Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lessons from a waterpark and a big pretzel.

Our 2 oldest kids survived 2nd and 4th grades, and the 4 year old did not produce early retirement of his teacher, so we surprised them all with a trip to Wisconsin Dells and a stay at a water park resort to close out the school year.  I have heard of "The Dells" for years, but had never been there; my Hubby had not been there in about 30 years.  What he remembered of the area was a water ski show (which was still amazing), the Yogi Bear campground, and the famous "Duck Boats" which the kids loved as much as he had.  What was very different was the abundance of massive waterparks and crappy tee-shirt shops that now inundated the area.

We stayed at a resort that had 4 different waterparks within its' property.  About 24 hours before we left for the park, I had this terrifying realization of "Oh crap. We are going on vacation where I need to be in a swimsuit!!!" This had not yet really occurred to me, though we had booked the reservation a while ago.

On your given day, I am a pretty confident, not immensely self conscious, take-me-as-I-am woman.  Drop me in a water park with a gazillion sub-30 year olds, and it's a different story.  My normal "I am strong and powerful" voice gives way to "Look at her belly compared to yours." and "Wow if I had her body, I would rock a bikini, not cover it up in a 'Mom' suit."  I found myself measuring myself against moms with the same number of kids as I, around same age as I, with more kids than me, repeatedly feeling so inadequate and dejected.  The internal dialogue was incessant and after the second day, I began to wonder, "What. The. Hell??"

When does this start? When does this constant comparison and self-judgement start? Because I know if I could read the thought bubble above my husband's head, it would say NOTHING about the other Dad's bodies.. It would read more like "Do I have the lime-a-coloda or the blue raspberry tornado-rita this time?" I know my children, and daughter, specifically, cared NOTHING about what peoples' shapes were.  There were concerned with things like another tube ride, schmoozing their way to get a big pretzel, trying to get their Dad on the "Tornado" slide and when the wolf howl would again summon the giant waves in the wave pool. 

So I pondered for a few days, the when, but more so, the WHY does this happen to the majority of women? Why could I not just sit there and feel "enough" because I had the courage and stamina to go down the "Tornado" with my son, which left my stomach in my throat for the majority of the ride. Why could I not just see this experience through their eyes; their parents were playing WITH them, screaming in delightful terror with them.  They gave not a second thought to their Mom's shape in a one piece swimming suit.  Why?  Why does it matter?  When they look back at this vacation will they think, "Our mom was squishy and un-toned?"  I don't know. But I don't think so. But why do those things just itch at my brain saying "You've let yourself go.  Gross."  Why am I still judging my worth, strength, dedication and/or value as a woman by my body's shape and it's ability to look alluring in 2 or less yards of lycra material?

I was so frustrated with myself, because I knew it did not matter. Logically, my brain told me this.  Logically I knew that it's called a body shape, because that is what it is: a shape.  Logically I knew my body is stronger now than in my 20's, but then that little bitchy voice says "Yeah, and fatter."  Logically I knew my body... my BODY grew three human beings inside of it.  Three. And then healed after having 3 babies surgically removed from it... the first one being evicted quite traumatically.  Logically I knew all of these things, but why did that knowledge fall short and, in the middle of a water park, matter so much less than the poochy tummy I grew over the winter?

I'm sure I can blame the big elusive evil empire referred to as "The Media" but it has to be more than that.  If I could be swayed by The Media that easily, I would believe that being born a Kardashian gave one innate talent.  And besides, I am not 23, spending my entire existence "plugged in."  In fact, when I think of my teens and 20's I gave significantly less thought to my body image than I have in the last 10 years.  Do I blame the Mommy Myth, that is we are to be/have/do it all, perfectly like the celebrities? But that is too easy and it is just a right arm of The Media.  So where... and why... do these thoughts plague me?  I am not even sure I know the answer, which is irritating because that would make blaming so much easier.

So I am left just pondering, does it matter I am squishier than a year ago?  Well, it does, to a point.  I am not comfortable.  My clothes don't fit right, and I like my clothes and don't want to buy different clothes.  My energy level is down and my irritation level is up.  

And then, a few days after returning from our vacation, in the middle of my daughter's birthday party, my 4 year old points to my squishy belly pooch and announced clearly  (to God and everyone) "Mom, there's another baby in your tummy!"

And that was the moment. 

I could identify with Olaf's body image struggle.

I knew then I had to steer myself back towards a healthier lifestyle.  What has become clear over the last early mornings of walking, and I hate mornings, is that I wasn't really jealous of those other women.  I was seeing in them what I was missing from my better self: strength, confidence, and a certain consciousness of my health.  It wasn't about the better fitting suite and pert breasts (ok, maybe I still wish I had pre-baby boobs)... it was regaining control over my body, and how I care for it, nourish it, strengthen it.  To stop treating it like a beat-up garbage can, and making excuses.

While sitting at that resort, I now realize my feelings of frustration were not from a thought of "Why can't I have that body" but from "Why did you let it all go?"  I was frustrated, angry even, for becoming so complacent and lazy.  So in the end, I guess the "Why" and "Where" of the body image comparisons, at this point in my life,  came from myself.  It came from the voice that reminded me this is not my best version of me.  I was not feeling dejected because I didn't look like a cover model, I was feeling frustrated because I looked like a sadder, lazier, excusier Me.  And I didn't like her.  And I know I am better than her.  And my kids, more than anyone, deserve her as a role model, not the other gal.

So I am setting out to find her again.  Mostly along a country road at 6am.  She may show up wearing pointe shoes instead of running shoes, but she is out there.  And I'm kind of excited to see her again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Those days.

They have become very few and far between, but there are still days that hit me like a silent bullet to my chest.  It actually takes me a half a day to realize why I am starting to cry in the Subway line waiting for my turkey and provolone on wheat.  My insides are just jumbled, my skin is paper thin, and my ability to take even a sideways glance is non-existent.  I feel as though I am made of the most delicate porcelain; my being is fragile, breakable and unable to be touched.

These are the days that, even at 40 years old, I become acutely aware that I am longing for my Mom to tell me everything is going to be OK.  The need doesn't come around much anymore, but it usually follows a period when shit has hit the fan in triplicate, my hormones are ping ponging all over the place, the Hubby has been on long stretches of work and commuting and I'm left spinning and feeling out of control of even the tiniest thing.  

The thing is, a Mom is supposed to be the constant, the one who will always kiss my hurts away.  That is the way it is supposed to work. And then they die. And no matter how amazing my friends and family and framily are, I just want, need really, to put my head in her lap and have her reassure me that I am not a big fuck-up.  I try to comprehend how, in my life that is filled with so much love from others, I can in these days feel so utterly and painfully alone from the death of just one person.  

And I have been through this enough times that I know there is no silver lining to these days.  There is no comfort in the trite greeting card cliches of "You know she is always with you."  Those comments are as soothing as a ghost pepper to my cornea.  There is nothing that makes it better.  I just know that eventually I will fall asleep and wake up to a new day, with puffy eyes and a slightly better outlook.  But in the meantime I sit in my Wonder Woman underwear by my snoring oblivious spouse and try to put words to the pain, hoping that maybe if I can describe it a bit that maybe it'll ease the pressure... like opening a festering wound a bit, allowing the yuck to drain out slightly and maybe it won't hurt quite so much.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thrifting and prayers.

Recently my daughter and I spent the afternoon thrift shopping.  I've come to realize thrifting is my own warped sense of gambling... "What kind of vintagey cool unique thing may I stumble upon today?"  For her it is an afternoon of developing her style.  I believe in a style, not a fad or name-brand.  The current style her 7 year old self is cultivating resulted in an abundance of cheetah print.

As we walked to the last store, we heard the commotion before we saw it.  There was a young man, probably in his 20's screaming a profanity laden tirade as he and his pregnant female companion walked down the main street in our small town.  My daughter cowered into my side, gripping my hand tightly asking "What is he screaming about Mommy?"  I answered that I was unsure, and she asked, "Is it drugs Mom? Is that why he is acting that way?"

My life experiences have taught me that the young man was either suffering from the effects of alcohol, drugs and/or mental illness and my heart broke a little for him and his female companion that was obviously trying to make "everything better" as she chased after him to desperately cling to his arm.

As the local officers arrived to calm the man, my daughter stood peering out the window, intently taking in the scene.  The officers, the young man sitting on the sidewalk, and the upset female were knitted together in a disjointed web of society on the corner of the street in the late afternoon sun. 

Several times over the next few hours, my daughter said abruptly, "That was scarey Mom."

I finally had the foresight to ask, "What would you do if your boyfriend screamed like that?"  "I would run Mom. I would run and call the policeman, or just run away."

Oh baby girl... I pray you still feel this way when you are 16, or 24 or 33. 

I pray that you listen to that gut voice that screams RUN when your heart is saying "But I LOVE HIM." 

I pray that you know the difference between supporting someone who is struggling and trying to fix him. 

I pray that if you ever feel scared by the way someone is treating you, that you run. Run to a girlfriend, or your brothers or to your Daddy and me. 

I pray that you understand being alone is more fulfilling than being in a toxic relationship. 

And I pray that you never ever lose your fantastic sense of style to the pull of a passing fad. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Women's Health Public Service Announcement

There exists a misuse of the medical services, a service requested, and at times demanded that just does not need to occur.  What am I referring to? Going to your Physician or Urgent Care or (UGH!) Emergency room for Pregnancy Testing.  So I give you a Public Service Announcement on Pregnancy Testing!
When you peruse the feminine product aisle of your local Target, you may notice a gazillion and one different types of pregnancy tests.  And those suckers are expensive.  Noone wants to pay $12-14 on a pregnancy test, knowing they will want to test no less than 6 or 8 times to "make sure," (before they become elated or panicky)  so the best kept secret is finding out pregnancy tests are sold at THE DOLLAR STORE!

"The Dollar Store? Those can't be any good!?"
Seriously Ladies, a test, is a test.  Their sensitivities may differ by a small amount (which translates into a day or two) but they all function the same exact way. 

When the egg is fertilized by the sperm at the start of the fallopian tube, whether you wanted this to happen, or your friend Al Cohol is to blame, (the egg and sperm don't really care the intention) the egg travels down the interstate of the fallopian tube.  It is not an expressway, so it may take 5-8 days.

After 5-8 days, it pulls over in the 5 star Hotel Uterus for a stay.  Sometimes, all the rooms are filled by obnoxious cysts or fibroids and the egg doesn't get to hang out and you get your period shortly thereafter.

Other times, the welcome mat is rolled out, the blankets are pulled down, the lighting is dim, there are People magazines and chocolate on the nightstand and the egg buries itself into 300 count sheets and goes to sleep (for 9 months.)  IF the egg buries in, it almost immediately starts to produce hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin).  The level of this hormone starts out very low and doubles every two days.  It is in the level of how much hCG  is required to turn a test positive (2 pink lines!) where the tests vary.  But one thing does not change: THERE ARE NO FALSE POSITIVES.  (But do not look at the test after the time is up because it may look positive. Read the directions!) If it is is positive, you are pregnant. No, you are not a little bit pregnant, but pregnant.  You can take another 14 tests, but they are all going to be positive. At this point you can giggle with glee or sob with panic given your situation.

*Side note, you can have a false negative if you have tested too early.  Therefore, wait another two days (yeah, right like any woman can wait that long) and retest because remember the level of hCG is doubling every 48-72 hours.  Or, buy a gross of them and test as often as you want I guess.*

"But doctors must have way better more sophisticated tests, right?" 

Nope. It is essentially the same urine test, with a jacked up price.  You most likely have to pay a co-pay ($10-20), plus an office visit,($160) plus the lab testing ($30-80).  It will cost you about $200 to find out if life as you know it will change dramatically in nine months.   So, save yourself the money (or the bottom of line of Medicare/Medicaid) and head off to the Dollar Store.  You may have to ask for them behind the counter, sometimes they are secured safely with the smokes, but you will save yourself a ton of money. 

"But the blood tests, they are way better right? That is why I demand my provider give me one!!

 Ugh... first off, Providers would rather chew on tinfoil than be told what WebMD says you should have done when you demand it.  That aside, a blood test will show a level of hCG if it measurable in your blood.  Does it tell if you are pregnant? Yes. No. Maybe. It is a level. So it MAY mean you are pregnant, or it may mean you WERE pregnant and are now not.  Remember the hCG starts producing right away upon implantation.  But sometimes, the cleaning lady comes out and kicks the egg out of bed after a couple days because the credit card was rejected.  Implantation may not last and endure, thus the hormone may have started producing, but the provider has no way of knowing if it was higher or lower than it was yesterday, thus not knowing if it is a growing pregnancy or a failing pregnancy. 

"So fine, I'm not ever supposed to go to the Doctor?"

Yes, there are times when it is advised! But these are not it:
1. You got drunk on Saturday night, had unprotected sex, and come in Monday for a test.
2. You period was 2 or 3 weeks ago
3. You've taken 26 tests in the last 2 days and they are all positive and you "want to make sure."

You SHOULD get come in for a pregnancy test if:
1. You are having terrible low pelvic pain, and in hindsight you realize your period is late.  You may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. (The egg decided to go to sleep at a rest stop along the way instead of arriving at Hotel Uterus.)  A pregnancy test, and most likely some other testing will be done to find the cause of your pain.
2. Uhm... yeah I got nothing.

Ladies, your body is an AMAZING machine.  Take some time to learn about it, its' signs and signals and when you are fertile and not.  If you have no desire to have a child, do something about it, because we are wired to reproduce and it is your body. For the most part, reproduction is our bodies' default mode.  And should you find yourself wondering if you are pregnant, save yourself some money, your medical providers time, and head to your local Dollar Store for a pregnancy test (or 6.) 
A little funny from our friends at SNL!

*Disclaimer, I a not a physician but I sleep with one. And once many moons ago I wrote many boring papers to get my Bachelor's Degree in Nursing and had some years as an ICU nurse.* 


Monday, April 20, 2015

To the Girl without a Prom date:

It is that time of year again when the trees are starting to spurt new buds, the perennials are poking green tips out of the ground and the trees are filled with chirping birds--  Spring. It is a wonderful time!  Except if you are a teenage girl who has yet to be asked to prom.

The prom experience has taken on a life of its own.  There are prom dress shows (like bridal shows)  that showcase the latest fashion.  Social Media has one-upped itself with photo after photo of "Promposals" (excuse me while I puke a little in my mouth) and the craziness that it stirs up is overwhelming for me, a 40 year old woman.  I can not imagine the range of emotions it must create in an unasked girl.  For the young men, the anxiety that the rampant "Promposal" trend must induce would be enough to make any hesitant or shy guy just forgo asking anyone.  Rejection is hard enough... Rejection after you have designed and executed  a unique and creative "Promposal" would be humiliating.

To those who have dates, go and have fun! It is a great event, that you get to look and feel beautiful for, but it is a DANCE.  Maybe a nice supper too if you are lucky.  But it is not a mini wedding, it is not a commitment ceremony, it is fun! Be safe and have a great time! (and wear those new shoes a bit before that night or your feet will hate you.)And be safe!

Now to the girl who is still waiting to be asked.  It sucks.  It hurts.  And you know what? It is in no way ANY REFLECTION OF YOUR DATE-ABILITY OR ATTRACTIVENESS!  My guess is you are probably a girl who falls into a few of the following characteristics: shy, independent, strong, outspoken, smart and or having an old soul.

Girls with these fantastic characteristics can not be easily put in a box.  Guys (not men) are threatened by these girls.  They are not sure what to do with them.  But please have no fear and do not change who you are.  There are men out there who will cherish these qualities.  They will appreciate your strength and independence.  They will look with awe at your ability to process things around them from a point a view that your old soul allows you to have.  They will know that you are not actually all that shy, but rather, quiet, and when you do speak it is poignant, deep and/or absolutely brilliantly hysterical.  Please do not let the lack of invitation to this one event let you think, for one moment, you are not desirable or worthy of a date.  You are beautiful, and smart, and kind and you will go on to do amazing things. Trust me on this.

I'll let you in on a little secret... those beautiful dresses? Yes, they are gorgeous, and mostly made in China, and made cheaply and the crystals fall off and the zippers pop and the bedazzling was most likely sewn on by a child. And since you are a compassionate person, with a worldly view, you don't want part of that anyway, right? Well, I know, I want a pretty dress too... even at 40, I do... but take that upwards of $400-$800 that you would spend on a dress.. (actually you only need half of that), and go buy yourself a great jacket or pair of boots that will take you through the remainder of high school.  Something that will take you through some amazing ass-kicking times and tears and rejections and joy and it will have its' own story.

But you, the unasked girl, you are going to be fine. Actually AMAZING.  And to the boys who can't recognize these girls... don't say I didn't warn you when your 10 year reunion rolls around. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning to Fall

It was one of those rare winter days we are granted in North Dakota which is in the low 30's and calm.  It is the kind of weather perfect for sledding and snowballs, and the hill in the yard was calling the children's names.

We all headed outside, and as I tended to Bill, our goat with attachment issues, the kids shot down the hill on their sleds.  Their squeals and screams filled the air as their plastic luges careened off shrubs and dirt piles.  At one point, my daughter took a World Class Wipe-Out, crashing into some bushes, the sled continuing to skitter down the hill without her.  I paused, heard no tears, only the giggling of her brothers and the crumbling of her pride, and surmised she was fine.  I watched her sulk away to a row of hedges, I assumed to lick her wounds.  Her crash and burn reminded me of something Anne Lamott wrote about, when her friend taught her the valuable lesson of learning how to fall on the ski slopes.  I needed my daughter to not quit just because of a spill so I went to talk to her, only to discovered she had not been sulking but was quietly creating an arsenal of snowballs which she unloaded on me when I went to speak with her.

After the barrage had ceased, I told her that if she never learned to crash and burn or wipe out magnificently, she would miss out on so much in life. It was the same thing when I figure skated. If you never learned how to fall, you would never be able to try to jump.  In life it is the same thing.  I wish I would have learned to fall earlier in my life because God knows I've had some wipe-outs.

To me, it is all a matter of physics. To feel extreme joy, you need to be able to sit and feel complete defeat and heartbreak. In order to know someone fully, you need to first know yourself.  In order to feel like you are flying, you need to be willing to crash and burn.  As Newton taught us, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Life is supposed to be in a pendulum action, but I think we sometimes get stuck on one side.  Feeling pain, or sadness is feared and so we do everything in our power to not feel it, or avoid it, and in turn we never really know what true happiness can feel like.  Or we get comfortable in the pain and misery, and thus self sabotage ourselves in order to remain in the suck because joy would be so unfamiliar and frightening.

We are meant to fall, and we are going to fall, so ultimately the objective is to fall with grace. I know many of my falls in my 20's looked like this: "Look at me! I'm falling! Do you see I'm falling? Hey! I'm falling. I fell. Did I tell you I fell?" That is not graceful.  In fact it was probably pretty annoying.  Falling with grace looks a lot like that old lady in that really bad commercial that yells, "I've fallen and I can't get up."  It is learning to identify when you have taken a big enough spill that you need to reach out to those you love, and who love you, and ask for a hand.   

It is the ability to sit amongst the debris and reconsider going down that icy hill on roller skates, with a tail wind from behind and a strong dog on a leash pulling in the front.  It is the reflection of the warnings from those who know and love you cautioning you may bite it big.  It is the growth that comes from standing back up after your head and heart are clear and the little birds have stopped circling you.

The reality is learning to fall requires us to surrender. Surrender to gravity and to the unknown.  And we fight it because, well, we are humans with control issues. In the end the goal really is just to get up one more time than you fall.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

The man in the cafeteria

My daughter and I sat in the hospital cafeteria awaiting a followup appointment.  We were sharing a monster cookie... the same delicious fantabulous monster cookies I coveted at 2am on my night-shifts when I worked there many moons ago in a different lifetime. My daughter chattered on and on and on, her nervous anxiety bubbling out in a continuous stream of senseless blather that combined with the dull hum of lunching hospital workers.  Over my daughter's shoulder I noticed a gentleman dining alone.  He was probably in his 70's.  He had finished his meal and was sitting in the booth slowly twirling a straw in his hands.  His gaze was very far off.  I knew that gaze, and though I didn't know him, I knew his story.

The look I saw in his eyes was the look of someone losing their love.  I imagine his wife was a few floors above us, possibly in the Critical Care Unit or Oncology Ward.  His face showed the exhaustion of someone who had been doing this, dining alone, a little while now.  Time in the hospital takes its toll on a person in warp speed.  Days quickly meld into each other by the 24hr nature of a hospital and the physical exhaustion experienced by family members is only trumped by the emotional exhaustion.  His stoic face barely veiled the exhaustion, and pang.

When I looked at him, I felt almost voyeuristic like I was seeing memories as they played out in his mind.  The day he met her.  The day he held his first born.  The years of drought that brought poor crops and little money, yet somehow they survived.  Together.  They succeeded and failed together.  And now he looks on a potential rest of forever, alone.

The disharmony between his palpable ache and my daughter's effervescent yammering was almost overwhelming.  I tuned into her and time and my sensory input sped up ten fold.  I looked at him, and it's like that scene in the Matrix when everything freezes.  He was taking inventory of their memories together, replaying every detail he can recall, hoping she has known just how much he needed her, and loved her.  And wondering how, just how he will go on without her.

I wanted, longed actually, to say something to him.  But there really are no words for these times.  In the same way there is no way to accurately describe the feeling of holding your first child, or watching someone take their last breathe, there are no words that can bring understanding or comfort to standing on the threshold of being alone.  It is a time solely intended for feeling, experiencing, witnessing.  Anything I would stammer to say would be as awkward as a bullhorn blaring during a sunset.

As I reluctantly got up to leave, I gave the gentleman one last glimpse.  I wanted to know how the story was going to end, I wanted it to be wrapped up in a nice little package like a 30 minute show.  But I know that isn't how life unfurls, as much as we would like it to.  It is this discordant symphony of life and death, youth and age, joy and grief that, with faith, plays out meaningfully in the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

For the love of our Mothers...

Imagine discovering you are pregnant and realizing you have to keep it as secret as long as possible or risk losing your job.  You are not a nun, but a bookkeeper in an Agricultural office.  You are married, a newlywed in fact, and 24 years old.  What would possibly warrant termination due to pregnancy then?  Because it is 1960. In Midwest America.  And you are (obviously) a woman.

My mom told me this story many years ago and after I gathered my jaw from the floor, I stammered and stuttered, "But why???" This equation did not compute in my brain.  She went on to further explain that "especially teachers" could not be seen in front of children pregnant.  This was just how it was and you did not have a choice.  You hid it until you were found out, and then were done working.

My mom was born in 1936, today she would have been 79.  To many of my parenting peers, she would be their grandmother's not mother's age.  She graduated in 1955 and lived with her great friend in an apartment, working and living on her own, until 1960 when she married my Dad.  The average age of a woman getting married in this time was 20. She was 24 when she married my Dad and her outside-the-norm journey to marriage and motherhood is something I appreciate more and more as I myself age.

I share this story and information because I think there exists a lack of understanding by many to the way it used to be for women.  My Mother and Mother in Law are both of the same generation, but I have friends whose Mothers are a full generation younger, and that one generation made all the difference in the world between understanding how life was, and is now, for women.

Prior to the Women's Liberation Movement, it was nearly impossible for women to have mortgages, their own credit cards, their own bank accounts. Essentially women went from being under their father to under their husband.  Pregnancy was not considered natural or beautiful, but something that resulted from *gasp* sex, thus was slightly obscene.  Women were judged for, well, being women.  My appreciation of Women's Lib (not said in a snarled face of disgust like I have seen from some 80 year old Men) comes from their fight, their struggle to demand to be treated as equals, not as a Woman, like it was a diagnosable condition.  Women were tired of being judged by their looks, their actions, their thoughts.  They were tired of double standards.  They were fed up with being considered slightly higher than an angsty teen who was still in need of a spanking if they "got out of line."  Men entrusted them to carry their children, but not to make any decisions.  They were done with being told "you can't" because for no other reason than they were born a female.

So why, WHY, for the love of our Mothers, have we engaged ourselves in the Mommy Wars???  This is so completely confounding to me.  You would be hard pressed to find a Man under 40 who could tell you what a woman's role "ought to be."  We have all been told from birth we can be astronauts or parents or teachers or police officers.  ALL of us, male and female, have been told that.  We don't have men telling us what we should do, or how we should do it.  So, we decided to be our own worst enemy and beat up on each other?  This all seems so counterproductive to the hell our mothers, aunts, and others went through to NOT BE JUDGED.  Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Women's Lib fought so hard to gain the opportunity of CHOICE.  They begged, demanded, screamed for the choice to use their abilities, skills, intelligence and passions to do what they CHOSE, not what was expected of them.  They fought so we could go and have a career, or stay at home with our kids.  They fought so we could breastfeed our baby in public, or their Daddy could give their baby a bottle without being mocked.  They fought, kicking and screaming for choices.

So I offer this up, if you can't give up the battle from your side of the Mommy Wars because of your own convictions, give them up for those who went ahead of us.  We are all united as Moms.  Whether we carried them in our hearts or under our hearts, there is a bond that is inexplicably powerful we share as Mothers.  It is something that can not be understood by those who do not have children.  It is the thing that makes the story of a cat adopting chicks completely make sense.  How we choose to mother or parent is based on our experiences, our education, our upbringing, our talents, skills and passions.  The very things the women before us wanted to base their choices upon.  Let's honor them, and each other by embracing choice, supporting each other and stop being our own worst tormentors.

If you are exhausted from the nonsensical "Mom Wars" I invite you to sign the petition created by my friend over at Next Life No Kids! 

The Power of Words.

My oldest son slumped into my car's passenger seat after school, pants covered with snow and sighed. "Mom," he said, "A kid said in class today, 'Everyone who thinks Teddy is a nerd raise their hand.'"  My heart broke a bit for him, but I was not prepared for his words to slap me back to 1980.

In an instant, I am sitting at my desk in Mrs. Curle's first grade classroom.  The late afternoon sun blazed through the south windows.  The room was quiet as we worked at our desks, the smell of ditto ink wafting off the paper.  I was overcome by a force that caused the words to hatch from deep inside me and I watched them leave my mouth like evil little raptors, their claws dripping with cruelty.  The quiet was shattered by my 6 year old voice saying "Who ever doesn't like Chandra raise their hand."

My recollection of what happened next has faded.   I don't remember if I was the only who raised their hand in the unwarranted poll and I was probably mildly scolded. Then life went on as it does. Chandra was a heavier girl in our class, quiet if I remember correctly and she moved after first grade.  Honestly, I am not even positive if her name was Chandra or Chanda or Shandra, because my Mother had this amazing ability to contort even the simplest name thus what is scrawled on the back of my class picture may or may not have been her name.

What I do know is this act of unadulterated cruelty has haunted me for 34 years.  Did my words affect her forever? Did she shake them off? Did she eat her way to 500 pounds? Did she take my words and succeed to spite me and anyone else who had ever teased her?  Did she become a recluse who lived with 12 cats?  Does she remember this instance after 34 years?  I wasn't a mean child and that is why this one moment is burned into my memory.  I had no reason to say such a cruel thing, other than I made the conscious decision to blurt out those words, on purpose. Every once in a while I pull out my photo album and look at the class picture and wonder where her life took her, and really wish I could say I was sorry.

My husband and I have talked about the rare acts of deliberate meanness that we performed in our youth which have haunted us.  We wonder when cruelty and meanness eventually became the norm?  Maybe we are weird ( I mean weirder than what we already accept we are) to both be continually bothered by actions of our youth.  I realize I sound like an old codger with this "Kids these days" mentality, but frankly I'm a bit shocked by how commonplace, easy and accepted, it is to be cruel.

One of my wonderful babysitters showed me a Twitter page the other day.  It was anonymous, obviously, because the cruelty posted on the page is not anything that someone would actually own.  The page is aimed at students of our local high school, and the unnecessary, false and malicious claims and statements made are easily tweeted because the poster is hidden behind a wall of anonymity. 

I was left with so many feelings after she showed this to me. I sat wondering how I'll survive the my children's teenage years trying to navigate them through the landmines of technology and social media with zero past experience to draw upon.  I didn't have a cell phone until I was 26.  I didn't text until I was about 30.  Let all that sink in next time you see a 10 year old Snapchatting while enjoying your Oreo Blizzard at Dairy Queen...  If you can relate to this, realize you also are a pioneer in parenting this generation of techy-social media kids, and personally I find this terrifying.

I was also just sad... Sad for the the targets of the posts, and more so for the poster.  What drove this person to feel the need to be just cruel for the sake of being cruel.  I think the tagline of the Twitter page was something about "Saying the stuff that just needs to be said."  Does it? Does it really need to be said? Is it constructive? Productive? Kind? Uplifting? I will be the first to admit I am all for honesty.  I am a self-described "Cold bucket of reality" friend, but it is done in person, and out of love.  I fully own the words I choose to say to my friends, and also my readers.  So the thought of spewing cruelty packaged as posts and tweets, blows my mind.  To lob hurtful statements out into the world, hidden behind a screen, for  just the sake of enjoying watching people react makes me shake my head.  One of the very best pieces of advice, a teacher gave me was "Never put into writing something you do not want someone to read."  I guess that advice became slightly irrelevant once one was able to hide behind a screen name. 

I'm left wondering where does that leave us? Me? Our kids?  In the end I can only go back to what I am in control of, and that is myself, and for a while more, my kids.  I guess I can only continue to stress and encourage the light, applaud the positive and love.  I can teach them that words will sometimes want to hatch inside them, but once they take flight, they are free.   They can not be reclaimed and once they have been released they are free to do whatever they will.  They will have to learn to choose what they release: pigeons or doves. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Chomp 1996?-2/13/2015. Goodbye my old friend.

In the summer of 1997, I moved to Fargo, ND to start my career in nursing.  At that time I knew precisely a handful of people in that city.  I was 23 and ready for "life."  By autumn I had settled into my ICU nursing job, my first big-girl apartment and life in general, however I was missing companionship.  My close, animal-loving friend suggested (insisted) I go to the Fargo Humane Society (now Homeward Animal Shelter) to check out their kittens.

I went to the shelter which was an wonderful no-euthanize facility.  I walked down the hall of kennels ooing and ahhing at the cute little kittens, and then came upon a stately looking gentlecat sitting in a kennel.  He had a black coat and the most beautiful swirls of silver on his sides I had ever seen.  I remarked to the employee, "This one's markings are beautiful!" and she wistfully replied "Yeah... He has been here six months already."  "Take him out" I directed her and we went into the playroom.  They told me they thought he was somewhere between a year and a year and a half old at that time.  I sat down on the floor and he purred and rubbed against me and then bit me.  But, it wasn't in a mean, defensive way, but in the way that kittens do when they wrestle and play with the siblings and mom they love.  It was as if he loved me so much he just had to nibble a bit.  I'd eventually come to learn he only bit if he really liked a person.
Fargo 1997

And so began my relationship with Chomp (Chomparoo, Sir Chompsalot, Chompasauraus Rex).  It was a relationship that saw me through several stupid boy heartbreaks and and an eventual forever love.  If you were to ask my husband, he would have to admit Chomp was his wing-man on one of our first dates.  As we sat on the couch Chomp conveniently sat on the back of the couch, allowing my hubby to reach up and pet him, and then naturally and casually wrap his arm around my shoulder.  They were cohorts from that point forward.  

He tolerated us bringing home a kitty brother, and another kitty brother. 
L to R: Harley, Kit (The Caribbean Kitty) and Chomp (Iowa, 2007)

He was with me through the loss of my mother and the arrival of a baby,
and then another, 
  and then another.

 He loved me through, and mourned himself, the loss of brother Kit after 7 years and brother Harley after 12 years.  He tolerated 10 moves in 10 years, living on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean for almost 2 years.
I will get you Mr. Gecko! (Saba, NA 2002)

He endured no less than 8 airports, and the flights that went through them. He rode along and saw from a car window, no less than 8 states as he traveled with us.  My husband's journey through medical school and residency brought many evenings closing with both of them sound asleep together, Chomp curled in his favorite place, my husband's lap.  
Studying Medicine is exhausting. (Saba, NA 2002)

Throughout all of this turmoil and readjustment, he just rolled with all of it.  He never reacted negatively or angrily.  He consistently maintained his slightly proper demeanor and his uncanny ability to know when someone was upset, jumping to their laps to comfort them.  He was a master of subtle attention-getting, slowing clearing the jewelry from the top of my dresser piece by piece, sliding it to the edge until it fell, usually around 3 am.  He also never lost his ability to tip an unattended water glass. 

In the last couple years he has slowed down.  His favorite places were laying in the sunbeams on his cashmere (upcycled sweater bed for felines) pillow or in the cooler months, curled directly in front of the fireplace.  His chomping became less and less but he still would sneak a lick of your beer if you were not paying attention.  
mmm..... beer.....

He tolerated the addition of MommaCat, her daughter Samantha, and Gravy.  MommaCat, in true Mother fashion, has cared, cuddled and cleaned him for the last year.  Much to my dismay, he even cuddled with Samantha as a kitten. Even more shocking, he didn't flinch when we introduced him to a Karma, a 4-legged rescue thing referred to as "dog." 
Karma and Chomp Feb. 2015

And now, with him somewhere between 18 and 19 years old, I am having to say goodbye to him.  How do I summarize the amount of love I have for something I have loved longer than my husband?  How do you let go of such unconditional love? I don't know... there are really know words. I only know what he has taught me.  He taught me that sometimes what we are looking for is not what we need.  I know he taught me consistent, unwavering, unconditional love.  I know he has taught me to always dump out any water glasses.  And I know he taught me that sometimes you have to love something enough to let it go. 

I think if Chomp could have spoken (it would have been in a proper British accent) he would've asked, even begged you to consider a shelter animal if you are thinking of getting a pet.  He waited six months to be loved, and in return he gave me all of himself for 18 years.  Please consider a rescue pet; they are worth it, and so are you.

To see my video tribute to him:click on the word video.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our Own End Times

The other night my husband and I were sitting on the couch watching some End of Times show he had recorded. End Times stuff isn't really my thing to hear about, since I feel I'm already experiencing it when our house perpetually looks somewhere between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. Thus, I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to the show. I was browsing Facebook and Twitter looking for quality cat-stealing-dogbed videos when our 4 year old shuffled into the room.

Climbing up on the couch, he snuggled into my side with a sweet "Mom, I wuv you" and shared his nigh-nigh (blankie) with me, smoothing it over my lap.  He provided insightful commentary on the show my husband was watching, like 'Wow, dat's a wot of bugs!" (swarm of locusts) and "Someone put juice in da river" (The rivers and seas would turn to blood.)  I found his interpretations of the scenes far more entertaining than the actual show.  When it was finally time to go to bed he looked at us with big sweet eyes  and said, "I hweep in your bed?" (He hasn't mastered his "S's" yet.)  We both giggled at his ridiculous cuteness and scooped him up and put him between us in bed.

As I lay there with him between us, I realized how much our parenting has changed in 10 years.  In some ways I feel a twinge of guilt because I think he probably has had the best version of us, as parents.  We are far less high-strung and neurotic, we are experienced and/or worn down but most of all we are tired.  Having your first 4 year old at 34 is an entire solar system away from having your third 4 year old at 40 (and 42 for the Hubby.)

When we had him, we knew he would be our last. From the time we brought him home I did some things so differently than I had before. Many of his naps were on my chest in a recliner, laundry and dishes piling up around us and unlike the two other times in my life when I had a newborn, I didn't care.  I knew that these moments of having a little cocoon of a baby on my chest, were limited and I wanted to savor every moment of them.  The laundry and the dishes were always going to be there, a snoozing ball of babiness wouldn't.

The experience, er exhaustion, hasn't always manifested itself in savoring moments.  It has also shown up in knowing which battles to fight.  When it came to potty training, sure I was annoyed at the youngest's disinterest, but after battling a year and a half with our first son, I wasn't going to drive myself mad.  I knew it would eventually happen, on his own terms, and he wouldn't be wearing pullups to 7th grade.  Additionally, the Hubs has reminded me (several times) there is no training in potty training, they already know how to go potty. They need to care and show interest. Sidenote: Although I agree, I have never seen his hands in the toilet swishing out Scooby Doo underroos that have been soiled, but that is probably a nonessential point...  Anyway, in the end, it took just a package of Disney's Planes underwear, and his own decision to to wear some cool Jolly Wrenches underwear and that was that.

Last night when asked to sleep with us, I didn't even hesitate.  The oldest is knocking on the door of tweendom and eyerolls, and while our daughter is still mostly dwelling in the land of princesses, rainbows and glitter, I've already been lobbed a few volleys of "You HATE me!"  I know that opportunities for snuggles are disappearing like the summer sunset you stare at until it slips down past the horizon, soaking in the last glimmering orangey-pink glow until it goes dark.

As we settled into bed, I pulled my little guy's back to my chest, and he tucked his feet between my knees.  My Hubby fell fast asleep and after I kicked him to roll over and cease his snoring, I relaxed into my snuggle buddy.  His fidgeting quickly slowed and his breath became rhythmic and soft.  I rolled to my back and thought about how fast time flies and that I need to treasure these moments.  My profound thoughts were shattered by a small arm landing on my face in the pitch blackness.  My son had rolled to his back and in typical child form, splayed his arms out like a sleeping referee declaring a touchdown.  I removed his arm from my eye socket and smiled, kicked my Hubby who was snoring again, and realized our family is, in its own way, experiencing our own sort of end times.  And, I think I'll be OK with it... as long as there are no (more) infestations.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Diagnosis

I've been afflicted by a condition. It is time to come clean about it.  I know I've been suffering from it for about 10 years.  I know that is has had a great affect on me.  Physically, it has caused wrinkles, stretching, scarring and graying.  

Emotionally, the mood swings are drastic.  Elation, irritation, sheer anger, pride, joy, and  amusement are just a few of them.  

And then there is the exhaustion. The brutal exhaustion.  Exhaustion is the hallmark of this condition. At times, it is the crushing kind of exhaustion where you find yourself in the middle of the cereal aisle staring at the Honey Nut Cheerios without any recollection of how you got there.  The sleep disturbances are devastating.  

Someday, maybe I'll figure out the affliction and its treatment.

Oh wait. I have children. Never mind. Carry on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'm not Brave, I'm a Mom.

Recently my son had a swim-a-thon as a fundraiser for his swim team.  It is his first year on the team, and he has progressed from looking like a floundering drowning victim to, well, a swimmer.  Pride hung thick as the humidity in the pool area when he popped up at the pool edge, out of breath and said, "Mom! I did a 200 free WITHOUT stopping!"  I was proud not only because he did swim the length without stopping, but he knew the distance and the name of the stroke! He has tried some other sports, but hadn't really found his groove yet.  He tried wrestling.  It was like watching Gandhi wrestle.  He did gymnastics for a couple years which did wonders for his lax-loosey goosey joints and core muscles, but he lacks that compact, small body form that excels in gymnastics.  He was ready to try something new and when I suggested swimming he was completely on board.  

Our swim club is non-for-profit, so they do fundraising to cover costs they incur.  In the last email regarding the swim-a-thon the coach mentioned she was looking for parents to swim too.  I hesitated for a nano-second and replied that I was willing to swim.  In my mind, I envisioned a pool full of kids and laid back parents, laughing, having races, and maybe some water games. It would be fun.

Swim-A-Thon day arrived, and when the coach sees me she says, "You are BRAVE!"  In a moment, I felt like I was buying a foreclosure home sight-unseen, or had volunteered to babysit triplets or accepted a double-dog-dare to eat a roller hotdog from the gas station.  I'm sure my expression was one of shock meets apprehension meets regret.  
Probably like this

When it was time for the kids vs. parents event, I looked around and saw a gazillion kids, and four parents suited up: two dads, a svelte, tall mom, and me.   My son gently looked at me, and with all sincerity said, "Take it easy on me, OK?" We jumped in the water to do a 50 free, and though it may have LOOKED like I let my son win, only God knows if I pulled a hamstring, or had a wardrobe malfunction, or got short of breath in those last 10 yards as he shot past me, and I came in last.  And that is all I'll say about that.  

As the day wrapped up the word "Brave" kept echoing in my mind, or maybe it was just water in my ears, but I kept thinking about this perception of wearing a suit, in front of God and everyone as brave.

Brave is choosing a profession that forces one to run into a burning building or possibly take a bullet, daily.  Brave standing up for someone when everyone else is beating them down.  It is finding the strength and courage to finally walk away from an abusive relationship.  Brave is accepting a diagnosis of cancer.  Brave is many things in many forms, but it is not donning a one piece swimsuit at 40 years old to swim with a child.  Frightening, comical, and disturbing maybe, but not brave.

The thing is this day was not about me, it was about the kids. It was about them succeeding, swimming and having fun. I am at the point in my life that any insecurity regarding my cellulite or squishiness can not trump what he will remember from that day. He will remember his mom swimming in a lane next to him, encouraging him when he was struggling, and beating her by an arm length. He will remember his mom was active, secure and supportive. He will remember he had fun. The reality is one of my jobs as his Mom is to model behaviors he will seek in eventual girlfriends, so I try to exemplify traits I respect and admire in women. Just as my daughter looks to her Dad as a prototype for men, my sons are viewing me as their primary example of a woman and a Mom. So I will continue to show them the real me: squishy, flawed, and supportive.  That won't make me brave.  It makes me their Mom.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Healing one stitch at a time.

This fall I had been asked by several different people if I had quit writing, because they missed seeing my work in the paper.  I stumbled with my answers because it was a question that I couldn't really  answer with a yes or no.  I think anyone who writes, or is of the creative nature, knows that creating can't be forced.  They are just these ideas, these words or visions that come to you and and you are called to get them out.  But trying to force words or come up with thoughts is like trying to feel amorous about someone you find appaling.  It just isn't going to work.  So, I would stutter and stammer and say "Uhm no" and give the old pathetic standby "Just been busy."

I am choosing to view my creativity as a gift and not as a ADD/Flight of ideas affliction.  In the past I have worried that maybe I am one of those "Jack of all Trades, Master of None" type people.  That maybe I was not really great at anyone thing, because I was so interested in many things.  Now I just embrace my creative spirit. I can't help it.  I love to create, in different mediums: glass, furniture, photography, words, and most recently fabric.  The reality is creating feeds something in my soul.  And I am called to do it, and feel they are God given gifts.

This fall I started throwing around the idea of repurposing clothing.  I am just hippie enough that the waste involving clothing and textiles boggles my mind.  I was also raised with zero concern for brand names and labels, but a great sense of a good deal.  More so I am blessed with an amazing, free-spirited daughter who never ceases to amaze me with her styling.  I hope to God she never loses her independent style to the pressures of conformity.  So, with my little muse inspiring me, I started playing with repurposing thrift buys into cute little girls clothing.  Appropriate styled, non-street-walker little girls clothing.  It has been soul quenching because it is sheer creation. No rules, no patterns, just creating.

What I didn't realize would happen is the healing that would take place during this time.  December would bring the eleventh anniversary of my Mom's death.  For eleven years, around mid-November I would fall into this paralytic darkness.  I WANTED to be excited about Christmas and decorate, I WANTED to gaze at a lit tree in the darkness of an evening. I WANTED to feel the magic that Christmas brings about. I.just.couldn't.  I completely realize that the darkness always fell in the exact same time frame as the last month of her life, the month I flew 3000 miles back to be with her.  And I sometimes wondered, "Am I making this up? Just wanting to be sad? Wanting to wallow in grief?" But as hard as I tried, it was like barely being able to breath, for a month. Just functioning, getting through a day.  Not able to feel sadness nor joy.  I was just existing.  

The morning of December 15th always seemed to bring, without fail, this feeling of being able to exhale.  Just as I did 11 years ago.  I believe the anticipation of the end can be so much harder than the actual end.  I mean you KNOW it is coming.  The person you love is on a one way trip and is already talking to angels.  You know how this story ends, but you hold your breath until they make that leap.  And then you can exhale.

In the years past this has always created a mad-dash scramble to complete all those Christmas tasks in 10 days, when most have been working on them for a month.  But me, I've been "gone" for a month and I felt the worst about what that has been like for the kids.  It probably felt something like this: "Can we decorate yet?" (Nope. Too overwhelming.) "Can we wrap presents?" (No. We haven't actually shopped yet.)  "Can we go buy a tree?" (Sigh. Ugh. Really???) To "Hurry up! We need to clean house so we can decorate and go buy a tree and we need to get some cookies made and let's get a fire going.  Someday I'll have to apologize for the all those years of bipolar-Christmas-Mommy.

But this year? This year was so incredibly different.  I started sewing, and cutting, and creating. I volunteered to make two costumes for our Sunday School Christmas program because PLEASE just don't ask me to bake.  I sewed my daughter's originally designed-by-her Halloween costume, complete with Elizabethan collar and pocketed cap (in case her bucket got too full, there were pockets for candy.)  I made skirts from jeans and jumpers from hideous Holiday shirts.  I made bags as gifts for friends.  Through all of this I realized I, for the first time in a very long time, FELT her.  I felt her guiding me what to do when I was stuck on a pleat. I felt her guiding my hands to create gathers and draping that fell just right.  My Mom was a fabulous seamstress, out of necessity.  A 4'9.5" frame in a time period where a size 7 is the smallest available left her with the need to be able to alter and create.  And she did it well.  I spent countless hours standing beside her at her machine, being lulled by the  rhythm of her machine.  Now I felt her laughing when my daughter annoyingly pestered me asking why her dress was not done and I was working on someone else's items.  Just as I remember annoyingly asking her why my quilt was not done and why she was working on someone else's item.  I felt her, her life and not her dying and death.  The rhythmic sound of the sewing machine released feelings and memories that had been long been buried under the thick blanket of the death process.  I would never trade that last month of being with her for anything, but somehow who she was in life had gotten lost to me in what we shared that last month.

As I worked with the fabric, the pins and scissors, memories started to sprinkle in. First like raindrops as they hit the ground, combining together to create little streams and finally joining together until the surface is completely covered and the air has that amazing rain smell.  This is what healing feels like.  It was gradual, over a couple months, but eventually my ability to remember her, her laughter, her humor, her ability to create her own words (or Darleneisms as we called them) her intense love and never ending support for her family replaced the darkness in my memory of her.  I know she would never have wanted to be defined by her journey towards death, and I struggled for years with guilt knowing that is exactly where my memories were stuck.  Never in a million years would I have imagined my healing would come stitch by stitch, needle stick by needle stick and yet now, looking back, it makes perfect sense.

Yeah. She was that Awesome.