Friday, January 4, 2019

Tres Años


Three years ago today I started working at the job I currently have. I was just thinking about the way I spent my morning three years ago, and about how much that has changed in the time that has followed. Three years ago I left my children in the wee hours of the morning with my dad so that I could be at work on time. I hadn’t ever done that before. I hadn’t ever worked a full-time job during their lifetime, and I had NO IDEA how to navigate any of it. I was terrified. I was scared about being the new person, and I was scared about how I would juggle things. I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of getting the girls where they needed to be, finding someone to watch them for the days I worked late, who would pick them up if they got sick? All of those things are now old hat – and partially made easier because they’re 3 years old and a whole lot more self-sufficient.

This year has been the year I’ve felt the most confidence in my work. I truly feel like I know what I’m doing here now. I am familiar and comfortable with the language we use, and I am confident talking with both teachers and with families about the high-quality care that we are providing to children. I can tell you where to go in our agency when you need something. I can tell you about resources for families who might need something beyond our scope, and where to direct teachers who are looking to expand their professional knowledge. I’ve learned how to navigate state and federal systems that are flawed or broken.  And? I have learned how to shut some of the stuff off when I leave here at night. But not all of it.

This year has been perhaps the hardest in that area. Maybe it’s because of the trauma informed care focus we’ve had in our professional development this year. Maybe it’s because now I know what secondary trauma is and what compassion fatigue is. In a meeting with our mental health consultant a few weeks ago, she said to me, “You know you have compassion fatigue, right?” And I laughed at her, until I read more about it, and now I know I am a walking example of it. If you want to know more about compassion fatigue, what it looks like, or ways to combat it, please go here: http://www.compassionfatigue.org/
 
I have zero patience anymore for people who can’t take perspective with the work we do here with children and families. By no means do I expect anyone who hasn’t worked in this field to completely understand it, I just mean that it’s very hard for me to talk with people who can’t believe people actually SUCCEED while living in poverty. Here at work I’ve become the squeaky wheel. I know what I’m doing now enough to know when it’s important to speak up, and when it’s important to consider other options or paths to take in the work we do. I’ve found that squeakiness trickling into my personal life as well. I can’t stay quiet when someone talks about systems they don’t know anything about. The whole “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” talk that clueless people like to give? Don’t say that around me. Ever. That kind of talk is from people who have never had to pull their shit together without a single resource. I’ve found this very conversation makes me furious and also incredibly sad at the same time.  

Maybe it’s because after three years, I know these families and feel a connection with them far deeper than I ever thought I would when I walked through these doors for the first time three years ago. I’ve watched new babies from current families enter our program, and I’ve seen the older children leave here and start kindergarten. I’ve watched families work through immigration issues. I’ve known families who have been directly affected by this administration’s ridiculous policies. I have learned of births, and deaths, of marriages, and of murders. I have heard stories from the mouths of children that you either wouldn’t believe, and especially that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially a child. I’ve learned how to leave some of what happens here at work at the end of the day, and yet, there are bigger things I will never be able leave behind when I walk out of these doors at night. There are things that have changed me as a human being, and that’s just fine with me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Enough.

Self-image is a mysterious and weird thing. Recently I was having a conversation about my 13-year-old daughter, and I was explaining that she is very much trying to figure out who she is right now.  Because of that conversation, I’ve been thinking about being that age and how I was trying to decide not so much who I was, but who people wanted me to be. Thirteen is an awful time of growing up. One I wouldn’t ever want to revisit. Yet sometimes, I think that I’m still trying to figure who I am, too, and watching Lucy navigate some of this has opened up some old wounds for me. Maybe it’s the underlying itch of being comfortable with who I am that has never really gone away.

Don’t get me wrong. At 43, I know myself better now than I ever have before. I am comfortable in my skin, and for the most part, I truly like this person I’ve become. I am extremely proud of the work I do. I adore parenting these sweet, funny girls. I am very much in love with someone who makes me laugh every single day, and even people we meet on the street recognize how happy we make each other. I love that. I’ve even created a relationship with the girls’ dad that is healthy, and funny, and kind…something I wasn’t sure would ever happen after our split. But if I think about who I was even 5 years ago, I cringe a little bit at the things I put up with, at the ways I questioned my own decisions, and just generally at the way I felt about myself.

I see recent photos of me and I hardly know who that person is. What happened to the thin, svelte girl who had no reason to be self-conscious? What are these lines by my eyes? What is this rosacea and acne that continues to plague me well into my adult years? What are these dark circles under my eyes that won’t seem to go away? What happened to the days of putting literally any kind of food in my mouth and never paying the price? I’d lie if I said that I wasn’t self-conscious even back then. At my most thin I thought I was fat. As a dance instructor, I spent HOURS in front of a full-length mirror inspecting every inch of my body, daily, and I often did the worst, most unhealthy things to keep myself at a certain weight.


I have to wonder, is spending precious time worrying about this stuff now important? Or, is the person I see in those photos just the new me and I just haven’t learned how to love her properly yet?  I can tell my children all day long that they’re beautiful. I can tell them that the number on the scale doesn’t define them. I can tell them that the curve of their hip or the length of their nose isn’t important. And? I truly believe ALL of those things. But what about the images being thrown at them via social media EVERY SINGLE DAY? What if even their mom sees photos of thin women and judges herself against something that is unattainable, even on her best day? How do I speak about this stuff honestly and openly with my teenage daughters without being completely full of shit?

I have absolutely no idea.

Today my Aunt Karen sent me a photo of a letter I wrote to my grandparents when I was right around my girls’ ages. In the letter, I was so excited to tell them about the books I’d read, about my “SuperSpeller” extra-hard spelling list, and about how I was thrilled to be wearing a winter sweater! Even at that age, I was becoming aware of what people thought of me, but in that letter, and in that moment, that stuff seems SO secondary. I’ve been sitting here tonight trying to recall the feeling of being totally engrossed in the good STUFF and not spending one single moment thinking about what I look like or what people think of me. Sometimes that seems like a hard place to reach again.

Zoe is very much in this place right now, and if she does realize that people spend any time thinking about her, she doesn’t seem to care at all. Not one bit. She owns her awesome weirdness in a way that is refreshing and sweet and I hope doesn’t ever change, even though I am certain that it will. One day, someone will point out the things that she likes as being different. One day, someone will make a comment about her that she won’t be able to unhear. This is what happens to us. Seriously, fuck the people who do this stuff. They are the absolute WORST. But for whatever reason, those are the words that stick in our heads, and those words become the inner voices that stay with us even when we are grown ass women with children of our own.



When I was a child, my mom made a meal for the family every night for dinner, and then she sighed and moaned her way through a plate of iceburg lettuce for herself. It makes me laugh now, because her iceburg lettuce salad was kind of like eating cardboard in terms of any nutritional value. NOT bitching about it, and eating what she made us would have been one thousand percent healthier for her, but she never did that. I made a promise to myself even back then that I would NEVER do that to my children. I promised that I would cook FOR them, and that I would eat the same things that they eat. I promised that I would cook WITH them and instill in them a love of how food can bring people together.


I honestly don’t know what the answer is for any of the stuff I’ve just thrown on this page, but I think it starts and ends with being honest with my girls. I believe it’s continuing to teach them to be accepting of every body. I think it’s teaching them that thin doesn’t equal healthy. That self-confidence comes from trial and error. And that sometimes it takes many, many, many years to learn how to not care about what others think. Maybe we never actually do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dear Scot


I couldn’t do it today. For a lot of reasons, but the biggest of which is that I still don’t know how to feel. Like any kind of grief, I run the gamut depending on the day. I’m sad. I’m angry with you. How in the hell couldn’t you have known to see a doctor before it was too late? I’m in denial. There are still days that I think, “Man, I should text Scot to tell him…” and then I remember. Needless to say, I’m a ways from acceptance. It will come, I know it will, but not until I sit with some of the grief and actually let myself feel it. I was talking with a friend today and was telling her that I still had stuff to work through with your death. She said, “It’s really easy to go around something hard, it’s much harder to go through it.” I’ve managed, over the last 15 months to go around you being gone. It’s time I start to navigate my way through it.

When you died, I was in the thick of going through my own grief over the loss of my marriage and the new life, new job, new schedule, and new responsibilities that came along with that huge life change. I realized when I was talking this morning about you that there was really no way for me to fully let myself grieve your death because I was already so caught up in all of my own stuff.  Sounds selfish, but maybe it was a delightful coping mechanism in disguise. It happened often in the months after your death: I would be sad about something that I knew you’d like. I’d laugh about something that I knew would make you laugh. I’d see some ridiculous political story, or something about Betsy DeVoss or the Department of Education that I knew would make steam come out of your ears. And, there were the tears I couldn’t stop from coming when we ran into Stella on what happened to be your birthday. There is nothing about that event that strikes me as coincidence, by the way…nice work.  It was easy for me to have those moments and then to move along. I went around the grief. I’m still circling around it in many ways. Maybe that’s how I will learn to eventually get through it.

Some part of losing you so suddenly brought me immediately back to losing my cousin Karleton on September 11th. There was no warning, no closure, just as sure as he was there, the next moment, he was gone. You were gone on a Sunday morning. The week before that, we’d texted about how we’d not seen each other, and how it was about time for a night out, which surely meant debauchery was about to occur. I had my girls that Friday night and didn’t get to go out, but you and Ted did. On Saturday, you decided to lay low, I’m only assuming what happened on Friday was typical of a boys night out. You had dinner with Steve instead, and I’m so very glad he got that time with you. On Sunday, you were gone. I’ve had some regrets in my life, but none sting quite like knowing I could have had a little bit more time. We’d likely have done something ridiculous and perhaps even illegal, but it would have been time together.

Here’s some things I think you should know:

The Royals suck. Like, not just sort of bad, they are completely shitting the bed. Still, we went to a game this week and I looked for you in the Pepsi Porch anyway. I still couldn’t tell you anything about the Chiefs. Shocking, I know.

Jason Isbell put out a hell of an album last summer. I know you never got to hear it, but I think about you almost every time I listen to it. It’s the kind of writing you wish came from you, and it’s the kind of music I know you’d have loved. I’ve also found a love for Lori McKenna and for Travis Meadows, both of whom have written some of the most gut wrenchingly lovely music you’ve ever heard.

Man, our government is FUCKED. That’s about all I have to say about it. You’d be a hot mess over it. They want to combine the Department of Education and the LABOR department. I know. Also just today, Judge Kennedy announced his retirement from the SCOTUS. Some days I think maybe you are luckier to be missing this dumpster fire.

Your daughter is so beautiful. I’m sure you know. When we saw her – at Stumpy’s of all places – she was lovely and kind and sat and talked with my girls. Another regret I’ve had is dropping the ball there. It has always been my intention to keep an eye on her, and I’ve sucked at that, royally. I think I can change that, and I think part of trekking THROUGH this stuff means finding ways to connect with your Stel.

Recently I’ve started to think about a conversation we’d had a few summers ago. We were sitting on Katie’s porch and you were doing that annoying thing where you pick a point and you stick to it even far after you’ve offended or pissed everyone off.  It’s the quality I never really understood but always admired in you. Anyway, you were talking about something that had to do with administrators versus teachers, and we all thought you had totally begun to drink the kool-aid.  Later, I realized that you were still trying to figure out your new role, and that maybe you were really just trying to get our reaction and navigate the transition from classroom teacher to coach to administrator. I’ll never know, of course, but recently I’ve been thinking about how hard that transition has been for me. I’ve also been thinking about how to carefully navigate the waters so that there is supervision and also mentoring happening without creating an us versus them hierarchy. It’s so tricky. I wish you were here to guide me through some of that, and that we could have that same conversation again knowing what I know now. I think I would be far less defensive and I would listen more before reacting. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course.

I'm sorry for not showing up today, at least in person. I guess it’s safe to say we were both there in spirit. I sure do miss you, dummy.




Monday, May 14, 2018

Thirteen



I’m not sure how you got to be thirteen already. It feels like just yesterday that you were chasing Dalton around the house with a sock in your mouth, or planning your honeymoon (after you married your friend Davis) in “Dithney World”. Some days it feels like there is no way in the world that you are a teenager. Other days you are SO MUCH a teenager. Recently, I’ve been reading about rites of passage, particularly around becoming a “woman”. Part of me rolls my eyes at this – you know your mama enough to know why, but part of me really wanted to mark this momentous birthday in a different, more special way for you. 


In the Jewish faith, when a young woman turns 13, she has a “Bat Mitzvah” to mark the occasion. Traditionally, it means that she is now a full-fledged member of the Jewish faith community, and she often has done some sort of community service before the actual celebration. It’s a tradition I find fascinating, and when I began thinking about YOU turning 13, it made me think about how we would mark the occasion beyond the usual birthday party. I’ve asked my dear friends to write a letter to you, that you will receive later this week. My charge to them was simply this: “I would love for Lucy to have your words of wisdom about growing up. What was important. What wasn't. Any piece of advice you would give a girl turning 13. I think each of you has an important perspective, and you are ALL women I know she looks up to.” 


I hope that these letters will be something you can hold onto, and that you can turn to when you’re feeling all the things a 13 year old feels. I want you to know that you have so many strong women in your life who love you, and who have been there.  Being a teenager is hard stuff. It was hard 30 years ago, but I can only imagine what it must also be like to be constantly bombarded with stuff on social media, with technology, and with messages from “out there” about what a woman should be. You know me, again, enough to know I say, “fuck that” to what a woman “should be”, but it took me a VERY long time to get there. Here is what I’d like you to know about becoming a teenager.


Dear Lucy, 


Here we go…the ride of your life is really just beginning. You said to me the other day that you’ve not really even begun living yet, and I say this is the year that begins to change. Up until now, you’ve been under our wings. That won’t change, but you’ll begin to test the waters of independence more and more frequently, and here are some things I want you to know about this time in your life:

  •  Pick your friends wisely. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have women in my life now (in my 40s!) who have been there with me all along. I picked the right people, and part of that was learning over the years that the best friends are the ones who won’t ask you to change who you are. The best friends are the ones you can call or text at all hours of the day or night and they’ll not only respond, they’ll make you feel better, not worse, about whatever is weighing on you. Good friends don’t encourage you to do stupid stuff, and if they DO? They can take “no” for an answer when you’re uncomfortable about whatever that might be. Good friends make you feel good about yourself.
  • I just read that, and I would say that those are the things you should want in a partner. Boy, girl, whomever you end up hanging out with, pick someone who makes you feel good about yourself. No one who truly cares about you would ask you to change the amazing person you already are. No one who truly cares about you will ask you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. And trust your old mama, if it doesn’t feel right in your gut? It probably isn’t. I don’t want to dwell on this too much, I can already feel you rolling your eyes, but I hope you’ll think about that when you meet people you want to spend time with.
  • Spend time reflecting about your day, or about stuff that has happened to you, but not TOO much time. There’s a fine line between thinking and overthinking. You have the genes for overthinking, and I would just like you to know that I wish I could get back at least a fraction of the time that I have spent worrying, or thinking about what could have been. Worrying about stuff is natural. It can also be a giant time suck. Thinking about what could have been won’t change what has already happened in your life. Being a reflective person means you’re thinking about all the ways you can be better in the future. I wish I would have figured that out sooner.
  • Beauty isn’t about the way you look. I mean, society in general would have you think that, but being beautiful is so much more than what is on the outside. Being beautiful isn’t about being a certain size, and it’s not about the length of your hair. The most beautiful people I’ve met are the ones who are comfortable in their skin. They know who they are and they know what they stand for – or what they do NOT stand for. The most beautiful people I know are that way on the inside. They are humble and they’re kind, and they radiate those things so others want to be close to them. The most beautiful people are funny, but not just funny because they can make you laugh – but because they can also laugh at themselves. You’ll spend a lot of time in your life looking into a mirror and trying to make yourself fit some ridiculous image of what society tells you is “beautiful”.  I just hope you keep in mind that those things on the outside are fleeting. The beauty we carry inside, that radiates out to others? That stuff lasts forever.
  •  I hope you continue to stand up for what’s right. I hope you continue to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. I hope you don’t shrink when you see things that bother or upset you.  I hope you continue to share those things with me and with your dad so that we can support you.  I recall times in my life when I didn’t tell someone to quit telling an offensive joke. Or, I didn’t tell someone that it wasn’t ok to use certain words around me.  I was afraid to assert myself, and looking back, I wish I could change that stuff. It’s uncomfortable,  sometimes, to stand up for what’s right.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” That is one of my very favorite quotes. It’s something I try to live by, and I hope you understand why.
  • Knowing who you are is way more important than knowing what you want to be when you get older.  People will have you stress over your school work. They’ll tell you that you can’t possibly go to college without doing X, Y, or Z. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. Knowing who you are – what you stand up for, what makes you happy, what you are good at doing – is way more important than how much money you’ll make at some stupid job you’ll have to have to put a roof over your head someday. Teenagers spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to make themselves look good on paper so that a college will accept them. You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up.  You have two wildly different examples in your dad and me: he has known since he was 5 years old that he wanted to be an artist. He’s worked at the same place for 25 years. It came very naturally to him, and that has been a great experience for him.  I, on the other hand, still don’t quite know what I want to be when I grow up.  Caring for people (babies, children, teachers…) has always come quite naturally to me, but I am always learning new things, and maybe someday I will change my career path entirely. My point is that neither your dad’s way nor mine is better than the other.  My advice? Try lots of things. Learn everything you can about stuff that interests you. When you know, you’ll know. Until then, you don’t HAVE to have it all figured out.
  •  I love that you talk to me. Even when it’s 10pm and you have to go to bed, and you’ve decided that is the best time to tell me everything that happened during your day, and I might seem frustrated? I really do love that. I hope you continue to talk to me, and I hope you know that you can tell me anything. Anything. At. All. I will not judge you. I will not tell your secrets. You and I are mother and daughter, and while I may have had a shitty example of how that is supposed to look, I know that the most important part of that relationship is about listening to each other and communicating. Even when that just means we are telling each other when we aren’t happy with the other. I know that you’ll have times at 13, and at 14, and 15…where you will want nothing to do with me. And that’s ok. I just want you to know that you always can talk to me. Always.
  • I’m so proud to be your mama. Part of having a strained relationship with my own mom is that I haven’t always had an example of what a good mother daughter relationship should look like. I’m trying to right the ship.  I’m trying every single day to do things differently for you than they were done for me.  I need you to know that is a work in progress, and some days are way better than others.  But always, always, always, always I am so happy that you’re mine, and I don’t know if I could love you more if I tried.  Welcome to thirteen, sweet girl. This is just the beginning.

I love you,


Mama

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Eleven

Tomorrow Zoe turns eleven, and every time I write something for the girls’ birthdays, I say how I can’t believe it’s been this many years. I suppose I will be saying that until we are old ladies, Zoe and me. I hope I get to be an old lady. I hope we get to be old ladies together. Maybe not in the “I’m gonna live with my daughter” sense, but just so I can have as much time as I can with Zoe and with her sister. I truly love being with my girls – they are so funny and so smart, and they are good, kind and just people. They make me proud to be their mama every single day.

This year has been a good one for Zoe – like, one of the first REALLY good years she’s had in a while. She’s a happy kid for the most part, and much of the anger and the anxiety she has dealt with in the past seems to have calmed. I won’t say it’s gone away, because I’m not that delusional, but it just seems different now that she’s a little older. Zoe is still as feisty as ever. She’s strong willed, and she is sometimes SO frustrating.  I’m certain I get even more frustrated with her because I see so much of myself in Zoe. I try so hard not to silence her noise, and not to squash her will. One day I hope it will serve her well to be as stubborn and assertive as she is now. Once in a while I will be arguing with Zoe (which is honestly ridiculous in the first place) and I will realize that nothing I say is going to sway her or make her change her mind. I can tell her that a canary is yellow. I can be holding that damn yellow bird in my hand and she will look right at me and tell me it’s pink. And then she will come up with 743 different reasons that she is right. It’s exhausting. And it’s also amazing. It simultaneously makes me want to jump out of a window and hug her. 

Zoe loves to bake. She would spend hours in the kitchen if I let her, working on cookies, muffins, and other treats. And she’s GOOD at it. It’s funny to me because I’m anything but a baker. Baking is so measured (no pun intended) and precise. I like to throw in a little of this, and a little of that. Zoe follows a recipe. She does this for the ridiculous amount of slime she makes as well. The bane of my existence this year was Zoe’s slime-making and I’d rather not write any more about that. She got a trumpet for Christmas, and while she hasn’t begun taking lessons just yet, she is insistent to pull the trumpet out when friends are over to play for them. It’s…well. It’s very LOUD. It occurs to me as I write this that Zoe doesn't really care that she can't play that damned trumpet, she just loves showing it off because she thinks it's cool. Zoe still loves Alice Cooper, but this year she’s surprised me by learning so many of the words to the songs that I play in the house. I guess I don’t realize how much music I play, or how often, until she begins to belt out the lyrics to a Lori McKenna song, or an old Waylon tune. I love when she does this. Recently we saw Pink, and she knew EVERY single word that lady was singing. Zoe is a listener. 

Tonight after dinner, I asked Zoe about the last year. I asked her what was the best part about being 10, and she said, “My family got cooler.” When I asked her what she meant, she said, “Well. We have Liz and Gregg now, and they’re cool. Daddy is cool, and you’re cooler with your longer hair and you laugh a lot. I’m not sure about Lucy, though.” Zoe makes me laugh every single day. I’ve spent a lot of nights over the last few years staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night wondering how I’m messing up my girls. How did our divorce affect them, and what will they take away from it? It’s always been my hope that in the end, the important thing will be that they know just how many people love them. Tonight I realized that Zoe understands that, too. 

Later in our conversation tonight, she thought about my question a little bit longer and then she said, “Hey mom? The worst part about being 10 is that my retainer smells bad all of the time.”  And I supposed if that is the worst thing to happen this year, my sweet baby Zoe is doing just fine.