Friday, December 23, 2016

Anxiety Monologues

You see a cute family on the subway. I see a woman whose internal monologue sounds something like this: "Is that guy looking at my kids funny? What if Stella doesn't get off in time and the doors shut? Did somebody leave a backpack behind? I'm seeing something, SHOULD I SAY SOMETHING??? What if the museum is closed today? I should have checked. Did I pack extra pants for Sam? What if he has an accident? I can't believe we traveled so soon after his cold. What if he gets a massive sinus infection? OR WORSE? WHAT IF HE GETS SOMETHING WORSE? What if the train gets stuck? What if..."


I am in the middle of the sidewalk. Hands covering my ears. Kneeling, nearly in the fetal position. Screaming and rocking back and forth. "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!"

Except not really. What everybody else sees is a haggard mom, irritably nudging her daughter along the street, gruffly telling her husband to stop pushing the stroller so damned fast. I seem somewhat normal, somewhat together, but inside my head, I am losing it.

A lot of people don't really believe me when I say I have anxiety. "Sure, don't we all?" they reply, smiling knowingly. Or, "You seem to be doing alright."

Yes, I know I seem that way, but do you realize how much effort that deception takes?

We just got back from a trip to the New York City metro area to visit my in-laws and spend some time in Manhattan. All the work I've done in therapy trying to cope with my triggers was put to the test, as I was triggered about 4,000 times per day.

A 3 hour delay to Newark with a 3 year old and and an 8 year old on the spectrum. Lots of arguing over the iPad. Lots of child-free folks looking warily at Sam as he repeatedly lost his cool and slipped from our grasp. Sam looking at me seriously for a moment, saying, "Mama, the plane will crash and there will be lots of fire!" All while waiting for a plane that was having technical difficulties to be repaired.

The car rental place took over an hour to get us our car. We were late for dinner with my in-laws, and I HATE to be late. The only car seat they had for Sam (because I couldn't stand the idea of travelling another time with his clunker of a car seat) was decrepit and had a broken strap, meaning we had to secure it with the seat belt. That would have been OK, except Sam kept messing with the seat belt, causing it to come loose, causing me to envision a car wreck that would have sent him flying.

The hotel didn't have a pack and play for Sam. They only had an infant crib, which is way too small for Sam. The room couldn't fit a rollaway in addition to the two queen beds. Stella began to howl when we suggested that she share a bed with someone, because her autism spectrum disorder was already challenged in 101 ways by all the travel and changes to her routine. So Dave and I shared a little bed with our 3 year old, who sleeps like a dolphin trying to free itself from a trap, and was only interested in my side of the bed. Have I ever mentioned how crucial sleep is for my mental health? Well, it is. It really, really is.

Speaking of Sam, he's going through some sort of developmental phase that makes him want to crawl back inside my womb. Instead, he settles for being on my body 99% of the day. Eating meals on my lap, climbing on me like a jungle gym, squeezing my butt cheeks or pinching my thighs. He's rough and doesn't know his own strength, meaning I get physically hurt at least 25 times a day. We give him time outs and rewards for gentle behavior, but it doesn't seem to help.

New York City itself is one massive trigger for me, which is part of the reason we chose to move. Pushing a stroller down crowded sidewalks filled with people who automatically hate children puts me on edge. A constant barrage of loud noises. An insanely long wait for every single thing you try to do (eating, getting into a museum, going to the bathroom, checking out with your purchases). Kids who tire of walking after the first 5 miles. And dinner in a restaurant with no kids' menu and about 4 inches of space between the back of your chair and the next table, with waiters who won't split the check 5 different ways and who really want your kid to stop trying to be Ringo Starr with his chopsticks.

Trying to carry on a conversation with family you barely ever get to see while your threenager climbs under the table and sticks his hand up your shirt and tries to sling your hot food around the table. The embarrassment that comes when your mother-in-law, who's paying the bill, thinks she was accidentally charged for two glasses of chianti and you must explain that, no, the second glass kept you from losing your you-know-what in front of your in-laws who've rarely had to witness your dark side.

We got home Wednesday, after another series of delays. Sam wouldn't stop climbing on me and getting in my face, Stella wouldn't stop suddenly needing me to get something for her the moment I sat down. Our dog - who'd been well-taken-care-of in our absence, needed to live on top of me, and our cat wanted to make sure I knew how personally offended he was by our absence. And Dave, though trying to help in any way possible, couldn't seem to do what I wanted him to do, probably because I had no clue what I wanted him to do.

I shut down. I stopped responding to anyone. Sam became upset, Stella became a little freaked out. Dave, who's had a more intimate view of my anxiety that anyone one this planet, became wary.

"I love you guys, I really do, but I have to take a break," I declared. I felt myself march upstairs, draw a bath with the Lush bath products my friend Alex had gifted me, and put myself to bed at 8pm.

And, according to my therapist, that was exactly what I was supposed to do. What I really wanted to do was scream and break things and run out on the street and tell everyone how freaking impossible the past few days had been. I wanted to smack Sam's little hands when they got in my face and yell a swear word at Stella when she asked for a glass of water that she can get herself or scream bloody murder when Dave sat looking at his phone while our children swirled around me, acting as if he didn't exist.

I fought that urge. I checked out and took care of myself. And I feel almost normal now.

Still, as happy as I am that I've always functioned quite well in the world despite my anxiety, sometimes I wish I had the courage to let people see it. Maybe, if it could seep out slowly, I wouldn't have these massive build ups that mainly my poor family must endure. If I could admit to the general public that I need to go to the bathroom for 15 minutes to get away from the noise or to let myself cry when I find myself in a space so crowded I can barely move, maybe I could feel better.

Instead, I smile and make jokes, or get somewhat irritable, then save the worst stuff for the safety of my home.

But I'm making progress. Slowly, yet surely. And for that, I am truly grateful.

"Those people are really annoyed with us for taking up so much space while taking a picture. I hope nobody snags Sam in his stroller while Dave is taking the picture. Is this magical for the kids? I HOPE THIS IS MAGICAL FOR MY KIDS, DAMN IT! Why is that guy looking at us funny? THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE I CAN BARELY BREATHE. What time is dinner? What if the people who said they're coming bail on us? What if nobody likes us? What if..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trick or Treating at the Trump House



My neighborhood takes trick or treating very seriously. Some neighbors give out full candy bars. Tons of adults (including yours truly) dress up in costumes right alongside our kids. One house gets fully decked out in a theme every year. This year it was The Wizard of Oz - with all the characters and beautifully detailed decorations, and even a white screen with the film playing on it. One woman dresses as a gorgeous witch each year and serves "witch's brew" (aka hot apple cider) in cups to all who visit, warning them to watch out for errant eyeballs.

And many, many of the homes around here had Hillary signs out front. In fact, seeing a Trump sign in our neighborhood was so rare that my daughter even joked that the one we pass each day had the spookiest decoration of all.

On Halloween night, my kids and I reveled in the warm weather. We strolled from home to home, prompting my three year old to say "trick or treat" before greedily gathering his candy. I felt, once again, so lucky to live in this magical place.

And then we approached "The Trump House," as we'd started calling it. I noticed the residents - our neighbors - had moved their sign from where it once stood to right next to the house, out of the way. I also noticed that many, many trick or treaters started to go up, saw the sign, and then just kept walking.

But then, worst of all, I noticed my neighbors' faces. This elderly couple, sitting on their chairs, looked sad. Really sad.

I prayed that Stella wouldn't see their sign. But if she did, I was prepared with a speech. "Honey, in America, we have the right to disagree on politics. We may not agree with them as to who should be our next president, but we can still celebrate Halloween with them."

But Stella didn't notice. She happily skipped up - with Sam right behind her - and sang, "Trick or treat!" They smiled and gave her candy. And we moved inches closer to my kids' yearly late-night candy binge.

My family and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things when I was growing up, but I was raised to care about people. About people who look and act like me - and about people who don't. I was raised to love with an open heart, fully accepting that that will bring pain, and will often not be reciprocated. It was these lessons that I learned at home and at church that resonated with me - people matter. All people. Judging others is stupid, because you've got your own issues, lady. Just love people. Help people. Support people. And don't expect anything in return.

I don't know how many people know this, but when Dave and I made the decision to move to Kentucky from New York, it was partly so I could teach at a rural school. I told Dave that I wanted to teach kids who grew up in similar situations to mine. I wanted to be the spark that would ignite their passions, like the many incredible teachers I had who helped me become who I am today.

And I got a job in an area right outside of Louisville that seemed perfect. While not quite as rural as my home town, it was very economically depressed and was culturally VERY southern. The student population was nearly 100% white and Christian. My kids had rough home lives, suffering homelessness, unemployed parents, malnutrition, family members with drug-addiction, and many, many other atrocities. These kids looked like me, and they gave me flashbacks to my own youth and the issues my friends and I faced way down in Hardin County.

I loved them. They were funny and sweet. They liked my lessons, and while sometimes it could be hard to motivate them to work (a common issue when working with kids who are dealing with trauma and have their minds on issues bigger than school), once they caught on to my lessons, they often wow'ed me with their work.

But certain things happened that challenged me. Right after the Colorado movie theater shooting, a boy wore a shirt to school with an AR-19 on it surrounded by blood spots. After the Newtown massacre, a boy yelled out that Sandy Hook was a hoax to try to take away everyone's guns. When one group of kids found out (not by me) that I was Jewish (I converted), they started drawing swastikas on the desktops and drew nasty caricatures of the "Short, Fat Jew." Obama was called a terrorist. A kid wasn't allowed to study Greek mythology because it "conflicted with her religion."

I took deep breaths. I explained how a blood-stained shirt went against our dress code. I lovingly asked for factual evidence to support claims that Newtown was a hoax. I worked with the school to have someone from the board talk to the kids about harassment, and accepted their apologies for their anti-Semitism.  I explained that Islam is an ancient and beautiful religion that President Barack Obama doesn't follow. I allowed the Greek mythology girl to do alternate assignments.

And I loved them. They were complex creatures, as wonderful as they were trying. One year, a boy wished me happy Hanukkah on the first day - a perplexing date that he had to have researched on his own. One kid performed a slam poetry about how gay people should have the right to marry (before they actually did). Many kids were shocked and outraged to find that marrying someone outside of your race used to be illegal.

But still, that pervasive ideology prevailed. Beware of education. Don't listen to the media - they're too liberal and they lie. Yet believe everything some radical conservative talk show host says. Be scared of those who are different - they are threatening your way of life.

I had to leave. It was so hard to see kids start to become independent thinkers, start to open up to a new world that's more diverse and less fearful than their parents' world, only to spend a weekend or vacation at home and come back more xenophobic than before.

I love where I work now. It is truly the most diverse school I've ever seen. And I don't experience the same frustration of watching a culture constantly tear away all the work I do.

Don't get me wrong - I love my culture. I love quilts and sweet tea and chocolate pie and porch swings and hospitality and (arguably) the best storytelling in the country. And while xenophobia was there when I was a kid, too, I guess that other lesson - the one of loving the holy hell out of people - always just, pardoned the term, trumped all that for me. I fear that it doesn't work that way for everyone.

Wednesday, the day after this historic election, one of my Hispanic students came up to me and said, "Well, Ms. Skaggs, are you happy or sad about the outcome?" His face was crestfallen, and became even more so when I told him I couldn't tell him. One of my Muslim students, usually the class clown, was ashen and quiet. One boy told me it was nice knowing me, but now he was going to have to move to Canada. And when the Pledge of Allegiance came on, half of my home room remained seated.

I love them. I love every one of them. The ones who look like me, the ones who don't. The ones who worship like me (if there are any), and the ones who don't. The ones who speak the same language I do at home, and the ones who don't. That's how I was raised.

And I love the Trump people, too. Even if they don't love me back. Even if they elected a man who incites hatred and fear. A man who's used terms that make me and my friends feel degraded. A man who's inspired such hate from some people that I and many of my friends fear for our own safety and the safety of our children. Because I was also raised to know that loving people can be complicated and hurtful, and often not reciprocated.

A few days after Halloween, I told Stella that she'd trick or treated at the Trump house.

"I know, Mommy. I saw their sign."

"Oh, I didn't know that. I thought you might be afraid to go up."

"Of course not. They're just people. We don't have to agree on things."

"That's right, Stella. That's so right."

"And besides, I wanted more candy."

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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Toast to My Nephew



I saw you today.

Not the 18 year-old strapping young man who’s preparing to go to college. No. I saw the toddler Daniel, running around the house in his diaper shrieking at the top of his lungs.

To be fair, I was looking at my 2 year-old son, Sam. He looks so much like you at that age, Daniel. He acts so much like you. It’s weird to travel back in time 16 years on a daily basis.



You are my nephew, but you always felt like a little more than that. I was only 21 when you came into the world. I remember that trip home from college. Sleeping until noon in my childhood bed, waking to find Mom sitting next to me. Staring into space.

“Nora’s pregnant.”

I was shocked, unable to breathe, and yet it made so much sense. Nora had been acting secretive, moody. I mean, more so than usual (yuk yuk).

Before the thought could even register, I ran to Nora’s room where I found her sitting on her bed, teary-eyed. I pulled her into a big hug and told her I loved her. And I did. Possibly more so than I ever had.

But I was terrified. My baby sister would never be a baby again. At 15, she would face things that I was nowhere near ready to even think about for myself.

I know you know how hard it was for her. The harsh words she endured from our father, the judgmental glares from the folks in our tiny town, the hurtful words from her classmates. She had well-meaning family members begging her to give her baby up for adoption, and when she wouldn’t listen to them, they begged me to try to help her see reason.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell Nora what to do when I’d never ever been in her shoes. She wanted you. She wanted you and loved you fiercely. And her love transferred to me. I found myself so excited to meet you that I could barely think straight.

You came early, as you know. Induced into this world to save your mother from deadly preeclampsia. I wanted to be there when you were born. I was staying at a friend’s house, and they assured me the induction would take a long time and they’d call me when things got going. But you jumped into this world faster than anyone had planned.



You were so tiny. I was scared to death of hurting you, scared to death of the overwhelming love that flooded me. A little jealous that you were Nora’s and not mine.

I was home that summer when you were brand new. Some nights, when you cried, I’d sneak into Nora’s room and pick you up. Those moments when I could soothe you, or feed you, or rock you to sleep, I felt so important. So needed.

I babysat one night. Just you and me while everyone else went out. Everything was fine until you started to scream. Scream and scream and scream. I changed your diaper, I tried to feed you, I rocked you and sang to you and walked the floor with you. Nothing worked. I was sure I’d hurt you, sure I’d messed up. I cried my eyes out, praying Nora would get home soon. When she did, and I handed you to her, you finally stopped crying. That was the night I realized how tough it was to be a mother, the constant work, of course, but also the bottomless worry and self-doubt. That night may have something to do with why I waited another eleven years before I decided to have one of my own. (And I give a massive amount of credit to my baby sister who learned how to be a mom with you, and what a wonderful mother that woman is!)

As you grew, we became buddies. I felt tremendous guilt because I moved to New York when you were just a year old. My heart was so heavy, knowing that I would miss so many important moments of your life. And every time I came home for a visit, it was you I wanted to see first.

And you never forgot me. You’d squeal and run into my arms. And when it was time for me to depart, you’d get so sad I thought I’d die. My heart was ripped out more times in those twelve years than I care to remember.

I can’t calculate the number of hours we played trains together. I was Percy or James or Gordon, but never Thomas. You were always Thomas, getting dirty and needing a wash or overcoming obstacles or just chugging away, happily.

Every year at Christmas, I took the subway to FAO Schwartz where they had a massive collection of Thomas toys. I’d stand there, overwhelmed, until I finally called Nora and made her tell me what to buy. I wanted to bring you there with me, to see you face at the splendor of that amazing store. So, instead, I spent way more money than I had on things I hoped you’d like.

I was so humbled by your love. You LOVED me. Loved me in a way where I could feel it – down to my toenails. The fierce hugs, the sitting on my lap, the requests for books, the “again” when I did that trick where I held your hands and you walked up my legs until you flipped over. Your grand proclamations of “Aunt Randi, I love you!” when I agreed to walk you down to the playground and push you so high on the swings I feared my sister would kill me.

But I worried about you. I worried about what would happen to you. You were a picky eater, wanting little else than Hungry Man frozen meals and juice. Would you grow up to be healthy and strong? Your home life wasn’t ideal, splitting time between two grandparents’ houses, your parents teenagers in a tumultuous relationship. Would you grow up to be emotionally stable? The first school you attended wasn’t a great fit and you struggled to adapt. Would you ever go to college?

Here you are, ready to graduate high school – with grades so good that you got a huge scholarship to a great college. You play lacrosse and you’ve excelled in the band and you’re an independent thinker who loves to argue his viewpoints. You’re tall and healthy and kind and funny. You have a huge heart and you care so much about making this world a better place that I just can’t wait to see what you’re going to do to achieve that. My fears were so silly, so unfounded – and not a single one came true.



And now you’re the cousin that my own kids love so fiercely it’s crazy. They light up when they get to see you, they wear you out by making you chase them or pick them up or push them on the swings. And it’s like I’m watching a replay of me and you when you when you pick up my son and tickle him until he laughs hysterically.








I’m so proud of you Daniel. So proud of all you’ve accomplished, of all your hard work, of your integrity and humanity and intelligence. I have no doubt at all that you will accomplish great things in your future, and that our world will be a better place because you’re here.

But know that, as you walk across the stage to get your diploma, I will be the crazy, sobbing aunt, remember a skinny little boy in a Buzz Lightyear costume – dingy and dirty from months of continuous wear – sitting in my lap, asking me to read the picture book about poop that you couldn’t get enough of.


Congratulations, Daniel. I’m so proud of you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Glorifying the Invisible Mother

"I never know what to say when people ask me what my hobbies are. I mean, I'm a mom. I enjoy trips to the bathroom alone and silence."

You've probably seen this meme floating around the internet, especially if you're a mother. And it's funny. When you're a mom, especially when your children are small, hobbies seem like the greatest of luxuries. Reading a book? When? While rocking a screaming baby? Traveling? Not when I have to pack diapers and schlep a car seat from continent to continent. Dancing? Ha! Hilarious! I'd have to pay a sitter, and by the time the club opened, I'd be ready to go to bed.

Yep, I've been there. In the trenches, unable to do much other than take care of my kids, go to work, and barely keep myself fed and clothed.

But I never forgot who I was while I was there. The sleepless nights, the unwashed hair, the tears, the hours of taking care of another human being and wondering when I would have time for myself - through it all, Randi was there. Randi, who loves to sit and read for so long she forgets where she is. Randi, who feels most alive on a stage, telling a story to hundreds (or maybe someday thousands) of people. Randi, who's traveled the world, and hopes to get back there again some day. Randi, who - at age 40 - can still shake her groove thing and does, any chance she gets. Randi, who uses writing as therapy. Randi, who feels exhilarated by participating in protests and rallies supporting causes she believes in, and boy, are there lots of causes she believes in.

I got frustrated by how little time I could devote to my passions. I longed for those activities, and when I couldn't do them, fantasized about them regularly. And I knew that one day, my kids would be older and they wouldn't need me as often, and I could begin to pursue the things that make me me again.

Memes like that are meant to be funny - to help us laugh at the 24/7 job that is parenthood. I get that. But let me ask you this - do you see similar memes for fathers?

Would we expect to laugh at how a man loses himself after having a kid? Would we encourage a man to carve out time for himself, maybe "slip into a bubble bath" or "sip wine while reading an Us Weekly?" The idea seems ludicrous. Why?

Because even now, in 2016, we expect women to lose themselves in their job of motherhood, while men are expected to balance their own lives with their new responsibilities.

You know it's true. And we glorify this process. You are a wonderful mom if you haven't showered in 4 days. You're an excellent mother if you forgot to feed yourself lunch while getting food for your offspring. Good for you! You haven't slept more than 3 hours in a row for 2 years! Yes! You're wearing yoga pants with holes in the crotch while your own kids looks smashing.

This is not a judgment of mothers who do any of the above, mind you. In fact, I pulled that list out of my own past behaviors. But I don't think letting go of my self-care made me a better mother. In fact, it was just the opposite.

I found myself resenting motherhood when I pushed Randi to the bottom of the list, constantly adding responsibilities to the top. I felt depressed, unloved, unappreciated. I felt like my entire worth lie in what I could do for others, not in who I was. And that did not make me a better mother.

So, sometimes, when my work day is over, rather than rushing home to see my kids, I hang out an extra 30 minutes at my computer and tap out a blog entry. On the weekends, during Sam's nap, I sometimes neglect the dirty dishes to read a few chapters of my book. We hired a sitter just last week so I could attend a rally protesting a proposed pay freeze for teachers in my area. I'm still looking for a good place to go dancing, and when I find it, I will go and dance until my feet ache.

I know I'm lucky. I'm married to a great guy who gets that parenting is a partnership, who understands that being the gender he is does not entitle him to more time off from parenting than me. I have family who lives close by, and we have enough expendable income (not much, but enough) to hire our wonderful, reliable babysitter when we need her. Being a single parent or coparenting with a less supportive partner would make it harder to make yourself a priority. So I'm grateful that I'm able to take care of myself.

But I've gotten criticized for it. When a former coworker found out that I perform in story slams, she asked me, "How do you have the time for that? With teaching and storytelling, do you EVER see your kids?"

I was so hurt. Of course I see my kids. I see them when I get home every day from work. We play together and read together and eat dinner together. Almost every single night. Our yard doesn't look that great, and our house can be a bit messy, but damn it! I see my kids.

Dave plays in a band. He's played in one band or another ever since I met him 15 years ago. He works and has kids. And, as far as I know, nobody's ever asked him if he has time for his kids. Not once.

So, yes, there may be slightly less quantity in the time my kids get from me. But the quality is multiplied by infinity. I'm more energetic, happier, more engaged. And both my kids - the boy and the girl - are witnessing a woman who takes care of herself, who loves herself and places a priority on her own needs. My hope is that seeing me do that will help them both understand women's worth, and will shape how they act in their future relationships.

I know memes like the one I mentioned are meant to make us laugh. But I think it would be funnier if it said something like this:

"I never know what to say when people ask me what my hobbies are. I mean, I'm a parent. My hobbies were playing tennis and singing karaoke, and maybe when I crawl out of this pile of dirty diapers, I'll get back to them."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

My Old Kentucky Home, Far Away




My friends were crazy. This benedictine looks delicious!



I’m pretty sure it was the Benedictine that did it. Sent me straight into that downward spiral.
It was my third year in New York. I’d fled Kentucky right out of college, running from a crazy family and a crazy breakup and the crazy idea that my life would be filled with mediocrity if I stayed here. 

I’d finally formed a ragamuffin group of friends from various theaters and the internet startup where I had my day job, so I decided to share the experience of watching the Derby. I thought it would be a good idea to bring them all together. In the 400 square foot apartment I shared with a horrible roommate.

Although these friends were worlds apart, they all shared one thing: an adoration of my “making-fun-of-Kentucky” schtick. New Yorkers suffer from a major superiority complex and they love nothing more than hearing about how insufferable a home-state could be, and how much better life is in New York.

And since I was starving for camaraderie, I played right into this, reinforcing every negative stereotype Kentucky has to offer: inferior intelligence, ridiculous accents, a penchant for neglecting to wear shoes and shirts, global use of tobacco. My friends ate it up.

So, although I legitimately loved (and still do) the Derby, I knew my party had to be kitschy and quirky. I made mini-hot-browns, Derby Pie with bourbon-spiked whipped cream, mint simple syrup to make juleps, and Benedictine with extra green food die, for good luck. 

Immediately, we were crowded in like sardines. I hoped this would work to my advantage, that one of the guys I had crushes on might accidentally make out with me, but it just made everyone uncomfortable. 

So, it was time to get them all drunk. I made mint juleps and passed them around. Now, this was a hard-drinking group of people, but they universally choked and sputtered on my juleps. I grew up Southern Baptist – no drinking allowed – except for that bottle of Maker’s Mark my mom kept in the cupboard. 

Somehow, that was different, that was BOURBON, and I’d grown up on in the bourbon balls at Christmas, starting at the age of four. So when everyone – EVERYONE – asked for seltzer to water their juleps down, I felt as offended as a French person who must serve a wine cooler. But, dammit, I wanted this to be a good party, so I watered down their drinks.

Then, the food. Nobody wanted the hot browns. Many folks were either vegetarian or kosher, and the ones that weren’t thought the bĂ©arnaise sauce looked “gross.” The Derby pie was eaten, of course, although people kept saying, “Isn’t this just a pecan pie with chocolate?”

But the Benedictine put everyone on edge. “What is THAT?” “Is it supposed to be that color?” “Do people in Kentucky really eat that?”

Despite the color, I naively thought the Benedictine would be a hit. It’s vegetarian, it’s kosher, and it’s basically a cucumber sandwich, something that was kind of hot at that moment back in 2001. Nobody touched it. Except me. I began to shove Benedictine sandwiches down my throat at an alarming rate.

I’d had maybe three mint juleps by this time – the real, non-watered-down ones, and I was getting angry drunk. There were too many jokes. Jokes about hats, jokes about the in-fielders, jokes about the D-List celebrities.

The party was buzzing, people were finally meshing and mingling, but I sat on my dirty hard-wood floor, glued to the TV. There, in that little box, was home. The gentle blue sky, the puffy clouds, the twin spires and the bare shoulders of people enjoying a REAL Spring day. New York’s April had been rainy and cold, and the buds on the trees were just starting to open. I could see that, in Kentucky, everything was in bloom. People smiled easily. They didn’t seem worried about money, they didn’t look taunted by constant noise, they appeared as if no crazy people had accosted them on the subway that day. They reminded me of how lonely I’d been, how hard it had been to make friends, how much of a desperate struggle each and every day was.

“My Old Kentucky Home” began to play and I sang at the top of my off-key lungs. My friends thought I was being ironic and laughed. Then came the call to the post, and everyone laughed at the jockeys and their “costumes.” The race began, and I watched as my chosen horse lost. And when the race was over, more than a few people said, “That was it? That’s what all the fuss is about? I thought it would be longer.”

One person told everyone else that every single horse that ran would be shot – that that’s the dirty little secret of the Derby. When I countered that that might ruin the Triple Crown, they asked me what a Triple Crown was.

People took last swigs of drinks, and after-parties started to form. I declined all invitations, saying I had a lot of cleanup ahead.

When they left, I sat in front of the TV and cried my heart out as Dan Fogelberg sang “Run for the Roses.” I realized that, despite living in New York City, my life WAS mediocre. Lonely. Struggling. Empty. I realized that my Old Kentucky Home was a part of me, maybe the good part of me, and no matter where I lived I was going to be a Kentucky Girl who liked Benedictine. Unironically.

****
The above text is from a Moth story I told a few years ago. The theme was "Derby," of course. I ended up forming an amazing group of NYC friends who loved the Derby UNIRONICALLY with me, and those parties ended up being one of the highlights of our year. When Dave, Stella, and I moved from NYC in 2010, we had friends who sincerely asked us how they were going to celebrate Derby now. 

Happy Derby Day, to all who celebrate!