Saturday, August 20, 2016

Train of Emotion

Dan sent me this picture the night before he left for college. It's me - a college girl myself - holding his little preemie body way back in 1997. Despite how unflattering this photo is of me (I mean really, that cannot be overlooked), it stirs up about 4,000 emotions and made me cry like an idiot.

Yesterday evening, while sipping a fancy cocktail at the Seelbach Hotel and discussing Girl on a Train with my book club, I received a text.

"Hey Aunt Randi, can you talk now?"

It was from my nephew, Dan. Dan had just moved into his dorm room at his college, and I was excited about going home after book club to stalk all his college pictures on Facebook. Seeing his text concerned me.

I called him the minute I left, sitting in my car with the windows rolled down in a parking garage in downtown Louisville.

Dan was fine. He's a bright, competent, capable, wonderful young man, so of course he was fine. But it was his first night living on his own and he wanted to hear a familiar voice.

Through my iPhone, I could hear his words reverberating around his empty walls, not yet plastered with posters of his favorite movies or ironic sayings. (Wait - do the kids still do this?) It's early to be on campus - he had to arrive early because he's in the marching band - so his roommate isn't there yet, nor are scores of other people. I could imagine his sock-covered-feet pacing the floor while he surveyed his new twin bed, his new comforter, his new desk, his new life. I imagined the chilling loneliness that could come from suddenly being alone after so many years living among parents and a sister. I could imagine the petrifying fear of realizing that life - from this point forward - would never be the same.

It was a good conversation, and as I clicked "end," I knew with certainty that this chapter of Dan's life will be an exciting and fulfilling one for him. I can't explain it, I just knew that it would be great.

And yet, I cried all the way home.

My emotions have been so close to the surface lately. I feel so much better after my summer of depression, due in large part to eating nutritious food, exercising, getting enough sleep, and carving out time for myself (in addition to going to therapy religiously, of course). I'm back at work, and although the pace of that is rapid and the hours are long, the strict schedule and frequent interaction with sweet kids and smart colleagues is very good for my soul.

But it feels like my empathy-trigger is just way more sensitive than it has ever been. If a student shares about a hard time at home, I'm crying. When a homeless man asked us for some money today, I started crying. When my nephew texted me on his first night of college ever, I started crying. You should probably go out and buy some stock in Kleenex.

Here's how the train of emotion and/or anxiety (depending on how you define it) traveled through my brain.

1. Oh, sweet Dan. I know how scared he is. This is such a big deal! College will be a wonderful experience for him, but I wish I could hug him!

2. It feels like yesterday that he was a skinny little preemie, cradled in my arms. I was so worried about how he would turn out - physically, emotionally, you name it. Now look at him! At college! I'm so proud.

3. But oh! My poor sister. It has to be so hard to deliver your child to a school, drive away, and pray that you've raised him well enough for him to take care of himself. She must be proud, but this has to be so hard on her. I wish I could hug her.

4. Oh my God, in just 10 years, Stella will go to college. How can that be? Wait - I can't do this. What if she gets there and she has trouble making friends? What if she sits alone in her dorm room every night while everyone else has fun? Or what if she makes bad decisions and drinks too much and has to get her stomach pumped? Or what if some angry student gets a bad grade and has mental health issues and has unfettered access to military-grade weapons and goes on a shooting spree? Or what if we can't even afford college because the tuition by that point is $4.8 million a year in state?

5. But I did OK at college, and I had an awkward, difficult, lonely time all through high school. In fact, college was four of the happiest years of my life. Oh, college! Sweet Centre College. Those dry erase boards where we would leave messages to tell people where we were because we didn't have cell phones. Those long nights of lying on a friend's dorm floor, talking about boys and assignments and eating cookies we sneaked out of the dining hall.

6. I miss my friends. Jeez, those were good friends. Why the hell do we have to be so scattered across America? Why do we have to be so busy that I barely even see the few who live locally?

7. Funny, I remember thinking I would never be friends with those women. I remember meeting them that first week - these girls from all across America living on my hall. They seemed nice, but I was sure we'd have nothing in common. Certain they'd all be too cool to want to hang out with some goofy idiot from the sticks. Afraid they'd be mean or uninterested in me. By the end of that week, we'd made somewhere around 100 trips to Walmart together, had a couple of meals at Fazoli's that made the restaurant question their unlimited breadstick policy, and had soul-baring conversations in our PJ's while cramming ourselves sardine-style into one dorm room.

8. I also remember sobbing my eyes out on that drive to Danville when I was first moving in. My best friend and my mom were in the car with me, helpless and confused as I sat there and cried so hard I couldn't even respond when they asked me if I was OK. Why was I crying so hard? It's still unclear. I was excited about college, but I'd just gone through so many changes, so much turmoil. My dad had been so abusive to my mom he'd nearly killed her. My parents had almost divorced, but ended up staying together (much to my chagrin). My best friend had lost her father tragically the year before, and we'd grown apart a little bit as she struggled to cope with her unthinkable trauma and sadness. I was terrified of college. Terrified of not making friends, terrified of not being smart enough, terrified of not keeping my scholarship and having to leave, terrified of my dad killing my mom in my absence, because my magical-thinking-prone-brain had convinced me that my sheer will was preventing my dad from finally snapping to the point that he committed homicide.

Mind you, all of these thoughts happened in a rapid cascade that lasted probably ten seconds. So many overwhelming, neurotic, emotion-fueled ideas pounded on my brain and I just had to sit in that parked car in that parking garage and cry like a crazy person for a solid five minutes.

Empathy is a good thing. It makes me want to make the world a better place, it helps me be the kind of teacher (most of the time) who can treat her students gently and kindly, even when that's the opposite of how they're acting toward me. It makes me want to speak out on issues that matter to me. It makes me love my kids with a passion that could rip through mountains.

But it also makes me cry. A lot. And I guess the biggest change that's occurred in me is that I'm no longer fighting it. I may be a woman who "feels too much," as Anne Sexton described it, but I'm working to channel that, not fight it.

So, if you ever see me read a text on my phone and start crying, don't worry. My brain just went from A-Z in 2 seconds and I experienced every possible emotional along the way. I'll be OK in a minute or so.


Train of Emotion

Yesterday evening, while sipping a fancy cocktail at the Seelbach Hotel and discussing Girl on a Train with my book club, I received a text.

"Hey Aunt Randi, can you talk now?"

It was from my nephew, Dan. Dan had just moved into his dorm room at his college, and I was excited about going home after book club to stalk all his college pictures on Facebook. Seeing his text concerned me.

I called him the minute I left, sitting in my car with the windows rolled down in a parking garage in downtown Louisville.

Dan was fine. He's a bright, competent, capable, wonderful young man, so of course he was fine. But it was his first night living on his own and he wanted to hear a familiar voice.

Through my iPhone, I could hear his words reverberating around his empty walls, not yet plastered with posters of his favorite movies or ironic sayings. (Wait - do the kids still do this?) It's early to be on campus - he had to arrive early because he's in the marching band - so his roommate isn't there yet, nor are scores of other people. I could imagine his sock-covered-feet pacing the floor while he surveyed his new twin bed, his new comforter, his new desk, his new life. I imagined the chilling loneliness that could come from suddenly being alone after so many years living among parents and a sister. I could imagine the petrifying fear of realizing that life - from this point forward - would never be the same.

It was a good conversation, and as I clicked "end," I knew with certainty that this chapter of Dan's life will be an exciting and fulfilling one for him. I can't explain it, I just knew that it would be great.

And yet, I cried all the way home.

My emotions have been so close to the surface lately. I feel so much better after my summer of depression, due in large part to eating nutritious food, exercising, getting enough sleep, and carving out time for myself (in addition to going to therapy religiously, of course). I'm back at work, and although the pace of that is rapid and the hours are long, the strict schedule and frequent interaction with sweet kids and smart colleagues is very good for my soul.

But it feels like my empathy-trigger is just way more sensitive than it has ever been. If a student shares about a hard time at home, I'm crying. When a homeless man asked us for some money today, I started crying. When my nephew texted me on his first night of college ever, I started crying. You should probably go out and buy some stock in Kleenex.

Here's how the train of emotion and/or anxiety (depending on how you define it) traveled through my brain.

1. Oh, sweet Dan. I know how scared he is. This is such a big deal! College will be a wonderful experience for him, but I wish I could hug him!

2. It feels like yesterday that he was a skinny little preemie, cradled in my arms. I was so worried about how he would turn out - physically, emotionally, you name it. Now look at him! At college! I'm so proud.

4. But oh! My poor sister. It has to be so hard to deliver your child to a school, drive away, and pray that you've raised him well enough for him to take care of himself. She must be proud, but this has to be so hard on her. I wish I could hug her.

5. Oh my God, in just 10 years, Stella will go to college. How can that be? Wait - I can't do this. What if she gets there and she has trouble making friends? What if she sits alone in her dorm room every night while everyone else has fun? Or what if she makes bad decisions and drinks too much and has to get her stomach pumped? Or what if some angry student gets a bad grade and has mental health issues and has unfettered access to military-grade weapons and goes on a shooting spree? Or what if we can't even afford college because the tuition by that point is $4.8 million a year in state?

6. But I did OK at college, and I had an awkward, difficult, lonely time all through high school. In fact, college was four of the happiest years of my life. Oh, college! Sweet Centre College. Those dry erase boards where we would leave messages to tell people where we were because we didn't have cell phones. Those long nights of lying on a friend's dorm floor, talking about boys and assignments and eating cookies we sneaked out of the dining hall.

7. I miss my friends. Jeez, those were good friends. Why the hell do we have to be so scattered across America? Why do we have to be so busy that I barely even see the few who live locally?

8. Funny, I remember thinking I would never be friends with those women. I remember meeting them that first week - these girls from all across America living on my hall. They seemed nice, but I was sure we'd have nothing in common. Certain they'd all be too cool to want to hang out with some goofy idiot from the sticks. Afraid they'd be mean or uninterested in me. By the end of that week, we'd made somewhere around 100 trips to Walmart together, had a couple of meals at Fazoli's that made the restaurant question their unlimited breadstick policy, and had soul-baring conversations in our PJ's while cramming ourselves sardine-style into one dorm room.

9. I also remember sobbing my eyes out on that drive to Danville when I was first moving in. My best friend and my mom were in the car with me, helpless and confused as I sat there and cried so hard I couldn't even respond when they asked me if I was OK. Why was I crying so hard? It's still unclear. I was excited about college, but I'd just gone through so many changes, so much turmoil. My dad had been so abusive to my mom he'd nearly killed her. My parents had almost divorced, but ended up staying together (much to my chagrin). My best friend had lost her father tragically the year before, and we'd grown apart a little bit as she struggled to cope with her unthinkable trauma and sadness. I was terrified of college. Terrified of not making friends, terrified of not being smart enough, terrified of not keeping my scholarship and having to leave, terrified of my dad killing my mom in my absence, because my magical-thinking-prone-brain had convinced me that my sheer will was preventing my dad from finally snapping to the point that he committed homicide.

Mind you, all of these thoughts happened in a rapid cascade that lasted probably ten seconds. So many overwhelming, neurotic, emotion-fueled ideas pounded on my brain and I just had to sit in that parked car in that parking garage and cry like a crazy person for a solid five minutes.

Empathy is a good thing. It makes me want to make the world a better place, it helps me be the kind of teacher (most of the time) who can treat her students gently and kindly, even when that's the opposite of how they're acting toward me. It makes me want to speak out on issues that matter to me. It makes me love my kids with a passion that could rip through mountains.

But it also makes me cry. A lot. And I guess the biggest change that's occurred in me is that I'm no longer fighting it. I may be a woman who "feels too much," as Anne Sexton described it, but I'm working to channel that, not fight it.

So, if you ever see me read a text on my phone and start crying, don't worry. My brain just went from A-Z in 2 seconds and I experienced every possible emotional along the way. I'll be OK in a minute or so.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Worthy of an Eye Roll

This is what depression looks like.

A lady rolled her eyes at me today.

Normally, I'm too busy to notice this kind of thing. Normally, I'm too secure in myself to care.

Not today.

How do I know she was rolling her eyes at me and not some unrelated situation? Well, let me set the scene. I was at the library. It was a failed attempt at story time.

What's a failed attempt at story time, you ask? Well, it looks something like this:

I take my nearly 3 year old to our closest library for an 11:15am story time. When we get there, there's a massive gas leak, with 3 fire trucks on sight to let me know just how terrifying the situation is. When I suggest to my son that maybe we should go to a playground instead, he cries hysterically.

"But Mommy! I need a story time! I need da LIBERRY!"

Sure, I could use this as a teachable moment, show my little man that life doesn't always go as planned, that you have to roll with the punches.

But good God is it hot and humid outside. I wanted to go to the LIBERRY, too.

So I drive us across town to another, more popular story time. We're about 15 minutes late, and when we walk in - it's packed. Wall to wall toddlers and women. The air thick with sweat and milk and organic snacks. Writhing limbs like a mass of maggots on a rotting steak. All with a "Wheels on the Bus" soundtrack pounding shrilly.

I am ready to tough it out, to hurdle over little bodies and find a 1'x1' square in which to squeeze myself, but Sam sternly says, "NO, MOMMY. DAT'S TOO LOUD!"

So we go to the kids library to peruse books and play with communal toys instead.

And it was fine, it really was. Sam was happy pulling books off the shelves and playing with ratty toys and plopping in my lap periodically to give me sloppy and delicious kisses. Then he found the computer - the damned computer they put at the kids' level so then the kids beg to use a computer the whole time instead of looking at analog books - WHICH IS THE WHOLE REASON YOU BRING YOUR KID TO THE LIBRARY. And the threenager emerged.

I didn't bring my card, so I couldn't log him on. I'm also still drowning in a sea of depression, so I can't do things like muster up the gumption to go ask a librarian to look up my library card number for me. I just wanted him to drop it, to move on. But toddlers are not know for their ability to just go with the flow and accept change.

So, the tantrum began. He threw himself all over the place, and even banged his little leg on a chair. I was calm. I didn't take it personally. I didn't get angry at him. If anything, I felt bad for the poor guy. He wanted to go on the computer but his sad mom couldn't help him with that.

So I let him get it out, and then I opened my arms. "Need a hug, Sam?"

He did. He crawled into my arms and bawled. He clung to me and shook with the anger and frustration and misery that come with being a toddler.

And as I snuggled my nose into his soft, sweet blond hair, I felt eyes on me.

I looked up. She was tall, thin. Had on a nice dress and full makeup. Her tiny daughter clung passively to her skirt hem. She held a stack of age-appropriate picture books in her well-manicured hands and she rolled her eyes at me. Like, literally at me. Like a stone she was hurling. There was no mistaking that the rolling of her eyes was directed at me. And it stung.

I guess it's easy to roll your eyes at me right now. First, I have a toddler throwing a full-on tantrum on the floor of the library - the place that insists on quiet. And if you didn't know my sweet little guy, he might look like a brat. A little tyrant who screams when he doesn't get his way.

She has no way of knowing what an extraordinary little boy he is. How easy he's been in so many ways. How he hugged me and said, "Mommy, I love you so much" when I started crying at breakfast this morning. How he's coping not just with adapting to this crazy planet I brought him into, but doing so with a mom who lately has next to no energy yet a surplus of emotions.

Also, there's my appearance. Yoga pants, t-shirt, flip flops, hair in a messy bun (and by "messy bun" I mean unkempt and oily, not sassy and sexy like the celebrities). I look like a lady who does't give a crap about anything - not my appearance, not my kid's behavior, certainly not the regular use of shampoo. I'm a caricature of the exhausted mom who's given up.

I almost felt like standing up, linking arms with her, and saying, "Yep, I'm a slob and crappy mom, aren't I? I'm inclined to agree with you."

But I didn't. I sat there and thought about all the things she couldn't see. The fact that her one and only child is mellow - hasn't yet hit a difficult patch. That she may feel pretty secure in her parenting skills at this moment, but all it would take is another kid or the terrible two's to knock her confidence down a peg.

That my outward appearance is a mirror of the inner sadness and stagnation I feel. That I've struggled with depression all summer. That my personal life is about as messy and complicated as it's ever been, and I don't know what to do about it. That dragging myself and my son here today was a huge accomplishment, and I'm frankly mad nobody threw a ticker tape parade for me.

I just closed my eyes and reminded myself, for the hundredth time today, that this is temporary. That things will get better. That I'll figure it out. That just because this woman thinks I deserve an eye roll doesn't mean she's right.

And, of course, I have no idea what she's going through, either. She looks so put together, so with it. But she may be struggling, too. She may go home today with her placid little tot and cry into her coffee over a thousand problems nobody can see.

In fact, that may be why she so openly judged me in the first place. And normally, I'd have compassion for her.

But not now. Not today.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Admitting Defeat

I surrender. I can fight no more. It's time to admit that I'm right smack in the middle of a real depression.

I've felt it coming on for a while, I've resisted it like hell. But too many external factors ate away at my resolve.

A summer that started off with a miscarriage.

Anxiety that was under control for a while now skyrocketing due to mass shootings, news stories about children in precarious/deadly situations who remind me of my adventure boy Sam, the threat that Trump could actually become president, the thinly-veiled misogyny that parades around whenever Hilary Clinton's name is spoken, the horrific deaths of black people in the news, the sniper in Dallas, the hatred spewing forth from folks who don't want to admit that America has a massive problem with institutionalized racism. My anxiety broke free of its reins and has pulled me into sleepless nights and food binges and panic attacks and too many bad moods to mention.

Stella's symptoms becoming more intense this summer, leading me to think she's further on the spectrum than I'd thought. Trying not to feel embarrassed when my tall-for-her-age 8 year old has a meltdown in public over a restaurant not serving chicken strips. Trying not to scream when she begs for sugar or screen time 100 times a day because she has an obsessive and addictive personality. Trying to show her kindness and love when I really want to curl up under the covers and cry, because I do not feel qualified to parent any kid, much less one with different needs.

Sam's preview of threenagerhood, being a sometimes violent jerk who screams his head off to keep us from having conversations and yells for 1 1.5 or 2 hours before finally going to sleep. Regressing from his potty training, relishing pooping in his diaper then sitting in it so it's harder to clean.

Combining both my kids' rough phases in one tiny hotel room on the beach, each one making the other progressively crazier, trying to enjoy the beauty of the crystal clear water and powdery sand, wanting nothing more than to parasail far away from everyone to my own private island.

Feeling like I've alienated everyone around me to the point where I have only one person I can call when I feel this bad - a geographically distant best friend who's got enough of her own crap to deal with that she can't constantly keep picking me up.

Not to mention that summer is my prime season for seasonal depression anyway. Unlike most people who get the blues when winter comes, summer reminds me of endless childhood days stuck in the house with an abuser, trapped in a small town with nothing to do, watching too much TV and eating too much junk food and thinking seriously dark thoughts, praying for fall to come so I could get my in-dire-need-of-structure butt back in a school building.

I drug myself out of bed this morning at 10am. Dave let me sleep in, and I didn't want to leave. I had to pee, I was stiff, and I didn't want to move. The thought of walking to the bathroom seemed far too strenuous to imagine.

The kids were restless. Sam wanted to go to the Science Center, Stella wanted to go to the pool. Dave suggested we split up. I wanted to say, "How can you expect to put myself in a bathing suit, much less be responsible for keeping my daughter safe?"

But this is my kids' summer, too. And I refuse to make them suffer because my mental health is crappy.

So we went. The sun was too bright, the pool was too loud. Immediately, I saw several people I knew and I wanted to hide. The thought of making small talk when all I want to do is blurt out "I'M REALLY FREAKING SAD" just seemed impossible. So I avoided almost all of them, seeming like the rudest person possible, I'm sure. These were people whose kids I taught during my stint as a preschool teacher, adorable children whom I miss, whom I'd love to hug and chat with, were I feeling normal. Instead, I clung to Stella and acted like I didn't see anybody.

It hasn't been this bad in a very long time. I hate even talking about here because well-intentioned fixers will advise me to seek medication or exercise or herbs or yoga or meditation or counseling. They won't know that I've been in therapy for over 20 years (and still go regularly), that I've tried roughly 6 different anti-depressants with no luck (because clinical depression isn't my diagnosis, by the way; occasional depression is a biproduct of PTSD and chronic anxiety), that eating well and exercising are things I do most of the time, things I'm trying to do now, things that help but do not solve.

Stella and I were playing with her mermaid Barbie when two sweet kids approached us. Between gulps of air and amidst much splashing, they said words in a foreign tongue.

One that I understood.

They were speaking French, and they were talking about Stella's doll. "C'est une sirene!"

Without even thinking about it, I replied, "Oui. Elle aime les sirenes!" (Yes, she loves mermaids.)

And we began chatting. They told me they were on vacation from France, visiting their grandmother. They love Louisville, they love America. It felt easy and natural to speak with them.

Stella hugged me close and said, "Mommy, what are you saying? It's so pretty."

And I remembered. I remembered the Randi that lived half a year in Strasbourg, France. The bilingual world traveler. The woman who also wrote and produced plays in New York City. The woman brave enough to even move to New York City by herself. The one who got her ass to a pretty great college with scholarships and financial aid and loans that she had to pay until just a couple of years ago. The woman who shares her quirky life on stage. The public middle school teacher. Middle school, I tell you.

Remembering that I've been brave, that I've overcome my limitations to succeed in life gave me the first relief I've had in a while.

It'll be OK. Not right away, but it will. But if you see me and I act like I don't see you, I'm not rude, I promise. I just have a cloud passing over me right now. Check back in a month or two.

Admitting Defeat

I surrender. I can fight no more. It's time to admit that I'm right smack in the middle of a real depression.

I've felt it coming on for a while, I've resisted it like hell. But too many external factors ate away at my resolve.

A summer that started off with a miscarriage.

Anxiety that was under control for a while now skyrocketing due to mass shootings, news stories about children in precarious/deadly situations who remind me of my adventure boy Sam, the threat that Trump could actually become president, the thinly-veiled misogyny that parades around whenever Hilary Clinton's name is spoken, the horrific deaths of black people in the news, the sniper in Dallas, the hatred spewing forth from folks who don't want to admit that America has a massive problem with institutionalized racism. My anxiety broke free of its reins and has pulled me into sleepless nights and food binges and panic attacks and too many bad moods to mention.

Stella's symptoms becoming more intense this summer, leading me to think she's further on the spectrum than I'd thought. Trying not to feel embarrassed when my tall-for-her-age 8 year old has a meltdown in public over a restaurant not serving chicken strips. Trying not to scream when she begs for sugar or screen time 100 times a day because she has an obsessive and addictive personality. Trying to show her kindness and love when I really want to curl up under the covers and cry, because I do not feel qualified to parent any kid, much less one with different needs.

Sam's preview of threenagerhood, being a sometimes violent jerk who screams his head off to keep us from having conversations and yells for 1 1.5 or 2 hours before finally going to sleep. Regressing from his potty training, relishing pooping in his diaper then sitting in it so it's harder to clean.

Combining both my kids' rough phases in one tiny hotel room on the beach, each one making the other progressively crazier, trying to enjoy the beauty of the crystal clear water and powdery sand, wanting nothing more than to parasail far away from everyone to my own private island.

Feeling like I've alienated everyone around me to the point where I have only one person I can call when I feel this bad - a geographically distant best friend who's got enough of her own crap to deal with that she can't constantly keep picking me up.

Not to mention that summer is my prime season for seasonal depression anyway. Unlike most people who get the blues when winter comes, summer reminds me of endless childhood days stuck in the house with an abuser, trapped in a small town with nothing to do, watching too much TV and eating too much junk food and thinking seriously dark thoughts, praying for fall to come so I could get my in-dire-need-of-structure butt back in a school building.

I drug myself out of bed this morning at 10am. Dave let me sleep in, and I didn't want to leave. I had to pee, I was stiff, and I didn't want to move. The thought of walking to the bathroom seemed far too strenuous to imagine.

The kids were restless. Sam wanted to go to the Science Center, Stella wanted to go to the pool. Dave suggested we split up. I wanted to say, "How can you expect to put myself in a bathing suit, much less be responsible for keeping my daughter safe?"

But this is my kids' summer, too. And I refuse to make them suffer because my mental health is crappy.

So we went. The sun was too bright, the pool was too loud. Immediately, I saw several people I knew and I wanted to hide. The thought of making small talk when all I want to do is blurt out "I'M REALLY FREAKING SAD" just seemed impossible. So I avoided almost all of them, seeming like the rudest person possible, I'm sure. These were people whose kids I taught during my stint as a preschool teacher, adorable children whom I miss, whom I'd love to hug and chat with, were I feeling normal. Instead, I clung to Stella and acted like I didn't see anybody.

It hasn't been this bad in a very long time. I hate even talking about here because well-intentioned fixers will advise me to seek medication or exercise or herbs or yoga or meditation or counseling. They won't know that I've been in therapy for over 20 years (and still go regularly), that I've tried roughly 6 different anti-depressants with no luck (because clinical depression isn't my diagnosis, by the way; occasional depression is a biproduct of PTSD and chronic anxiety), that eating well and exercising are things I do most of the time, things I'm trying to do now, things that help but do not solve.

Stella and I were playing with her mermaid Barbie when two sweet kids approached us. Between gulps of air and amidst much splashing, they said words in a foreign tongue.

One that I understood.

They were speaking French, and they were talking about Stella's doll. "C'est une sirene!"

Without even thinking about it, I replied, "Oui. Elle aime les sirenes!" (Yes, she loves mermaids.)

And we began chatting. They told me they were on vacation from France, visiting their grandmother. They love Louisville, they love America. It felt easy and natural to speak with them.

Stella hugged me close and said, "Mommy, what are you saying? It's so pretty."

And I remembered. I remembered the Randi that lived half a year in Strasbourg, France. The bilingual world traveler. That woman, also wrote and produced plays in New York City. The woman brave enough to move to New York City by herself. The one who got her ass to a pretty great college with scholarships and financial aid and loans that she had to pay until just a couple of years ago. The woman who shares her quirky life on stage. The public middle school teacher.

Remembering that I've been brave, that I've overcome my limitations to succeed in life gave me the first relief I've had in a while.

It'll be OK. Not right away, but it will. But if you see me and I act like I don't see you, I'm not rude, I promise. I just have a cloud passing over me right now. Check back in a month or two.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Common Ground

I'm afraid today.

You are, too.

When I read the news Sunday morning, I thought, "Not again." When I saw the horribly high death toll, I thought, "Oh God. It's getting worse, not better."

You probably thought the same.

I thought of my sweet kids, my husband. My mom, my siblings, my friends, my students. I thought of every single person I love, and before I could stop my brain - my horribly imaginative brain - I imagined every single one of them dead, lying in a pool of blood, a look of horror on their faces.

I know you did, too.

I sent my kids to camp today. I tried to drown out the voice screaming at me to keep them home, to lock the doors, to never go anywhere ever again. I am terrified of our world and what it has become.

You are, too.

I want Washington to pass some damned laws already. To ban assault weapons and large magazine clips. I want universal background checks and penalties for irresponsible gun owners and more gun-free zones.

You want Washington to curb ISIS. You want more good guys with guns out and about to stop the bad guys. You don't want to lose your right to bear arms and protect your family.

I've grown terrified of entitled men who've gone off the deep end and can easily access a firearm and kill a bunch of people.

You're terrified of non-Americans who would do us harm.

I imagine myself in a public space, the sound of gunshots firing. I imagine covering my children, imploring them to play dead.

You imagine yourself in a public space, the sound of gunshots firing, whipping your gun from your holster and stopping the lunatic in his tracks - saving the lives of everyone around you.

My social media is filled with cartoons and rants and articles ridiculing you - calling you stupid, ill-informed, bought and sold by the NRA, bumpkins who value guns over human life. We liberals take our anger from this situation on you. We want to blame you. Sometimes, we want you to pay.

Your social media is filled with cartoons and rants and articles ridiculing me - calling me blind, moronic, willing to give up the right to bear arms the way the Nazi regime required of its people, willing to elect politicians who manipulate and control us and strip us of all our liberties. You conservatives take your anger from this situation out on us. You want to blame us. Sometimes, you want us to pay.

I assume you want everyone in the world to carry a gun, to walk around with an AR-15 and a few semi-automatic handguns. I assume you want teachers to be armed, waiters in restaurants to be armed, to live in a world where a few accidental deaths from dropped guns in public spaces are worth the overall safety and liberty.

You assume I want someone to come into your home and strip you off your guns. To forcibly take them and leave you vulnerable, defenseless. You assume I want hunting outlawed, gun ranges shut down. You assume I want to live in a world where the government and law enforcement alone has access to weapons, where losing a great deal of liberty is worth the safety.

But what if we're wrong?

What if we're more alike than different?

We are, after all, both afraid today. Both terrified for our loved ones, both scared to death of where this country is heading.

What if we could ignore the rhetoric? I'll ignore my side, you ignore yours. What if we just sit down and talk? Talk about our fears, talk about a compromise.

Because, honestly, I don't want to take your guns. I like deer meat, I like the sense of pride I see when my students hunt, I like knowing how safe my best friend feels with her handgun in her house. I remember growing up and going to friends' houses where rifles were locked in gun cabinets. I remember firing a shotgun and feeling a surge of power. I don't feel comfortable living in a country where only those in charge have access to weaponry. I may never want to own a gun myself, but I don't want others to lose their rights.

And maybe I'm wrong, but you probably don't want to live in a world where guns are literally everywhere. Where a toddler could accidentally grab a gun off a table at McDonald's and shoot himself. Where teachers can whip out a handgun when a student has a sassy mouth. Where your angry neighbor can easily kill you and your entire family when you forget to mow your yard for the third week in a row.

No, what we both want is to stop feeling afraid.

This may be silly and idealistic. This is almost certainly never going to work. But I'm tired of being angry at you. I'm tired of blaming you and ridiculing you. I can't control how you view me, but I want to love you. I want to empathize with you. I want to make this country the best place on earth - both for me and for you.

I really hope you'll join me. I really hope we can stop being afraid.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Motherhood is...



Motherhood is eating a blueberry Lara bar in a dark kitchen, pretending not to hear the argument your kids are having. You're eating alone, in a dark kitchen, because if your two year old sees the Lara bar, he'll insist on eating it, even though he's already had a waffle and a bowl of cereal and a cup of milk and a cup of water. And you don't want to share because there's nothing else you can eat right now - at least nothing you can eat without having to cook - and you don't have time to cook because you have to take your daughter to camp.

Motherhood means you can't eat anything else because you're on day 24 of the Whole 30 eating plan. You did this strict plan that eliminates dairy and sugar and other often problematic foods because you got massively addicted to sugar in April. You got addicted to sugar because you were trying to cope with your anxiety that was out of control due to the hectic end of the year teaching middle schoolers, combined with your own offspring's near-summer erratic behavior, by eating a small mountain of Hershey's kisses every day. But sugar makes your emotional state ten times worse, and so the anxiety that was, at first, irritating, took over and made life ridiculous. So then you had to cut sugar out altogether, leaving you standing alone in a dark kitchen, scarfing a Lara bar and drinking luke warm coffee with coconut milk.

Motherhood is counting to three, knowing you don't have time to give your toddler a time out before leaving for camp, but not knowing what else to do to get him to stop running around the house and let you get his shoes on. It is actually trying to hold a wriggling, screaming, 35 pound child down so you can do this, worried about the future therapy bills he'll have to pay to cope with his intimacy issues because now he's afraid of anyone touching him.

Motherhood is feeling pretty damned conflicted about taking your daughter to camp. She begged to go to theater camp, she's been at theater camp before and loved it, but now she's deeply unhappy and letting you know any chance she gets. She's eight and wonderful and sensitive. In fact, she's so sensitive, she's been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, which means that she lives in a world where sights, sounds, and feelings are amplified through an enormous speaker and change is jarring and new people are scary and yet everyone - including you - expects her to act like and adapt like all the other kids around her. The camp is for 8 - 13 year olds, so she's young and surrounded by big kids, and she's nervous, and she's been acting out and the counselors have had to have serious discussions with you every day when you pick her up and you're beginning to feel like a parenting failure. Well, not beginning, because you've felt like a parenting failure at least once a day since your daughter was born eight years ago.

Motherhood is wishing you could tell the counselors about the past few days. That Stella's been under a strain because you haven't been yourself, and that poor kid has a breakdown every single time her mother goes through a tough period (and her mother has plenty of tough periods). That yesterday's meager lunch that Stella ate all of before lunch time and had to beg the kids around her to buy her honey buns and chips from the vending machine was so meager because you're coping with something you don't know how to talk about and so you weren't on top of your parenting game.

Motherhood is preaching that women should be open and honest about their struggles, should take time and space to take care of themselves and not be embarrassed about their bodies. It is also being a hypocrite, because when you have a miscarriage, you don't feel entitled to come forward about it, to share about it, to even grieve it, because your situation is different - your situation is not so bad. Your miscarriage was early - 5.5 weeks. It was so early, you had no clue you were pregnant. You weren't trying to get pregnant, and you and your spouse had long ago decided that two kids were all you could afford, all you could handle emotionally. Because it was early, it was mild in comparison. True, the pain was rough. As close to labor pains as you've felt since you were in actual labor. And true, you found yourself grieving a child that would have been born in February - a child who would have made life complicated, would have taken you out of work in the middle of the school year, would have caused you to have to write 6 weeks of detailed substitute plans (or 12 if you took some unpaid leave), would have made life difficult in your 3 bedroom home where all the bedrooms are spoken for, would have challenged your mental health progress by forcing you to endure sleepless nights once more, this time at age 41. Despite all this, you grieve this child. And then you think of your friends' grief - the ones who fought for their pregnancies, who saw a heartbeat and had a name and planned a whole life around their unborn child, friends who went through what you went through much later, the pain much greater, the hole in their heart much larger. And you feel foolish and selfish and you keep this mostly to yourself, until you cowardly come forward in a blog entry that a handful of people will read and you don't even know why you're doing it because you don't want anyone to make a big deal about it. All you really want is a hug and pint of Ben and Jerry's that would restart your sugar addiction and make you feel like crap, so you drink your unsweetened coffee instead.

Motherhood is packing a teddy bear and a stress ball so your daughter will hopefully have a better day. It is packing a Lunchables, because your daughter begged for it, and you feel guilty because you always swore that you'd never let your kid eat an unhealthy Lunchables, long before you had kids of your own and you were a parenting expert. It is also packing grapes and cherry tomatoes and organic yogurt and Goldfish crackers and a big bottle of water so hopefully your kid won't beg for food today and the counselors will see that you're actually a good parent who cares about her kid. It is doing all this and then reversing all the good by giving your daughter an angry lecture in the car about how ungrateful she is. Telling her how much money you spent on this camp and how frustrated you are because every time she tries something new, the adjustment period is very long and very difficult. It is getting negative and immature because your daughter - whose age is in the single digits - acted negative and immature. It's hugging her and telling her you love her because then you worry that some maniac with a gun will come in and shoot everyone or some child trafficker will find a way to abduct her or that she'll collapse from an undiagnosed heart condition moments after you leave.

Motherhood is noticing that while you were hugging your daughter, your son ran toward the door, is pushing it open, and is poised to run into active traffic just feet away. It is rushing toward him, scared to death and angry and exasperated and exhausted - all at the same time. Once he is safe in your arms, the relief is palpable, but it not simply relief that he is OK, is alive, but also relief that your child did not get himself into a situation where your name and face would be plastered all over the internet, the world shaming your parenting skills, calling for your death, saying you were negligent because you were kissing one kid while another one ran. You are relieved because you don't think you're strong enough to endure that, and you suspect the voices of the trolls would unleash the voices of the demons inside you, and that together they would destroy you in moments flat.

Motherhood is realizing the first week of summer vacation is nearly over and you haven't appreciated your kids enough. It's wondering what kind of mother you are that you're already tired and exhausted from full-time parenting, that you've flopped in front of the couch and watched trashy TV during nap times and off-moments rather than reorganizing the bathroom or writing or exercising or any of the other 100 things you put on your summer to-do list. That you've walked past a sink full of dishes and toys scattered on the floor to lie down next to the dog and stare into space. Yes, you've had a rough week, and yet you don't feel ready to forgive yourself. You expect more of yourself. You find it very hard to be kind to yourself, even though this is another thing you proudly and confidently preach when you're on your feminist soap box.

Motherhood is knowing a great deal of your anxiety and guilt comes from feeling like you don't deserve the kids you have. Their sweetness, their innocence, their humor and wit and affection. They are the most wonderful human beings you've ever met, and you worry that having you as a mother will tarnish their majesty, will mess up what could have been extraordinary, happy lives.

Motherhood is putting this all out here because it helps you cope, but also to reach any other parent who might feel this way today. To show them they're not alone. To add a layer of reality and gravity to the curated pictures of parental joy and silliness that fill your social media feed. To share, to share emotions and experiences, because you're sure as hell not going to share this Lara bar.