Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There I Am in Younger Days, Star-Gazing

Twenty years ago, after a long day of improvising Elizabethan daily trials (alack! the Queen is coming and I've naught to wear!), wearing layers of clothes in 90 degree weather, and mooning over whatever boy I was too shy to talk to at the time...a bunch of us were hanging out on the near-empty grounds of the Renaissance Faire. I was about 15, the rest of the group was older and much more sophisticated...why, I'd put their average age at 22! My friend Colin was playing guitar, and I was pretending that I, too, was cool enough to know all the words to REM's "The End of The World As We Know It" (by the way, you're welcome for the earworm). He played some other stuff I didn't know, and then he played the Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine." And I was struck. By the end of the song, I was joining in on the chorus, and my next paycheck took me to the record store (remember those?) in the mall and I bought the album. By which, of course, I mean the cassette tape. It lived in my car that summer and I memorized every word.

In college, that tape was never far from my stereo. OK, to be fair, my dorm room was tiny enough that nothing was very far from my stereo, but still. Eventually I got other albums, and my college boyfriend, Eric, finally convinced me to move to these new-fangled CDs, which was basically his only useful contribution to my life, I see now. These albums were the soundtrack of my early 20s. One of my closest friendships from those days was my friend Mandy (she of the socks in the bed story), who was an alto, and she and I spent hours singing these songs, harmonizing as we drove or to cover our poor attempts at learning the guitar. Later, we found people who would play guitar not-poorly, and we performed at talent shows, coffee houses, and basically wherever someone would hold still. I may also have worn a lot of Doc Martens with dresses, but that's not important now.

I was thinking of all that today, as I drove windy country roads and sang at the top of my lungs. I had to go see a kid of mine who was recently pulled into foster care (the list of reasons included filthy house, meth use, living with sex offenders, and various suspicious marks on her 2-year-old body) and her new home is in another district, an hour away. I started out listening to NPR, but couldn't stomach doing what I was doing and listening to debates over whether we teachers are overpaid and "should learn to live within our means like the rest of the country" (thank you, call-in listener!). I put in the Indigo Girls' live album that I haven't played in years and all of the words and harmonies were right there where I left them. I remembered other drives on country roads in the Midwest, which boy I was crying over at the time, how cool and weird it was when my sister independently started listening to the Girls as well, and which songs would be forever tied to certain people.

I am sometimes struck that, ten years ago, I don't know if there was anyone in my life who didn't know that I sing, that didn't think of me as a singer. And now, I can probably count on two hands the number of friends who have ever heard me sing. It's not any less important to me, but it's somehow become less of my identity. When I sang at a friend's wedding, I got a lot of lovely compliments, most of which started with, "I didn't know you sang!" While I understand how this happens (I haven't performed much since moving out here, due to grad school, cancer mom, job, baby, etc.), it makes me inexplicably sad. Which is kinda weird, because it's not like my ability has changed or disappeared. In fact, since I took lessons for a while (after grad school, before baby), my technique has improved. But now it's a skill that I bring out from time to time, whereas before it was something people knew about me, sometimes before they knew my last name. It was a way that I connected with some of the most important people of my life. It was how I exorcised that hamster wheel in my brain and the little fuckers who ran on it.

And, because I am exactly that unwell, sometimes that sadness somehow keeps me from singing more now. Or rather, the fear of that sadness welling up and wrecking what was once a source of comfort and release. Because now it's also a reminder of something I'm not doing, which feels like pressure, which sucks out all the fun or relaxation that could otherwise be there (that sound you hear is MOTH shaking his head in disbelief of my labyrinthine logic). It makes me miss people with whom I once shared strong musical connections.

But today, I did it. I was able to put all that aside and just enjoy it. Just singing, harmonizing, matching the timbre of my voice to Emily's, rocking out in my little Prius bubble. It was great.

The Indigo Girls play each summer in a local concert series at the zoo. Picnic blankets, snacks, and probably disturbing the elephants--what more could you ask for? The last time I went was the week I found out I was pregnant, and we hadn't told anyone yet. I remember thinking, "If I'm actually pregnant [I was fairly disbelieving up until the first time I saw the sea monkey on the ultrasound], then this is baby's first concert." They're coming this July, and I think we'll take Tankboy. Let him hear it from the outside.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Because it Can't all Be Wise 'n' Shit

First, I'm so amazed and gratified that you're still out there. I gave serious consideration to just slinking away in shame and never coming back.

But if I did? Then I wouldn't be able to share ridiculous stereotypical mommyblogger moments with you. I do beg your pardon, and appreciate your willingness to pretend that no-one else has ever waxed rhapsodic about potty training.

So, Tankboy has shown some interest in toilet training, and we got a little plastic potty to offer as an option. He's only used it once (during an evening when we had dinner guests, who were very gracious about the fact that their hostess was getting weepy over 30 ccs of baby pee), until the last 24 hours. He tells me "baby pee" or "baby hah doh pah-ee" and then insists that "mama doh 'way" so that I will "yeave yone" (oh yes, for a future date, let's discuss Teeny Speech Therapy). He gently ushers me to the door, pausing only to ask for a pile of books. And if I peek in to check on him, there he sits, naked from the waist down, reading. "Honey? How're you doing in here?" Smile. "Duhd." "OK, then..."

But yesterday I heard the clunk of the toilet seat and went in to find him attempting to empty his little potty into the large bowl. He's only two, so this meant that most of my bathroom was dripping with pee. But that's nothing compared to...

This afternoon, when I came in to find him scaling the toilet to reach the kleenex, the better to wipe himself with. Because he had pooped. Riiiiiight next to the potty. Originally, that is. He had...traveled a bit.

Or this morning, when I opened the door to find him perched on his little seat, holding a (wrapped, thankfully) tampon and carefully considering his nethers. I stopped him, but I'm kind of wondering what his next step would have been.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Plopping and Hanging my Head

We just passed the fourth anniversary of my mother's death, and once again I wrote lengthy, detailed memoirs in my head that never made it out.

I am working late almost daily and bringing work home, trying to find some way to quite literally change the course of this one child's life, knowing that the odds are that the System is going to claim him as thoughtlessly as it has so many others. Meanwhile, my agency is facing up to 25% less funding next year, and if I'm not laid off myself, I will be doing the same work I can't get done this year, but with 25% fewer people and resources. And I can't make myself write about it, because it's a recipe that requires too much back story and too little hopefulness.

I am still running, but have lost the focus on letting go of anger and on learning to meditate and am feeling that dull, run-over lethargy and I just don't want to talk about it.

My friend had her beautiful baby girl, on Tankbaby (excuse me, Tankboy, as he recently turned two and is doing things like wearing cargo pants and shaving and calling girls)'s birthday, in the same hospital where I had Tankboy, and the visceral memories of that night and how weird but comforting it is to be the experienced mama...all plenty of writing fodder and I never even opened the Blogger window.

I'm pretty sure you guys have all given up on me anyway, because it turns out that I kind of suck at this being-part-of-the-blogosphere thing.


Today, on the way home, I was listening to NPR, and they had a brief interview with Anne Lamott about Easter. And she talked about Lent and Easter being this "dark night of the soul," when it's time to just stop the crazy head hamster wheels (um, that's my imagery, not hers), and she told a story about going shopping:

"When I was 38, my best friend, Pammy, died, and we went shopping about two weeks before she died, and she was in a wig and a wheelchair. I was buying a dress for this boyfriend I was trying to impress, and I bought a tighter, shorter dress than I was used to. And I said to her, 'Do you think this makes my hips look big?' and she said to me, so calmly, 'Annie, you don't have that kind of time.' And I think Easter has been about the resonance of that simple statement; and that when I stop, when I go into contemplation and meditation, when I breathe again and do the sacred action of plopping and hanging my head and being done with my own agenda, I hear that, 'You don't have that kind of time,' you have time only to cultivate presence and authenticity and service, praying against all odds to get your sense of humor back."
And I almost drove off the road.

"Annie, you don't have that kind of time." God. Damn. How could I not share that with you lovely people, especially those of you raising kids, especially those of you raising girl-type kids? You don't have that kind of time. You don't have time for self-doubting, self-critical bullshit. You don't have time for worrying how to impress other people. You don't have time to be less than yourself, to be not as good as you are, to hold your breath and spin your wheels.

You don't have that kind of time.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zen Schmen

So, ajm wanted to hear more about my little happy-making-ness thing I'm trying. I wrote (and wrote) about what drove me to it and I'm basically just trying what I said: I'm trying to find wisdom in other people and just fill my brain with some of these alternate thoughts in hopes of changing some really not-useful thought patterns.

Anger is one area that I'm really working on. I've never felt like this was a huge thing for me, but in the last couple of years, I'm finding myself getting frustrated more often and to an occasional object-throwing extent. It is ugly and it's not what I want to model for my son (who already does more than the occasional object-throwing, regardless of emotional state). So I'm working on letting it go. On deliberately and consciously recognizing my anger/irritation/frustration and rejecting the impulse to coddle it and feed it with righteousness until it grows toxic. It is exactly as hard and tedious as it sounds, and it makes me feel stupid and petulant at times, but it is working. I'm reading that Thich Nhat Hanh book I checked out, and while I'm not totally sold (he keeps talking about "embracing" the anger, but, halfway through, I'm still a little lost as to how to do that, if you mean "embracing" in a way other than "smothering"), I am finding a few things that stick with me. He describes anger as a house fire and points out that, in that case, you don't chase down the person you think set the fire, you take care of your house. So you don't spend energy trying to argue with or punish the person who is making you mad; instead, you take care of yourself and your own anger. I can get behind that, although part of me also says, yes, but after I put out the fire, you can be damn sure I'm going after that bastard with the matches. I guess I'm still working on enlightenment.

I'm also trying to be very kind to myself in this process and not see it as something I'm doing "right" (or, more likely, "wrong"). I'm just trying to watch for moments where I am doing something different and trying something healthier and appreciate those moments. Great googly-moogly, but I get tired of the phrase "living in the moment." Only slightly less overused is "be present." But I don't have a better way to describe what I'm trying to do, unless it's the phrase a dear friend once used, "cowboy the fuck up." I'm trying to get over myself and get some perspective. I don't know that I'm happier so far, but I think more peaceful isn't exaggerating.

Also, we bought a new oven. So that helps.

Also, also? Yesterday I put three different colored tutus on Tankbaby's head and watched him waddle around the living room, two stout legs under a black, orange, and blue cloud of tulle. It was like watching some sort of Goth cheerleader Ewok. A drunk Goth cheerleader Ewok. It's no meditation practice, but it did make me guffaw unattractively.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In Which I Pretend I Didn't Disappear for Weeks, and Hope You Buy It

Cute Kid (Not My Own) Story #1: This morning at school, this kid wanted the binoculars that another kid was using. He told me so, and I asked him, "What do you need to do?" This is a kid who has the verbal skills and the experience to ask for a turn independently, so whenever possible, we try not to solve the problem, but to provide him with some cues to solve it himself. Sure enough, A turned to B (hee...those are actually their initials, although it reads as if I was just not terribly creative with "Kid A and Kid B") and asked, "Will you share with me?" B replied firmly, "No share!" and A turned back to me with big sad eyes and a quivering chin: "He don't wanna share."

I asked him, "OK, so now what can we do?" because we teach kids that first, you ask your friend, and if the other child says no, then you can get a teacher to help you. A looked confused at first, then brightened as the idea dawned on him. The tears disappeared from his eyes as he jumped up and shouted, "We can trap him!"

Cute Kid (Not My Own) Story #2: My afternoon group is my social skills group, kids who are cognitively typical (and often quite bright) but have social-emotional/behavioral issues. We were at circle today and there was a fight over a blue cushion. And when I say "fight," I mean bellowing screams and flying fists. Possibly someone's mom was insulted.

One teacher grabbed J, who was sitting on the cushion and sobbing, and I grabbed D, who had been trying to get the cushion. We pulled them apart and spent a few moments helping them calm down (a tenet of the Positive Discipline thinking that we follow is that kids do better when they feel better; also, brain science tells us that kids can't problem-solve when upset, so our first step is always to get kids to calm down). Meanwhile, another child saw what was going on and offered D an identical blue cushion. He was instantly cheered, and happily sat down. J was still seething a bit about being attacked (go figure), so I asked him, "Did you want to tell D something?" inviting him to use his words to tell D "that made me mad" or whatever. He crossed his arms, furrowed his brow, and said firmly, "No."

So I turned to D and said, "Did you want to tell J something?" (we don't force kids to apologize, but we do give them opportunities to; sometimes they say "sorry" or they might explain "I was really mad that you wouldn't give that to me" or whatever). D solemnly said, "Yes," and crawled over to where J was sitting. "J, I want to tell you something...I want...I want...I want to tell you that...." I waited, wondering what heartfelt words he was trying to find.

"I'm gonna play T-ball this spring."

I'm sure that made J feel much better.


MOTH is always telling me that it is unnecessary (as well as possibly boring) to open with abject apologies about not writing for a while. But! I bet it's totally different if I close with those apologies, right?

Yargh. I don't even have a single good excuse. I wanted to write more about my little happy-being experiment and how it's mostly working but it is exactly as hard and tedious as you'd think it would be. I was going to tell you about how within 48 hours we lost power and then our oven died and then my car's key fob stopped working and somewhere Laura Ingalls Wilder was all, "Deal with it, bitch." I still need to tell you about how my sister and I are planning a Gradual Surprise Party (tm Aunt Benevola) for my dad when I go back to Chicago in a few weeks. I have a bunch of sad foster kid stories that I don't think I want to tell you because they are sad and frankly you guys already have that Egypt thing to think about. I wanted to copy my cousin's Facebook post about a CNN report that Bristol Palin was considering running for office that read: "HAHAHAHAHA no."

In short, I'm here, and except for the part where I suck, I'm OK. I hope you are as well, except for the sucking part.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Look! Shiny!

Um, I now feel a little bit like that weird girl at the party who you make accidental eye contact with and suddenly she's oversharing about her boyfriend's thyroid problem when all you wanted was to reach past her for the chips.

So! (claps hands briskly) Let's move along, yes? I only have a minute, as I am nearly a month overdue on completing my BFF's birthday present, which I really want to mail tomorrow, but in the interest of shaking off whatever Morrissey shadow still lingers over this blog, I present another installment of...

Things That Make Me Happy

1) Kinda cheating, but seriously? Drunk fucking Hulk, man.

2) Running. I know, ew. But it does. Not the running per se, but the fact that I am actually following through on my goal to exercise (which, by the way, I started in mid-December, so it totally counts as having fulfilled last year's resolution) is comforting to me in a way I can't describe. Plus, you know, fitness blah blah.

3) Listening to NPR podcasts (often while running--I can't do the music thing, I end up trying to run in rhythm, which only works on very specific turns out I run at exactly the pace for The Magnetic Fields' "I'm the Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side," and nothing else). I love Pop Culture Happy Hour, even though all my TV viewing is on, and I've seen exactly one movie since 2008, because they are all so smart and funny and in my mind, they'd be friends with me. I also adore Radiolab, and it distracts me suitably for plodding along.

4) I listed some friend-related sadness last time, but there are also some friend with wonderful, wonderful things that make me happy. My not-at-all-miscarrying friend from the summer, who got married in December and will have the most loved baby girl in March. Another friend who, at 40, fell in love with a guy she'd known for 15+ years. They're getting married (also in March), and she's moving to Florida to be with him. A relatively new friend invited me to her voice studio performance and it was stunning and inspiring and she was so open and vulnerable and courageous in her performance...I got chills.

5) I could make this list all about Tankbaby, because he's just so full of awesome lately. He is talking more and more (which has not been the case lo these many months) and his chirpy little voice slays me, in a very "he thinks he's a person" way. He also has taken to requesting that his head be covered by the blanket when he goes to sleep, and this seems to really help him go to sleep faster most nights (maybe he's part parakeet?), and he is Holy Mother of All That Is Good And Holy, pretty consistently sleeping through the night. Like, until 6:30 AM. Those animal sacrifices must have really paid off. And finally, he recently learned to recognize the letter "R," so it's now like we have a tiny pirate walking around our house. Win.

6) I just figured out how to make the filter motor on MOTH's aquarium stop making that annoying noise. I know that probably doesn't mean much to you, but trust me. It was really annoying.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Navel-Gazing-est, now with Drunk Hulk

I've been avoiding writing.

Because I don't want to write about Arizona. I don't want to write about feeling scared and defeated and hopeless. I don't want to write about feeling worried all the time for me, for my son, for all of us. I don't want to write about the colleague at work whose bloodwork came back high for the marker for ovarian cancer. I don't want to write about the friend whose separation is becoming a divorce full of anger and sadness. I don't want to write about the other friend whose deepening depression I missed and can't be there to help him with now. I don't want to write about another holiday season without my mom and how it still colors everything. I don't want to write about how worried I am about money all the time and how I think I'm deciding I do want another kid but that it's not a good idea. I don't want to write about the tenuousness of work lately and the way everyone walks around tentative and defensive and resigned. I don't want to write about the constant undercurrent of panic, that I've done it all wrong, that it's too late, that it will never be right again.

Yeesh. It does feel a little better to rip all those band-aids off. You know, except for the resultant oozing.

But, as much as my brain is full of all of that lately, I don't want to write about it. Because I haven't yet found a way or a point at which I can write about it and have it be productive in some way, whether that means it's cathartic to me or helpful to someone who reads it or even just a good exercise in writing. I mostly want to get a big black crayon and scrawl "LIFE SAD" a couple dozen times, like some sort of Goth Drunk Hulk. (OK, I just read the last dozen tweets there and am actually giggling out loud, despite all I just wrote. "EVERY GENERATION NEED IT OWN RICHARD GRIECO! DRUNK HULK THANK ZAC EFRON FOR STEP UP TO PLATE!" Maybe the solution is to just have this piped into my head at all times.)

So, unlike other times when I've neglected this blog, I've been sort of purposefully neglectful as of late. Not because I don't think it's OK to write about sad stuff, obviously, but because I am in a weird chicken-or-egg place where I'm not able to tease out a sad thing about which I have thoughts versus just ME SAD ALL TIME. (Hee. I have some notes about what I'm doing to try to change this, but as I write, I'm just thinking that I need a whole lot more Drunk Hulk.)

Where was I? Right. I clicked a few posts back and saw a comment from cd over at The Frangipani Journals (which, by the way, hi! You're in India! The internet is magic!) and went and saw this perfectly timed post on her blog, where she writes about answering another writer's question, "What is your word for 2011?" That writer describes the word as your "North star," and an "organizing principle" for, in her case, writing, but cd framed it as more overarching goal for the year. She chose "risk," a word I could certainly get behind, as I am about as risk-averse as they come.

But as I sat with it for several minutes, the word that I kept coming back to is...happy. I would like to be happy.

Because--and I'm going to get a little down here, but just keep that Drunk Hulk tab open in another window and you'll be OK--I haven't been happy in a long time. Like, since I was pregnant. Now, I don't mean that I've been depressed for the last two years. But I've been so (take your pick) tired, worried, overwhelmed, lost, straining, focused, and/or stressed that I can't look back and see any decent stretch of time when I was content. When I felt like, "yep, I've got this, this is enough, I'm good." I've had that in moments, but only moments.

And don't get me wrong, it's not like I haven't also been excited, giddy, and madly in love with my son. I am so grateful for a healthy family, really exceptional friends, and a job that--despite changes and uncertainties--is still there, still providing some sense of fulfillment, in addition to health insurance. And, because I'm feeling guilty because of the timeline I've laid out, let's go back again: madly in love with my son. Like, cannot get enough of him. I don't regret having a baby for a second. But it was a very hard first year, for me individually and for us as a couple and a family, and I think the second year has been about coming back from that. And having a kid changes everything (what a completely original idea! I wonder if anyone's ever noticed that before!) and puts extra pressure on any pre-existing cracks. And then there are the things that aren't at all baby-related, like the tanking economy and all of its myriad effects (at least, I don't think that's related to Tankbaby. I can't vouch for what he does while I'm at work all day).

So, I had a hard year. And a year to try to come back from it. And now I'm ready, antsy even, to make some fucking forward motion. You know, as soon as I'm done being sad and angry and fearful and stuff.

Last time I linked to the terribly wise DoctorMama, but in case you got sidetracked by her running wisdom and overlooked her life wisdom, I send you to parts one and two of how she changed her life. You really oughta go read them, but for our purposes, I'll sum up: she writes about taking control of your own outlook and of letting go of anger (and its root, fear) and being...happy. Content. Peaceful with herself. (She also continues to be whip-smart and rapier-witted, which reassures me.)

I apologize. I stopped to re-read (again) those posts to organize my thoughts some more, but it's late and I'm afraid I'm going to crash to a rather inelegant end. What I want to make sure I put down, what I commit to in this vaguely public forum, is my current game plan. I have a therapist I see on an as-needed basis, and have been seeing her again. I have taken meds in the past, and am not averse to taking them again. But I also feel like, at some point, I gotta find something a little more internal that I can change. And I need to do it in a way where someone can gently kick my butt if needed or even just ask a curious question that makes me kick my own butt. Consider that an invitation, y'all.

So. I have started running, using the Couch to 5K program, with a healthy dose of DoctorMama wisdom. I have never been a runner before, and I hesitate to call myself one now, only 5 weeks in (although yesterday I ran 20 minutes in a row, which I'm not going to pretend isn't a triumph), but I've been trying to get regular exercise back in my life. In terms of flexibility and efficiency, this is working for me right now. I don't see any racing in my future, mainly because crippled tortoises are still faster than I am, but I know that it's good for me, both in terms of aerobic fitness and in terms of doing something just for myself.

I have bookmarked all of these bits of wisdom I've been talking about, and I'm going to pull key passages and print 'em all out and read them. Every day. I keep thinking about adding some sort of regular prayer/meditation in my life, and until I figure out how to do it properly, I figure it can't hurt just to take 5 minutes to read something that makes me say YES.

Thich Nhat Hanh's name has crossed my path twice today, which I took as a sign. I've requested his book on anger from the library. I also requested a Henry Rollins CD (to listen to while running), and am hoping that the two don't create some sort of matter/anti-matter explosion on the hold shelf.

And I'm going to keep sitting with that idea of happy. For me, that isn't gleefulness or cheerfulness, because I've had those. I'm looking more for contentment. For peace. Hell, mostly for just the absence of the whole fear/angerball thing. I want to be a better person, for me, for my family.

Well, and for you all, because then I won't write big old depressing blog posts anymore. Wish me luck.