The Solution To My First World Food Problem

Take out breakfast burritos…a real time saver for future me

One of the most frustrating aspects of my life at home is grocery shopping. The three members of my family, lucky souls, have zero food restrictions, whereas there are currently 39 food items/ingredients I need to avoid to feel well. I am chief in charge of buying food for our home so no one has to try to keep up on what I can and cannot consume. I try to anticipate what grocery items my family needs but, because there are so many items they can eat that I can’t and because they don’t always remember to tell me what they have run out of, I make no less than four trips to a grocery store each week.

This morning, Thing 2 awoke, wandered into the kitchen, and starting rifling through the fridge in search of food. There were plenty of breakfast items, from cereal to eggs to pancake fixings to hash browns and even pumpkin bread I made from scratch a couple days ago, but he came up empty for ideas.

Thing 2: I don’t know what to eat.

Me: Well, there’s….

Hubby: (immediately seeing an opportunity, cuts me off) We could go get breakfast burritos.

Thing 2: I’d be down for that.

Me: (finally continuing) There’s all sorts of food here to eat.

Thing 2: Breakfast burritos sound good.

Hubby: Let me finish making this coffee and we can go.

Thing 2 runs off to put on clothes for the outing to Tamale Kitchen for breakfast. I sit there wondering if I have become invisible or was somehow muted accidentally.

Me: We have plenty of food here. We don’t always have to go out to eat when someone is hungry.

Hubby: But….breakfast burritos.

Me: You have a problem.

Hubby: I don’t think it’s a problem. I think it’s a solution, actually.

I shook my head as Thing 2 returned to the kitchen fully clothed. He and hubby disappeared out the door to the garage.

Hubby picked up take out last night. The night before that we grabbed burgers after our son’s cross-country meet. Meanwhile, the food in our fridge is slowly staging a revolt and becoming revolting because we are ignoring it. I try to save us money by purchasing food we can prepare, but after twenty-eight years with my husband I should know better. The siren’s song of food trucks and take out menus and In ‘n Out and Chipotle is deafening. I am no match for it.

In light of this, I’ve decided the solution to my problem is to buy groceries for myself and let everyone else fend for themselves and go out to eat. Fewer dishes for me to wash, less food thrown out, no complaining about what I prepare, no danger of me feeling sick because I ingested foods from a food truck or restaurant with ingredients I should have avoided, and every meal time will be peaceful because I will be alone while my family is out. Ultimately, we might even save on food costs because I won’t be tossing food in the trash because it went bad while we were eating out, and I won’t be frustrated because all my efforts around meal planning and food purchasing are for naught.

Damn. I really wish I had thought of this sooner.

I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night — In Person Again

Last night my family and I did something we haven’t done since February of last year: we attended a concert in person. What seems like ages ago, we purchased tickets to the Hellamega Tour featuring Weezer, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. The show was supposed to be last July, but then we all know what happened. So, it was rescheduled. The concert was held outdoors at a soccer stadium and we are vaccinated, but still we were a little wary about attending because of the crowd size and our knowledge that the vaccine we got is only 66% effective against the prevalent and more contagious Delta strain of Covid-19. Since Joe is heading off to college tomorrow and doesn’t want to end up in quarantine, we decided as a family to wear masks just in case someone we encountered in the 20k people crowd was contagious.

The show was held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, which shall henceforth be known simply as “not my favorite.” We paid $20 to park in Egypt and walk a literal mile to get to our seats. The venue’s web site listed that you could bring in one factory-sealed water bottle per person. I don’t normally buy water bottles because, well, single-use plastic, but I bought one for each member of our family just to be told at the gate that they were not permitted. Grrrrr. Once inside, we ended up spending $20 for four bottles because capitalism. Not certain I will clamor to see a show here again.

That said, the concert itself was AMAZING, easily one of the best shows I’ve ever attended, and I have seen somewhere around or above 100 live concerts in my estimation. Due in part to the parking nightmare and the cross-country trek to our seats, we were a little too late to catch the majority of the Weezer set. We saw Weezer in July of 2018, though, so we decided to make our peace with it and adjust our attitudes accordingly to prepare for the rest of the show.

Fall Out Boy

Luke and I had seen Fall Out Boy together in 2015, so we knew what to expect. Patrick Stump had zero trouble with the altitude that often trips up other singers and belted out their set list like a Colorado resident. The stage show, complete with all manner of pyrotechnics, including flames shooting from Pete Wentz’s bass, was great. Fall Out Boy performs true to their album sound and with twice as much energy. I started listening to Fall Out Boy in 2005 when the boys were just 4 and 2, so it was fun to have Luke turn to me during some of their older songs I was singing along to and ask, “What is this one called?” It’s always good to surprise your kids with your knowledge about anything. And I loved when Pete Wentz called out a person in the front of the stadium for being on their phone too much. He reminded the crowd that we’ve been locked up looking at our phones at home for a year, and it was time to put them down and live life. Preach it, Pete!

As expected, Green Day was the highlight of the evening. Before they came on stage, the speakers blasted Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for a little pre-show sing along. When Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool started the show off with an oddly appropriate American Idiot, they set the tempo for the rest of their set. They were rocking like it was 1991 and they were still 19 rather than 49. I had to marvel that I have been listening to this band for THIRTY years. I couldn’t decide if that made me really old, them really old, us all really old, or all of us just incredible cool. Billie Joe made a point to remind us all several times that we were alive and finally here to enjoy live music and that we should all be basking in the joy of the moment. So, we did. When they covered Kiss’s 1975 classic I Wanna Rock n Roll All Night, the crowd was a haze of jumping, clapping, and singing along. At times it felt like the entire stadium could be heard miles away. And during a couple particularly punk songs, I was transported back to the person I used to be, the one who would end up in the middle of a slam dancing group on the venue floor. (Mind you, I didn’t do that in the stands because I’m 53 and that might no longer be a wise choice.) We left physically exhausted but mentally energized, without a second thought to the ticket price that initially had given me sticker shock.

It had been 18 months since I had seen a live show, long enough that I had nearly forgotten how much being in person at a show is in my DNA. I have been seeing concerts since I was 15. Some years I could only afford one show, while other years I saw upwards of ten. There is something magical about attending a concert, knowing that all the strangers there have something in common with you. They also like this music enough to invest in it. There is nothing like singing and dancing along with thousands of other people who share your love of music. It’s intoxicating. It brings me to tears at some point during every single show. How lucky we are to have music to remind us that life is worth living even when it’s been challenging and somewhat dark. Last night was a good reminder that those who enjoy live music are never truly alone in a crowd.

The Big Yellow Taxi Prophecy

There should be mountains in the distance, but they seem to be going on vacation more often.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” ~Joni Mitchell

I try desperately not to fall down the rabbit hole that is climate change. Honestly, this particular topic is one of the few that can leave me rocking on the floor in a tight fetal position. It’s horrifying. Despite what some powerful and wealthy (primarily white male) people would tell you, climate change is real. We see its effects daily. We aren’t doing enough to stop it or, at least the very least, ameliorate it. We are at a tipping point. Our planet is screaming for help, and we humans can’t figure out how to prioritize saving it.

Our recalcitrance isn’t changing the fact that California doesn’t have enough water while Europe just lost hundreds of people to massive flooding that was so extensive it shocked climate scientists. And there is now real concern among such scientists that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), aka the massive water-conveyor belt in the Atlantic that moves currents to redistribute heat and regulate weather patterns around the globe, could shut down sooner rather than later. This would thrust Europe and parts of the United States into a deep freeze, interfere with seasonal monsoons that provide water to much of the globe, and raise sea levels along the eastern coast of the US. And extreme drought keeps bringing us to wildfires that are wiping out entire towns. The examples of climate change are plentiful, and I am certain you could add more from your own experience if you thought about it for a second.

Today, my hometown of Denver had the worst air quality in the world because of smoke from fires in California. Salt Lake City experienced a similar phenomenon. Colorado is known for its mountains, but this week the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks that we normally see from Denver were obscured by heavy smoke. Our phones buzzed several times today warning us not to exercise outdoors or leave our windows open. This is not the Colorado I grew up in. I have no memories from my childhood of massive amounts of wildfire smoke blocking out the entire Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. I grew up in the era after Denver fixed its smog problem with strict air quality measures. Summers in Colorado when I was a teenager were predictable. Clear, cloudless skies in the morning with temperatures warming into the mid 80’s, followed by a build up of early afternoon clouds, which would lead to afternoon thunderstorms that would cool things down and provide perfect sleeping weather. You didn’t need air conditioning here when I was a kid. We are hotter and drier now, though. Winter and spring storms are more volatile, mountain snow melts earlier, and the Colorado River carries less water to the lakes that provide water to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

On days when I get overwhelmed by the gravity of climate change and what it means for the rest of my life and for the world my sons will live in when I am long gone, I stop and take a deep breath. One of my go-to favorite activities to clear my head is a long walk or hike in some of the remaining open space around our neighborhood. But it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to find a way out of the climate change rabbit hole when I can’t get outside for that long walk because breathing there is detrimental to my health. I don’t want the Rockies to be the second set of Smoky Mountains in the United States.

Shit is getting real. It’s not going to get better if we don’t start making sweeping and immediate changes to the way we operate. Wake up and smell the smoke, people, or you will lose the only home you have ever known. But then maybe that is what has to happen because “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

Nihilism Is No Place To Live

“Always look on the bright side of life.” ~Monty Python

The news is bad. The United States continues to be deeply ideologically divided, but it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on because the news from any angle these days is depressing. The Delta variant is exploding in unvaccinated communities, and now the CDC is saying that it is as contagious as chicken pox and even vaccinated individuals are capable of passing it along to others. The fires in the west are consuming towns, and people on the east coast are seeing and breathing their toxic smoke. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at dangerous and historic lows as most of the western United States is experiencing an extreme drought. I could go on and on describing the news I see in my feed each day, but I am trying to keep myself off antidepressants and away from the brink of alcoholism, and you probably are trying to shake off all the bad news anyway.

This morning I was discussing these things with my 18 year old son. I told him that right now the United States is a shitshow and I need to stop reading the news altogether and crawl into a mental cave to save what little sanity I have left. He surprised me by responding this way.

I prefer not to think of the US as a shitshow I prefer to think of it as a fixer upper. Shitshow implies it is a pointless endeavor to try to fix anything. Yeah. Things are hard. But there are things that can be done to fix it. It won’t be easy, but we can’t give up. If we decide things are hopeless, we become nihilists, and that is no way to live.

Man, that kid is something else. But he’s right. As part of Gen Z, these problems are his future inheritance. What kind of parent am I if I am living in a place of doom and gloom and talking to him about them without any sort of optimism or vision? Messaging matters. We adults need to revise our talking points because we are telling our children, “Sorry about the huge mess. Good luck with that.” That’s just not right at all.

I have the utmost faith in Gen Z. My sons and the young people they are friends with are engaged, informed, tolerant, realistic, and passionate. They know they have a lot facing them, but they have a sense they will be able to succeed where others have failed. What’s more is that they know they have no choice. They are going to have to be creative, to step up and solve problems because their future depends on it. I sense this group is up to the task. They have the tools. They just need for us old folks to get out of their way and let them lead.

As for my part, I am going to work on changing my focus. Yeah. The news is bad. But the news was bad during the plague too, and yet we humans got through it. We are adaptable. We dream, we invent, we persevere. Like the Energizer Bunny, we keep going. We need to open our minds to the possibilities and stop being so damn fatalistic. And if we adults can’t step up and do that, maybe we should shut up so we don’t poison the minds of those whose vision could change everything.

Risky Business

This guy knows how to take up some space

I haven’t written in a while. There are a litany of reasons (or excuses, if you prefer) why I haven’t. But none of them matter. At the end of the day, the result is the same. I’ve silenced myself.

This morning, I was foraging through some journals I kept a lifetime ago and I came upon one without filled pages. In the front of the book, however, was an inscription from my sister, which simply read, “For my sister, the writer.” Damn. That hit me hard, and I came to a realization. In a reverse of what Miles tells Joel in Risky Business, I realized that if I can’t do it, then I can’t say it. And that is simply unacceptable. So, I am changing that starting here and now. I’ve put myself on hold for too long. It’s time to start doing what feeds my soul, brings me clarity, gives me conviction, and makes me feel alive. I’m going to take up some space in my own life.

Starting today, I plan to post something on this blog every day for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. I’m not sure exactly how I will manage this if the busy-ness of life or occasional lack of 5G or Wifi coverage aim to obstruct my path, but I will do my best to figure it out. Some days my post might simply be a photo and a reflection. Other days it might be a full on rant. I am leaving myself space to be human and to post whatever is feasible, compelling, or palatable that day and to forgive myself if it is not representative of my best possible work. Unlike the last time I published a post every day for a year, I’m going to strive not to stress myself out trying to compose daily 750-word missives and turning what should be life giving into something that is life sucking. This is about being accountable to myself and learning that it’s okay to live out loud and be seen.

Writers write. If I can’t do it, I can’t say it. And if I can’t say on my own blog that I am a writer, then I am lost indeed. I’m not a natural born risk taker, but not writing has proven to be risky business for my mental state. Sometimes, you just gotta say….WTF.

White Women Of Instagram: Unite And Embrace The Latte Art

So, comedian Bo Burnham has songs from his Netflix special Inside streaming everywhere now, and this morning my friend sent me this little ditty about a White Woman’s Instagram. If you haven’t heard the song, to get an idea where he’s going with this, look no further than the song’s chorus:

“Is this heaven or is it just a white woman’s Instagram?”

The stanzas are comprised of lines about the photos white women post to their Instagram accounts, photos of latte art, couples holding hands, and bobbleheads of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was dying laughing while listening to the song until I started thinking about my own Instagram. “Shit. He’s talking about me.” It’s a little unnerving to feel so thoroughly seen and exposed by a man I’ve never met.

Yet, here are some selections from my Instagram:

Guilty as charged.

The song is, as most observations Burnham makes, dead on. The white women I know all have Instagram pages filled with artsy photos of cute puppies, flowers, birds, food we’ve prepared, and glasses of wine we’ve poured for ourselves. Middle class white women of Instagram, this is us. We couldn’t deny it if we wanted to. The evidence is ample. We’ve all done it, and now we’ve been called on it.

I started thinking about what it means. Why do we share carefully curated scenes that promote the illusion that we live perfect lives of contemplative beauty and genuine art? Are we that superficial and attention seeking? Is that what it comes down to? We also share shots of ourselves without makeup (to prove that we can be brave) and adorable photos of our significant others, children and pets (because we love them), but we’re careful about those too because the Internet saves everything. We are, however, less of a shallow caricature than our Instagram photographic snippets represent and Burnham’s song suggests. We know others will be bored with photos of dirty laundry piles, messy desks scattered with work, children mid tantrum, or groceries on the counter. And we don’t want to share photos that remind us of our struggles with money, marriage, family members, depression, anxiety, hormonal fluctuations, sleeplessness, disease, and death, because Twitter is where that crap should live. Besides, no one wants to be Debbie Downer with her measly 33 Instagram followers.

So, yeah, we play with our iPhone cameras on portrait mode and attempt to portray our white-women lives in the most idyllic way possible. It’s true, Bo. You nailed it. Our accounts are a bit canned, but may I suggest it’s because we’re uniquely positioned to document the positive little things, the things that make life beautiful and worth living despite the unending dirge about climate change, poverty, violence, political upheaval, and racial and social inequality?

I say keep posting those life-affirming-if-a-little-cliché photos of golden retrievers in flower crowns, fuzzy, comfy socks, and footprints in the sand, white-women friends. Put on your floppy sun hat and strike a pose on a quiet beach at sunset. Position your hands so to appear you are holding the Eiffel Tower. Photograph that damn glass of wine you earned at the end of a long, hard day. Remind the world that there is good out there. And, Bo, you go back to singing about straight white males because that is music to our white women ears.

An Apology from a Gen X Mom to her Gen Z Kids Regarding Gun Violence

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all guns shot only marshmallows?

So accustomed are we in the United States to gun violence that yesterday’s shooting at a King Soopers grocery store initially only registered in me slightly more disgust than the shootings last week in Atlanta. When my mother-in-law casually mentioned the developing news story before dinner, I decided not to investigate immediately. The story would likely be the same as we have seen myriad times before. Innocent citizens going about the business of their daily lives, murdered by some disgruntled, disturbed male in possession of a deadly weapon. It was just another day in America, a place where the right to procure military-grade weaponry trumps the right of every day citizens to shop, worship, view movies, attend school, or enjoy a concert or social event without marking out an explicit exit strategy just in case. We accept metal detectors at sporting events and music venues as part of normal life. We sigh when we learn of another shooting, and then we move on and wait for the next one. It’s inevitable as the phases of the moon.

As a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former 8-year resident of the Boulder area, I naively imagined my favorite college town was immune to such tragedies. Boulder, set against the backdrop of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains, is a highly educated, liberal-minded town, the kind of place where the hippy vibe and omnipresent Subaru Outbacks belie a laid back, outdoorsy spirit and not the inner-city mean streets where you might imagine a shooting spree would occur. Boulder, with its protected open spaces, fine dining, and university ties, seemed insulated to me somehow. But nowhere in this country are you safe, and I should have known better than to imagine Boulder was an exception.

I have written about gun violence before. A long-time Colorado resident, I’m no stranger to the spectacle of mass shootings. I was 30 when two teenagers shocked the nation by shooting up Columbine High School in my hometown of Littleton. In 2012, I was 44 when we were returning from a trip to the mountains and I had to inform my sons about a mass casualty event in an Aurora movie theater, 20-some miles from our home. The following year we witnessed another school shooting down the street from our home at Arapahoe High School. Now, in 2021, we once again had to discuss a horrific shooting in a place they have visited many times. They were not exactly surprised.

As a parent, the most difficult part about the proliferation of random gun violence is not the fear of losing my sons in a mass casualty event (although they never get dropped at school — or anywhere else — without that thought crossing my mind), but is instead the tough conversations I have with them after more innocents have been murdered. Our oldest was born two years after Columbine. He and his brother have grown up in a world I could not have imagined as a teenager hanging out in malls and skating rinks and concert halls without a thought in my mind about guns. Their youth was defined by fear of gun-related violence. The toll that school lockdowns and shooting safety drills have taken on their psyches is measurable in their anger, frustration, and anxiety. After I informed my oldest about the shooting yesterday evening, his response was predictable. He immediately became angry, swearing that he would never raise his own children in this country. He then pivoted to fear, asking me if I had given any thought to expatriating to a less gun-happy country. Finally he settled upon bitterness, saying only that he was “done” with it. If in the past 21 years since the violence at Columbine we adults haven’t been able to find a solution to this situation, he knows there is a little hope for change going forward. Our divided political landscape suggests he is correct in this assumption.

Our sons are disillusioned. Their reality is that adults have failed them on sensible gun legislation, among other things. They are frustrated and scared and angry, and you can’t blame them. They are right. The ever-present threat of death at someone else’s gun-toting hands has gifted their generation with legitimate mental duress. When you’ve been doing lockdown drills since elementary school, barricading yourself in a classroom and hiding under your desk in preparation for becoming a human target, you might feel unimportant and unheard. On January 6th when the US Capitol building was attacked by a violent mob, both our sons said that maybe now the lawmakers would be able to understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s schools, to be hiding and fearful. Gen Z is filled with depressed, anxious, and lost individuals. Youth suicide rates climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017. Today’s kids are struggling for many reasons, and the adults in the room seem okay with it. Or at least we don’t seem to care enough about the mental and emotional health of our own children and grandchildren to make substantive changes for them.

I’m sorry, boys. I’m sorry adults in my generation and others haven’t done more to protect you and your peers. I’m sorry I’ve had to tell you too, too many times about lives lost in pointless shootings in schools and theaters and churches and shopping centers. I’m sorry that my donations to organizations fighting for commonsense gun legislation, my letters and calls to our congressional representatives in DC, and my attendance at various protest marches against gun violence weren’t even close to enough to help effectuate meaningful change. I’m sorry that our government hasn’t made headway on this issue and that we’ve accepted that your loss of innocence and sense of personal safety are the price for protecting the Second Amendment and the freedoms of those who choose to own guns. You deserve better. I see that. I see your fears and I know how these preventable tragedies vex you and affect your mental health. Your elders have no legitimate excuses. And I’m sorry.

I’ve Gotta Be Me

Meme borrowed from someone better capable than I at creating memes

My journey towards personal growth is, I imagine, similar to the one many other people have undertaken. It’s one step forward, two steps back on perpetual repeat. There have been times when I have felt that I was getting there, wherever “there” is. But there have been many more moments when I have realized with considerable chagrin that I am not as far along as I had hoped. The secret is now and has always been just to keep moving and not give up. I may never make it to that mythical place where true mental peace and emotional well being reside, but I can keep heading there, even if I occasionally feel like Sisyphus pushing that damn boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down for me to move upwards again in perpetuity.

As disappointing as it has been for me to accept, I am human. I spent my first forty years simply coping with the life choices I made based on a model of my life that others crafted. And I was living my life disconnected from why I was heading in the direction I was going. I was merely going. Then, I woke up. And when that happened, I got sad. Sad that I had gone along unaware for so long, sad that I had stopped believing in my dreams, sad that I had decided to take a path others chose for me, and sad that I had perpetuated the self-restrictive mindset I developed as a young child to endure mental and emotional abuses. I wallowed in the sad place for a long time, flailing around, unsure of how to save myself, sometimes unsure if I was even worth saving. Just when I’d make a breakthrough in one area and walk from the darkness towards the light, my eyes would adjust and I’d realize I’d escaped one small hole just to land in a different, slightly roomier one. C’est la vie.

Last night while having dinner with my family and discussing my struggle to find peace, my sister-in-law pointed out that the decision on which way to proceed ultimately comes down to one notion. You need to look at your options and decide which one you can live with and which one will only lead to regret. As time for me on this troubled, beautiful planet wanes via the non-stop aging process, I need to choose: do I continue worrying about making others comfortable and happy with me or do I carve out a place where I am the protagonist and not simply supporting cast in someone else’s story? We all have life choices, and they usually come down to how much work we are willing to do and how much pain we are willing to endure. Some people aren’t cognizant enough to realize they have choices or that they have already unconsciously made one they are following. Some people decide that choosing between options is too difficult and requires too much work and decide to remain on their current trajectory. I am once again at a fork, and I know I need to step off the old, well-worn path and onto the new one. I’ve made my decision. I’ve been slowly gathering fortitude and momentum. Right now, I am the little, toy car that has been wound up and is being held above the ground, poised for release. I just need to set my wheels onto the path I know is right for me, let go of fear, and see what happens. I need to choose myself and leave others to fight their own windmills. I cannot help them, just as they cannot help me.

I have been working to make peace with myself and my decisions for a long time, but I kept getting caught up in other’s expectations and feedback. You can’t move to the next phase of growth until you let go of the comments and obligations put in your way by those who would keep you tethered to your old paradigm because that is what benefits them. All of this is to say that I’ve been working for a long time to run out of shits to give about what others would tell me is the “right” way to live. One of the best books I’ve read recently is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. So much of what she describes as her journey feels like my journey too; she’s simply farther along on her path than I am on mine, which means her words can serve as a beacon for me to follow when I am uncertain and thrashing about. One of the quotes from that book that speaks to me the loudest is this one:

“This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.”

While others can offer input, they don’t know me, my heart, or my potential. I alone control those things if I am brave enough to own my power. I’m choosing to recognize that my path is mine. No one else knows what directions to give me because this is not their path and, ultimately, it is not their choice. Allowing others to lead me along in my life, like an ass on a rope, has gotten me too far down the wrong road. But I’ve had time now to stop, to look back, and to contemplate where I’ve gotten to by allowing others to hold the reins. I know for certain now that the path that will lead me to regrets is the one I’ve been traveling. I know I can do better for myself, and those people who really love me and appreciate me will cheer me along even if the direction I’m heading isn’t one they understand. The rest? Well, the rest aren’t my problem anymore. I gotta choose me or I’m lost forever.

Don’t Let The Gaslight Dim Your Shine

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Back in the days when everything about me was still shiny and new

I haven’t spoken to my father in six months. This is not the first time in our relationship when silence has come to fall between us. When I was 23, we had a dispute that led to two full years cessation of contact between us over questions I had regarding a car he had previously owned but that I had purchased from him. During those two years, birthdays and holidays went by without any notes or cards or calls. Even my paternal grandmother stopped acknowledging my existence. I was exiled because I’d had the temerity to ask for advice regarding something that was now my problem. The argument we had over the car and the period of time when we were estranged came to an end only after I had gotten engaged, and my mother told me the right thing to do would be to reach out, share my news, and ask him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I didn’t want to do it, but I acquiesced, convinced it was the decent thing to do.

This most recent period of estrangement began in September, but it had been brewing for years. I had asked him a multitude of times not to send me ANY political or religious email forwards, as we hold diametrically opposed views on those topics, among many others. On my birthday in May, he came by to bring me a card and, while we were standing socially distanced from one another in my front yard, he chose to celebrate my birthday by insulting me. We were discussing the necessity of masks during the pandemic, and he let me know that maybe if I watched “real news” as opposed to fake news I would know better. The remainder of that brief visit was strained. We kept our distance after that until in September he sent me another political email, one meant to instruct me once again in how wrong I am regarding my political views. I had had enough. I replied to his message, said I could only assume he had no respect for me or my repeated requests, and therefore I was blocking him from my phone and my email, and taking a break. I was proud of myself for standing my ground. I have been at peace ever since.

Yesterday morning, as usual, I got an emailed, advance photo of the mail to be arriving in the afternoon. In yesterday’s photographic evidence was an image of a long envelope addressed to me in my father’s neatly printed handwriting, all capital letters. I froze. Peace was gone. My stomach flopped nervously. My heart began to race. My mouth lost all moisture. My hands trembled. I began to perspire. My mind raced. I sat in the car for a long while trying to calm myself enough to walk into the grocery store. As I think about that envelope now, the same anxiety pulses through me. I can hazard a guess as to what is written inside, but I don’t know for certain as I could not bring myself to gather in the mail from the box yesterday. So it sits there still as I try to decide if I want to travel down that road again.

Most of my life has been a steady stream of people, beginning with my parents, telling me how to treat my parents and how to feel about their actions. For forty-plus years, their words kept me in line. They told me that I owed my parents respect and support and kindness and gratitude. They told me I was lucky because I’d had a home, food, and a couple new outfits at the beginning of each school year. It’s not like I was chained in a basement for eighteen years. I should be grateful. About seven years ago, however, I came to see things differently. I began noticing the anxiety that surfaced when my phone flashed with my parents’ numbers. I’m guessing that if you come from a family where your parents taught you through their words and actions that you were loved, respected, and cherished, you feel that same way about them and can’t imagine not having them in your life. You want to take care of them they way they took care of you. But what is your responsibility to parents when your memories of them aren’t happy and filled with love? What if thoughts of your parents bring you only PTSD? What then?

It’s only recently that I have come to understand that living your life out of duty and a sense of fairness to others in a way that compromises your own mental stability is not a healthy way to live. I don’t know what’s in that letter in the mailbox from my dad. I suppose it could contain an apology or a plea to end the discord between us. I imagine that is unlikely, though, as I have never received such a thing from either of my parents yet. My parents, god bless them, are just who they are. They believe they have done right by me, the best they could, better than they got perhaps. But my cotton-mouthed, trembling-hand anxiety belies that notion. My body’s physical response means that it understands danger and aims to protect me even if I have been unwilling to protect myself. I’m 52 now, old enough to comprehend that if the thought of speaking to someone sends you into a panic attack, you can choose not to speak to them. The dozens upon dozens of small infractions by my parents built up over the years, leaving me with a fight-or-flight mentality where they are concerned. Seven years of weekly therapy has not been able to untangle that mess. I’m better now than I used to be because at least I am able to recognize the apprehension and discomfort and to honor it. I’ve learned that I have choices. I’ve learned that it’s not right to feel dread when you think of seeing or speaking to your parents. It’s not normal. It is not a universal experience. You know who taught me that? My sons. They did not have the same childhood I did. I raised them to know they are my entire world, the sunshine in my heart. And now as young adults they look out for me the way many children look out for their aging parents. They want me to be safe and happy and to know I am loved and appreciated.

So, I may go get the mail today and set that letter aside for a day when I am stronger and know its contents cannot hurt me. Or I may let my husband read it and decide what to do with it. Or I might just run it through a shredder because everything I need to know about our situation has already been played out cyclically for decades. I’m not certain if speaking my truth here will cause members of my family to become angry with me. I’m not sure who I might alienate with this admission. I only know one thing. I need to stand my ground and put other people’s ideas about how I should treat my parents out of my field of view. They haven’t walked in my shoes. They don’t carry my scars. And maybe if I turn off the gaslight I have been carrying around since it was handed to me in my childhood I won’t be able to read that letter at all.