Monday, March 30, 2015

eight.

Eight years ago today, Zoe Margaret made her way into the world. It was a quiet appearance, nothing like her sister’s near catastrophic birth not two years earlier. From the start, though, Zoe was deceiving in her demeanor. She was the baby who was happy as she could be until suddenly she wasn’t and then, watch out. The screaming that came out of her was like nothing I’d ever heard. She was the toddler who would slam her head into the floor when she was mad at us. The same child who wanted to snuggle in your lap any chance she got was the same one who wore a luchador mask for most of her second year.  I spent my pregnancy with Zoe wondering how in the world I could ever love another child the way I loved her sister. And then she arrived and I’ll be honest, I was so overwhelmed with having two children under the age of two that I didn’t bond with her immediately. I remember clearly sitting and nursing Zoe about 3 weeks into her life. I looked down at her wrinkled little face and my breath was nearly taken away because it was at that very moment that I knew how much I loved her. It’s always been a little like that with Zoe – you never really know until you know.  And I learned that I didn’t have to love her like I loved her sister. The two of them were and are so very different, there’s no way I could do that.
When she was about 6 months old, Zoe went on a hunger strike. Refused to eat anything, and when I gave her formula, she began vomiting like she was possessed. We quickly found out that her little body couldn’t digest the proteins in dairy or soy. Back then, there were few alternatives to give her, and we spent so much of her toddler years trying to keep her safe from foods that would make her sick. It honestly made me physically and mentally exhausted beyond my wildest imagination. But Zoe took things in stride. She began at a very young age asking if things had diary in them. When we went out to dinner at different places, we packed her a lunchbox. She was almost 4 years old before she ate anything that I didn’t prepare for her.  Stuff hasn’t always been easy for Zoe, but she has always figured things out gracefully and without issue.
Recently, Zoe has been having a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. They’re reminiscent of her sister’s at nearly the same age. I sort of thought we’d only have one child with these issues to worry about, but I was wrong. Life here at home has been a challenge with Zoe to say the least. She doesn’t want to go to school. She doesn’t want to eat. She wakes up at all hours of the night freaking out and refusing to sleep. A parent never, ever wants to see a child sad, but a sad child with worries she can’t explain is another beast entirely. She’s talking to someone, and we will all get through this. Here’s the thing. Tonight I took her to gymnastics class. I watched Zoe through the window and was so impressed at how much confidence she’s gained since she started the class in September. She’s able to tumble, and even able to hoist her little body up onto the balance beam without the help of her teacher. When she fell off the beam, she got right back up. That’s the thing about Zoe – she’ll keep on trying even when it seems like giving up is easier. Sometimes, with all that has been going on, it’s hard for me to see that she still has that in her. I needed to watch her tonight from the sidelines to see that for myself. It was reassuring.
Zoe is so much like her mama, and some days it’s hard to parent someone who is so much like me.  She’s a little loud. She says what she thinks without thinking so much about it first. She’s feisty and sassy, but she’s also human and when she falls, she is able to get back up. Unlike her mama, Zoe gets up a lot faster and comes back swinging a lot harder. I hope she keeps that part of her personality as she grows older.  More than anything, I hope she always knows how much she is loved. Happy, happy birthday, sweet Zoe.

Monday, February 9, 2015

saying goodbye



When I was 25, I lost my black lab Ellie when she was hit by a car. It was awful, gut wrenching stuff. In fact, back then, I compared it to losing a child. Later, when I had my own kids, I often thought about how selfish it was that I had compared my dog to a child.  I had gotten so far away from the pain of losing Ellie, that it seemed unreal that I could feel that way again about an animal. I wondered if the people who heard me say that after Ellie died thought I was insane. I wondered that until yesterday. And then I decided that no, that wasn’t selfish of me, it was completely true: losing a dog can be exactly like losing a child. Yesterday, we had to make the very hard decision to put down our sweet buddy Dalton. Dalton was nearing 13 years old, and over the course of the past six months, his health had declined immensely. He was no longer able to walk up stairs, and often had trouble just getting up out of his bed. We tried steroids and pain meds, and talked at length with our vet, who was kind and honest when he told us that we were prolonging the inevitable. We thought we would have more time with our sweet boy. And we never, ever wanted to have to make the decision that we ultimately made for him.
That’s the thing about dogs. They come in and tear stuff up. They chew and they bite and they snuggle their way right in to our hearts. They become our family. They become one of our children. They’re in all of the important pictures, and in all of the important memories. We adopted Dalton before we got married, and brought him into a house where he ruled the roost. And then, he graciously accepted our girls when each was born, like a sibling. He cared for them in his own way. He wasn’t a jumper, and never a lap dog, but he liked to get very close to the girls and just sit with them, even when they were babies. When they got older, he protected them when their friends came over. He played catch with them, and loved it when they told him he wasn’t tough while trying to pull his toys from his mouth. They never worried that he would bite them. Dalton would never have hurt a soul.
Dalton taught me so many things, but mostly he taught me about the power of aging gracefully. Yes, he lost control of his functions. But he liked to try to cover up his messes with a kitchen towel he would pull off of the rack. He seemed embarrassed by his declining health in that way, and we never scolded him for the many, many times we cleaned up after him. Eventually, his eyesight and hearing were also going, and often we had to come right up next to him so that he knew it was time to go outside, or to come inside. People kept telling me when it was time, I would know. Yesterday, when he couldn’t get up, and couldn’t walk in or out of the house without being carried, we knew. I was most upset because I wanted our vet, who has been involved since day one, to be with us. We talked about waiting until today, but ultimately knew that was a selfish move on our part. It was time. When we finally did get to the vet, Dalton put his sweet old head in Steve’s lap, like he’s done daily for the past 12 years, and he left us. It was peaceful and it was quiet, and it was the right thing to do. But that doesn’t make it any easier.  That’s the thing about dogs. They come in and tear stuff up. They chew and they bite and they snuggle their way right in to our hearts. They become our family. They become one of our children.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays...Don't Be an Asshole.


I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words something that has really, truly bothered me this past week. I’ve figured out that I just can’t do that in any tasteful way. I can’t describe how someone’s calculated nastiness has scratched something deep inside of me. I will say, though, that while it did happen, I’m glad it did. I’m glad it did because it caused me to think deeply about friendship. It caused me to think about how I treat people. It caused me to consider what it means to be a friend when you’re nearing 40 years old. It means considering what this season is really about.
What I can say is this – the bigger picture is just that. In the grand scheme of things, there is so much more than this rather small annoyance for me.  While certain people waste hours of energy hatching hurtful plans, other friends of mine are considering a first holiday without a parent. They’re wrestling with how to deal with the ache of the hole that can’t quite be filled during this time of year. Other friends are struggling financially, and are trying to weigh buying Christmas gifts for their children versus paying their electric bill. Families all over this country are missing loved ones this Christmas. Some families are experiencing change and loss in other ways. For me, it’s having the mental capacity to open a Christmas card from my mother she barely even signed and later hearing from other family members about the lovely notes she’s written them. I chalk that up to just who she is, but guess what? I’ve had enough therapy to know that that is the only place I have in my heart for feeling hurt this holiday season. I will not tolerate any hurtful treatment from others.
This time of year, we don’t really talk about the birth of Jesus in this house. What we do talk about is how families make traditions around Christmastime, and that there is comfort in the sameness of the holidays each year.  Whether that sameness happens in a church sanctuary or around a game of scrabble depends on the family. For my own family, the emphasis during this time of year is treating people kindly. It means talking with my girls about having empathy for others. For giving what we can when we can. For including those who don’t have a place to be. That this season can be a time for being hurtful in any way simply confuses and astounds me. But it’s just another teachable moment for my girls: Be kind. Don’t be an asshole. It’s pretty much as simple as that.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

debunking the mom myth

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I keep replaying yesterday’s parent conferences over and over in my head. I made a mother cry. I can’t remember the last time I made anyone cry…at least anyone I didn’t give birth to. The words I spoke weren’t mean, or harsh. I was simply telling the mom how resilient her child was, and that after the difficult time he’d had during his parents divorce last spring, I’d noticed such growth in her son already this fall. I realized very quickly when she began to tear up that I’d touched a very raw nerve. I had probably hit upon something she had already been thinking about. Probably something she’d been beating herself up about as well. I couldn’t have known that the words I’d thought would reassure her would upset her so much, but I’m still thinking about how that conversation could have gone differently.
Recently, I’ve been reading article after article after article about how moms are so hard on each other, and what it takes to be considered a “good” mom, and what moms really think. I’m honestly so fucking sick of reading about what I should be doing, or how I should be feeling. I just wish someone would finally tell me how to have the emotional capacity for it all. I don’t need to be what anyone would consider a “good” mom. I’m not going to join your after school group. I’m not going to schedule a “playdate” because that word makes me want to stab puppies. I’m not going to encourage my girls to join certain extracurricular activities because the moms who bring their kids to those things, and try to live vicariously through their children make me want to stab really cute puppies. I’m not going to craft anything or sew anything or bedazzle anything. I’m not that mom and I never will be, but I love my kids more than I know how to say. Am I any less of a mother than the women who craft, or sew, or bedazzle? Absolutely not, but you wouldn’t know that by reading anything in the media.
I’m thinking about the mom who sat across from me yesterday wiping her eyes, and I keep thinking about all of the things I should have said to her. I should have told her that she’s not alone. I should have told her that I understand that motherhood never turns out the way you think it might. I should have told her that she’s doing an amazing job, and that her divorce should never be seen as a failure to her child. Instead, I thought about myself and about what I’d done to cause her tears and I didn’t say anything, which was a shitty, selfish way to react. I know now that she’s probably a lot like the rest of us who don’t say how we feel.
I’m tired of reading about how we should let go of  the need to “have it all”.  I let go of that a long time ago. What I need to know is what in the world to do with all of these emotions I have about my kids. I need to know how to have enough headspace and heart space left after all of their stuff to care for myself. I’m sick of the mom shaming. I’m sick of the comparisons and the things we should or shouldn't be doing. Why isn’t anyone talking about how much being a mother changes who you are? More importantly? Why isn’t anyone talking about what to do when you don’t like the person you’ve become as a result of motherhood? It’s true. It IS time to be kinder to each other. But it's also time to be kinder to ourselves. Even if the kids haven’t had a bath in 5 days and they’ve been eating corn dogs for every meal. Even if you have never logged on to the school grading website because you just don’t care that much. Even if you do ignore your kids so that you can enjoy a drink with other mom pals a la 1970. I think it’s also time for it to be acceptable to admit that motherhood is probably not what we thought it was going to be, and that it might even be the hardest thing most of us have ever done. Ever.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

some thoughts about abuse.

I’ve been struck by the opinions I’ve seen on social media today about Janay Rice, wife of (former) football player Ray Rice. Janay has been quoted defending the beating her husband gave her in a hotel elevator.  Two hits that knocked Janay out cold. Not only did he knock her out, he dragged her out of the elevator and dropped her on her face. I’ve seen the video, and I’ve seen her response. I have also seen the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed.  I’m honestly disgusted at Janay’s support of her husband, and before you call me callous or think that I don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, here’s why I stayed. I stayed because I was too young to realize that what I had wasn’t love, it was control. I stayed because I’d been alienated from the friends I came into that relationship with. I stayed because I didn’t have enough self-esteem to find another place to live, and a job to support just living on my own. I stayed because I’d been told I was stupid and I believed it. I finished my master’s program with a 4.0, but I’d been told I wasn’t smart for so long back then that I actually believed it. I stayed because I didn’t think I could do any better. I stayed because I blamed myself for not being able to change someone else. To this very day, I still make excuses for how I was treated – claiming that we were so young…somehow making his behavior acceptable. I find it hard to write this because it means thinking about all of the excuses I made over the years.

Here’s the thing. I get all of the reasons people stay. I do. But standing up for someone who beat your ass after the whole world knows what is going on? I just do not fully understand. My guess is that Janay has been given the support of people who can help her. Family. Friends. Strangers. But I also guess that she thinks she’s in too deep to leave: a marriage, a child, and now a very public story. I know that my shaking my head at her situation from afar is easy to do. I lost friends who could eventually just shake their heads at me. Perhaps it’s time to change the trending hashtag from #WhyIStayed to #WhyILeft. I have read all the reasons people stay. What about the ones who had the courage to leave?

I left because I had a friend who I knew I could call in the middle of the night. I left because someone else began to pay attention to me and compliment me. Not healthy in retrospect, but confidence helped me leave. I left because I was so tired of being sad. And scared. I left because I woke up one morning and began to come to my senses about what was going on around me. Looking back, I left because I had a small group of my own friends who were concerned and opened their home to me. Looking back, I was scared, but I was not alone. One day I will tell my girls that no one should tell you he loves you, and in then next breath call you a stupid bitch.  No one gets to lay hands on you in hurtful ways. I left, but I went back more than once. It was never easy…until eventually it was.

Back then I didn’t know that I’d find something the opposite of what I had. I didn’t know how smart I was, or how much I had to offer. I had to rebuild that inside of me, and that was the hardest part. I might even still be doing it.  I left, but it’s NEVER just that easy. There is always more to the story, whether you’re 21-year-old Kate or you’re Janay Rice. And yes, I am frustrated beyond belief to see that she’s supporting her husband. I’m frustrated at the very public message her support sends to young women who might be in similar situations. I’m frustrated at the myriad of messages it sends Rice’s own daughter. But mostly I’m frustrated because it’s certainly only a matter of time before it happens again.

Monday, May 19, 2014

nine.

May 2005. What did we know?!

“I sure am glad it isn’t ______ years ago today!” Those are the words my mom used to say to my sister and me on each birthday. I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, if only to show you what a fucking horrible thing that is to say to a child. In my mind, I was always sure she meant, “I sure am glad I don’t have to go through labor and delivery again.” Though, having been through it twice, even that doesn’t make much sense to me. On the morning of my eldest daughter’s ninth birthday, I am thinking about those words. 

Nine years ago today I became a mother for the first time. In some ways it seems like just yesterday, and in others it seems like a lifetime ago.  In nine years I have worried more than I ever thought humanly possible. I have cried and laughed and felt love in ways I didn’t ever know existed. But it’s also been really, really hard, and there have been times I’ve wanted to pack up and run away. I know that every mother has those moments – whether she admits to them in public or not – but for me, those moments have been the ultimate test of my character. I’m certain I’m not doing the best job. Just yesterday, another mom emailed about a spelling list that her son had left at school and was super upset that he couldn’t study for Monday’s spelling test…did I have the words to share? So. Apparently there’s a spelling test each Monday in 3rd grade. There are TWO MORE WEEKS of school and I’m just finding this out. I suppose Lucy’s done just fine without being made to study, but these are the kinds of things I NEVER thought I’d be held accountable for…things I now beat myself up for not knowing about. It’s ridiculous in the grand scheme of things, but still.

I try to live each day with my girls enjoying every moment, because I know it goes by fast. Hello? Nine years? Sometimes enjoying the moment means letting go of other things. My house isn’t as clean as yours, I can guarantee, and Steve can, too. My kids might eat chicken nuggets 4 nights a week, but we are eating as a family. I am tired of trying to live up to standards that are unattainable even on my best days as a mother. I can’t do it all, and some days I wonder what my girls will remember about my mothering them. I know what I hope they will remember, and that is that I will always listen to them because I truly believe that what they have to say is important, that there is something funny to be found in almost every situation, and that I think they are the funniest, bravest, most amazing people on earth. I’ve had enough therapy to know that I am doing the best I can, and telling my kids on each birthday that I’m so incredibly glad they were born is a good start. 
May 2014 HBD, LBW!

Monday, May 12, 2014

a new normal?


Well hello there, stranger! Remember me? Today at a staff meeting, a coworker told me to Google my name and I did, and up popped my blog. I was all, “wait! I have a blog!” I mean, I knew I did, of course, but it’s been a great long while since I’ve visited this ghost town. I started thinking about why that might be and here’s what I’ve decided…ready? I am happy. For the first time in a VERY long time, I am genuinely happy with life and I haven’t needed the outlet of my writing to get me through. I know that maybe sounds backwards – now is the time I should probably be writing more just because I have more time and I’m in such a better place. Instead I’ve been reading. And hanging out with my family – turns out they’re pretty cool when I’m getting enough sleep and not knee deep in grad school. I’ve been working out and watching what I eat – I’ve lost EIGHT pounds. That’s like the size of a newborn baby, which is equal parts gross and inspiring. I have way more to lose, but there’s nothing like eight pounds to give me a little motivation. I’ve been laughing more. I love my job and I love the kids I teach.

I sound like a commercial for Zoloft – but I think it’s just because I spent the last four years of my life so caught up in a million other things for other people, I forgot what it’s like to take time for me. So this is just me saying hello. I hope to be back here more regularly. I’d like to start writing again, this time for fun, not just to let off pent up frustration. In the meantime, here’s some photos you’ll find when you Google my name, which are weird, and also seem pretty timely. Oh! Also? I just scrolled down to read the last post and you should know Steve and I are taking a trip. By ourselves. Watch out, Vegas.