Monday, July 27, 2015

Paper Towns, Teenagers and Remembering What It Was Like

Every summer, I come up with a list of books that I plan to read with the kids. I try to pick books that have all been (or will be) made into movies, so that they can compare and contrast the books with the films. I also try to mix up the material throughout the summer so that there are some classics, some new books, some science fiction, some YA fiction, and so on.

You can get it on Amazon here.
This year, I chose the book Paper Towns, not knowing at all what it was about. I chose it for a few reasons, the biggest of which is that it is written by John Green. I read The Fault in Our Stars with my daughter last year, and it spoke to me on a level I'm not even sure he intended as the survivor of a couple trips to cancer-land myself. 

His books are about teenagers, sure. There are lots of books out about teenagers these days. Most of them are dystopian novels set in some post apocalyptic world of strife and struggle. Green's book are infinitely more real, more present, more likely to strike a nerve.

The best part about them is that, unlike far too many writers (and far too many parents of teens), he seems to really have a handle on what it was like to be one. 

He actually remembers.

I think too many people forget what it was like, especially once they have teenagers of their own. The trend towards hovering parenthood, the strange attachment and simultaneous disinterest of this generation of parents has been interesting for me to watch, certainly. I've seen far too many people out there who seem to think that they truly can micromanage the lives of their children, that they can dictate from the mountaintops what their children want, who their friends should be and so on. What I see less of these days is the parenting that guides from a distance, that tries to equip them with life skills and then sets them free on the world to make their own inevitable mistakes. 

I try every day to be that parent, the one that teaches and trusts, guides and releases. It is excruciating at times, don't get me wrong. But it's important.

I want my kids to feel like they can make their own choices in this world. That they have the set of skills necessary to make those decisions. That they will screw up, but that I'll be here to cushion the fall when it happens. 

I can't prevent those mistakes. I won't even try. They have to learn.

I had one of those parental pangs just this morning as I dropped my oldest child off at school for yet another band event. As he got out of the car and flipped his hair to the side, checking his phone as he waved goodbye to me, I hardly recognized the man he'd become. This six foot tall being can't possibly be the same little boy I just remember starting kindergarten, can he? 

He is starting high school in a few weeks, already planning to work at summer camp next year. He'll be gone for most of the summer, and there is a dull ache in my heart forming already at the thought of it. I struggled to express what was bothering me the most about his wanting to do this, and finally I blurted out to my husband, "but we only have him for a few more years and then he will be gone and I'm not ready".

And he is growing up. I know this. I'm not ready now and I won't be ready then, but I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure he is.

Anyway, as he was getting out of the car this morning, I lamented the fact that I'd only had my daughter read Paper Towns, and resolved to have him read it in the next few weeks before high school starts. The story centers on the friendship of three boys as they near the end of high school. Much of the message in the book is about realizing what is important in life, about grabbing the joy now, about refusing to let fear make our decisions for us, about the value of true friendship. 

Forever is composed of nows. ~John Green

I mean, yeah, there's the whole romance girl quest for love thing, but it really isn't the most important piece of the story. I promise. 

I want him to read this book now, before he starts these four years. I want him to know that I get it, that I remember what it was like to feel all those feelings, that you can wish for something to last forever and hurry up and end at the same time. I want him to understand that sometimes teenagers do crazy, irresponsible things, and that I'm the kind of parent that he could call halfway through a roadtrip like that and get the support he needs. (Not that I'm saying I want my kid to drive 1200 miles totally spontaneously, mind you...)

I want him to know that these years are going to fly by, that some of the relationships he makes now will shape who he becomes, regardless of whether that person stays in his life long term or not. I want him to see people for who and what they are, not the illusions created. 

Mostly, though, I want him to live. I want him to enjoy it. I want him to work his ass off and learn as much as he can. I want him to fall in love and have inside jokes with friends and find the joy in little moments. 

A few years ago, I wrote about how I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he liked middle school. I hated it, I felt like most people hated it...how was it possible that he didn't? I couldn't reconcile it in my head. I had to come to terms with the fact that nothing about my experience had any bearing whatsoever on him. He had to have a chance to make this life for himself, and if he loved every second of middle school, then I had to let him. 

I had to let him. I had to let him live his life without being ruled by my memories or my fears or my worries. 

I had to remember what it was like to be a teenager so that I could let him be one himself.

And therein lies the trick of parenting teenagers. 

I have to let him be.

First, though, he has a book to read.

Friday, July 24, 2015

depression is why i'm going outside right now...

I'll have you know that I have been staring at this blank screen for a while now. I start to type a sentence and then I hit the backspace button until this giant empty space sits in front of me again.

I have so much I want to say, so much I need to say, so much that needs to get out of my head, but I hesitate. I hold back.

I just do.

It's hard, really fucking hard sometimes, to be an advocate for maternal mental health and all the other things I try to fight for when I'm dealing with it here. In the inside of my skull. Like right now.

I catch myself not opening up about it and then I know that I need to write or talk to my husband or something and then it tends to come out like this.

I'm just going to apologize in advance if this is hard to follow. I'm not editing whatever I am writing right now because it is just going to come out however it needs to come out and if people can't understand that, I'm sorry. This is just how my brain is operating right at the moment.

I've been having a hard time lately. Part of it is the time of the year, the time of the year that threatens to undo whatever work I've put in and whatever progress I've made toward being marginally saner. I know that. July and I don't much get along, at least not for any length of time. I wonder if it will always be that way, if I'll always feel this subtle unsettling just beneath the surface for the entirety of the month or it someday it will fade away.

I hope it does, obviously. I've done as much as I think I can to will it away. Part of what needs to happen, though, is that time just needs to pass more. I need more distance between then and now, even though it's already been more years than I can really believe.

The PPD is raging about in my head, though I am doing all that I can to cope with that the best ways I know how. Let me tell you...intrusive thoughts are incredibly fucked up. Like, all the way fucked up. The human brain, especially the postpartum one...it can conjure up some really disturbing shit. It's not as bad as it's been, it's not happening all the time, it's not to the level of severity where it is really messing with me, but it's there, lingering in the shadows, waiting for just a moment of downtime in my head so that the thoughts can take over and get creative. If any of you out there have never been fully in control of your thoughts at any time for any reason, you might understand what I mean. If you've never experienced this, let me promise you that you never want to deal with it.

The best way that I can describe it is that your brain takes bit and pieces of what it sees, hears, absorbs, and then turns it into graphic horror film scenes filled with unimaginable things.

I never in my wildest dreams thought that post partum depression could fuck with my head this much, that I'd never be totally in control of my own brain. It sucks.

I know now that this beast is fed by my suppression of it. If I don't talk about it and tell people what is going on, if I try to somehow convince myself that it's fine, that I'm fine, that it will go away, that it won't get worse, it will do exactly the opposite. I've been here before. I've been in worse places with it before.

I know that I have to get outside. I need to be occupied. I need to feel the sunlight on my face, the breeze in my hair. This isn't some lofty idea of something that makes me a tiny bit happier, no. These are things required for my survival.

And I know this because I've been here before.

Some days, it's a fine line I'm walking.

It's hard. It's so fucking hard sometimes to make sure that I take care of myself, but I do it because I know that I have to. Not just for me, but for them, my kids, the ones that I swear to myself every single day that won't have their childhoods ruined because their mother was a wreck.

The anxiety that I live with anyway, all the time, it is ramped up pretty high right now too. I suppose I should own all the things wrong with me at the moment, right? This summer has been a test of my ability to let my children go, one that has been relentless from the beginning of the break and still is going on now. They're getting older and they want to go places and do things. They want to visit family members out of the state and get onto perfectly good airplanes and fly away and it takes everything in me to stuff the anxiety down into my gut sometimes. I want to hug them to my chest and tell them to stay home, to stay safe. I want to warn them about all the dangers in the world and the things that can happen and I want to keep them here with me. I want to protect them.

But I don't. I trust others with their care, I teach them to be independent and responsible and make good choices and then I let them go.

And it terrifies me.

It scares the everloving shit out of me.

I can't ever let them know that while I'm reassuring them that everything will be okay and that I'll certainly miss them, but they'll have a good time anyway that inside my own head I'm working through every single possible harm that could befall them and seeing them all through to their ends. I can't. I can't tell them that I'm imagining about 973 things that could go wrong. I can't especially with the one who is gone now, the one who is just like me. She has so much anxiety all to herself that I can't let her believe for even one second that I'm worried about the things that she is worried about. I have to be strong and brave and confident and all of those things and I have to teach her to do it even when what my head and the rumbling in my gut tells me to tuck her under my wing and keep her safe.

I didn't do that. She got on a perfectly good airplane and flew away and seems to be having a wonderful time. She's doing that even though she was afraid of everything before she left, and she's doing it because she is strong and brave and confident in the face of the anxiety she lives with every day.

A very long time ago, I promised myself that I was going to do the best that I could not to let my issues negatively affect my children. I didn't want their childhoods cluttered with memories of my panic attacks or the times I freaked out or the places I refused to let them go. I don't want my issues to become theirs.

And I'm trying. I really am.

I think it's working. I hope it's working.

All I really know is that I need to go outside right now, so I'm going.

Because I have to.

xo

Things That Piss Me Off Friday - the because why not edition

Waves. Hi. I've been so busy that I haven't even been on the actual computer with more than a hot second to write in days. Kids. So much with the needing and the eating and things.

Plus, we got a puppy. Because I wasn't crazy enough.

This is Oliver. Say hi, Oliver. His full name is Oliver Queen DeBie because we really are those people.


Anyhow, this week has been one filled with all kinds of stories in the news, so we should just get to the things pissing me off (I mean aside from the baby eating the dog toys and the dog eating the baby toys...)

The Bad Blood Twitter Feud
I'm going to try to summarize what happened quickly. The VMA nominations came out and Nicki Minaj wasn't on the list, even though many would argue that she certainly should be. She noticed. She tweeted a comment about not being nominated, saying that videos with a certain body type seemed more likely to be on the list. Taylor Swift, who is on the list and was nominated for a song that is ironically about a feud with another singer (Katy Perry if you're wondering), took the statement personally, then accused Minaj of being divisive towards women.

Nope. Other way around.

Queue the internet explosion. Minaj was making a fair and valid criticism, Swift took it personally and people came to Swift's defense for the most part, taking the focus off of what Minaj was trying to say, at the same time lending credibility to her point. 

Feminism isn't just about all women as though we all exist in a vacuum with the same sets of biases to overcome and issues to deal with. Intersectional feminism, which Swift got a lesson in from the internet in the last few days, deals with the reality that women don't fit into a one size fits all box. This article says everything I'd want to say about the topic and more, but better. I highly recommend that you go read it.

By the way, this isn't just a twitter feud between two singers that is attempting to expose societal biases against the bodies of black women....not at all. I read a piece on Serena Williams by Kareem Abdul Jabbar this week, and it was very well written. Body shaming the bodies of black female athletes (and singers, and anyone for that matter), as he says, isn't just about race. It's about so much more than that and the discussion of the issue has to be multifaceted because the biases that create the issue in the first place are layered.

p.s. Kendrick Lamar should win anyway.

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Still Doesn't Work
Arizona just released the findings of their welfare drug testing program, and they've fallen into line with what we've learned from other states that have decided that people should be forced to submit to testing for drugs in order to eat.

It doesn't work.

The number of positives captured is almost laughable. Wait, it is laughable. The cost savings are in the hundreds of dollars. HUNDREDS. (I feel like the Count should say ah-ah-ah here)

People need to stop believing that poor people are all strung out on drugs and just looking for a government handout to get high. They aren't.

Oh, but my completely anecdotal evidence that can't be replicated tells me otherwise!

I gotta go with statistics and numbers on this one.

This is classism at its finest, and the politicians (hey, maybe we should drug test them...) have done a phenomenal job convincing people that welfare abuse and fraud is responsible for not just busted budgets but for the downfall of society.

Meanwhile, corporate welfare abounds, costing taxpayers a whole lot more than hungry people ever will.

Call me a bleeding heart if you must, but I just think people should be able to eat. I don't honestly care if people use drugs. Until there is a system in place to actually confront and deal with addiction and mental health issues in this country, until there is an honest discussion of the cost of living for people trying to get off of welfare, until there is a complete overhaul of the way we hand out money in this country (hint, hint, the rich get way more of those handouts than the poor do), I don't think we should be wasting any time trying to micromanage and shame the poor.

Gun Violence. Again. Because we just don't care.
If nothing else, every new episode of gun violence proves that we, as a society, really just don't care about it. We don't.

Another shooting happened last night.

Kids in schools are massacred, people in perfectly good movie theaters gunned down...nothing changes.

The Onion did a great satire piece on it last year, and I'm sharing it again because it's still just as valid. 

Thousands more have been killed since then, but we still don't care.

We don't care enough to fight the NRA, demand actual background checks, limit third party sales. We don't care enough to actually deal with the mental health issues that underlie some of the events. We don't care.

Sound harsh?

It is.

It's also the honest truth.

#sayhername and #blacklivesmatter
Her name was Sandra Bland. She was pulled over for failing to signal, arrested and dead within days. Her death has been ruled a suicide.

The video of the traffic stop reveals her to be a person, a citizen who knew her rights. She wasn't unreasonable, she wasn't combative. Around the internet, you see stories of people who've challenged police authority, who've asserted their rights under the law. People who refuse to even roll down their windows and cite sections of the applicable code, list their rights under the law. They are applauded as warriors of the Constitution.

When a black woman (or man for that matter) is stopped, though, they are supposed to be compliant and cooperative and unquestioning of authority, regardless of whether their rights are being infringed. Sandra's rights were infringed several times on the video alone.

Often the same people who would vehemently defend their own rights are the same ones demanding unquestioning compliance from others. Anything less than that, and it must be their fault if they are hurt or killed in custody. Right?

NO. No no no no no.

Actor Jesse Williams tweeted an epic series of tweets about this issue, and I'd encourage you to read that then take a step back and ask yourself, really ask yourself if you believe that everyone is treated equally in this country.

The #alllivesmatter response to #blacklivesmatter misses the point entirely, primarily because it works on the assumption that people are treated equally, ignoring the simple reality that people of color are far more likely to end up dead in custody.

If you haven't seen it already, OITNB's Matt McGorry generated a chain of tweets crushing the logic of those who claim #alllivesmatter isn't offensive.

Privilege is real, the system is biased, things aren't equal. If that somehow threatens you, good. It should make us all uncomfortable. The only way things can ever change is to deal with the fact that they're really fucked up in the first place.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Things I Can't Explain to People Who Don't Understand

I read a post this week, a really good one actually, written by a guy who'd lost both of his parents. You can read it here if you're so inclined. It was actually published last year, and it wandered into my newsfeed just now. It was a refreshingly honest take on what life is really like once you find yourself wandering the planet without parents, from the truth about holidays to the fact that no one tells you about the logistics of dealing with the things left behind.

I found myself nodding along more than a few times as I read his piece, struck by the raw truth in his words, the humor in the stories he shared. I thought back about some of the things I miss the most about my parents, stories not too far removed from the ones he wrote about, and I understood where he was coming from.

It's rare for me to feel that. At my age, I don't have many friends that have lost both parents. There are a few who've lost a parent or an in-law, but far more of my contemporaries have both of their parents still here. The luckiest ones still have grandparents.

There are things about being parentless that I don't really think people can understand until they're here, hanging out on this side with us, the orphaned adults of the world, twiddling their thumbs on holidays and not getting phone calls on their birthdays.

It's weird. Surreal at times.

Anyhow, the article isn't really what hit me in the gut.

It was the comments.

Why did I read the comments? Why does anyone ever read the comments? Why do people insist on leaving comments like the ones I read?

Why?

I need to not read the comments.

People were pissed that he said his parents were "hella dead". People were mad that he told the stories he told, that he was so brash and direct with his delivery.

People made all kinds of assumptions about him and his parents and the relationship they had based on the words he'd written, and there weren't even that many words. It was a fairly short piece, certainly not anywhere near long enough to make suppositions about this writer or his family dynamics.

Maybe I'm just more sensitive to it because I'm also a writer that has been personally attacked and judged for things I've written since the deaths of my parents.

Maybe.

Isn't that how the internet works though? It has, at least in my experience. When I've had posts go viral, I've had tons of people descend on my blog, read one post as though it exists in a vacuum, make ample assumptions about me, and then attack me personally for the few words they read in a huge sea of the words I've ever written.

When new bloggers tell me how much they anticipate having something go viral, I caution them to be careful what they wish for. For the love.

It's the nature of the internet to be this way, though, I think. It happens here, even on my ordinary posts sometimes. People will read one thing and leave me some kind of comment, inferring whatever information they think needs inferred (usually incorrectly), then tell me what they really think of me. It happens on my fan page fairly often, where people fill in the gaps between my words with whatever bias they choose to read, then turn it back on me and try to blame me for the words they've used to fill in the blanks. It has happened even with people who knew me in real life, who should know better, who should know me.

These comments hurt. The assumptions people make about us hurt. The judgement given over a few paragraphs is just ridiculous at times.

I've lost friendships over it.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to something simple, something that applies as much in real life as it does online...don't judge something you haven't lived. 

Even if you've lost your parents, understand that your experience is inevitably going to be different than someone else's. You are different, your parents were different, your relationships were different, your circumstances were different. Your loss is different, and so is your grief.

And if your parents are still alive, please don't judge those of us who've already lost ours...because you really just can't possibly understand.

Let people feel whatever they feel.

If there is ever a time when you feel compelled to judge someone for their feelings or the expression of them, take a step back and think about whether you'd want someone who only knows a minuscule bit of your story judging you for the same thing.

Let writers write whatever they feel compelled to write about their lives. Even if it doesn't resonate with you, I can promise that there is someone else out there staring at a computer screen nodding along with what they've said.

I can also promise you that it's impossible to know much about someone from one post, from one article. I also promise you that for every piece of a story written, there are volumes left untold.

Volumes.

I loved my parents. I had a really fucked up relationship with my Mom, but I loved her and I miss her and I mourn her loss. Some people can't understand that, and that's fine. It's not my job to make them understand.

I'd try to explain it, but if you don't get it yet, you might someday.

And when you do, we'll be here, those of who arrived already, in this weird parentless place where the holidays are quiet and the phone doesn't ring.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Magic of This Day

Twenty three years ago, beneath a sky filled with fireworks, I fell in love with the man who would someday become my husband. He was just a boy, and I was just a girl.

As we sat beneath the sky that night, the air filled with twinkling lights, two naive teenagers went from being merely interested in one another to something beyond that. Little did they know that this holiday would be one tied to so many moments of significance in their lives in the years that would follow.

We'd have a few more years before everything changed and college began, but even after it did, we'd always find our way back to one another, spend that night staring up at the sky together again.

For so many intervening years, it was one introduction after another to the lights in the sky as more children were added to our family. Juggling and wrangling, covering ears and whispering reassurances. We'd still stare up at that sky together, but it wasn't just us anymore.

Ten years ago on that very day, we packed up everything that we owned and drove away from all that we knew towards an uncertain future together far away. As we pulled into Las Vegas to stop for the night, the sky filled with fireworks.

Then the year came when everything changed again and the joy dimmed. The glowing embers in the sky were no longer annual reminders of what they once were, they became reminders of other things, of things that no one wanted to remember. Of things we wanted to push away and forget.

We tried as best we could to recapture some of the magic of this day, knowing that things would never be the same. And they wouldn't. They couldn't. We wouldn't want them to anyway.

The magic seemed to be gone forever, another casualty in the fight of our lives.

Until this year.

This year, the sky we sat beneath was one far away from home. The older children no longer needed cradling and reassurance, instead they needed space to run and play. They needed to be set free.

In between us this time beneath the sky, another child. A new one. One that neither of us had ever truly believed would exist, one that was never part of the plan. Then again, our plans always seemed to implode most magnificently, much like the glitter in the air does on this day.

This child who brings so much joy, he brought us one more chance to do it all again.

One last chance to introduce someone to the magic of this day, to find it again for ourselves.

As the sky darkened and the show began, this new child crawled up into my lap, rubbed his face into my shoulder and nuzzled up against me. Though he'd long since struggled to nurse with the presence of any distraction, though I'd been dealing with mastitis for days prior and nursing was excruciating, this night was different.

This night was special.


He eagerly nursed as his bright eyes stared up at the twinkling lights in the sky. He made his introductions with the magic of this day on his own terms, reached up a hand towards the air and waved at the sky, as tears I didn't bother trying to fight back fell from my eyes.

I didn't need to watch for myself, instead I watched him seeing it all for the first time.

Knowing that the magic was back in a way I never anticipated, I exhaled.

I reached beside me for the hand of the man that I love, the one I fell in love with on this day all those years ago, and I fell in love with this holiday all over again.

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