Our Nation of Fools, Zealots, and Unicorns

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain

You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.

I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.

Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.

So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.

Getting Schooled

All geared up for adventure
All geared up for adventure

Our son, Joe, has been counting down the days to his first-ever Outdoor Lab excursion with school. Outdoor Lab is sleep-away science camp for middle schoolers. Students head to the mountains for some outdoor education that involves daytime field work in science-related topics followed by nights spent sleeping in cabins with teachers and classmates. Joe class would be studying “snow science.” For most kids in our county, Outdoor Lab occurs in 6th grade. Joe’s private school sends kids to Keystone Science School during 7th and 8th grades. Joe has had to wait this extra year to attend. He’s heard his friends talk about it since last year and he was dying for his chance to go.

Weeks ago, he started telling me that he was afraid he would get sick and not be able to make the trip. He worked in extra hand washings every day. As his teachers prepared the class for what to expect, what to pack, and what would be expected of them, Joe would come home filled with details and brimming with expectation. Yesterday afternoon he and I pulled out the packing list, found an appropriate duffel bag and backpack, and located a mummy sleeping bag. Then we set about picking out the right clothing and gathering up gear. 1 pair long underwear. 1 pair ski goggles. 1 pair sunglasses. Sunscreen not less than 35 SPF. Lip balm not less than 15 SPF. 2 water bottles. 1 flashlight. 2-3 pairs synthetic or wool…not cotton..socks. Systematically, we crossed each item off the list as we placed it into the duffel bag he would have to carry from the bus drop off point to the cabin. He was adamant that it all must fit into one bag and that it would have to be easy for him to carry. At the end of the night, we had a medium-sized duffel jam packed with every item on the school’s list, a backpack loaded with sun gear appropriate for hiking at 10,000 feet, and a child who was complaining that time was moving too slowly.

I tucked him and his brother in for the night and fell exhausted into my bed. Of course, Joe woke me up three times between midnight and 4 a.m. and only on the third wake up call admitted to being the tiniest bit nervous about sleeping away from home without his family. We chatted a bit about how everything would be fine, about how being nervous was normal the first time away from home, and about how amazing it would be. I told him I would miss him but he’d be home with us soon. He fell back asleep quickly after we spoke. I stayed awake for another hour and a half thinking about him. My little family of four is my entire world. I was struggling as I tried envisioning us as a trio and not a quartet.

When Joe woke me up at 6:35 (ten minutes before my alarm clock would have summoned me and less than an hour after I’d finally fallen back to sleep), he had already showered and dressed and had played on his iPad for an hour. He spent the morning rushing around, talking excitedly, ready to get out the door. I dragged my feet a bit as it sunk in that he was actually leaving. I packed his lunch slowly, drawing out our last bit of time together for three days. I gave him some cashews to try in his lunch. He chewed one, swallowed it, and then began panicking, imagining that he was going to have an allergic reaction to it and not be able to go. I reassured him that if he had a reaction to the nuts (which he wouldn’t because he’s not allergic to tree nuts or anything else for that matter), the teachers would give him a Benadryl and he’d live another day. I started to wonder if his ingenious plan was to drive me insane so I would not miss him.

When we got to school, we saw many of his classmates had already checked in. The drop-off space was filled with all manner of packed items. There were rolling suitcases, sleeping bags packed in square, plastic, comforter bags, and large, garden-sized trash bags filled with supplies. I started to wonder if I was the only one who had obsessed to ensure my son had all the requested gear neatly packed exactly as specified. The principal came over and told me that Joe won the award for Best Packed Bags. I guess that means I am still a prize-winning rule follower.

I gave him a big hug and snapped a quick photo of him weighed down by his perfect bag. He looked so grown up just then, standing there squinting in the morning sun on the east side of the school. I watched him as he walked toward the stairs for class, quietly sending him all the positivity and love in my heart. I held it together as I had promised him and didn’t even tear up until I was exiting the school parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief when the school messaged that the group had arrived safely at Keystone.

I’ve been wrong thinking of this as Joe’s adventure. It’s my adventure too. After thirteen years, Joe is off learning how to be Joe without my help. And I’m here learning that he’s not mine. There’s genius in this Outdoor Lab concept. The kids aren’t the only ones getting an education and important life experience. Looks like Joe and I are both getting schooled this week.

Beyond The Winter Of Our Discontent

“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka

Winter with my boys (2005)
Winter with my boys (2005)

Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.

When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.

Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted.  A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.

The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.

With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.

And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.
Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

I’m Probably On A Government Watch List For Searching Ricin Today

My two best conversation starters
My two best conversation starters

I have an issue with Breaking Bad, and that issue is that I can’t stop watching it. The show is over, I know. Still, for some reason, I find myself watching it when I need a diversion. Perhaps it’s not light viewing, but that doesn’t stop me. I like Walt. The metamorphosis of his character is nothing short of genius, and Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of him is poetry. This weekend I started busting through all the episodes of Season 5 again because I admire the way Vince Gilligan was able to do with Breaking Bad what Abrams and Lindelof failed to do with my other favorite show, LOST, which is tie up loose ends. (Admittedly, LOST had about a gazillion loose ends to tie up, so maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I should work on letting go?) As I said, I have an issue.

Anyway, tonight I was binge watching episodes when Joe walked in. The boys have seen bits and pieces of the show over the years, and as they have gotten older I’ve been more willing to explain the show’s premise and characters. Last week, I got into a long conversation with Luke trying to explain the relationship between Walt and Hank using my husband and brother-in-law as examples. Nothing like telling your kid, “Well…it’s like if your dad cooked crystal meth and your uncle worked as a special agent for the DEA.”

If you’ve seen the show, you know that ricin figures into the plot repeatedly. So tonight Joe catches a few lines about ricin and its effects and becomes concerned. Of course he does. He’s perpetually on high alert, that one.

“I’m scared,” he tells me.

“Of what?” I inquire.

“Ricin.”

Oh, holy hell.

“Joe, there is no reason to be scared of ricin.”

“What if I get poisoned?” he asks.

“You’re not going to be poisoned by ricin. I’m pretty sure about that.”

“But, it’s out there.”

“It’s not easy to come by. You’re safe. Why are you asking these questions?”

“Because my throat kind of hurts,” he tells me.

The character on the show, you see, was feeling under the weather. The viewer discovers it’s due to ricin poisoning. So, of course, my son now thinks his scratchy throat is a sign that he’s been poisoned. It’s about this point that I’m ready to hang my husband for passing on his worry-gene onto my darling son.

“There are about a dozen reasons why your throat may feel sore right now, Joe. None of them have anything to do with ricin,” I reassured him, trying not to laugh. I then told him to stop watching my show and get out of my room.

If there’s one truly great reason for having kids, it’s the conversations you’ll have. It’s not every day I get into a conversation with another adult about ricin. Chances are, though, if I did, it would be a lot less amusing and they’d probably look at me sideways for a while afterward.

 

 

 

The Tell-Tale Cry of Nothing

Little monsters
Little monsters

I was standing in our sons’ bedroom tonight as they were settling in for the night and I was struck with a memory from our recent past. When they were younger, on occasion I would hear a bang, crash, thump, or some other oddly loud sound coming from where they were. Before I could even inquire about the noise, one would holler to me at the top of his lungs to stop the impending investigation.

“NOTHING.”

That was it. No explanation. No apology. Sometimes it was repeated rapidly several times in the same way to reinforce the complete and utter nothingness of the nothing. It still makes me laugh to think about it. I always figured that if no one was crying and the house wasn’t suddenly filled with smoke and the ceiling hadn’t caved in and there was no water cascading in a flash flood down the stairs, all was well. Or at least well enough. I’d find out soon enough what mischief they’d been up to.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t supposed to have secrets. I kept a journal, and I knew it was read despite my best efforts to hide it. I would set it a certain way before I left and sometimes when I returned I could tell it had been moved. I guess I don’t blame my mom for snooping. Parents have to look out for their kids. I suppose my journal was as close as she was going to get to finding out what was going on in my head. Still, my lack of privacy growing up deeply influenced how much respect I have for my sons’ right to keep some things to themselves. Not everything, but some things.

So far, I’ve been lucky. Most of the time, they do admit when things go awry. They fess up when they mess up. Maybe not without prompting, but they don’t persist in a lie for no reason. I learned a lesson from my youth. The more my parents pried, the more I clammed up. In response, with my own children I’ve decided not to sweat the little things because I want them to trust me when the big things pop up. And I know they will.

I don’t often hear the tell-tale cry of NOTHING these days. Perhaps it’s because they’re older and spend more time playing on electronics than wrestling. Perhaps it’s because they’re better at covering things up. Or perhaps it’s because they’ve accepted that I know they’re good kids and there’s nothing they could do that would make me love them less.

Nothing.

 

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss.

As we were driving home yesterday, we were discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Through the discussion, Luke realized that he was going to be missing out on one thing he wanted to participate in because he’d already committed to another get together. He was pretty bummed out about it.

“I wish I could be in two places at one time,” he lamented.

“You’re certainly not the first person to have that thought, Luke. I know I’ve wished for the same thing before.”

“You don’t need to be in two places at one time,” Joe retorted. “You just need a teleporter so you can go back and forth between the things you want to be doing. If you had a teleporter, you could be at Justin’s birthday party and then pop over to the hay ride for a bit too. You could go back and forth.”

“There ya go, Luke. Another solution to your problem,” I said.

It always cracks me up when my boys get into deep discussions about things that either will never happen or are situated precariously on the edge of unlikely to happen. Kids are great that way. Sure. Sometimes it drives me crazy when they get into a shouting match in the car about which superhero is better, Iron Man or Captain America, especially because I think someone should be weighing in for Thor in the discussion. Still…I love that they’re capable of sharing their thoughts and opinions and debating their points of view. It means they’re thinking beings, and that’s encouraging because sometimes I think the videos playing non-stop videos on their iPads may be sucking their intelligence dry.

“Nah. I think it would be better to be in both places. Then I wouldn’t miss anything at all.”

“You wouldn’t have the memories from one of the things, though, so it wouldn’t work,” Joe replied.

“Yes. I would. The memories would be shared,” Luke countered. Luke is great about imagining best-case scenarios. And, why not? If you’re going to be arguing about the impossible (or highly unlikely), you might as well get creative.

“Clones are bad, Luke,” Joe reasoned. “Do you really want two of you walking around? What if one of you commits a crime and the other one gets thrown in jail for it? I think the teleporter would be better.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then you could spend your day on a beach in Hawaii and your night in Iceland checking out the Northern Lights,” Joe said.

“Oooooh! I like that idea,” I told him. “I could totally get behind that. But if you teleport from one thing to another can you really be tuned into where you are or aren’t you always thinking about where you need to be next. It seems like with Luke’s idea you get to live in the present a bit more. You get to live in two presents. On the other hand, though, I think you’re right about the cloning thing, Joe. Not sure there should ever be two of me walking around. I get into enough trouble with just one of me.”

We talked like this for about five minutes on the way home, arguing possibilities and loopholes and scenarios. It was fun. Some of the best time I spend with my sons is in the car when they are my captive audience. Once I drove three hours with Joe and Luke with no electronics of any kind, not even the car radio. We talked non-stop and when we got to our destination the boys actually remarked that it was fun and that we should try it again on the way home.

It seems that I rarely have fun, energetic, and unrealistic conversations with my friends. We talk, but it’s nearly always centered around reality…how the kids are doing, how the remodel is going, what we’re doing for the holidays, how midlife is a nasty beast. Yawn. It’s all so adult and boring. When was the last time you asked your buddy to name songs that would play on a soundtrack for his life or to defend his favorite superhero or to debate the merits of time travel or to share his bucket list with you? While it’s good for adults to discuss reality and engage in conversations about politics and religion and current events, I think we’re getting out of balance in life if we don’t also confer about the random and the whimsical. I’ve decided that every Friday I am going to ask someone a question that has nothing to do with anything important, just for fun. We’re all getting older, but we can choose to think young.

The Puppy and The Bone I Threw Him

Our real puppy
Not the puppy in question

I recently wrote about how excited I was that my son found and began reading my blog posts. At the time, I felt like Queen of the World because this demonstrated to me, in some small way, that my son was interested in what I do and recognized that I am a person outside of simply being his mother. The other day, though, I discovered the rub with this new situation. My son reads my blog. This means that all the anecdotes I tell about him, ones I think are super cute and fun, are now open to his scrutiny. He could read what I write and feel embarrassed or, worse, feel I am making fun of him. It puts my responsibility to him as his mother above my responsibility to myself as writer. Dammit. To make matters worse, this discovery was precipitated by something cute I wanted to share about him that he was none too happy to have me share. It went something like this:

“So…I was thinking about writing about you and the whole puppy thing.”

“No,” he responded emphatically.

“But it’s so cute,” I countered with the growing realization that this might be an uphill battle.

“It’s embarrassing,” he replied. “What if someone I know reads it?”

“No one you know is going to read this,” I replied. “No one reads my blog.”

“Over a thousand people do,” he responded naively.

“I guarantee you that a thousand people are not reading my blog.”

“Doesn’t matter, Mom. Nothing dies on the Internet. If they don’t find it now, they will find it later. Stuff on the Internet never really goes away.”

This is true. We’ve discussed the benefits and pitfalls of the Internet ad nauseam. He knows that the Internet is not some ethereal netherworld. Things you put out there now could be there forever. To wit, here’s a link to a website I created in 1997 as a graduate student at Illinois State. Giggle heartily at my use of animated gifs, please. Just remember that it was 1997, I was using Adobe PageMaker software, and this dancing hamster was cutting edge. Also, it took five minutes to download a single photo and America Online was an actual thing. Did I mention it was 1997? Don’t judge.

For the past few days, I have been trying to wear my son down, still wanting to write about the puppy thing and hoping he would at last give me his blessing. I know this isn’t phenomenal-parent behavior on my part. I should respect my son’s wishes and just move on. But I really felt strongly about this puppy story, so I kept pursuing it. Yesterday, I finally got him to admit that perhaps something bigger than fear of embarrassment was troubling him. He acknowledged that since the puppy story involves another person perhaps that person might not appreciate it. I told him I would talk to that person personally at back-to-school night before writing anything. He looked at me with horror. Sensing that he was not going to win this battle and knowing I have the tenacity of a pit bull when so inclined to lock my jaws on something, he acquiesced…under one condition. I had to allow him to shoot me with his brother’s Nerf disc gun. It seemed like a small but fair price to pay for the rights to his puppy story. So, I stood still and let him assail me with several rounds of Nerf discs. You gotta be willing to sacrifice for your art.

Tonight, with bona fide permission to write the puppy blog I have been pestering him about for a week, I sat down with my MacBook Pro to fulfill my destiny. I got about this far and started to question whether I was making the right choice. I adore my son, and I would never want to do something in the short-term that would undermine our relationship for the long haul. I thought it only fair to give him one last chance to rescind his permission. He did. So, the story I’ve been working on all week will not come to fruition. I’m okay with it, even though it was a really cute story. Someday, when he is older and more comfortable in his own skin, he will roll over and let me tell his puppy story. In the meantime, I’ll just throw him this little bone.

Under Construction

Still on the merry-go-round and working on my exit
Still on the merry-go-round and dreaming up a great dismount

I haven’t felt like writing much lately, so I haven’t. I’m in the midst of some unsettling discoveries, which aren’t as much discoveries as admissions about myself. There are things that I haven’t liked for a long time. I knew they needed to change, but I was so paralyzed by the thought of admitting my weaknesses and so adept at focusing on other parts of my life that I kept pretending these negatives were invisible. They weren’t. Other people saw them. And I still knew they were there. They were like the mess you shove in a spare room right before guests arrive. You think you’re fooling everyone by having everything in order, but deep down you know what lurks just behind the closed door. And you remember it with nausea when someone asks you, “what’s in this room?”  You are vulnerable and imperfect and mere seconds away from someone discovering what a pretender you really are. It’s a terrifying place to live.

Human nature reacts strongly against what it sees in others that it suspects and fears in itself. It’s a predictable pattern. We chastise others for lack of compassion while we ignore that it’s our lack of compassion that allows us to criticize them. We accuse others of being selfish when it’s our own self that feels neglected enough to point out that we’re not getting enough attention. The thing that most deeply annoys me about others is the victim mentality…people who whine about the bad things in life, as if bad things only happen to them and not to others, and who stay stuck in their quagmire because it’s easier to be the victim than it is to leave that role behind and go forward boldly and change. I know many people who suffer from this affliction, so it’s something that makes me shudder regularly.

As I’ve been navigating this bumpy and unsettling road to Future Me, I’ve paid particular attention to how vehemently I react towards particular failings in others, knowing that my reactions towards them likely hold a mirror squarely back on me. So I’ve been sitting with that thought for a while, letting it bubble its way to the surface while I was able to grow in acknowledgment of it. With some introspection, I’ve had to accept that as much as I despise victims, I’ve quietly lived as one among them for years. The only difference between me and the victims who get under my skin lies in their honesty about their misery. They’re more in touch with their emotions, so they complain about it readily. Me? I’m an emotional stuffer. I’ve sat quietly while layers of shame and self-loathing accumulated like sediment at the bottom of a slowly dying river. Now I realize I’m too filled up to function as I have in the past. It’s time to have my own Frozen moment, dredge up the muck in my way, and let it go.

They say the only way out is through, so I’ve been going through. And through. I’ve been sitting, thinking, and crying in some sort of rinse and repeat cycle for weeks. And it sucks. What will suck more, though, is if I squander my ephemeral time on this lovely planet without finding a way to love myself for who I am, emotions, weakness, messy rooms, and all. I need to live with my whole heart free and my mind open and aware. I can’t forgive others their failings if I can’t forgive myself for my own. Pain happens. We grow up with the hand we are dealt, but where we ultimately land is our own responsibility. And while complaints and ignorance are strategic coping mechanisms, they are not useful to us in the long run. This is where the victim becomes the victor. I need to put in the hard work. Do my time. Eventually, I will be improved for my effort. In the meantime, when I’m not here, please know that I’m under construction. As with most construction projects, it will probably take longer than the first-promised deliverable date. I’ll be back and better than ever in time. I can’t wait for my grand reopening.

Chrysalis

IMG_8293
There’s a ray of hope. I can see it.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ~Maya Angelou

I am a first class stuffer. I think it was my Catholic upbringing that started the whole thing. Through charming phrases like “offer it up,” I was taught that when I don’t like something my job is to shut up and live with it anyway, to suffer in silence. And so I did…to the point that even a simple, honest act of speaking up for myself, like returning the wrong meal in a restaurant, became impossible. It’s not that I was happy about putting up with things my spirit told me not to put up with. It wasn’t easy. I complained. I complained a lot to the pages of countless journals that would hold all my enmity without ratting me out. It was my silent rebellion. Externally, I sucked it up and kept my mouth closed because that is what a good girl does, and arguing requires confrontation and confrontation is scary. Internally, I was becoming a roiling, seething caldron of should haves and unfulfilled wishes. (It’s really no surprise to me that I needed to have my gallbladder removed at age 33, so full of bile I was that my body rebelled against me.) Still….I kept right on stuffing because old habits die hard and change, especially with regard to one’s now-ingrained habits, is difficult.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that I am so full of all the stuff I have stuffed for decades that there is no more room for stuffing. It’s time to let go. Deep down I’ve known for about eight years that I needed to change. The notion has been fluttering in my head like a miller moth trapped inside a room, banging about the walls, flapping with an ever more urgent need to be free. I’ll be honest. I made excuses. I focused on other things so I could ignore what I knew needed attention. That needs to stop. Now is the time to do some serious excavation, to dig up the me that I know is under all that pent-up crap, the me that has a spine and can speak for herself. The work must be done because what I want more than anything is to find a way to keep from passing this stuffing habit on to my sons. I want them to be able to walk around the hole I fell into. To bring them around it, though, I must crawl out of it first.

I read this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book the other day: “The bunny who tries not to suffer only suffers more.”

The road ahead of me, unpacking all that I have stuffed, is going to be uncomfortable. There’s no doubt I will suffer, cry, and feel weak during the journey, but I’ve already seen what trying not to suffer has done for me. I no longer believe this internal change could make me suffer more than trying to endure in silence even one more spirit-dampening blow. In the end, I want to be that beautiful butterfly that Maya Angelou was talking about. With that in mind, into my chrysalis I go.