Dear Diary

Liam is obsessed with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  For a parent who has tried everything in my power to encourage this reluctant reader, there is no greater joy than catching him sneaking off to read just a few more pages.  I pass by his room and hear him laughing out loud as he reads well past his bed time.

A few days ago, he asked if he could have his own diary.  A kid requesting to read AND write?  Yes!  We hopped on Amazon and ordered a diary straight away.  His little brother, wanting in on this action (or probably just wanting to buy something new) also requested a diary.  A panda lover since day one, Kellen selected this journal, which is perhaps the most adorable diary in existence.P1070179

Liam asked if I ever kept a diary, and I told him I’ve been keeping diaries, in one form or another, since I was a kid.  He said he’d like to see them, so I broke into the way back archive and found a couple of my first diaries.  My husband came home and saw them on the counter.  He teasingly asked me if I had any of those “Dear Diary: I like so-and-so, but he doesn’t even know I exist” entries.   The book contained at least one:

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I hoped that the diary would be filled with cute little notes like that.  But the other entries did not leave those warm fuzzy feelings in my heart.  I was reminded of how honest, mean, and unintentionally cruel kids can be.

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If memory serves, Kelly did not stay at our school very long.  As an adult, I wondered if she ever found a school where kids made her feel comfortable as she walked the halls.  In an entry dated a few weeks later, I noted that “Kelly is not so bad.  She’s just careful.”  Having no memory of what this entry referred to, I can only debate what an eleven year old would have to be “careful” about.

I was always a sensitive kid.  Probably why my mom bought me a diary in the first place.  I had a lot of emotions, and didn’t quite know what to do with them.  As I got older, most of those feelings manifested in the forms of lack of confidence and self loathing.

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Entry after entry of angst, sadness, anger and self pity.  My heart breaks when I read them.  I want to hug my younger self, then grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say “Be gentle.  Be kind.  You’ll get there.”  I look at my sweet boys, eager to write in their diaries so they can emulate a book character, I wonder what I can do to ease them through these tumultuous upcoming years.  Can they be spared those moments of blistering self doubt?  Can I guide them through the adolescent confusion with grace and support?  What did I need that I didn’t get?  Or, is this something we all just have to muddle through?

I recently watched a documentary called “Salinger.”  As you might surmise, it is about the notoriously reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, famous for “The Catcher in the Rye.”  I thought back to reading “Catcher.”  I can’t remember if I read it as part of an assignment in high school, or if I read it on my own, but I know I was in my late teens when I read it for the first time.

I recall not getting the hype around the book.  It was just a story about a dopey kid like me.  I kept waiting for a big moment, a plot twist.  But it was just a screwed up teenager doing the stuff teenagers do.  Big whoop.

After watching the documentary, I decided to read the book again, curious what my take would be on it as an adult. It is sort of strange the way little things can whisk you back in time.  I ordered a used copy of the book on Amazon (are there any other places to buy things?)  and the copy that arrived looked exactly like the one I read in high school.  I looked on the side, and noted the names scrawled in blue ink.  I was transported back to the halls with muted silver lockers and bells signaling two minutes before the start of the next period.

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As I read the book, I talked with family and friends to see what they remembered from reading “Catcher.”  Many, like me, read it in high school, and also came away thinking what’s the big deal? My mother-in-law wondered what I would think reading it now, for fun, rather than as a student searching for the main character and use of foreshadowing.  I found it kind of funny, when I came across a note in the margin, noting that “the main character’s name is Holden.”

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Looking back through my journals, I was struck by the accuracy of Salinger’s writing, how he captures exactly what it feels like to be a teenager through his words.  Throughout the book, when Holden wants to add extra emphasis to an idea, he often says “I really do.”  Of course, we all remember Salinger’s use of the word phony- he uses it 35 times.  Looking back at my own journals, I found those same patterns in my writing.

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I was talking with a girlfriend last week who was having a bought of the “it was so much simpler then” nostalgia.  We are parents and employees now.  Our lives are schedules, and packing lunches, and purchases online to avoid time consuming trips to the store.  There is, I’m going to say it, a ZERO percent chance of spontaneity. We might as well remove the word from our vocabulary.  During this conversation, she summed it up well- “Being up until sunrise and not paying for it for days.  The basics of life.  A coffee pot, a blanket, and a friend.  That was it really.”

We all have those moments where we wish we could go back.  Not for long.  But maybe just a day.  An evening to see where the night could take you, without thought of having to get up with the kids or what item was on the morning schedule.  Last month, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought concert tickets.  I used to be a person who went to concerts.  Now, I find myself wondering what was I thinking?  I have to find a sitter.  I’m going to have to deal with parking.  I can’t enjoy a beer at the show because I’m doing a Whole 30 because adults have to consider BMI’s and blood pressure and getting more vegetables into your diet.  So now, I’m going to be old, tired AND sober at a concert.  This does not sound fun.  Drawing while listening to an NPR podcast and going to bed at 9:30pm- now that’s awesome.

I enjoyed “Catcher” so much more this time.  I could appreciate it’s incisiveness.  I bowed down to Salinger as a master of capturing the despair of being a teen- and was so happy to have already lived through it and came out the other side.

Always on a quest for self improvement, I found a couple entries from my junior year of high school- an attempt to map out what I want from life.

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I was struck by the idea that I would “give up everything to be a mother.”  While the idea of parenting a child is a very mature task, it seems purely adolescent to think you have to give up everything to do it.  The best parents, in my humble opinion, are the ones who teach their children about the richness of life’s experiences.  They are people outside of being mommies and daddies, with hobbies and interests and ambitions of their own.

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I will say, I nailed it in regards to picking a spouse.  Ben happens to have all the qualities I listed, including the ever popular sense of humor.  He’s even “modern” although I have no idea what I meant by that at the time.  Perhaps that we take equal turns cooking dinner and mopping the floor?  Whatever I meant, I’m sure he fits the bill.

I guess if I could go back, I would tell myself I achieved all those goals I set.  I did in fact become a mother.  I even became an author and teacher of sorts.  That’s the thing though- as a teenager, you have finite goals.  As an adult, you understand the nuances.  I didn’t finish my teaching degree.  I became an instructional assistant.  My teenage mind would most likely see that as a failure.  I didn’t achieve the thing I said I would.  As an adult, I understand I made that decision with careful consideration, and am lucky to have found a job that meets the needs of myself and my family, and still allows me to work with students.  I may not have completed that novel I dreamed of in high school, but through on-going writing I’ve found maybe I’m not a novelist.  I still write and feel satisfied with what I have produced.  Did I lower my expectations?  Or has experience given me insight into what goals would truly make me happy?

I was driving to work yesterday, and I had an overwhelming feeling of peace, as if I had found my place in the world.  I thought back to this entry when I was begging God or anyone who would listen for a moment of relief.

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Hopefully, I have a few years before my sons start to experience real angst.  But as they embark on that confusing, sometimes heart-wrenching voyage, maybe this moment of reflection will offer some guidance to my parenting.  Listen to them.  Hug them a lot.  Tell them I love them.  Remind them that life is not about finite decisions- there is fluidity.  As long as we have breath, we can make change.  Experience brings insight- don’t ignore new information.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  It’s ok to still be figuring it out.

Also, keep journals.  They will offer you a nice opportunity to say “thank God that’s over with” in the future.

 

 

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Bug Listening Juju

I’m cheating on my short story.

I made a promise to not write any more blog posts until I finished this story I’ve been working on.  Well, not quite a promise- more like an agreement with some fine print.  As I struggled with writing the story (I’ve never been great at fiction), I found my mind wandering to blog post ideas.  Things I had already written about- body positivity, feminist politics, motherhood.  I decided since I had already spent a lot of time covering those topics, I would not write another post- unless it was a REALLY good idea.

I know that raises the bar of expectation of this entry.  I’m sorry, but this won’t be earth shattering stuff.  Sometimes avoidance wins out.

If you have young children, you’ve probably found yourself reading a few books from the “Magic Treehouse” series.  Last night, I finished reading “The Dragon of the Red Dawn” to the boys.  In the story, Jack and Annie travel to Japan during the 1600s, with a mission to discover one of the four secrets of happiness.

Spoiler Alert!

Jack determines “A secret of happiness is paying really close attention to the small things in nature.”

The boys and I have been talking about how if they are ever feeling sad or anxious or angry, they can calm down by taking a few deep breaths- just a simple tool to give them time to think and make a choice instead of acting out of reflex.  I remarked how paying close attention to the small things in nature sounded like a similar tool- being quiet and listening to sounds, noticing something small and intricate in a chaotic surrounding.

This morning, I went for a ride on my mountain bike.  I’ve been in a bit of a biking rut lately.  I’ve been taking the same trail because I know I can knock out a good workout in a short amount of time.  I put my headphones on, relying on the music for sonic motivation.

Today, I decided that the focus of the bike ride would not be about the physical exertion.  I would challenge myself to ride a new path.  I would leave my headphones off and listen to my surroundings.  I didn’t have the best ride of my life.  In fact, I hopped off my bike more than once because I was too scared to try particularly sloped hills.  But I also rode some things I didn’t think I could.  I was reminded how the clear sky in Arizona seems more blue than anywhere else I’ve been.  I closed my eyes and listened to insects, thinking how the sound perfectly illustrates the word fast.

I guess it really is a secret to happiness, because I found myself feeling joyous.  I felt proud for challenging myself with new paths in the forms of bike riding and fiction writing.  I was a bit astounded to think and realize I have been off of antidepressants for four months and seem to be doing just fine.  I reflected on the choices that made this change possible- a healthier diet and less alcohol consumption.  I marveled at how I actually seem to enjoy that lifestyle now.

This sounds like a series of gold stars and pats on the back, but I was reminded how just last week, I was beating myself up for drinking too much, overeating, and being in a bad mood.  What had changed?  Was it merely the magic of listening to bugs during time spent on the trail, or was there more to the story?

After the kids went to bed last night, I read some of Mark Vonnegut’s book “The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.”  It chronicles his psychotic breakdown and eventual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.  As you might have guessed Mark Vonnegut is the son of Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote the foreward to the book.  I was reminded of a post I wrote long ago after reading a biography of Kurt Vonnegut.

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I hadn’t thought about that post probably since I wrote it.  I couldn’t remember much about it other than talking about how Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite writer and a bit of an idol, was not a very good father and husband.  He cheated on his wife, was distant from his children.  But in his shortcomings as a parent and partner, he was a great teacher and mentor.  He doted on his writing students, providing meaningful feedback and encouragement.  At the time I wrote the post, I thought about how no single person can be all things to all people.  Today, upon rereading it, I reflected on Newton’s third law of nature- everything has an equal and opposite reaction.

I had a stressful and exhausting week last week.  It made me grumpy and irritable.  It caused me to seek behaviors to cope with the stress- overeating, over drinking, being an asshole.  But within that week, I recognized what was happening, and gave myself permission to ride it out.  In the past, I might have damned myself for being weak, for lacking motivation to do better, for being a jerk to the people I loved.  And I did some of that.  But I also told myself to do what I needed to do that week.  To pay attention to my body, and when it said it needed something else to listen.  And sure enough, the day came where my body said it needed vegetables not ice cream, water not beer.  I listened and obliged, and now the tide has turned.  Sometimes we need the ice cream, sometimes we need the beer.  Some people would say “everything in moderation” but I really hate that phrase.

The equal and opposite reaction thing is interesting to me because I tend to be a brightsider.  It’s no coincidence that my nicknames have always been things like Strawberry Shortcake, Starburst, Lil’ Ray.  But equal and opposite denotes a lot of negative force out there.  My lack of drinking and use of antidepressants gives me a much shorter fuse.  I’ve never been one who is great at masking emotions, but its become a lost cause.  I can recall a recent example of sitting through a meeting.  I get very annoyed when people get off topic and cause a meeting to run late, which is precisely what was happening.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job hiding my frustration until the leader of the meeting remarked “Don’t worry, Kat.  I know we’re running late, but we’ll get back on track.” D’oh!

I feel bad because I know my  patience for friends is not always what it should be.  Even when trying my hardest my face often reads “You are annoying the fuck out of me.”

Just this morning, I found myself thinking how I need to not sweat the small stuff with my kids.  I worry that my constant advisement is not seen as helpful; it is seen as a judgment.  I vowed to do better.  But then one of my kids got syrup all over his hands.  And then he didn’t wash them before going to pick out his school clothes.  And I remembered how his school clothes had tooth paste on them yesterday because he got dressed before brushing his teeth.  And I couldn’t help myself from saying, very calmly, very helpfully “Can you wash your hands before getting your clothes?  They are really sticky with syrup.”  I reminded myself that I was not the one who would be walking around with sticky hands and clothes all day.  But I couldn’t help it just the same.  I spent ten minutes contemplating if that was critical or helpful.  Would my son develop a complex or form into a good human being?  Clearly, it all hinged on this syrup episode.

Which brings me back to the point of writing this instead of working on the short story.  I’ve already offered proof that this post is nothing that I haven’t written before.

But it can’t hurt. Each blog post is this permanent entry, no matter how fleeting from my mind- a reminder of concepts I want to keep present despite the challenges.  It can be so easy to get caught up in sticky hands and stressful weeks and stories waiting to be written.  Sometimes I need that equal and opposite reaction of taking a small moment to breathe, to close my eyes and listen to bugs being fast.

Ok.  Enough with the distraction.  I only have 30 minutes before picking up the kids, and this story is not going to write itself.  Can’t squander all of my morning bug-listening juju on yet another blog post.  Gotta waste some of it on a story that will remain securely hidden in my documents folder.  Happy Wednesday!

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Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How’s Carol?

I met with a group of friends today, to discuss collective actions we might take as people of a similar political mindset- to further our causes, so to speak.  Over the course of the conversation, we touched on the Trump presidency- how each day seems to bring a new horror show of some unfathomable thing he has done, and yet his approval rating is on the rise.  I read about the wire tap accusations, the deplorable cuts to social programs, the millions of people who will lose health care coverage, and think how is this possible?  

My mind sums it up in a simple phrase- strange times we’re living in.

I googled “strange times” quotes.  I found this one by Douglas Adams:

“We live in strange times. We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our own. Being able to glance out into this bewildering complexity of infinite recursion and say things like, ‘Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How’s Carol?’ involves a great deal of filtering skill for which all conscious entities have eventually to develop a capacity in order to protect themselves from the contemplation of the chaos through which they seethe and tumble.”

I think it was the reference to “each a universe of our own” that got me.  Following the election, and in particular, the Women’s March, I found my universe shrinking.  My social network got decidedly smaller as I unfriended people who could not comprehend my feminist leanings.  After a season of heated political debate, I entered into a bit of a truce with my remaining Republican friends- let’s get back to posting pictures of our kids, random song lyrics, and occasional tidbits about our day.

And that’s just fine for social media.  We all need pictures of baby pandas and “how well do you know” quizzes to round out our day.  But following the March, I heard a lot of accusations about “doing something” rather than “just marching” (because being part of a March is not doing something).  I did not want to be a person that complained about what I was seeing without taking any action.

Being active can be difficult.  I’d love to follow that up with some shit line about “especially for a working mom with anxiety over engaging in social situations.”  No.  It can be tough for anyone.  After the election, I signed up to receive information from countless organizations- Planned Parenthood, Swing Left, Stronger Together AZ, the official Women’s March group, Moms Rising, and more.  I was hoping that by signing up for lots of different groups, somehow the perfect way to contribute would just fall into my lap.  Instead, I just ended up with a lot of emails I skim or don’t read at all, because it’s just too much.

I don’t want more email.  I don’t want to tweet.  I don’t want to share the latest article.  I want to DO something.  A real thing.  Something tangible. Something that MATTERS!

The Women’s March posted a call to complete ten actions in 100 days.  Seemed like a good place to start.  The first action was to send postcards to your local representatives, writing about the issues that matter to you.  I will admit, it wasn’t as active of an action as I’d hoped for.  But it was easy, forced me to clarify thoughts, and provided information about how to get in touch with my reps for future actions.  Done.

The second action was where I ran into a bit of trouble.  This action called for women to “huddle”- to met up with other women and discuss possibilities for action.  I knew straight away that I did not want to join a huddle of strangers.  But I have a ton of friends who have similar political beliefs.  Why couldn’t I form my own huddle?

The answer to that question is time.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to carve out an hour and a half slot while working with the schedules of ten women with very diverse demands on their time?  I looked at my own schedule of my work, my husband’s work, the kids’ school, chess club, karate, triathlon training, Oscar party, family obligations, two trips, volunteer time, Cub Scouts and decided there was no way I was adding one more thing to the list.  No way- and I’m the leader of this huddle.

But we live in the age of technology! Let’s huddle up virtual style! That sounded vaguely pornographic- eww.

I started an online group, invited a few like-minded friend.  Some of the women are friends with each other, some of who only know one another through me.  The March had provided a format for dialogue.  I blazed ahead thinking We follow the format.  We determine actions.  We complete the actions.  Done.  World saved.  Your welcome.

It didn’t quite go down that way.  I have a bit of a, umm, obsessive streak.  When I’m into something, I’m INTO it.  When other people failed to respond or didn’t respond prompt enough, I read it as a lack of enthusiasm.  Which means, I’m not moderating this group well.  I’m not being a good motivator.  This is never going to get off the ground.  I better start about five more discussions to get things really going.  Because what everyone wants is someone poking them in the ribs all day long, while repeating “What about this? How about this idea? Huh? What do you think?”

When a conversation finally did get going, I turned into some sort of strange battle ground.  One of the exercises within the format was to imagine a world four years from now when my side wins.  We were supposed to talk about what changes would occur, what that world would like like.  We were given the freedom to dream big so I went for it.  I declared I’d love to see a world with free education and health care for all.  In that world, teachers would be valued and paid accordingly for their work.  Education would be a priority.   Healthcare would be a right not a privilege.

After I set my megaphone down, a friend asked “How are you going to pay for that?”

Dammit! I have no idea how to pay for that and we all know that!  I was annoyed at her for pointing out my lack of information. We’re supposed to be dreaming- no solving!

After thoroughly discussing my annoyance, I conceded that I might see her point.  If I’m going to be involved, I’m going to get asked questions.  I need to think about my answers, but also how I want to react to questions.  Are we going to discuss or are we here to fight?

The group could not clarify what specific organizations or actions we wanted to devote our time to.  Discussion was going stagnant.  Then someone suggested “Why don’t we meet face to face, just get to know each other, and see what comes out of that conversation.”

So we did.  It wasn’t a huge gathering of friends- only four of us could make it.  But four is a start.

First we talked about our families.  Then we moved on to how unreal the Trump presidency is.  Somewhere along the way we started sharing information and coming up with ideas.  One woman had gotten involved with her local Democratic Party, figuring change on the national scale might be out of her reach, but change locally was something she could actually work toward.  Another friend wanted to get more involved in volunteering, especially with budgets to social programs being cut.  Someone volunteered that one way to influence our particular neighborhoods was to attend city council and school board meetings.  Because they are not attended heavily, speaking at them can offer real impact.  We shared websites that provide meaningful information.  We agreed to meet again, to come to our meetings with postcards to send to representatives, and cans to donate to the food bank.

I left feeling energized- like I was going to DO something.  I know for a fact I would not have felt that way without the face to face meeting.  I had tried to skip around that part, to lesson the obligation, ease the work- but sometimes, if something matters, you can’t short change it.  I knew doing something was important to me, but it took the face to face meeting to clarify some of my thinking.

On-line is great for organization, for information.  But what we are missing, not just from our group but from our reliance on technology, is humanity.  Just like in the Adams quote, sometimes we need to be forced to say  “Oh, hi, Ed! Nice tan. How’s Carol?”

These things that are happening- being more concerned with rising profits than people not being able to have health care- I believe are a direct reflection on our lack of humanity.  We have lost the idea of taking care of one another.  We’re a “gimme gimme gimme mine mine mine” culture.

But, I believe in the goodness of people.  Maybe this election is the motivation we need to figure this shit out, to find common ground.  At some point, we have to look over the fence and say “Oh, hi, Ed.” Not texting a smiling emoji or finding an app for saying hello in 300 languages.  An actual hi.  We need to remember how to be human again.

I am not going to pretend to have the answers.  I still don’t fully understand how to pay for healthcare and education (although I have some better information.) But through one lunch gathering, I now have a plan to contact my representatives and get signed up for summaries of local issues. I have a schedule to attend city council and school board meetings, and have a concrete date to prepare dinner for a local shelter.  I’d say that’s not too shabs.

We have to talk.  And as a anti-social-except-for-select-people-who-get-me kind of person, I hate that.  But let’s do it anyway.  Why not?  Strange times we’re living in.  Wouldn’t it be an ironic twist if good ol’ fashioned conversation saved the day.

Ugh, sometimes I hate trying to come up with snappy endings.

Good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loving Tentacles

I stumbled into a perfect moment.  Well, stumbled isn’t the right word.  I guess I snuggled into it.

Ben is working late.  He’s still not home.  On nights like these, I tend to linger as I put the boys to bed.  I talk for a few extra minutes, giggle and share secrets.  I leisurely stroke their hair and gaze at their faces, dumbfounded that I, with my multitude of imperfections, somehow had a role in bringing these beautiful creatures into the world.  How is that possible?

Tonight, on impulse, I tweaked Kellen’s nose and said “Oh, this looks like a cherry.  I better eat it.”

He laughed, so I elaborated.

“Look at these cheeks.  They look like ripe little peaches.  Better each those too.  Oh, what about these watermelon lips.”

Kellen delighted in the attention, inquiring as to what each body part resembled, waiting for me to gobble them up.

When I finished off his crouton toes (that kid loves some croutons), I said “Do you know how much I love you?”

He nodded, but I couldn’t going on.

“I love you to the moon and back.  Around the sun, to the top of the mountain, down to the bottom of the ocean, all the way out to Jupiter…”

I went still further.

“No, not Jupiter.  Past Jupiter.  All the way to Neptune.  Nope all the way to Pluto (the kid also loves Pluto) and back again, right into your heart.  I don’t just love you to the other side of the room.  I don’t just love you across the street.”

By this time, he’s giggling.

“As big as big can get, that’s how much I love you.”

“Do you love me even when I’m not around?”

“Yes.”

“Will you love me when I’m dead?”

“Yes.  No matter where you are, or what you do, I love you.”

I leaned in to give him a farewell hug before parting to put his brother to bed, and he clung to me in a way that was not routine.  Through his touch, he said stay.  It is one of the things I really love about Kellen.  He is not the most expressive with words, but man, do his gestures ever speak.  I asked if he wanted me to come back and snuggle him after I tucked Liam in and he said yes.  I did just that and laid with him long after his breath took on the rhythmic pattern of slumber.  It’s like I tell them all the time- Moms need to hold their babies.

It will sound bizarre, but when I lie next to them, I imagine us as some sort of gelatinous, tentacled, symbiotic creatures- through the course of the day, we stretch apart, our rubber-like tentacles growing thin and strained as they expand to greater and greater distance.  But when we are once again in close proximity, the tentacles languidly relax and bounce back to shape, intertwining into thicker stronger strands, connecting.

Last week, I was talking to my teenage niece about the upcoming day when my kids will no longer want to be around me.  All parents understand this is inevitable- or at least they should.  I was explaining to her that while I grasped this, I also knew that I would have a hard time when this time is finally upon me.  When parents look at their kids, they see the most amazing, interesting, unique people they have ever met.  They marvel at their creativity, their zest for life, their wonder with the world.  Every new trick is a milestone, every joke another chapter in the world’s best book.

I know one day, there will be some other gelatinous blob.  Or blobs.  And that my kids’ rubbery tentacles will begin to intertwine with these foreign blobs and form new colonies.  But hopefully a few of those tentacles remain connected with mine, enough to keep us attached for a future time.  Perhaps once my blobs start having little blobs of their own, their tentacles will once again reach out to mine and determine that while yes, their mother is fairly weird and creepy to have written a post such as this, she would still move mountains and seas for their sake.  That she would still find no greater joy than making them laugh or being on the receiving end of a hug that says stay.

May your tentacles intertwine with the ones you love best.  Good night.

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Single Lady Adventure

I told my friend, I was getting out of town for a couple of days by myself. I had made no real plans, hoping to leave my days free for possibility.

“You’re going on a single lady adventure,” she exclaimed.

I hadn’t put it in those terms, but yes, I guess I was.  Vacations were never something I did alone, despite being a person that requires a lot of solitude.  Road trips with friends were plentiful in my twenties. In my thirties, I began travelling with my husband, and then my children. But a trip with just myself was something new.

The timing was perfect, because I have been stressed and could use some time to sort it out.  Life has brought about some recent changes, and I’m still figuring out how to handle all of them.  My husband’s work schedule has changed, leaving me on my own with the kids for about half of the week.  I miss the way we used to tag team things- one of us playing with the kids while the other cooked dinner. I miss talking to him as we load the dishwasher together.   I feel silly saying that- its only half the week.  Then I think, its HALF the week.

I still miss my brother, Chris.  Of course that is not surprising or likely to go away.  But I’ve had a recent series of dreams where I relive hearing about his death, and that immediate realization of loss.  I wake up and the feeling is still there, muted with time, but present.

I’m still negotiating this transition to working mom, mostly in the form of struggling to maintain friendships.  We’re busy.  Our schedules don’t coincide anymore.  I miss the random texts I used to get from friends throughout the day, something about the kids making us crazy or some planned activity that went awry.  Now, I can go most of the week without talking to my friends.  Even for someone who craves solitude it starts to feel lonely.

Mostly, I continue to participate in the ongoing battle of who I want to be versus who I actually am.  I want to be a person who accepts her body as is, but I find myself analyzing photographs to see if my stomach looks fat.  If I appear happy in the photo is a secondary consideration.  I want to be a good friend, and I feel like I have gravitated toward women that bring out good things in me.  Then I drink too much and find myself reverting to a gossipy mean girl.  I want to do good things in my community and fight for the things that are important to me.  Then I get tired, or unmotivated, or overwhelmed.  To put it simply, sometimes it’s a struggle to be my best self.

Most of the time, I keep plugging along, knowing that slow progress is still progress.  But then I have one of those times where I’m just frustrated with everything that I do.  I spiral into a trap of self loathing.  Of course, when this happens, there is only one thing to do- VACATION! Bleech. Ok, not my best transition.  But I haven’t written in so long. Haven’t been drawing.  And I need to do those things.  I mean, I really need them.  So stay with me.  This won’t be my best post, but I just have to put something out there.  Perhaps you can relate.

I hop in the car and head for Bisbee, Arizona- a historical mining town with a hippie bent.  But not before I say goodbye to my children, being careful to tell them “I love you” and not “Be good.” Because if I am in a tragic accident, I don’t want my final words to them to be a commandment on behavior.  And yes, I do actually think all of this before leaving.

I hit the road. My car is stocked with CDs pilfered from Chris’s collection after his death.  Some were bands I knew he loved, some just looked interesting, some were bands I had been meaning to check out but never did.  In the last category was the Melvins.  I put on the CD and my love for the Melvins was instant and all encompassing.  Jesus, how had I missed this band?  Who am I? I used to be a person that knew music.  I made artwork emblazoned with lyrics from Faith No More.  I am now a person that listens to NPR 99.9% of the time because I just can’t deal with picking something else.  Why had I let that person go?  Bordering on calling myself an asshole, I reminded myself that this weekend was to get back in touch with myself, get back on track.  Surely berating myself for my lack of musical exposure would be counter intuitive to that process.  But as I drove, I wanted to telepathically send a message to every mother I knew shouting “Do this!  Get in your car and drive! Lisen to YOUR music! Do it now!”

That feeling came to an abrupt end when I arrived at my hotel.  I had chosen this particular hotel because it was supposed to have theme rooms and I thought that sounded fun.  I think the theme might have been “early stages of meth addiction.” Not the later stages, mind you, where the hotel would have been Motel 8 with nicotine stained walls and spiders crawling in the sink.  The more fun, quirky stages of meth, where a filled ashtray just outside of your room does not seem like a lack of cleanliness but rather is an invitation to relax.  The innkeeper shows me to my closet, er, I mean room, and is kind enough to keep a steady stream of club music pumping from her phone the entire time.

I head out to find food, and am drawn to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company.  I am going to make a night of it.  Eat, hit a few bars, go against my antisocial nature and talk to people.  Except the brewing company has no food. And I didnt eat lunch.  And I get worried that after two drinks and no food, I’m going to be in bad shape.  Its a long walk back to my hotel.  Its after dark and I’m alone.  Is it safe? Jesus, I have kids to think about!  I opt for a sampler of beer, and instead of downing all the variities, I only drink the ones that taste good.  I am such a grownup.  I find my journal and work on a doodle.  I am so zen.  Hey strangers, look at how peaceful I am.

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I return to my hotel and the methhead inn keeper in full party mode, bouncing from room to room, offering me wine, stepping outside for frequent smokes, disappearing every so often for god knows what.  She tells me her friend, the investigative reporter, is set arrive at any minute.  How am I not going to sit and have a glass of wine? I make small talk with a midwife and a recent retiree, before the IR arrives.  I can not help but pepper him with questions about his most salacious story (a local official who was driving a government vehicle when he crashed it and died.  The investigation said there were no signs of alcohol, but the photos showed a car littered with bottles).  But I am just not good at this conversing with strangers thing.  Every time they ask me a question, I just wish they would talk to someone else.  I adjourn to my room.  I fall asleep at 9:30pm watching old Seinfeld episodes.  I’m really living.  I do not think about how I could be doing this at home, in my own bed, with my nice husband right next to me.

I awake the following morning determined to have adventure.  Dammit! I’m going hiking! Because walking is an adventure as long as you call it hiking.  I google trails in Bisbee and get some meandering instructions to follow a road to its end, go past a no trespassing sign and look for some natural land marker because there is no official trail.  Nope.  Too much.  By adventure, I mean a well marked trail with signs along the way blatantly marking where I am supposed to go.

I broaden my google search to trails near Bisbee and find the Coronado National Memorial.  Here we go.  Thirty minute drive, visotor’s center, offical trails leading to the TOP OF A MOUNTAIN! What says adventure more than summiting a mounain? I’ll tell you what- getting lost on the way back down that mountain because apparently I need more than the standard trail signs,scrambling through a mile or so of unmarked terrain, all while wondering if I am going to step on a snake (despite it being too cold for them to be out), happen upon some AZ variation of poison ivy (despite all the ground vegetation seeming to be dead), or get stranded in the woods (despite being able to see the roof of the visitors center).

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I decide after walking 32,000 steps, what I really need is not adventure.  I need a burger, a beer, and a bath.  When I check in to my new hotel and get my first climpse of the clawfoot tub, I nearly break out  in tears.  I get the burger and the beer and start to feel like myself again.

On the long adventurous hike, I had a lot of time to think.  A friend told me recently that instead of saying “I’m sorry” say “Thank you.”  For the past few weeks, I felt like I was on an “I’m sorry” jag- sorry for making mistakes, not being worthy, being human, being an asshole sometimes. I stopped, then and there on that trail, I stopped.  I thanked the universe for two beautiful children, a husband who watches them so his wife could have an adventure, a day free to get lost in the woods, strong legs to carry me all of those miles.

What if instead of all these battles I’m constantly fighting myself in my head, I just accepted that I am flawed and that is ok? Sometimes I drink too much and am gossipy.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I’m pretty cute.  Other times, I want to swaddle my entire body in spanx.  Having either of those feelings doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist.  It means I’m a work in progress and I still have room to grow.

It’s ok to not love when my husband has to work late.  It’s alright to miss silly things like texting my girlfriends.  I am allowed to still miss my brother even though he passed away awhile ago.  It doesn’t make me a bad person to not have it all figured out.

In the last 16 hours, I’ve taken three baths.  Because I really love baths and don’t have a large clawfoot tub.  Even now, I am sitting on the edge of the tub, typing this post.

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I could beat myself up for wasting water.  Or I could see that I made the most of an opportunity that was afforded me.  It is all in how I focus my gaze.

More than adventure, what I needed was time to just be who I am and to have that be a beautiful thing, or at the very least enough.  I feel very lucky that I got exactly that.

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The Whole 30 and Beyond

This morning, I had the first bread I’ve eaten in thirty days.  And yes, it felt like a momentous occasion.  I survived the Whole 30 and it was time to celebrate the accomplishment by burying my head in french toast.

Ok, that opener probably does not  lead you to believe that I really liked the Whole 30.  But I did.  I learned a great deal about day to day healthy eating.  I tried foods I would have never given the chance, and found myself liking some of them.  I gained confidence that I could maintain a healthier lifestyle and not feel deprived.  All in all, it was a very positive experience.

The question everyone wants to know is “Did you lose weight?”  People inquired about this more than anything else about the Whole 30.  So let’s get it out of the way.  Yes, I lost weight.  Quite a bit of weight- 12lbs in 30 days.  I lost 10.5 inches.  Not all of that was due to Whole 30.  I worked out at least three days a week, with a pretty moderate intensity- burning 350-500 calories per session.

As much as I really do not want to post these unflattering photos, I feel I must.  Day 1 and Day 30.

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If losing weight is your goal, I imagine the Whole 30 is very appealing.  But that was not my goal, and statistics tell me I will most likely gain this weight back and then some.  As a proponent of the Body Positivity movement, I did not want to base my success on weight loss. Nor do think it is a good idea to promote only certain sizes and weights  as being healthy or beautiful.  Health and beauty come in many packages.

But, there are aspects where losing weight made me feel good.  Over the course of the month, I dropped 30+ seconds from my time for running a mile.  I found my runs easier.  Whether that was because I weighed less or was fueling my body more efficiently, I don’t know.  I imagine it was a combination of both.  That is not to say you can’t be my size, be larger than me, and be in better shape.  It simply means I have been running a long time, and noticed at the smaller weight, I ran faster.

I am not immune to the allure of physical appearance, in my case wanting to wear specific cloths.  I primarily buy my clothes at thrift shops.  So if I find a cute item, I don’t have the option of buying it in another size if it doesn’t fit- because I have no problem doing that.  At the end of December, several pairs of favorite pants were in the pile to go back to the thrift store because they no longer fit.  Because I am a procrastinator, they never made it there.  I’m not going to lie.  It felt really good to be able to wear those pants again.  There was a brand new pair of pants in that pile that I was never able to fit into, despite them being my normal size 12.  (Isn’t it completely frustrating how much variety there is within sizes?  A 12 should be a twelve- not an 8, not a 16.)  When I cut the tags off of them today and put them on, it made me really happy.

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But all this talk of pants and inches has little to do with what I would want to impart about the Whole 30.  The thing I was most surprised about was that eating healthy food most of the time now feels like something I can do.  As a person who thinks beer is a food group, I never anticipated this change in thinking.

I loved that there was no calorie counting, no measuring.  I ate whenever I wanted, which was often.  I ate food I liked.  I didn’t choke down shakes or force myself to eat salads.  Yes, it required planning, and research and cooking ahead.  But when I did those things, I ate well and was happy.  I never felt deprived.  Well, almost never.  When I watched my kids eat pizza, as I reheated a prepared frozen meal, it was a little tough to take.  But overall, I ate good food and enjoyed it.

I was surprised to learn that spaghetti squash in place of noodles could be an actual thing for me.  That pesto still tastes pretty damn good without the Parmesan cheese.  That mashed potatoes made with broth and ghee are every bit as good as the ones with butter and milk (I am not lying on that).  I learned I’d actually prefer to have cauliflower instead of rice, and that sparkling water is a reasonable substitute for soda.  Yeah, had I not done this program, I wouldn’t believe it either.   Also, cherry pie Lara Bars are a gift from heaven.

I would be an asshole if I didn’t talk about the slip ups.  There was the planned night of decadence, as described in a prior post.  In addition, I had two other missteps.  One of the students in my classroom takes great pride in sharing his snack with his teachers.  Every day, he presents each of us with a single Cheez-It.  Most days, I threw it away.  But on one particular day, curiosity got the best of me.  On another occasion, I visited a mosque with my sons.  Afterward, we went to the market across the street so I could get some new foods for the boys to try- samosas and baklava.  My sons did not care for either, and I REALLY love both.  I couldn’t throw them away practically untouched.  I had three bites of samosa and two bites of baklava.  For Whole 30 purists, yes, I understand that means I did not complete a legitimate Whole 30.

Now, from these cheats, I learned something.  I learned that a simple Cheez-It was not worth the cheat, but the samosa and baklava were.  It made me think about treats- how everything had become a treat for me, and I don’t want it to be the case again.  The samosas and baklava were legitimate treats- they were from a market I don’t frequent, were made fresh, were not something I enjoy often.  The Cheez-It was just a Cheez-It.  I would be ok not eating it. That’s not to say there aren’t common, processed things I really like to eat and will eat again.  It just means I want to keep thinking about what I eat- not just devouring it blindly and without consideration.

Which, wow, do I ever eat a lot without thinking.  Every time I grated cheese for something for my kids, I would think about how I normally eat a few bites.  I cleared their breakfast dishes, and threw away the two bites on the plate instead of eating them and noticed it again.  Putting a spoon in my mouth to “clean it off” after portioning sour cream or peanut butter.  I do a lot of mindless eating.  I think we all do.

The Whole 30 was not without challenges, and I was surprised that most of these were social and psychological.  The full disclaimer is that I also did not take antidepressants this month, wanting to just have an entire 30 days to be clear of everything.  Perhaps that played a role.  But I found myself more sensitive than usual.  I got my feelings hurt more often, acted out as a way to deal with it.  I was uncomfortable in social situations involving new people.  I found myself lying awake at night rerunning conversations in my head.  I think without the buffer or food and drink, I was simply left to dwell within my head and make mountains out of mole hills.  I couldn’t have a beer to take the edge off, a cupcake to make me feel better.  It woke me up to some things I need to work on and the crutches I have been using in place of actually dealing.

Today, I gave myself a free pass.  No workouts, no chores.  I have the freedom to eat and do what I want.  I did my hair and took time with my makeup.  I put on a dress and took a picture.  Yes, I am a complete narcissist to want to take a pretty picture of myself.  But dammit, I’m 42 years old.  I’ve had two kids, and I teach at a preschool.  My opportunities for glamour are limited.  Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself like a jewel even if you feel like an ordinary rock.

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That’s what I take away from the Whole 30.  That in the midst of being a mom and a wife and an employee and all of the demands those things bring, I am worth taking care of.  I can make choices that benefit me and make me happier.  I don’t have to just get by.  I hope to take these lessons with me, to stake my claim for a better life, and not settle for a pretty good month.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have pizza to order. It’s my free day, dammit, and it’s been 30 days!!

 

 

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I can’t walk a mile in your shoes, but I can spend a day in a hijab.

I started reading Terry Gilliam’s book, Gilliamesque:  A Pre-posthumous Memoir.  The first line of the book read “I was always frightened to take acid.”  Here we go, I thought.  I imagined we were getting right to the craziness that led to movies like Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Instead, Gilliam launched into tales of growing up in rural Minnesota.  He described spending days outside, roaming land and having adventures.  Church being not only a Sunday sermon but a source of social activity through barbecues and square dances. He rode pigs and read lots of books.  Swap Colorado for Minnesota and cows for pigs, and his childhood didn’t sound so different from mine, at least in those respects.

Then the Gilliam family moved to California.  Gilliams writes:

“The one thing that was truly different about arriving in California was that this was the first time I knew there were Jews in the world- not just in the Bible.”

Again I felt a kinship.  Growing up in rural Colorado, our small town had at least ten different churches, but every single one of them was some sort of variety of Christianity. The closest I got to Judaism was in a history class.  When I finally made a Jewish friend in my thirties, I questioned her relentlessly about the religion, my curiosity knowing no bounds.  She was kind in discussing it with me, considering she hadn’t been practicing for quite some time.  There is something in my nature that attracts me to what is unfamiliar- at least when it comes to religion.

I was reminded of that experience a couple of days ago when my own church announced an event to teach women to tie hijabs for World Hijab Day.

I attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation- or what I like to call “Hippie Church.”  We do not pray to a specific god or teach from a single text.  We accept people from all faiths and backgrounds.  We say that love is our doctrine and service is our prayer.  Doesn’t get much more hippie than that.

Our congregation tries to bring aspects of many religions and movements into our services.  There is a Buddhist study group and an interfaith action committee.  We have a “Black Lives Matter” banner in front of our building, and took part in the Women’s March.  So I was not surprised to hear of the event for World Hijab Day.

World Hijab Day is according to their website “an open invitation to Muslims and Non-Muslims to experience the hijab for a day.”  The facebook page for this event says this is a movement to “stand against bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice against Muslim women worldwide.”

http://worldhijabday.com/

I was immediately curious.  As a feminist, I do not like to see discrimination against any woman.  After reading about Donald Trump’s changes to immigration policy, I fear we are sending a very wrong and disturbing message to the rest of the world.

But aren’t hijabs used to subjugate women?  Can I be a feminist and still wear one?

It is strange that I experienced such a strong debate within myself, considering I did not even know how to pronounce the word hijab.  I asked a few other friends how to pronounce it and they didn’t know either.  It is sad but not all that unusual that I have formed opinions about a religion I know virtually nothing about.

As coincidence would have it, my friend and I had decided to tour a local mosque before even hearing about World Hijab Day.  What a perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

Upon arrival, I as struck by the meticulous beauty of the mosque.  I’m sure like all churches there are some mosques that are better maintained than others, but this mosque was gorgeous.

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We took off our shoes and headed up the stairs to the prayer hall.  A gentleman was waiting across the hall and motioned us to come closer.  I felt unsure of myself and it took me a few seconds to move my feet.  Were women allowed in the prayer hall? Should I have my head covered?  Do I shake his hand or is that disrespectful?  The man motioned again, and my feet got moving.

He welcomed us warmly and told us the tour was a chance for non-muslims to learn and ask questions.  He gave us a brief rundown of the hall.  He pointed out the stripes made from carpet, creating rows for people to line up to pray together.  He said the lines also symbolized how everyone is equal before God.  You could be a billionaire in the back row or a poor man in the front, and you are all the same before God.  He pointed out that the mosque had no statues, similar to the Christian idea of not worshiping false idols.  Instead the mosque uses tiles and architectural elements to add decoration.

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He explained how Muslims gather multiple times a day to pray.  This serves a dual purpose.  First, to keep God in the forefront of the mind, for the purpose of taking God with you in your actions.  Second, to create a community.  If you regularly show up for prayer and one day you miss, someone might notice and inquire as to how you are doing.  He told us that community is a cornerstone of the Muslim religion.

The comment he made that resonated the most was that the Muslim religion was like an XY graph.  The vertical line represents connecting with God and gaining inner peace.  The horizontal line represents spreading that peace and goodwill within your community.  Unitarian Universalists are also big on taking care of others.  Its great to commune with God, but if its not manifested in your life, what good does it do?

I asked about the hijab and what it represents.  He said it is not meant treat women as inferior.  For them it is a symbol of their modesty and reverence before God.

I did not come away feeling like I knew everything about hijabs or the Islamic faith.  But I did come away thinking that this mosque was a place of peace.  I can’t speak for every person that attends church there, but the man I spoke to seemed to have a great respect not only for women, but for people in general.  He was kind and thoughtful and did his best to make us feel comfortable.  When I asked about World Hijab Day, he phoned a friend to see if she would be willing to show us how to tie the scarves.  I did not end up meeting up with the contact, but I did text with her and she provided usual information.  She had just done an event at another local church where she taught women like me how to tie hijabs.

Whatever your views, whoever you believe in, I think we could all benefit from greater understanding.  We don’t always have to agree, but so long as we are not imposing harm, we should offer respect.  My time is put to better use learning more than debating points I don’t even understand.

I may not be able to walk a mile in your shoes, but I can spend a day wearing a hijab.   I’m curious to see what the experience will bring.

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