Thursday, November 5, 2015

50 Things About My Father

Earlier this year, in May I think, I wrote a post about my Mom. I have made no secret of the fact that she and I had a complicated relationship, or that the circumstances of the last years of her life were not good ones. For her or for me, or for us together. I was struggling with her absence, as I often do, when I came across a post written by someone else about their mother. I challenged myself to do the same - to come up with a list of 50 things that were interesting, positive, genuinely good memories about her. I thought it would be difficult in all honesty given how badly things ended for us.

It wasn't. By the time I got to the end of the list, I could have written four or five more easily.

I promised myself then that when November arrived, I would do the same for my father.

Then November, as it always does, arrived.

I miss him more this month. I think I always will. It's the month of his birthday and Thanksgiving, two days that dance with one another most years, intersect occasionally, always reminding me of the man I called Dad. I'd like to tell you a little bit about him. I think you'd have liked him.

1. His childhood was spent between California and Florida, his father worked for Rockwell International at the height of the space race. Astronauts came to their house for dinner. He saw rockets take off from the beach. It was something that captivated the entire world for years, just a part of life for him.

2. When I was a little girl, he worked pretty hard to teach us about the space program. We even went to see a Shuttle land at Edwards Air Force Base once.

3. Even as an adult, he'd call me to talk about the launches. When the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003, I called him immediately, thinking for sure that he watched it live. He hadn't. He was out doing pick ups for work when it happened. We just sat in silence on the phone together.

4. The last gift he gave my son before he died was a LEGO space shuttle. It was built immediately and still sits on top of his bookcase today.

5. He spent his entire adult life pretending to be allergic to strawberries. He hated them, but people always tried to get him to eat them anyway. He started telling people he was allergic because he knew that no one would try to sneak them into food if he did. I grew up believing he was always allergic. He confessed a few days before he died, after apologizing. Then he made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone until after he was gone. I kept my promise.

6. He ran track in high school and managed to hang on to records for decades. When I was in high school, a friend attended the same school he did, and his name was still on the wall. He ran hurdles and steeplechase.

7. He really wanted to be a dentist. Applied to and was accepted at my alma mater. He didn't go because he couldn't afford it. He went to tech school and became a dental technician instead, opened his own lab.

8. The day I received my acceptance letter from college, he was waiting at the door with a huge smile and a bottle of champagne. I think he was more excited than I was. Actually, I know he was.

9. He was bowling a perfect game the night my Mom went into labor with me. She wouldn't tell him because she didn't want to jinx his game. He blew it in the 10th frame anyway. By then, everyone in the alley knew except him.

10. He loved to drive. I was with him the last time he drove, and having him hand me the keys as soon as he got out of the car that last time was heartbreaking. I had to drive him from then on. He knew.

11.  He was an amazing dancer. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

12. When we decided to move to Colorado, he supported me, never questioning why we were doing it. When he'd come out to visit, he was always standing on the porch, going for walks around the neighborhood, staring at the mountains. "I know why you moved here", he said to me once, as we stood watching the sunset. "You did the right thing."  What I wouldn't give to have him tell me that today.

13. When I made my First Communion as a little girl, he decorated the entire backyard with white streamers. It was so beautiful and still the thing I remember the most about that day.

14. He drove me to school every day in high school. He was constantly asking me to make good choices. I do the same thing with my kids.

15. He was my biggest, if one of my most silent, cheerleaders. He knew that life hadn't gone the way I thought it should, knew that I started writing because I had to, knew that I struggled with accepting things the way they were. I didn't know he read my writing until one day when he showed up on my list of followers. He read everything I wrote. When I finally outed myself for having post partum depression, he called almost immediately. Told me that he loved me, that he wished he had known. He was the first person who ever referred to me as a writer at a time when just about everyone mocked me for blogging. He bragged to people about his daughter, the writer, when he didn't realize that I could hear him. I've considered myself a writer ever since.

16. My husband and I got married the year of the last big El Nino. The reception was outside. Dad had tents reserved with several different companies just in case we needed them. We didn't.

17. When I got married and he was walking me down the aisle, he whispered into my ear, "You can still turn around and run." I laughed and told him I was good. He said he knew.

18. He inadvertently chose my husband. When I was a boy-crazy teenager, he detested the guy I was dating. He came home from work one day and told me he'd seen a "nice boy" at one of the offices, and why couldn't I date a nice boy like that. A few hours later, that boy he'd seen earlier rang the doorbell. He was basically in shock.

19. He loved tacos, in all forms. He could eat 6-8 of them at a time. It was an art form, watching him inhale them. He even liked terrible tacos from fast food restaurants.

20. He always helped coach or sponsor our teams when my brother and I played sports. I aged him a few years when I was working on learning the fastpitch windmill, but he still helped. He never told me he was too tired to play catch. Not once.

21. He made custom mouthguards for my friends who played sports at the high school level. For free.

22. He was a member of several community organizations over the years, from the Y's Men, to Rotary to Moose Lodge. I think he always longed to belong to something bigger than himself, even though he was truly an introvert at heart.

23. When I was a little girl, he worked a Christmas tree lot for Y's Men. He'd take me along with him. He loved, loved, loved doing it. I loved watching him share so much joy with others.

24. He was in a car accident after high school and injured his back severely. The recovery was difficult and never really complete. He spent the time he was healing constructing a bar for my grandparents, inlaid with old coins. It was beautiful...and too big and heavy for us to move out of there. I hope the people who bought the house still have it.

25. He loved to throw things away, to donate old stuff, to clear clutter. I come by it honestly.

26. He was meticulous about his appearance, never had a hair out of place. He always said that you couldn't decide what other people thought about you, but you could make sure you showed the world the good stuff.

27. One of his favorite father-ly phrases to repeat at us was "when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me".

28. On that note, he "wasn't a mindreader". He probably told me that 2,843 times.

29. Oh, and "do it right, or you'll do it twice". Sometimes I guess I really do sound like him these days...

30. When I was a disrespectful teenager, he and I argued almost constantly. One day when he was particularly frustrated with me, I slammed my door. He dared me to do it again. I did. He came, calmly, up the stairs with a hammer and flat head screwdriver, took the door off the hinges. I protested, saying it was my room. He just said that it was my room, and that was fine....but it was his door. He kept it long enough to make the point.

31. He never did manage to buy my mother a purse she liked, but god bless him...he kept trying.

32. For that matter, he always got her flowers and jewelry. He was good at the gift giving stuff.

33. When I turned 15, he gave me my first real piece of jewelry. He asked me what I wanted, got exactly what I asked for. A silver ring with a blue topaz stone. I wear it every day still.

34. He met my mother in high school. They broke up when they graduated. Years later, my Mom ran into his mother in the grocery store one day. They both thought the other had married someone else. They hadn't. In fact, she'd just called off an engagement to someone else because she'd had a dream about him. He spent hours searching his room for her number. He found it. Obviously.

35. He loved his dogs more than us, I think. They didn't talk back, they didn't grow up and leave. When they were puppies, he'd put them inside his hoodies to keep them warm. It was pretty much the cutest thing ever.

36. He was always more worried about my Mom than he was about himself. That wouldn't change, even after he was diagnosed with cancer.

37. When he was diagnosed, he made a short bucket list. No traveling necessary, no grand requests. He wanted to live long enough to see my nephew born. He almost made it to his first birthday.

38. He wanted to make sure that we took his car when he died. He figured we'd need the space. We drove it home after the funeral. I couldn't bring myself to drive it, but refused to get rid of it. Just after my mother died, my brother and his family were in an accident on their way here for Christmas. Their truck was totaled. They took Dad's car home.

39. Four days before he died, he took me out to breakfast for my birthday, told me that I'd given him the gift that year by coming and staying and taking care of him.

40. The first house we bought was a tiny thing in horrible condition, but it was all we could afford. It needed a ton of work, had a wall covered with wood paneling, was missing kitchen cabinets and had just had an addition built with a bizarre entrance that looked like the door to the batcave. He never once criticized us, questioned what the hell we were thinking or told us we'd made a huge mistake. He smiled, asked for a tour and somehow found positive things to say.

41. He loved all motor sports, but NASCAR was his favorite. A little of the joy left the sport permanently when Dale Earnhardt died.

42. All he really needed in life was a remote control, a television, a glass of water and a recliner.

43. His eyes were the windows to his soul. They were gorgeous blue and revealed everything about him whether he wanted them to or not. He could never lie about how he was feeling, his eyes told the truth.

44. He had a distinct scent, a combination of hair spray and Stetson and aftershave. I've smelled that combination exactly once since he died, and it damn near brought me to my knees.

45. The last day I took him in to the lab, he spent his time writing notes for the people he worked with. He even cleaned out his car. He tidied up the place before he left. I'm not kidding.

46. When my oldest son was 4, we were talking about the jobs people in the family had. I was trying to explain what my Dad did, that he made teeth for people who lost theirs. My son immediately asked if he was the Tooth Fairy, and I immediately said yes. He's been the Tooth Fairy ever since.

47. The last tooth lost on his watch was tucked into his shirt pocket after he died. It belonged to his oldest granddaughter, the one he'd talk off the ledge every single time she had a loose tooth.

48. He wasn't big on dessert, but he'd eat the hell out of a hand packed pint of 31 flavors chocolate chip ice cream. He'd insist that hand packed was better, and there was no use arguing with him.

49. When I was little and started to doubt Santa, he climbed up on the roof with jingle bells and stomped around on Christmas Eve.

50. He loved music and there are so many songs that take me back to my childhood because of him. This is one of them. There are so many fond memories in these notes and words.

Miss you, Dad. I love you.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

You Got This, Mama

I could write entire posts about what it is like to live with post partum depression, about each of the bizarre symptoms that I deal with, about the particular realities involved with my specific subtype of the condition.

I've written a bit about them here before, though not in too much detail. I don't go into the details so much for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I'm still very much dealing with PPD on a daily basis and paying too much attention to the details tends to send me into a spiral.

My form of PPD is closely tied to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have intrusive thoughts. Essentially what that means for me is that my brain is really good at imagining injuries that could happen to the baby. Sometimes in my head, usually in my head, I'm the one hurting him. Sometimes in my head, his injuries are the result of a horrific accident or trauma. Sometimes in my head, the harms come to him from other people.

It's really fucked up. There's no way to sugar coat it.

The thing about this particular form of PPD is that it almost never results in a mother perpetrating harm to her child, we are just stuck in this world where we're constantly imagining things happening to them.

I don't talk much, if at all, about the things I see in my head because they're so disturbing that I don't want to even speak them aloud. I tend to do better when I'm intentionally distracted. The quiet moments are generally the ones where the visions come more frequently.

I've been asked by some people to advocate more than I already do on behalf of maternal mental health issues. I will. I have done so in the past. I just can't right now.

I spent almost an entire year of my daughter's life avoiding stairs. I stopped driving mountain roads for a while after I saw myself driving the car off a cliff.

I have never harmed any of my children, although the truth is that this condition has kept me home probably more than it should. I tend to hide in my hole more than I should because I know it is safe here. There are not so many unknowns if I keep things close. The unknowns are more likely to weasel their way into my brain and turn themselves into intrusive thoughts.

Anyway, you might be wondering why I am writing this right now.

I'm writing this because a high profile celebrity mom, Hayden Panatierre, has just checked herself into a therapy center for post partum depression. As is par the course for the internet, it seems that everyone has an opinion about her right now, and because of the wonder that is social media, everyone feels compelled to share them.

Here's my opinion.

If you've never dealt with this condition and you are criticizing her (or any mother out there who deals with it), shut the hell up. 

That seemed harsh, I know.

God, that was harsh.

Here's the thing,'s hell. Truly hell to deal with, and until and unless you've been in this dark, messed up place, you really don't know what you're criticizing.

When you have a baby, people expect you to be happy and self-sufficient and blissful and content, they expect you to only have positive thoughts and energy about the child you've brought into this world. They expect and demand that you bond immediately, that you change everything about your life to accommodate this person who needs everything from you. Not only that, but in this fucked up society we live in, mothers are supposed to be perfect. You're supposed to have a beautiful, easy, unmedicated labor with a healthy child who eagerly nurses without incident. You're supposed to make every choice after diligent planning and research. You're not supposed to express any sadness or emotion other than pure love. Oh...and we expect you to do all that without help. You're on your own, mom. Society doesn't have time to actually help you out or give you time to heal. Nope. You'd better get back into those jeans in 6 weeks and not ever look tired, because GOD KNOWS IF YOU LOOK TIRED, SOMEONE WILL TELL YOU.

Then they'll offer some extremely unhelpful and unsolicited advice about all the things they think you're doing wrong.

And maybe, for some lucky women out there, motherhood looks like that. I have to assume that they exist, even if I've never known any of them. We're all expected to compare ourselves to these fictional happy, healthy, stable, fit mothers. Maybe there are some out there. There must be, right?

It just isn't realistic for most of us.

And for some of us, PPD sneaks in and whispers in our ears. Tells us that we are failing, that we are broken, that we are weak. It plays these evil movies in our minds about the things we might do, the harms that might come. The anxiety creeps in, the depression takes hold.

And none of that, not one single bit of it, makes us bad mothers.

It just means that we need help.

I've needed help. I still need help. I have to actively seek out ways to benefit my mental health, and I have to do it because I know that if I don't, a long, dark, scary path calls my name.

Hayden needs help. She is seeking it.

That doesn't make her weak, no. Not even close.

It makes her strong and brave and powerful. It means that she is doing what is necessary for her to be there for her child. She is doing what is required for her sanity.

And she's doing it in public, before a world full of criticism and judgment at a situation they can't possibly understand.

Unless they've been there.

And those of us who have been there, who are there now, we are clapping for her, chanting her name, lifting her up.

What she is doing, and how she is doing it so openly, will help countless women out there in the world right now trapped in their own heads feeling like there is something really wrong, but who are afraid to ask for help, who are afraid to tell someone.

If you are suffering from PPD, you are not alone. Please get help. Talk to someone. Reach out.

There's a whole bunch of us out here, fighting the demons in our heads, promising ourselves and our children that we're doing what we need to in order to get well and stay there. We're here. Talk.

Much love, Hayden.

You got this, mama.


If you or someone you love could be suffering from post partum depression, please seek help. The symptoms vary in severity from person to person, are more severe than with the baby blues, last longer and can surface months, weeks (or even years) after a child is born. On occasion, PPD can be triggered by weaning after breastfeeding as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It was all too much until it stopped

This past weekend, my husband hauled all the Halloween boxes from out of the basement for the annual decoration ritual. As the calendar changed from September to October, it all begins, the fall holidays that come and go, urging the winter ones right along behind them.

This time of year, like so many of them it seems, carry heavy reminders for me personally. From the first moments of October all the way through to the end of the year, it's as though each week practically has some date that means something in one way or another.

October carries more than a few of those dates.

The first of October has become one of the hardest days of the year for me, for reasons that I still haven't shared here and maybe never will. Probably never will. As time passes, I find myself even more protective of the people who were here in many ways, even though they've been long gone and are no longer in need of my protection, not that they ever necessarily wanted it to begin with.


Anyway, we were unpacking the boxes of all things Halloween, lamenting the fact that we almost never put things away in an orderly fashion. Costumes are supposed to have their own boxes, outdoor decorations their own, indoor ones separated, and so on and so forth. What ends up happening, regardless of our best intentions is that we tend to just throw it all into a box and banish it to the basement until the next time.

I need to be better about that.

As we were pulling things out, a pattern emerged. One that I didn't have to deal with last year because I was so deep in the postpartum fog that the decorations never even made it out of the basement. One that I didn't have to deal with because those boxes were never unpacked. Instead, the contents all remained stashed away down where I didn't have to see them.

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's really the last remaining holiday that isn't encumbered by huge expectations. No gifts to buy, no places we have to be, no obligations raddled with guilt. Just fun. That, and my kids are clinging tightly to this idea of family costumes, which both amazes and amuses me tremendously. I know that I'm on borrowed time here, I feel like I have been for a while now. Waiting for someone, anyone to outgrow this thing we do, to demand that they go their own way. It hasn't happened yet, and for that I am grateful.

I love Halloween. I always have.

It usually makes me so content inside. The changing seasons, the earthy tones of the decorations, the chill in the air, the comfort of blankets and warm cups of tea. The mystery and the intrigue. You can be whoever you want to be this time of year. For a person like me, that's pretty fantastic.

I do love Halloween, but something happened this weekend as we were unpacking the boxes that made it all hurt a little bit in a way I didn't see coming. Grief is like that, though. It tends to sucker punch you in the gut when you least expect it to. I truly should know this by now.

We took the rug out for the kitchen, realizing that that the baby's name isn't on it alongside all the rest of us. My husband asked where my Mom had ordered it from, said we'd just get another one.

I took the candy bags out of the boxes, the ones that I don't even think the kids have ever used, the ones individually embroidered with their names, the ones that are too small to be practical for kids who won't stop trick or treating until they can't carry their loot any more. Those ones. They all have names on them. They were all from her.

But the baby doesn't have one.

He doesn't have one because she was gone before he came.

Then out came the pumpkins. The silly little decorations. The orange smiling plastic jack-o-lanterns that, not surprisingly at this point, are personalized with the names of the older four. From her.

This was my mother. All the things. All the things for all the holidays. Everything had to be personalized and so far over the top that it was almost nauseating. It was too much.

It was all too much.

It was always too much.

Until it stopped.

And now I just miss her. I miss her so damn much, and I'd give anything for another holiday full of silly things emblazoned with the names of my children. I'd give anything for her to have had a chance to meet this sweet boy and shower him with nauseating personalized trinkets for every single holiday.

I miss you, Mom.

It sucks to be here without you.

Friday, September 25, 2015


The past few weeks have been transitional ones here, with the move to homeschooling two of the kids. I've been mostly in a good place of late, but I know that that's largely because I have just been too busy to think about how I'm feeling. Not that it's a bad thing, to be honest. I tend to go down the rabbit hole when met with idle time.

The last couple of days, there has been something unsettled in my heart. A familiar, but uncomfortable feeling, one that I know well. Had I really looked at the calendar, I would have realized why.

It's been four years, today.

Four years since I received a phone call that told me she was gone.

Four years now without my friend.

If I'm being completely honest with myself, I wasn't nearly as good a friend to her as I should have been, as I needed to be, especially those last weeks and months. The last time she and I talked, really talked, she'd nudged me along the sidelines of a soccer game on an unusually cold morning and spoke with an urgency I should have recognized, that I did recognize but was refusing to see reflected in my own reality.

I was in too bad of a place myself to be the friend I should have been, and I carry that regret with me to this day. I haven't forgiven myself for it yet. She'd tell me to.

I wish I'd have reached out to her more, I wish that I'd have let her in more. I wish that I'd allowed myself to be vulnerable, I wish I'd told her that I understood things more than I'd ever let on. I wish.

Wishing doesn't bring her back.

Wishing doesn't give me that morning again.

Wishing doesn't remove that phone call from my life, from the days and weeks that followed, from the long goodbyes to someone gone too soon.

There are people out there that placate those in grief with trite words like everything happens for a reason, as though there would ever be a reason for the world to lose someone as amazing as she was.

She was a unique and beautiful force in this life.

She taught me so many things in the years that I shared on this planet with her. She taught me kindness, she taught me patience. She taught me organization, she taught me how to celebrate. She taught me to keep laughing even when it hurts and she taught me grace for all the moments when the laughter won't come.

There are still times that I will be out somewhere and I'll hear a laugh that faintly resembles hers and I'll think for a moment that maybe she's there.

She is still here in a way, in the gifts she left behind, in the lessons she taught so many of us.

It's not the same though. It never will be.

I miss you, my dear friend, and I love you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

To The One I Never Thought I'd Meet

Dear Sweet Boy,

I started this letter to you a few weeks ago, actually, sitting on the front porch of the house, staring up as the breeze blew, the afternoon sunlight filtered by the movement of the leaves. The air filled with the sounds of those leaves just beginning to dry out and crinkle on the edges and of you, talking to yourself as you played beside me. 

It's coming, fall. The tops of the trees are turning color ever so slightly, daylight shortening with each passing evening. It was this time last year that you arrived. I knew that you'd be here soon, though I wished that I could have altered the way you came. 

I tried and I failed to change that. 

It won't be the last time that I try and I fail to do what's best for you or for me, child. I know that with more certainty than I've ever known anything in my life.

Parenthood isn't easy. It's filled with times when I've wondered if I was doing the right thing, times when I questioned my abilities. I've learned now, through having done this for so long with your siblings, that my instincts are generally good ones and that I should trust them.

It's been different with you. It's all been different with you.

I'm different.

Your father is different.

With you, I think that we've become the parents we always wanted to be. Calmer, gentler, quieter. We're more in tune with you, we pause more, we hold back more at times, give more all the rest. Maybe it is you that is so different. There is a reason I call you my sweet boy. You adore your siblings, your smile is huge when you see one of them across a room. You eagerly crawl to them, walk to them, with open arms.

You love big, with all the wild eyed open mouthed kisses to accompany it.

You are stubborn and independent. You started walking a while ago, figuring out how to stand up without help just this past weekend. 

You are inquisitive and curious in a way I haven't seen since your oldest brother was a baby. You want to open everything, see everything, try everything.

You are good natured and already have a sense of humor that tells me you belong here with us. You've been laughing at yourself since you were just 3 or 4 months old. Keep doing that throughout your life.

Your hair is as unwieldy as can be. Double crowned, you are. They say that it's associated with intelligence, which would make sense. You seem to just know things, about life, about people, about the world around you. You figure things out quickly, already.

Your eyes are truly the windows to your soul, one that I'm convinced is an old one. I think maybe you've been here before. There are times that I look at you and I see your father, times that you resemble all of your siblings together, times you are just like one of them alone, times you remind me so much of my parents, of other people in our family, and then there are all the times that you are uniquely you - a force to be reckoned with in this world all your own.

I never knew that we'd meet someday. I thought for certain we wouldn't. And then one day, one year ago, you came into the world.

You told me that though I thought I knew so much, I really knew nothing at all. I had to learn you. Then I had to learn us.

You rearranged my priorities in a way I wasn't prepared for, wrapping us all around your tiny fingers from the moment you arrived.

You taught me to slow down, to soak up everything you are, and then you forced me to do it.

You still insist that I give you all of my attention every time you are nursing, demanding to hold my free hand with yours.

You forced me to accept my powerlessness to so many aspects of parenthood in a way I'd never confronted before. You forced me to accept a lot of things, and that acceptance has brought calm with it.

You healed me and heal me every day with your presence.

You've given me wisdom and peace.

I never knew I'd meet you someday, but now I know for sure that you've always been meant to be here.

We just had to wait.

I love you, sweet boy.

Happy birthday, baby.


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