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Slow down.

May 12, 2019

I’ve been learning a lot about migraines since Christmas.

I started a spreadsheet of my episodes.  Sometimes three weeks apart.  Sometimes two days.  It turns out that my usual ways of dealing with a problem don’t work on migraines.  One usual way:  1) mildly panic.  2) research the hell out of the subject, particularly Googling “how to prevent [x]”. 3) attempt some or all of the preventative measures or treatments.  4) become discouraged.

Another usual way, this time in reaction to emotional or physical pain:  “This is my fault, and I must fix it.”  But disease is not some karmic way of settling debts.  Sometimes we get sick whether we make good choices or not.  My friend Patrick was one of the healthiest people I know, and he died of a brain tumor a month after turning 38.

“This is my fault and I must fix it” happens for lots of things:  discovering my food sensitivities; finding out that people are upset (even worse, upset at me), a parenting moment going sideways.  I’m better than I used to be, so much better at letting go and not feeling responsible, but it creeps in still if I’m not vigilant.

My migraines, I’m finding, happen whether I’m actively avoiding what I think might be triggers (sugar? alcohol?), or I’m not.  It’s hard to know what makes them happen except for my menstrual hormones, which are going to do what they do regardless of what I do.  Which is not to say that I should not try to avoid those triggers.  Just that I can’t beat myself up over it when a migraine happens.  My very wise aunt, who has her own experience with migraines, told me, “Don’t fight it, sweet pea.  I know it hurts, so you want to tense up, but that just makes it worse.”

These migraines were not sent to teach me a lesson.  I’ve had multiple faith-filled and deeply spiritual people tell me that God does not work this way.  Still, I am a sign-seeker, a symbol-maker.  Even if it wasn’t sent as a wake-up call from the Universe, I can still learn from the experience, find meaning in it.

This is the meaning I’ve found so far:
  1. Slow down.
  2. Soften.
  3. Open.

It’s like my body, especially the blood vessels around my brain, are a physical manifestation of my psychic and emotional state:  a stressball of anxiety.  I’m afraid of so many things:  of injury to or death of my children, of bike riding on city streets, of leading conversations with a classroom that might devolve into bitterness or rage, of karaoke [true story]. Of anything that might cause another migraine like chocolate, or wine, or too little sleep.

This Tuesday, after two consecutive nights of sleeplessness and night sweats (peri-menopause, is that you?) and days of migraine-related symptoms, I called in sick.  There was no way I could power through that school day.  Instead, I took a nap.  I lay on the couch in the sun with my eyes closed, listening to an hour of audiobook with my cat stretched out too.  I went for a sloooow walk in the neighborhood.  I folded a bit of laundry.  I did not measure my day by my productivity, but by how I felt at the end of it:  marginally better.  The whisper of a headache, like the sensitivity of a bruise that gets brushed occasionally and flares its still-tenderness, hovered over my temple.  But it was better, and that’s enough.

Slowing down is not my default.  When I first met Alan and we went for a hike, he told me I had “shifted into East Coast speed” and wondered where I needed to go so fast?  I walk fast.  I talk fast.  I am 100% about efficiency because good Lord, there’s only so much time and so much to get done.

I’m trying to slow down in bits.  Coming to a deep appreciation of naps and the blessing of working part time so that I can take them when I need them.  Driving the kids to school one day instead of having them take the bus, because Jamie needed time and conversation to reframe his negative mindset.  Committing to less.  Directing kindness and forgiveness inward with the same intensity as I direct it outward.  Listening to and learning from my body instead of operating on the assumption that I know best and it had better shape up and fall into line.

In other words, slowing down, softening, and opening to what is instead of what I wish it were: a lesson I have been working on learning my whole life.  This is just a new chapter.

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Meditations on Snow

February 19, 2019

It snowed a lot in Seattle these past few weeks, and so many residents of this fair city have little practice with such weather.

Walking my neighbor’s dog

Growing up in Massachusetts and going to college in Vermont, I have a lot of experience with snow.

Some are typical happy kid memories: sledding with my brother down the alley near our house, “steering” the old wooden sled from my dad’s childhood.  My mom smearing my face with Vaseline to protect against windburn. Going down our tall backyard slide after a big storm, pushing all that snow to the bottom.

Some memories are not so fun:  many, many skiing experiences involving tears and some panicking.  My friend Emily telling me in the middle of a ski run, “The faster you go, the more control you have,” and that not computing in this brain.  Snow dripping down my neck inside my scarf.  Treacherous walkways and steps slicked with ice.

But some, almost all during my college years, remain cemented in my memory:

Sledding on dining hall trays in front of Mead Chapel at night with a few friends, then lying on our backs at the top of the hill.  I don’t know if Pete or Em remember this, but I remember seeing the shape of a large bird seemingly made of light, flying just beneath the heavy layer of clouds.  The mysterious and beautiful nature of it called to mind something holy, a reassuring benevolent presence permeating the darkness.

***

New Year’s Eve, 2001 in Quechee, VT, at Paddy’s family’s vacation condo.  Eleven of us 23-year-olds, making dinner together, doing a giant puzzle on the coffee table, and then near midnight, instead of watching the Rockin’ New Year’s Eve or drinking, we held gleeful sledding runs on the hill at the back of the condo.  Lit by the stars and the lights from our buildings, we slid again and again, laughing and rolling off into the reeds at the bottom before trudging our sleds back up.

New Year’s Day, 2002

***

December 1997:  two murders in one week.  One: my high school French 1 teacher Judy Leccese was murdered by her husband before he killed himself, while their five-year-old autistic son was somewhere in the house.  Two: a junior at my old high school was discovered by her father beaten and drowned in her bathtub; the murderer has never been found.  Two wakes in one week, lines of many of the same mourners snaking out the door of the funeral home and down the sidewalk, people standing in the freezing cold waiting to share each family’s grief.

At Mme. Leccese’s burial, snow had started falling.  It hushed the caravan of cars pulling into the cemetery.  It fell on the flowers we placed on her casket.  It coated the windshield wipers as I tried to control my tears.

Snow fell so heavily that a few days later, my mom asked me to brush off the branches of the arborvitaes that grew along the property line between our yard and the neighbor’s.  I trudged out in snow boots and pajamas under my winter coat, reluctant, depressed, wanting only to curl up inside and not think about the horrors that had just occurred.  I grabbed a few branches and shook them; thick snow clung stubbornly to the fringe.

As I brushed, and brushed, the repetitive motion soothed me, and I realized that this is what we are each here for:  that as we move through life, we have seasons which weigh us down, coat our branches, threaten to pull us over and leave us permanently bent or scarred.  Grace brings love to us: people to brush off the heavy snow, give us the support we need to survive these winter storms of the soul.  And when we are no longer burdened, it is our responsibility to help those who are.

A moment to catch my breath

February 1, 2019

So now that I can catch my breath from the first of the year…I feel like I’ve been in sprint mode and just now can pause and reflect.

Some updates about what’s happening with us:

  • Theresa and Audrey were talking about magical creatures.  Audrey:  “Pegasuses.”  Theresa, correcting:  “Pegi (peg-eye).”
  • I am so grateful for my parents.  I texted them a while ago to ask if they could come help when Alan will be out of town for work in March.  Thirty minutes later, my dad texted back their flight info.  They also help with little things:  while listening to an audiobook, there was a quote I really wanted to remember but had just started driving home from work, so I couldn’t write it down and I wanted to keep listening on the commute.  So I called my Dad and asked him to scribe for me, as he had on a different morning when I was driving and realized I needed to write down my to-do list.  Who needs Siri?

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  • From a few weeks ago at bedtime:  Theresa:  “There are so many things in my head that I can’t sleep.  Can you discuss them with me so we can meditate on each one and I can let the thing go?”  So she discusses:  a Lego farm set, a gift for our friend who is putting down her cat tomorrow, and on…  And after telling me about each one, we sit in our comfortable positions, close our eyes, and breathe.  This wise and generous soul teaches me much about mindfulness, letting go, and freedom of spirit.
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After seeing Mary Poppins Returns, Theresa wanted a picture with the dragon cut-out.

  • My “other” kids (my students) have, yes, caused me a bit of stress recently (finals! failing grades! why am I still hounding you about turning in your work?!?), but more so have been the source of both pride and appreciation.  I helped the leadership and members of the Black Student Union at our school create, organize, and perform a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Assembly for the entire school–these young people are creative, thoughtful, passionate, and an example to all us grown-ups that when we give kids the chance to lead and empower, they blow us away.

 

  • After a rough morning where his sisters both had a rough time with their Big Feelings, Jamie created his Rules of the House:

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  • I love, love, love listening to my kids spin stories with each other.  Transformers have parties with My Little Ponies; Lego ship captains get married to Lego princesses; the Star Wars universe now has horses.
  • Audrey explaining the world to Halibut the Kitty Cat (Theresa’s alter ego who, as a cat, doesn’t know anything about the human world):  This is a library.  Halibut:  What is a library?  Audrey:  It has lots of books.  Halibut:  What is a book?  Audrey:  It’s a little square that tells you anything you want to know.
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Audrey and Jamie love playing games together on the slide–especially where they go down together.

  • Audrey’s perennial good cheer always makes me feel better.  One weekend morning, Alan shuffled into the kitchen.  Audrey, who is a morning person:  Good morning!  Alan:  Mmmmph.  Audrey:  You seem sleepy.  Alan:  Yeah.  Audrey, brightly:  Nothing coffee can’t fix!

And the last thing, an e-mail (revised for privacy) that I sent this morning to the Team (teachers, aides, therapists, counselors) working on our ASD kiddo’s social and emotional skills:

Hi everyone,
I just wanted to share some *good* news:  Kiddo had a fantastic session at basketball tonight and did not require a single intervention from me.  [Therapists] have been working with Kiddo on tolerating game play and correction, and helping Kiddo identify where they are emotionally and how they can move themselves to a calmer place.  Tonight, even though I forgot to help them plan what they could do if they had a difficult moment, or how they would react to winning and losing, they participated in 40 minutes of drills with the other kids in the class, and when the coach announced “it’s time to see who’s the fastest,” Kiddo elected to come sit by me on the bleachers, and rejoined the class when a different drill was happening.  At the end of the hour the class also played a game where people could be “out” by missing their shot, and Kiddo chose to sit with me and we watched together.  Kiddo was calm and positive the entire time–no blurting, no threatening, no yelling.
As with anything else, it’s not like this one hour solved all of Kiddo’s issues–but it does show that they are vastly improving, and I want to thank each of you for the work you do to help them on the learning journey.  This mama heart is overflowing with gratitude.

Intentions, Yoda, and the New Year

January 1, 2019

Oh, New Year’s: you basket of stereotyped expectations:  Parties. Resolutions. Wild celebrations.

My New Year’s Eve looked like this, and it was perfect:

Scotch. Gin and tonic. Fuzzy slippers. Fire in fireplace. Book for each of us. Bliss.

And our New Year’s Day in Suncadia was pretty dang awesome.  Were there meltdowns, perhaps because some small people awoke at 3 a.m. announcing they were hungry, or needed a snuggle in the wee hours of the morning? Yep. Did we recover and did parents keep their patience? Also yep.

Not sure we brought enough stuffies…

Some highlights from the day:

Jamie, on New Year’s intentions: “My word for 2018 was Perseverance. My word for 2019 is Positivity.”

Theresa, creating her character for the Star Wars universe:  “I am an Imperial eohippus. I belong to Darth Vader. My name is Charlotte, but I’m a boy.”

Audrey, taking attendance for our family’s Secret Agent Meeting:  “Callie M. Frindell, girl.  Open [for meetings] all week, if we can catch her.  Her animal is Muk Muk [the marmot mascot from the Vancouver Olympics that we brought back for our cat as a souvenir…].  Her Secret Agent name is Mu-Mu.  She can squeeze through tight spaces.  Her favorite gadget is a torpedo. She’s very soft and can be petted.”

We ended the day watching The Empire Strikes Back on the couch under a fuzzy blanket, eating the remains of the banana bread I made on Sunday.  We had read aloud the story of Episode 5, called So You Want to Be a Jedi, by Adam Gidwitz (very highly recommended!). The kids loved reading about Luke’s struggle with Jedi skills (which is basically mindfulness lessons), Daddy doing Chewbacca’s inarticulate growling, and my Yoda impression.

I love this episode of Star Wars for Yoda’s description of The Force:  “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

Understanding and using the Force is a spiritual undertaking.  Much like mindfulness and prayer and working to be a good human.

That’s why I like setting intentions rather than resolutions:  resolutions are result-oriented; intentions are process-oriented.  Here are some of my intentions for 2019:

  • to listen to my children, to pause before reprimands and seek the possible anger or frustration or insecurity that causes poor choices, to focus on growth and successes
  • to prioritize my mental, emotional, and physical health through movement (any exercise will do), sleep, self-forgiveness, and general self-care (like commuting in silence instead of listening to the news)
  • to pay attention to my intuition and inner voice
  • to cultivate time with my tribe of powerful and compassionate women
  • to commit energy to prayer and meditation: to rest, as Victoria told us during our retreat, in God’s loving gaze
  • to support my husband in his work and in his play; as he seeks the best in himself, may I see the best in him and be his biggest champion
  • to take concrete action in addressing issues of injustice, from making care packages for the homeless to marching and lobbying for systemic change wherever it is needed (the Catholic Church and the educational system come to mind)

My word of 2019 is Honor:  to honor my own strength and softness, to honor my family’s and friends’ and students’ and colleagues’ stories, to choose honor in my actions.  To honor each of us and the light we bring:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break.  And all things can be mended.  Not with time, as they say, but with intention.  So go.  Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.  The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

–L.R. Knost

Happy Everything

December 18, 2018

Hanukkah. Solstice. Christmas.  More moments of light:

The counselor at the kids’ school e-mailed me back re: an incident that was bothering one of my kiddos, and her response was thoughtful and detailed.  Last week we had the IEP meeting for our kiddo, and let me just say: God bless the counselors and teachers and advocates of the education world who help our children grow emotionally and socially.

Our dear friend’s parents host a Hanukkah party every year, with menorah lighting.  We’ve always had to leave before the lighting, since our kids’ bedtime is pretty early.  This year, with many small children whose bedtimes are even earlier, we got to not only witness the lighting, but my friend’s mom handed me a shamash and asked if I’d like to light one of the hanukiahs.  I was honored (and I didn’t drop the candle, unlike at my own wedding…).  The singing of beautiful Hebrew prayers by everyone in the room warmed hearts and souls just as the flames did–and then all the candles were lit, and the band (led by my friend’s dad, klezmer musician extraordinaire) started, and although we had to get the kids home, that moment of being surrounded by music and light and joy stays with me.

A few weeks ago we saw Syd the Solstice Kid at StoryBook Theater:  fun and beautiful music, great solstice stories from different cultures and times, and a celebration of diversity and story.

Jamie invented a game of beads-down-the-stairs with the long strand of red beads that we use to decorate the tree.  Better than a Slinky (just louder).

The kids are working on their “Family Traditions” projects to present to their class this week.  Theresa spent two full afternoons this weekend painstakingly hand-drawing everything (using stencils for the people, but decorating them with her imagination) on her poster.  I am so proud of her, not only of her skill but also of her persistence and focus:

I know everyone’s favorite Christmas carol is “Silent Night,” but mine has always been “O Holy Night,” and this year I’m adding a second favorite:  “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Kiddo with ASD making big progress in empathetic understanding and emotional de-escalation, at least at home.  Even though some days feel like two steps forward, one step back, the improvements are tangible.  Things like this help:

I watched highlights from the funeral of George H. W. Bush (which sounds weird and morbid).  The tribute video by his granddaughter Jenna reminded me of the closeness of my own extended family and how much I adored my Grampy and my Grandpa–and how adored I was in return.

On Friday evening I hung out with this cute kitty Poppy and her owner Cleo, toasted with gin and tonics to hope that Cleo’s injured knee heals quickly, ate dinner, and with such simple things had the most wonderful time in Cleo’s (and Poppy’s) company.

This morning in front of Whole Foods, I offered to get coffee for two homeless men.  One was relatively chipper and asked for a white mocha.  One’s voice was so soft I could hardly understand him, and his eyes seemed haunted.  After I got their coffee, I went on to do my shopping, keenly aware of the disparity between the overwhelming abundance in that store and the overwhelming scarcity outside it.  This quote (ostensibly from the Talmud, but more like a mashup of a translation’s commentary’s translation) stays with me:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I will leave you with this sweet list that Audrey created:

I think we’ve found it.

 

A new direction

December 4, 2018

One of the things I’ve been working on recently since forever is a focus on the positive.  Here’s my new plan:  I’m going to keep a running list of healing, inspiring, or funny things here.  When I reach 10 (that was the plan, then I didn’t have time so this time I’m up to 12), I’ll post.  Here’s the latest installment:

  • Friendsgiving:  Baby time.  Joyful noise.  Loving presence.

Alan’s still got the Dad Reading magic: here, with Ellie, baby Matilda, and Jacob.

  • At the grocery store, I asked the cashier how life was for her.  She told me about being excited about moving to a new communal space where she and her housemates would cook together and she could walk to work. I wished her luck in her new space.  And then I went back after I was almost to the door, to tell her that she had made my day because her energy was so kind and positive, and she told me that she had been stressed about moving but my wishing her luck helped her feel more positive.  We made each other’s day better.
  • Theresa said:  “The way you show that you love someone is to treat their body how they want it to be treated.”  Also:  yesterday she built a “castle” out of Jenga blocks and announced that it’s the home of “Dolphin and his husband Shark.”
  • Audrey brought flowers to her Sunday school teacher for no reason, just to appreciate her.  And she created a tablecloth of packing paper and invited our guests to write what they were thankful for on it:

    Audrey’s table cover, complete with things many of us are thankful for (books! family! hobbies! nature!).

  • Watching The Muppet Movie and listening to Kermit the frog sing “The Rainbow Connection”–“our” lullaby–was the best.
  • Ten days ago, I went for an hour-long walk by myself.  At start, I thought:  I could fold that laundry first.  But cooking makes me happy too.  Those essays won’t grade themselves.  And then I overrode those voices and just left.  And as I walked, I paid attention.  A red door in a white house.  Shaggy nest high in a leafless oak.  A Mondrian-painted garage.  The interesting architecture of houses and yards built into hillsides. This pinecone.  Light rain skittering on fallen leaves.  A release of obligations.  A return to joy.

  • Strong legs to walk and run.  Strong arms to lift and occasionally carry my children.  Strong lungs to huff up steep hills.  Strong mind.  Strong heart.
  • Surprising Alan at his 8k cross-country race on Saturday morning.  Loudest cheerers:  the Frindells, of course.
  • Jamie and Audrey played Candyland with each other for multiple rounds, each telling each other “Good game!” afterward.

  • Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.  Best read-aloud book we’ve read in a long time:  magic, friendship, funny characters, and this message:  “Keep moving toward what makes you feel most alive.”
  • In the pouring rain and terrible traffic and being hangry, I was telling the kids I was trying to look at the positive things and commented on the twinkle lights in downtown Bellevue that we could see.  Jamie: “The lights make the trees look like dancers.”  And he has been telling us such great stories about Transformers, about trains, about secret agents (the series Secret Agent Jack Stalwart is quite popular).
  • A week ago, I left to pick up my girls at the bus stop–I had been working on my lesson plan for the next day, and time was tight.  I was a block away from the bus stop when I saw the school bus drive past the stop and keep going down the street.  My watch told me the bus was exactly on time, and I was still too far for the driver to see me, and it was raining so maybe he couldn’t recognize my umbrella…and what do bus drivers do when there are no adults to greet young kids at the bus stop? I had no idea.  And only one option:  to run down the bus. Six blocks later, the bus pulled over on a major street.  I dashed across an intersection against a red light (frantically waving and shouting at the passing cars to stop for me), lungs and legs burning, to bang on the door.  This was when I saw the number: it was the wrong bus.  The unfamiliar bus driver came to the door, surprised and perhaps dismayed to see this panting and now crying woman waving her umbrella and asking about our bus route.  “Don’t you have a walkie-talkie or something to radio the other bus?” I asked him.  “No,” he said. “You can try going to the bus stop.”  Six blocks away, and now I was really late for pick-up.  Still crying, worrying about my girls and their feelings of uncertainty and fear around where’s mom? what’s wrong?, I called the kids’ school as I started jogging back the six blocks to the actual bus stop.  The school secretary, who is the World’s Most Wonderful Elementary School Secretary, was in the process of calming me down when I saw the girls coming down the hill towards me with another little boy from our bus and his grandma, who was going to take them all to her house until she could get a hold of me.  The girls were mystified but not as upset as I was, and they said comforting things to me as we walked back to our house (and then Theresa asked for hot cocoa, to which I enthusiastically replied yes).

And now it’s Hanukkah, and we can light the menorah (without my knocking over the lit candles…yikes).  It’s also Advent, and we can get out and light our Advent wreath.  And celebrate our village, and kindness, and strength, and all kinds of light in the darkness.

Some lightness

November 10, 2018

Here’s some lightness and gratitude:

  1. Theresa and Jamie informed me on the way to my school a few weeks ago Friday, when their teachers had professional development all day but I had to work, that they did not want my students to call them “adorable” or “cute.”  When I asked what “cute” meant, Theresa said, “‘Cute‘ is for puppies rolling around in the grass.  I’m an ocelot who hunts.  I’m not cute.”  They then told me to tell my students to use “heroic, serious, and strong” when referring to my children.  #cuteisforpuppies
  2. One of my students brought me homemade sushi last week.
  3. My kids have gotten into show tunes, which warms my heart.  They requested “Do You Hear the People Sing” the other night as their bathtime prep music, and Audrey’s favorite tunes are mostly from My Fair Lady.  And of course, everyone likes Hamilton.
  4. My officemate and dear friend Katie’s drama students threw her a surprise baby shower a few weeks ago.  Katie had no idea, and cried, and her students cried, and her student teacher and I cried, and they were all happy tears of love and support and joy. And now baby Jaycee is here for all of us to love on.
  5. Several of my colleagues-turned-friends planned our school’s first Equity Summit: a day of workshops for kids on topics like homelessness, racial identity, how to listen and have difficult conversations, how to be an engaged citizen (hosted by our local state representative!).  Love these educators and their passion for building up students.
  6. While Alan and I went to my beautiful cousin’s wedding in Maine, our village teamed up to watch our kiddos:  my in-laws, plus two of our friends from church, and our neighbor teen who is their favorite babysitter.
  7. I am reminded of two things from my women’s retreat:  1: SLOW DOWN. Not everything is an emergency, no matter how badly I want it off the to-do list.  2: Take a break from the news, including social media.
  8. I told my dad about how my kid with sensory processing issues has such a hard time with haircuts and toenail trimming, and how I spend a bit of time almost every night while the kid is asleep working on either hair or toenails, mini flashlight in my mouth as I try to maintain the kid’s desired length of each.  My dad sent me a headlamp in the mail.
  9. How easy is it to make sure my husband has a good birthday?  Step 1: make chocolate cake (or cupcakes) with white frosting.  Step 2: have the kids plus our dear friends and their kids sing happy birthday.  Step 3:  let there be bourbon.
  10. Their second grade class had a potluck in the school cafeteria, the first of several geography-themed potlucks that their amazing teacher coordinates each year.  We ate delicious food, including their retired-minister-turned-classroom-volunteer’s famous pound cake, and then my kiddo with ASD wanted to go out to the garden to play.  Two other kids from the class came outside too, and I watched with uneasy focus.  This kiddo has had a hard, hard start to the school year, and I worry constantly that other kids will be mean to this kid, won’t understand this kid’s different way of experiencing the world.  And that night, all three kids–and then more joined in–raced around in a made-up game of zombie chicken tag (or something like that), and I could not discern any difference in how my kid played compared to the other kids.  Those moments of reality grounding my imagination-based fear are so helpful, so healing.

Bonus:  Alan is re-learning German with the help of an app called DuoLingo, with such incredible sentences as:

  • You do not know the bear.
  • The cat was eating the duck.
  • The mice are reading a book.
  • The woman likes the cow.

Bonus 2:  Dante’s Lunch, a trailer for Coco that I could watch over and over again.

Bonus recipes:

On Curses and Power

October 1, 2018

I have been so sick to my stomach these past days.

I have not been a victim of sexual assault.  And yet the fear in my gut about the potential for being a victim has been there for a long, long time.

Now there’s rage, too.

On Saturday I watched an all-female performance of Richard III by the Seattle Shakespeare Company and upstart crow collective, an all-female theater company dedicated to the classics.  Richard III is a tough play, the villain taking center stage from the first lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent” and ends in a bloody battle where he is killed by his many enemies.

Among those Richard betrays and manipulates and traumatizes are four women:  Queen Margaret, whose husband and son were killed by Richard’s team York; the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother who can’t stand him; Queen Elizabeth, whose husband and brother-in-law are betrayed and whose young sons are murdered by Richard; and Lady Anne, whose husband was murdered by Richard.  They are have powerful monologues, giving voice to their suffering and grief at Richard’s hand.

And yet.

While the men in the play (and in the Henry VI cycle which precedes it) connive and battle and cause things to happen, the women have words.  That’s it.  Curses, sure; some of which end up being prophetic.

But really, words are all they have.  Not actions.  Not revenge or retribution or even agency.  They just get to talk about how Richard has harmed them for perpetuity.

Richard, the villain, dreams in Act 5 of all those he has directly murdered or had sent to their deaths.  In his dream, the ghosts whisper the same refrain:  “Despair and die.”  He wakes to mutter, “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”  There is a moment where he almost feels sorry for what he has done…and then morning comes, and with it the battle, and he claims again, “Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe: Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.”

And I could not help but think of Brett Kavanaugh and Senators Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn, Cruz, Kennedy, Graham, Flake, Tillis, Lee, Sasse, and Crapo.

And the priests and bishops and other “holy” men in the Catholic Church.

And all these abusers of power and privilege who not only deny publicly and seemingly also privately that they have done no wrong, but who also believe that causing suffering is unworthy of attention.

Those who grill a victim and presuppose the accused’s innocence, and then wonder why more victims don’t report their assault.

Those who demand “due process” (Sen. Kennedy), not remembering that Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam also had due process for the murder of Emmett Till, as did countless other perpetrators of violence where due process was had but justice was not served.

Those with power and privilege need to be held accountable for their actions.  Those who enable the powerful at the expense of those harmed need to know that they are part of the problem, and that if they will continue to “be on the wrong side of humanity,” then they should understand the consequences.

King Richard in the play did despair and die.  Maybe not as a direct result of those curses, but such appropriation of others’ very beings cannot last.

I tire of hurling curses at those who scorn the suffering of the lowly, the vulnerable, the scarred and traumatized.  But maybe, maybe our collective voices will make some demonstrable change.

To those who have been victims of sexual violence:  We see you.  We stand with you.  We believe you.

And it’s time to take to the streets, to the voting booths, to the halls of power, to wherever privilege is assumed as an entitlement, to dismantle it.  With our own forms of power.

When I Remember

July 11, 2018

When I remember, my kids are polite and kind and generally cooperative.

When I remember, my kids have imaginations that see “a duck lying on its back waiting to get a tummy rub” in the clouds, or create stories modeled on books they’ve read (like pretending to be ponies swimming from ship to shore, a la Misty of Chincoteague).

When I remember, my kids are so fun to be around.

When I don’t remember, like yesterday, my kids never listen the first…or second…or tenth time I’ve asked them to do something.

When I don’t remember, my kids cannot remember the simplest routines, like “take your shoes off and put them away upon entering the house,” or “put your dirty clothes into the hamper,” or “flush every time you poop.”

When I don’t remember, then everything they do irritates me, and I become snappish at them.

And then that is what they remember, and they become snappish at each other, and have short fuses themselves, or in the case of one sensitive soul, do everything in their power to make things right for me because that kid can’t stand it when I’m upset.

When I remember, I set things right the night before I need to take them somewhere, so I’m not trying to get four people ready simultaneously.

When I remember, I stop the flow of nagging and yelling even though sometimes it feels so good to release that annoyance at these small people who cannot remember what they’ve been trained to do for years.

When I remember, I write down things I’m grateful for (even if I have to stretch it) instead of the litany of things that aggravate me, since the list will be too long and writing it down will just upset me even more.

When I remember, I write down funny things my kids say:  Like Jamie in frustration the other night saying, “I’m so exaggerated!” (meaning exasperated).

When I remember to take care of my basic needs first, I can also remember that they are still working on learning to be part of this family community.  I can be calmer and more patient and more understanding.

And then that is what they remember, and then after a day like today of calm and patience and understanding, when I finally lose it with one child whose snail pace is not metaphorical but actual, who “forgets” every routine and practice, whose stubbornness rivals the most stubborn people I’ve ever met–this child closes their eyes and tells me between deep breaths, “I’m using my words even though I want to yell.  I think we should just go to bed because we can talk about this when we’re not tired and upset.”

I gave that kid a high five and expressed my admiration and respect for their ability to express themselves calmly.

Someday, I will remember these seemingly endless summer days:  The never-listening, the not-following-directions, the messiness, the explosive temper…I record those here for posterity, to show my children that, contrary to what my mom says about my childhood (“You and Jeff never did that”), they occasionally preyed on my very last nerve.  But I hope I don’t remember it in too much detail.

I hope I will remember the any-reason-for-ice-cream-is-a-good-reason moments, the Lego creations and the loving notes, the dinners on the back deck, the reading and the swimming and the bike riding.  The successes and appreciations and kids curled on my lap, head against my heart.

A story

April 30, 2018

Here’s what I’ve been afraid to say:

Last August, one of our kids was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Not afraid because I’m ashamed of the diagnosis, or of the kid.  Afraid because I want to protect this kid’s individuality online and in person.  I don’t want people to judge this kid by their label–what many people know about autism is the stereotype: “the kid in the corner rocking back and forth, flapping their hands and making strange noises.”  That’s not my kid.  I don’t want to put details about my kid on the Internet before they are old enough to say, “That’s too private” or “Yeah, okay, you can publish that.”  I post funny or endearing stories and pictures of my kids, and I post far less than I used to when they were babies, because as they get older, their story becomes more theirs, less mine.

But part of it, part of this diagnosis and this journey, is mine.  Telling my story on this blog has become a way to figure out myself, to connect with others, to possibly make someone else feel that they are less alone.  Or even to make myself feel less alone.  So here it goes, Worry Wolf and Fear Flamingo be caged.

The autism spectrum has many possible symptoms:  language impairment, social deficits, repetitive behaviors, anxiety, ADHD, sleep disorders, sensory processing issues…(if you are at all interested, you can read more about it at these resources:  HHS, Autism Self-Advocacy Network, and Autism Speaks).

I joined a Facebook group for Autism Moms of Seattle, and one comment struck me, from a post indicating a person’s kid had just been diagnosed:  “Getting that diagnosis really is a roller coaster of emotions.  Relief.  Validation.  Fear.  Sadness.  Grief.  Determination.”

That about sums up everything I’ve been feeling since August.  Determination to get the kid an IEP as soon as possible (which felt like an eternity and which also possibly went a lot more smoothly than it does for other parents in other schools).  Sadness about both adults and kids who don’t understand and the resulting rudeness or dismissiveness.  Relief that there are treatment options available, even if the waitlists are often a year long.  Fear of the kiddo’s social isolation, of their confusion being in a world made by and for those without autism.

I do try to maintain perspective:  there are many symptoms of autism that are more challenging (non-verbal, GI distress, sleep dysfunction, etc.) that my kiddo does not have.  Every parent has something to worry about for their kid.

Ultimately, as parents, what we worry about for all of our kids boils down to this:  Will you be okay?  And I mean, will they, can they be happy and live fulfilling lives?  Will the kid with anxiety be able to cope with it, or will it become debilitating?  Will the stubborn, rebellious kid be able to strike a balance between being who they are and being able to take direction from an employer?  I can’t speak for every parent; I just know that I want this so desperately for each of my three children:  will you be okay?

This diagnosis is not necessarily at odds with living a happy, fulfilling life.

I have read some beautiful and heart-wringing stuff about parenting a kid with disability.  Beth Woolsey writes about her son here, and Carrie Cariello blogs every Monday about her journey parenting her son who is on the spectrum (most blog entries of hers leave me in tears, her writing is so beautiful and she is so honest)–here’s a sample, a letter to her husband about this parenting partnership.  A Diary of a Mom’s writer Jess posts this about getting the diagnosis, a real and loving message to parents who just found out their kid is on the spectrum.  (She also has a lot of opinions about sending positive messages to our kids on the spectrum instead of “fixing” them, which I appreciate.)

I worry a lot about the present for our kid:  are we giving them what they need?  Should we send them to a different school?  I understand that my normal doesn’t have to be everyone’s normal; not everyone follows the same path or interacts with the world in the same way, and that’s good and healthy and everything.  I understand that we have the opportunity to teach other kids about the beauty of difference, even as my Mama Bear crouches ready to launch at those damn kids who laugh at my kiddo who is learning, just like they are.

I worry that we do not know what we are doing.  There is a mystery to this kid, a way of thinking and of seeing the world that I don’t yet understand.  The kid has a fixed mindset that I don’t know how to make flexible, and I can’t tell which responses are habitual and which responses are real.  How do I help a kid whose articulation of reality is confusing and inconsistent, who sometimes focuses obsessively on the negative, who says things that are patently Not True as though they are the Truest Truth (even though this kid is so smart and should be able to tell the difference)?

I know.  The future is uncertain.  It just feels more uncertain for this kiddo.  Will they learn social behaviors that will allow them to function around their peers?  Will they be able to complete tasks that they find annoying in order to keep a job?  What is cute and quirky at age 6 will be at best irritating and at worst offensive at age 15 or 35.

Will you be okay?

I’m not writing about this because I think anyone should feel bad for my kid, because this kid is amazing in their own unique way and has their own gifts and strengths like their siblings do.  I’m not writing this so anyone feels bad for me either.  I’m writing to break my own self-imposed silence, because silence is never helpful or healing; to speak my and our family’s truth; to explore all the facets of this parenting and humaning thing.

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