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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The whole truth

Have you ever had the feeling that I haven’t been telling you the entire truth about everything? That maybe I’ve been holding back even though I’ve alluded to this, that, and the other thing? It’s definitely hard to find the line that separates private from public and public from private, especially when it comes to my kids who increasingly move in their own worlds and may be impacted by what I write here. But in the interest of openness and being in need of drawing support from my family, friends, acquaintances, community, people I’ve never met, and so on, I wanted to bring you up to speed.


R is going to have his 6th open-heart surgery on Thursday, October 9. He was born with a single ventricle heart and doctors are going to attempt to build him a new ventricle with a procedure called a 1 1/2 ventricle repair. In an effort to explain R’s story, I came up with this video. Please share it with anyone you think would be interested in sending good thoughts, offering well-wishes, prayers, good karma, a force field, or any other type of positive vibes his way. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The safety net

Years before my dad died, he quit smoking. Yet when I was cleaning out his bedroom closet last summer, a dust-covered carton of Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes was among his things. Having it there must have helped him feel at ease—if at any time he changed him mind and needed a cigarette, it was only a few steps away. His safety net.

My safety net is a bottle of Ativan with a lone pill in it. The prescription was written mid-2008, not long after writing about how much I hated my kids (fortunately, it was a fleeting feeling) and not long before getting divorced. The orange plastic cylinder lives in a shoebox among unfinished bottles of Zoloft and a box of antibiotics that I convinced my doctor to give me before I visited remote villages in Brazil a few years ago. That lone anti-anxiety pill provides me with some peace of mind.

My safety net
Now let’s rewind to my Monday night dance class.

As my limbs stretched along cold hardwood, the teacher’s words flowed over me. She said, “Imagine a light, but don’t think of it as a light. Just experience the light without labeling it.” I tried to feel it, but my writer brain not only saw the light, it created a special stage for the light to shine from. I also began mentally typing a list of descriptors: yellow, warm, bright. So I thought to myself, “Shit, stop describing it. Can’t you just feel it? What’s wrong with you? Can’t you just be okay not knowing every detail?”

As her words continued, she read a quote. It was about being at peace in the present. Instead of fearing the unknown, find freedom in the unknown. Together, I guess the idea was to just feel life and not label it or fear it. Life without all the baggage of the cerebral cortex gives us freedom and ultimately more joy...or something like that.

That is a noble, yet unrealistic concept--for me--and I find the concept somewhat accusatory. It places fault on me for the anxiety and the worry that I drag around. For the last seven years, I’ve lived with low-level panic wondering when my son’s next heart operation will be scheduled. Of course worrying and allowing the stress to be part of my anatomy doesn’t actually change when it will take place. Yet, I cannot be free of it. There is no freedom, aside from when I’m lost in the music on the dance floor. There is no freedom, aside from when I’m asleep. Low-level panic is present like my fingernails.

“Snap out of it! Mind over matter!” I have told myself. But as it turns out, there is nothing wrong with me, per say. Words are how I perceive the world and low-level panic is on my keyboard next to the shift key. Sure I need practice experiencing the world differently. I suspect that’s what meditation is all about. And that's why I go to dance. It's a moving meditation where I feel the floor, hear the music, and allow my body to respond accordingly. There are few thoughts aside from “Keep your eyes open" or "Don’t crash into anyone.” And I suspect that’s what the lesson was about. It was another tool to help us live in the moment.

That's what I've been trying to do. Yes, I fell apart and got divorced, but I kept going. I went to graduate school, pulled the lever a few times on the dating slot machine, fell in love, got married, some step-kids, a dog and five chickens. Those are all wonderful things that help offset the other stuff.

And many, many times along the way, I have been comforted by that lone pill encased in plastic in a shoebox.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Love me, this is who I am

“I’m probably going to have fake teeth one day, you know,” I said to my husband as I came down the stairs after looking at my gums in the bathroom mirror. “And I’m not sure my new electric toothbrush can do anything about it.” A birthday is an especially good day to identify all of your flaws and point them out to your spouse because I suspect everyone is a little more forgiving on your birthday. And today is my 41st birthday.
My birthday pie helpers!

“That’s nice,” he said, looking up from the presentation he was creating. “You can always get implants.” And yes, he really was talking about my teeth…

“Just thought you should know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” I said plopping on the other end of the sofa. He knows, boy does he know. I think we’d only been dating a few weeks when I sat him down on the couch of my rental and listed all of my faults, outlined all of my flaws, described the mistakes I’ve made, and detailed the specific type of baggage I would be bringing into a relationship if we really, honestly, and truly were going to have a relationship. It just seemed that he should know it all because if he couldn’t handle it or didn’t like what he heard, well, I wanted to know that sooner rather than later.

And here we are five years later. And instead of talking about my son’s health problems or my varicose veins or the part I played in causing my first marriage to fail (because it takes two people), I get to talk about my wonky teeth. The question then becomes, why does it matter? I suppose it’s because we all get a little vulnerable every now and again and a birthday is as good as a reason as any to feel vulnerable about getting older. Will you love me when I’m wrinkled? Will you love me when I’m gray? Will you love me when my teeth fall out and I need implants? It makes me think of that children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit.” In one scene the horse is talking to the rabbit about love. It says:

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

Then again, I suppose you could say that of all days, a birthday is a day to put all of the things we don’t like about ourselves aside. It’s a day of acceptance, a day to just be who we are without explanations or asterisks. It’s another opportunity on the carousel of life to finally accept who we are, flaws and all. Perhaps in a few more turns of the calendar I’ll get to that place. For now, I’m just getting used to saying them out loud. I think it’s a good step. Plus, we all need a little reassurance now and again that we are loved--and will be loved--no matter what.

Friday, September 05, 2014

High school at 40

Apparently all it takes to slap me back into the social awkwardness of high school is a gathering of moms from my son’s school. As I walked down the hill to the wine event, there were sweaty palms and my heart pounded from under my blouse. “What if I don’t know anyone?” I asked myself. “Or what if no one talks to me?” I fretted.

Rewind 20 minutes earlier when I'd joked with my husband about a children’s story we have stacked on the shelf called “Pelican and Pelicant.” It’s about two birds, one who is confident and one who isn’t. I was feeling very Pelicant. He talked me up (as good spouses do) and pushed me out the door. “Have a good time,” he called after me.

As I entered the crowded house, another mom was stepping up the stairs behind me. “Apparently I’m not the last one,” I said to her just before introducing myself. “And there are more behind us,” she said. “I just saw some people parking.” Her name was familiar and we exchanged niceties before I went to look for the hostess. Not knowing what to bring, I had a small paper bag filled with fresh figs and plums from our garden.

She was in the kitchen pouring champagne. I said hello, and she welcomed me with a glass. From there I turned and began talking to a mom that I recognized from when C and her daughter were in the same 1st grade class. We had a good long talk about school and kids and the unexpected parts of life. It was in the conversation that I realized that probably most of the women at that party only knew a couple of other people, or maybe just one other person.

As the night went on, I ended up chatting to a bunch of women I recognize from school but had never talked to. As it turns out, they were all friendly. There were no sorority pranks. After two glasses of champagne, I may have even admitted to a few that I’d been secretly wanting to be friends with them, which is true. And then I even felt comfortable sharing how nervous I felt on my way down and how silly it was.

From there, I wished I’d had a piece of paper to share something with them I learned from one of my best friends. “Pretend my hand is a piece of paper,” I said as I held it out flat. I drew a circle on my palm. “Imagine that inside the circle I wrote the words comfort zone.” Then I pointed at another part of my palm. “Now imagine that it says magic way over here,” I said. “This is where the magic happens.” And that’s pretty much how I felt. I got out of my comfort zone and found magic.

Just like I always tell my kids, you can never have too many friends to turn to on the playground. And now I have more people to turn to while I’m standing outside the school waiting, or while I’m at back-to-school night, or at Spaghetti Bingo—our school’s annual fundraiser. My only regret—doing my little awkward dance when telling people about how nervous I’d felt before the party.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Who's your Plus One?

Take my Plus One Challenge and make it personal!
The Ice Bucket challenge has been a hugely successful awareness and fundraising campaign for ALS. Fortunately the neurological disease hasn’t affected anyone in my family. The viral video campaign, however, has saturated my friends and my Facebook newsfeed.

To make my moment in the spotlight more meaningful for me, I’ve decided to make it the Plus One challenge. That means in addition to donating to ALS, I’m also donating to an organization that has impacted my family. My Plus One is Camp Taylor, a free summer camp for kids with heart defects in honor of my son. I'm challenging everyone who has already taken the Ice Bucket challenge--and those who are soon-to-be nominated--to consider yourself challenged to the Plus One campaign.

ALS is doing great work, but are countless worthy charities in need of support. So why not donate to two charities? Open your wallet and make this whole ice-bucket-thing personal by donating to an extra charity that has meaning to you. Are you in? Who’s your Plus One? It's probably different from mine, and that's okay.