Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Might Be the Hardest Birthday Letter Ever...

Dear Freckles,

You'll be 15 tomorrow. You've already asked me a few times if this is finished. I haven't written this because finding the words is hard for me right now. Too many feelings. As I tend to do, though, I waited until the last possible opportunity and am about to run into your birthday. So, my time is up. I have to do this now.

I have been sitting here staring at a blank screen for a good long while.

Where do I begin???

God, honey. This year. This fucking year.

First, before I say anything else, I want to start by saying that I love you more first.

Now that's out of the way....

When I wrote your letter last year, when you were turning 14 and finishing up middle school, life was a whirlwind, and it was all swirling around you, sweeping you up. You had so many projects and responsibilities and obligations, so many plans and hopes and dreams, so many fears about what the next year would hold.

And now, here we are, on the other side of this year. This fucking year.

This year hasn't been very fair to you. I hesitate to be the parent to you that my father was to me, but the reality is that life isn't usually fair. More things just happen to some of us. And, for reasons that don't exist and aren't worth trying to find, you've had more. I know that this truth sucks, and it doesn't help much to know that this is just the way life is sometimes. I know all this.

And yet, here we are.

Rather than pretend that there is some reason things work out this way, I've done the best I can to try and prepare you to cope. I've tried to give you the skills and the tools that will get you through these times.

And I've failed.

We still ended up here.

The good news about being here, though, is that we are still here.

We are still here. 

You and I.

We are both still here.

We're hanging in there. We're fighting to stay. We're forcing ourselves to talk about the things we don't want to talk about. We're doing the things that we have no interest in doing because they keep us both here.

We're a team. Sometimes this team is messy, sometimes we suck at everything, sometimes we're exhausted, sometimes we feel lost and unsure of how to move forward.

But we're here. Your hand in mine. With fingers, even. (inside joke)

We're all in this together. (also an inside joke and poorly veiled High School Musical reference)

I could write a long post about all the things you've done this year, about all the accomplishments, about starting high school and doing marching band and absolutely dominating your classes and about pushing yourself all the time, but I won't.

Because to me, none of those things matter.

What matters to me aren't the grades or the things you can list on a resume. What matters to me aren't the things that can be objectively measured. What matters to me aren't the things that most people seem to care about these days.

What matters to me is you.

Just you.

Your passion and your laughter and your moments of joy. Your eye for the beauty in life, your heart that loves so many and so much, your determination to get through everything you've had to wade through this year.

The way you and your Dad lock eyes in a way that requires no words when you catch the other one doing or saying the exact same thing. Your similarities have truly revealed themselves this year more than any other, and although I know it doesn't always feel like this is an asset, trust me when I tell you that it is. You have each other. You understand each other more than anyone else ever could or will. Always, always, always remember that.

The way your face lights up when you are playing video dancing games with your little brother, when he is asking you for help with his audition music, when he is doubting himself in some way and you are there, cheering him on. The moment you realized just how much like you he is this month, and when you recognized that as much as you worry about and love him, he worries about and loves you. You can get through this together. And you will.

The way that you and your little sister fight like feral cats, but will defend one another endlessly against the rest of the world. The way that you watch carefully as she navigates friends and boys and remind her to take care of herself in your always-sarcastic-but-loving way. The way you've shown her how to perfect her eyeliner wings. The way you push her to do all her own research, not because you can't just give her the answer (because you could), but because she needs to learn it herself.

The way you scoop up the littlest one and play hide and seek with him even when he is absolutely terrible at it. You are the person who always encourages him to build his imagination, to try new things, to work on his letters and shapes. Even when he drives you batty, you'll turn on Boo-bah and relive your own toddlerhood for his amusement.

The way you worry about your older brother, wonder what life is going to be like for him when he goes off to school and what it all means for you. Always concerned with his parking skills and his heart, you and he have a special connection. Maybe it is that whole oldest kid thing, but you two seem to feel a different level of responsibility for one another, even if you'll never ever admit it out loud. He loves you so much. He worries about you. Just like you do about him.

The way you still can curl up in my lap when you need to. My lap will never be too small and you will never be too big. The way you lean over and grab my hand. The way you have learned when you need time and space to be alone with your thoughts and when you absolutely need to be around people, even if you might hate every single second of it. The way that you have forced yourself to do things that are awful because they keep you here.

The way you write me letters and quietly leave them for me to find when you need help, but can't find the words to ask in person.

Thank you for trusting me to take care of you.

Thank you for believing in me.

Thank you.

You're fighting for yourself. You're fighting for yourself as much as you are fighting for your siblings and your friends and the rest of the world.

I see how brave you are.

I see how strong you are.

I see how you can dig deep to overcome all that you struggle with, I see it.

There is this misconception in our society about bravery. It isn't about not being afraid.

It is about being afraid and doing it anyway.

Every damn day, you're doing it anyway.

And I am so proud of you.

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

I love you.

Let's go kick 15's ass, okay?


Friday, February 9, 2018

February, we meet again...

For as much as I do genuinely love the abrupt end of the holiday season every January, I know that the middle of that month will be difficult, and that once I get through that it will be February.

I know that.

It is that way every year since he died.

February always shows up.

This nagging dread. These dark days of winter. The weeks when I have always struggled the most, regardless of what else was going on. This time last year, I really and truly was thinking about ending my own life. When the anxiety and the depression get in my head together, it doesn't take long for it to get bad, especially this time of year when the light is so small and the days are so long.

This year has been so much bigger. Everything has been magnified.

The 15th of January is the day that I lost my first child. It has been 17 years now, but that day still insists on remaining on calendars anyway. I was supposed to be at a wedding the day it happened, but I was curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor instead. I'd be forced to justify that absence to people who never cared about me years later. Most of the people who should have cared...didn't. Maybe they never knew what to say, so they never said anything at all.

The thing about having a miscarriage is that it's so easy for everyone else to act like nothing happened. No pregnancy. No baby. No heartbreaking grief. It all gets erased. You become invisible to them. Or if they see you, they turn their mouths down just so, make those sad eyes at you, the ones that indicate they feel sorry for you somehow, but then remain silent nonetheless.

Ah, the ides of January.

Always an asskicker.

This year, I spent a few hours on the following day talking to a bunch of people who'd never lost a baby about losing a baby. Why that conference call had to be that week...I don't know. Life just has a way of working out that way, I suppose. As I struggled to explain what being in that situation was like to people with no reference point beyond a few stories they'd been told, I promised myself that I WAS going to be okay. That this was in a strange and twisted way, a fitting tribute for the anniversary. That it wasn't going to hurt so much because I was trying to make something, anything about this terrible process a little bit better for someone, anyone else. That somehow my sharing of my story could maybe make someone else feel a little bit less alone.

I convince myself of these things without ever knowing whether they are true, but because it helps keep me upright.

It came, then went. I was emotionally drained, but I was okay.


The day after that one, something else altogether happened. And maybe someday I will talk about it here, but it is much more likely that I won't. Suffice to say that I legitimately feel like I have aged ten years in the past month. I've never felt more responsible and powerless at the same time.

At least a few times in these past few weeks, I have found myself longing for reassurance that I was doing the right thing. That I was making the right choices. That I was doing the best that I possibly could. That I had done as much as possible and had found the right people to help. That I had leaned when and where I needed to, and that I wasn't irretrievably damaging anyone else by dropping all the balls I had suddenly let go.

It was one of those priority-rearrangers, for sure.

More than anything, though, I've wanted someone to sit me down and look me in the eye and tell me that 

Even if they don't know that. Even if there is no way to predict what the future will bring. Even then.

The person who was always the best at that was my father. And he isn't here.

He hasn't been here for a very long time.

It will be seven years tomorrow since the Santa Ana winds came and swept him away that morning.

If I am being completely honest with myself, I don't know that he would be particularly helpful or understanding about this situation we are facing. I don't. I don't know that he would comprehend what we are going through or why. I don't know that he would agree with my choices or the determinations that have been made, or the path that we have chosen to walk. I don't know that he wouldn't be like a few of those who know have been - offering well intentioned, but damaging and unsolicited advice. I don't know. Asking questions that only made it worse. I don't know.

But then there have been so many people, so very many people, who have lifted us up. Who have dropped everything at a moment's notice. Who have filled in the places I couldn't be. Who have shown up, handed me food, and let me cry on their shoulders. Who have, without even needing to know more, offered to help. Who have given time, energy, boxes of snacks, bags of coffee. Things to make sure that I was taking care of myself. Keychains and healing rocks to carry with me all the time. Some of them, things that there was no possible was that the giver would have known would have the specific meaning in my life that they have.

I feel like all of these people in our lives right now have combined forces in some magical and mystical way, forming an emotional support Voltron, to be what I need, what I would have hopefully gotten from him, what he can no longer give me. But it is here. It is still here.

It comes from UPS trucks and gets dropped in milk boxes and arrives in the form of memes and poetry.

My father is still here, and every single one of you who have shown us this kindness these past few weeks have given me a piece of him without even knowing it.

So many have asked me lately how I am.

Honestly, I don't know.

I know I am not okay, but I can't seek details beyond that in this immediate reality.

I don't have the luxury of time to think about how I am right now. There are so many other responsibilities I carry, and I can't be bothered to sit around and ponder my emotional well being. I have to be okay, because it isn't just my life depending on it.

I have to.

I happen to be really ridiculously good at crisis mode. Whenever other people need me, I rise to the occasion. And yeah, I usually end up sacrificing some bit of myself in the process, but this is what I do. And my role as saver has to be the most important one right now, because it is intertwined with my role as mother.

There is no other option.

I know that when the immediacy of this crisis passes, and Thor willing, I hope it passes sooner rather than later, I will hit the wall. I know this. I know that once I can lower my guard for even a moment, the waves will come crashing down with a force to level me. I know this. I am so numb right now that I will almost welcome it, because its arrival will signal stability elsewhere.

And we could use a little stability right about now.

This post didn't end up being much about you, Dad. But then you really never wanted me to write about you anyway.

I guess I just needed to tell you that even though things are not okay right now, and that I am not okay right now, we are surrounded by people who love us and care about us. And in each of them, I see a little piece of you.

And even if we aren't okay right now, we will be.

I miss you, Dad...but in a strange way I feel a little bit closer to you now that I have in years.

It would still be nice to hear you say it though.


Monday, February 5, 2018

So, that was 40. Huh.

When you are young and believe in things like invincibility, 40 seems so distant and far away. Not even real, it is so far from where you are and where you've imagined that you'll somehow remain. Time, though, it has a way of telling you that you are kidding yourself, and eventually those years start to catch up to you.

Age hasn't really ever been a thing that I approach with hesitation. I set a bunch of silly goals when I was young, ages I wanted to be when I'd accomplished certain things, and then life revealed just how little I knew about who I'd be, and how little those things that I thought were everything really were.

This year has been a strange one.

In my birthday post last year, I outed myself for being suicidal. Last week, talking with a friend who has been in similar places off and on, I said that I judge my current with my worst. As in, if I'm not thinking about launching myself off a balcony or fantasizing about driving off a cliff, then I must be okay.

Which is bullshit.

Just because I'm not all the way there doesn't mean I'm not there.

Just because I'm a little bit or even a lot depressed doesn't mean it isn't important enough to mention simply because I've been worse.

My current reality has me so caught up in the care and feeding of one of my children that I've forgotten how I feel about any of it. I can't do anything but get up and do the best I can for them because it is my job and I have to because lives depend on it, but I would be kidding myself if I said that I am not weary. And worn.

Exhausted is not big enough a word for how I feel, and it goes so far beyond a physical tired. I hope that when the time comes that I can let my guard down for just a little while, when I can sit down and look myself in the mirror and ask myself how I really am, that I weather that storm well.

I hope.

If nothing else, the experiences of the past year have taught me that I need to be better at following my own advice. I need to talk about it more...but that truth is laced with the unpleasant reality I've lived too many times.

Most people can't handle my truth.

They dismiss it, tell me I am overreacting. Tell me about some story they are seeking comparison for, as if my vulnerability was an invitation for them to try and convince me that they need me more than I need them.

There are reasons I don't tell many people about the things that are going on.

Valid reasons.

And even then, when I do let some people in, I often regret it immediately. Remind myself why I build those walls.

Promise myself I will keep trying to let people in, even when it backfires, because I need to do that in order to survive.

So, that was 40.


At least it's over.

To new beginnings.

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