Just like I still haven't really forgiven myself for not only having had PPD as badly as I did, but more so for KNOWING that there was something very wrong with me and having done nothing for as long as I did until I spiraled and spiraled and spiraled and forgot an entire year.

Blocked it.

Whatever.

So, there I was. On this evening of vulnerability, trying to get my last, and yet another PPD baby to bed.

Staring at this wall of baby feet.

I realized in that moment that I'd made these things, these keepsake things that will someday either sit in a box in their basements or collect dust on a wall in their hallways, I'd made them in some of the absolute darkest days of my life.

When I couldn't even see the tiny light at the end of the tunnel, when I hated myself with every ounce of my being and doubted whether I should have ever even had children, when I was convinced that I was failing my husband and myself and them, I'd proven to myself that I wasn't a complete failure.

Even then.

I could still do what I needed to do to protect these little legacies. I still was fostering traditions and adhering to the illusions of what motherhood was supposed to be like in my head. I was still doing it.

And I was doing it as much for them as I was doing it for me.

At least I did this.

I could still manage to keep those dates in the back of my mind and force myself to do these things that I wanted to make sure I did for each one of them.

Not only could I still do it...I did.

I did.

At least I did this.

I didn't fuck everything up.

I wasn't a failure, at least not entirely.

The tiny feet in the hallway told me so.

And you know, on a day like today, I really really really needed to hear that.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Note to self.....

I've been writing birthday letters to other people for a while now. I write them to the kids every year, I've written them to my parents and my husband.

I haven't exactly written one to myself yet.

I think it's time.

You only turn 40 once, right?

Here goes nothing...

(Oh, and for the record, I struggled with the form of this letter endlessly. Do you write a letter to yourself in the first person, the third person? Why is this so weird? Why do I over think everything?)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Self,

Forty, huh?

That number once seemed like it was so far away, distant and strange. Over there somewhere, associated with people who were so much older than I was.

Than I am now.

Age has never really been something that bothered me, at least not once I was past the part of life where we wanted to be older, not younger. I was always one of the youngest people in my class, in my grade, in my group of friends. I was generally the last one legally able to do all the things tied to minimum ages.

That phase of my life, the wanting to be older part, has been over for a while now though. These days, I actually enjoy being the youngest one because no matter what else I might have in common with my former classmates and most of my friends, I'm almost always the youngest one.

It has its advantages.

It's funny to me that this past year was the one where I started working in an industry where I'm almost always the oldest one around. I feel like I'm a good decade older than most of the people I work with. The fellow employees who were tasked with auditioning me and training me were almost all wee babes. Which is a strange dynamic, you know? Being taught how to do all the things by people who were still losing teeth when you got married. It's weird.

Last week, I actually got into a bit of an argument with some people at work, because they were insisting that I wasn't actually going to be 40. I had to be like 32 or something. Nope. I have a kid going on college tours. Just because I also have a 2 year old and work in a bar and spend inordinate amounts of time on my playlists doesn't mean that I'm not actually deep into middle age.

And I'm fine with it.

When I look back on my life up until this point, there are a few enormous disappointments, sure. That career I was supposed to pursue. The life I was supposed to live. The person I was supposed to be. I've mostly gotten over all that, made my peace with the way things are as opposed to the way I thought they'd be. As much as planning is a useful tool in life, it's not a guarantee, and there's something to be said for the character building that comes from failing completely.

Let's just say I have abundant character. Heaps of it.

This last year has been a transitional one for me. Not just because of the whole impending mortality thing, but because I've really started to find that peace within myself. Acceptance can be a real asshole sometimes, but once you get there, things work themselves out much easier.

I've become more honest with myself, and consequently with everyone around me, of late. I'd say it's for the better, even though I know that there are people who don't like this less polished and refined version of me.

I'm more raw. I'm more likely to put myself out there. I'm more determined to kick ass at the things I commit to. I'm more vulnerable. I'm more passionate.

That's all resulted in me losing a lot of friends. And that's fine.

I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and if you don't want to sit with me, I'm not about to try and convince you why you should.

I'm perfectly content hanging out by myself anyway. Always was.

I just used to try and convince myself that I needed to do the things other people wanted me to do because I was supposed to, and I don't do that anymore.

I'm too old for that shit.

And I'm way too fucking busy.

For real.

(And before anyone starts in on me with links to some think piece about the glorification of busy, it is not that at all. I'm just a mother of five who works and teaches and runs support groups and plans fundraisers and does advocacy work and juggles most of it most of the time and there isn't a whole lot left at the end of the day. And this isn't me complaining, either. I'm lucky to have the life I do. I'm just explaining things. Also when did the internet become such a hole that it requires me to write these stupid disclaimers every time I write about myself anymore? Never mind do not answer that.)

I'm more comfortable in the skin I wear these days.

I'm not out to prove anything to anyone.

In the last year, I did a few things that scared the crap out of me. One of them was taking this weird job in the first place. I mean, honestly. Why would a person with off the charts anxiety deliberately want to stand up in front of strangers all the time with a microphone? I know, I know. It seems counter-intuitive. I know. It makes sense though, for me. As introverted as I am, I know that the only way I'll deal with other people out there in the universe is to force myself to do it...and I'm actually really good at it once I kick my own ass to get started.

I know my issues.

I know how to force myself to deal with them.

That's part of the wisdom of being my age, I suppose.

I went to a conference to meet a bunch of other warrior moms last year. Some of them "knew" me from this, the blog. My writing. I've been doing this over eight years now and I don't think it will ever not be weird for me, this knowing that other people out there in the world read my words. I mean, I know they do and I want them to and I invite them to and I thank them for doing it...but there's nothing like meeting a person I've never actually met and having them feel like they sort-of know me. It's. Well. Weird.

Good weird. But still weird.

The conference, though. I still haven't written about it, primarily because I'm still processing it myself. I had a long, awful time with postpartum depression. Years. Really, over a decade now. There are things that I'm still not really comprehending about my experience with it, things I haven't entirely forgiven myself for, things I wish that I could go back and do over. Things that I wish I could tell a younger version of myself.

But then I wouldn't be me now. I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't have gone there.

And this is part of who I am now.

I am the mom who lived in her own personal hell alone for over a year before she told anyone. Who still can't really go back to that time because it's blocked from her memories.

And I'm the woman now who knows that the only thing that saved my life then, and the only thing that has saved it several times since then is speaking about the struggles aloud.

I have to tell people.

I have to stand in my truth and shout it to the world. I have to for my sanity, and I have to so that whoever else is out here in the darkness with me knows that they aren't alone.

While we're on the subject of truth...

I almost checked myself into the hospital last month.  

Happy birthday to me.

I narrowly avoided doing so because I reached out to the people I trust and I let them in, and that little crack in the doorway let in a sliver of light and I fumbled in the darkness and found a hand.

And so I open the door for others and I reach out a hand to them.

And I'll keep doing it.

I know that I wouldn't be here, I know that I wouldn't be this version of myself had it not been for all of the things I've been though, all the things I still deal with now.

I wouldn't say I am thankful for my struggles per se, but I know that if I wear them all on my sleeve, they will interlock with one another and form a suit of armor.

That suit of armor does two things.

It protects me.
I urges me back into battle for others.

So, self...keep on doing what you're doing.

Save yourself.
Help save others.

Be the person that superhero tattoo on your arm says you are.



Maybe give yourself a break occasionally...

Happy birthday,

Me


Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Being Problematic

It's a tedious world out there right now. There is conflict at every single turn. Lifelong friends and family writing one another off over the election.

It's hard to muddle through.

And, for the record, before anyone even thinks about challenging me on this, the election was not just about politics. It was a fight for basic human decency. A fight that we're still waging every goddamn day because there are enough people in the country who stopped believing in its existence.

No one is losing friends over politics.

If you're losing friends, it is because one of you thinks all humans are equally deserving of our humanity while the other does not.

This isn't just politics.

And to be honest, I don't miss any of the people who've parted ways with me over this. Not in the least. I don't want to be affiliated with anyone who is ruled by fear and hatred, I don't want to associate with those who believe that there should be a pecking order with regard to which lives are worth caring about. I don't.

In the wake of the election, I've seen so many people rise up. Voices that might not have been utilized before the election, or at least not in the same way. There is an anger driving us right now. A deep churning anger that won't be content to accept partial victories.

I swear I've been running on coffee and rage for weeks now.

Since there are so many people these days trying to do the right thing, trying to become advocates and allies, I think it's worth having the conversation about how to go about doing all that.

There's not one correct way, but there are a whole lot of ways to screw it up, that's for damned sure.

The thing that so many of my white, middle class, relatively privileged friends (and I use the term expansively to include all of you, and myself here) don't always realize is that privilege is so ingrained in who we are, that we have a tremendous tendency to center the conversations around us. What we are doing. Defending the things we've done or not done in the past. Wanting recognition for the action we take now. Wanting gratitude from those we're standing up for.

No.

None of that, please.

Here's the thing.

This isn't new. This inequality. This anger.

We just showed up to the party.

And this party isn't about us.

I've been seeing so much defensiveness coming from those who call themselves allies. When a person of color, when a person from a marginalized community, points out the ways you are perpetuating the same inequality that you are now protesting, listen. Learn. Hear them.

No one owes us any labor because we decided to care.

No one needs to educate us or explain things to us. No one needs to do the heavy lifting and "give us a chance" to learn. Nope.

We need to do that ourselves if we are truly committed to being the allies our signs proclaim us to be.

Do the work.

The internet is full of resources. Everything you learned in history class was white washed, told from the perspective of the landowner, the victor, the colonizer, the slave owner. Go back and relearn history, in the process unlearn what you think is the truth.

Open your eyes to the way the world is, to the deeply rooted systemic inequalities. You can't have a conversation about the wage gap in this country without understanding how much bigger that gap is for non-white women...but feminists cling to that 77 cents myth like it is the only one that matters.

Understand that all this linking of the movement we've done to the word pussy excludes non-gender conforming women. The very movement for equality works to perpetuate the inequality in so many ways.

Point being.

We're problematic.

All of us.

History is FULL of problematic people.

That doesn't mean we can't fight.

We can learn, but that requires a whole lot more listening than talking.

We all bring to this moment in time our lived experience, and all the biases that created that experience in the first place. We all make assumptions about other people. We all have a tendency to center conversations, even without realizing it.

And intent is important, sure..but it's not everything.

We are trying to do the right thing and sometimes we're going to fuck up. Intent is important, but it isn't everything...because if we demand the conversation to center on intent, we're not only centering it around ourselves again, but we are wholly ignoring the fact that our words and our actions have harmed other people.

Think on that.

If you've been defensive about whether you've done something to hurt someone, and clung to intent as an excuse, you've just told the person you hurt that their harm is irrelevant at most, less important than your feelings at best.

And I know that you don't want to do that and I know that I don't want to do that. We might be working towards the same goal here, but some of us are (whether intentionally or not) working against it too.

So here's the answer.

Learn.

Listen.

Apologize.

Know better. Do better.

Become less problematic.

This is work, make no mistake about it. It is conscious and deliberate work, but it's work worth doing. It's work that those in marginalized groups do every day simply for survival. Have been doing every damn day of their lives.

Full stop.

If you occupy a position of privilege in this society, you don't have to do this. You don't have to do this work. You can carry on and be at least somewhat insulated because this society of inequality does't affect you as much. Your survival doesn't depend on your willingness to fight. Don't expect gratitude for showing up.

But you're here now. I'm glad you're here. Please, please, please stay.

Know this, though. IT IS WORK. And sometimes doing this work will reveal uncomfortable truths about you and those around you and that is part of the work. Sit with that discomfort. Accept it. Let it fester deep within you. And then do something about it.

It's work we should have been doing for a long time now. It's work that needs to be done.

So let's get to work.

Fired up.

Ready to go.

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