Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Love wins.

Last week at the park, something happened.

I was sitting outside on the grass with a few friends and a couple of their daughters (the rest of our kids were inside the community center at Chess Club) when we noticed a young woman pulling things out of the trunk of her car and throwing them on the ground.

"Oooh," said one of my friends. "Someone just got dumped."

My back was to the parking lot but I turned around for a quick peek. Sure enough. There must have been six pairs of sneakers. A whole pile of clothes. Probably a toothbrush. It looked exactly like that scene in all the movies. Get out of my life and take your stupid stuff with you!

I kept my back to the car and waited for the play-by-play thinking, "Dang. He must have really messed up if she's gonna leave his stuff at the park..."

Suddenly a guy came from the basketball court and started walking toward the car.

"Do you think that's the guy?"

"It looks like..."

One of my friends had already stood up. I sat, back to the parking lot, watching everyone watch what was about to unfold. I didn't take my eyes off my friend's daughter (she's 13). Her eyes were as big as saucers, unblinking, narrating everything she saw.

"The girl is getting in her car. I think he's - he's opening the door! What is she- He just hit her!"

At that I turned around and saw, from inside the car, fists flying. Before I could even register what was happening, two of my friends had walked up to the car to help the girl. One was on the phone with 911 giving physical descriptions of the guy and the car and the license plate number. Another friend had also called the police and was now directing them to the park.

My first (and only) reaction? Putting my arms around my friend's daughter and holding her as she cried.

"It's awful," I said, rocking her softly. "So awful..." It was the first time either of us had seen something like this. Shocking is an understatement.

When she settled down and we took a deep breath and looked around, the car and the couple were gone (apparently the girl had driven away with the guy). Moments later, the police arrived. As everyone continued taking care of business, filling out police reports, checking in on Chess Club, telling the director of the community center what had happened, confronting the guy who was picking his friend's stuff up in the parking lot, I hung out with the kids and we tried to make sense of what had just happened.

"Why would she go with him? Do you think this has happened before?"

"I don't know. Maybe?"

"It will probably just keep happening..."

"Well," I said. "Maybe today was different. I think if I was that girl and I looked up and saw two strong women I didn't even know holding out their hands to help me, and several other people concerned about me and wanting to help, it might make me think a little differently about myself. Maybe she didn't know she deserved better before. Maybe no one ever made her feel like she did. But this? This would have changed that for me. Like if someone who didn't even know me could care about me that much, maybe I could too."

"Maybe."

"I hope so..."

A couple days later, I was in the waiting room at my doctor's office (strep throat...) and read an article in Native Magazine that bolstered my hope. It was about the amazing work Thistle Farms is doing to turn life around for women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction.

Their bottom line? Love wins.

The takeaway for me was the same one I had in the park just days before. If no one has ever shown you how precious and valuable you are, how would you know? And if that's all it takes? Wow. That's pretty incredible.

Because it's something ALL of us can do.

Although, that's not to say it's easy. As the one who chooses "freeze" every time a fight or flight situation occurs, I'm the first to say reaching out a hand is much easier said than done. But love wins in different ways, right? Maybe I'm just more cut out for the hugging and trying to make sense of things. Maybe that's something too.

Maybe?

I hope so.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter weekend

Since we don't go to church and have no family in town, our Easter is not very traditional. It's fun, don't get me wrong, just sort of unpredictable.





If you had asked me a week ago what we were doing for Easter, I would have had no idea. But by Thursday or Friday, plans were starting to take shape. A crawfish boil, an Easter egg hunt with friends, dying eggs at home and, of course, our annual backyard photo shoot with the little stuffed bunny we've had since Liam's first Easter.

This is not the boys' favorite tradition in the world but the show must go on. It wouldn't be a tradition if we stopped doing it! At first I really wasn't sure if I'd be able to talk them into it or not so I took advantage of an early morning wrestle mania sesh on my bed and just sort of tossed the bunny into the frame. I figured, if nothing else, at least the tradition could continue.


But fortunately, a bit later in the day, they decided a few photos in the backyard would be worth a little Easter candy. Which is probably exactly how we've kept up with this tradition all these years. Bribery.




Whatever works, right?





Like pizza for Easter dinner. Playing in the parked van most of the afternoon. And painting on the front porch. It may not seem very Eastery but for us, this year, it felt just right.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Asbestos Awareness Week.

Last week I watched Killing Cancer, a Vice documentary about some of the extraordinary new treatments showing promise in the fight against cancer. It was incredible to see what some of the amazing scientific minds in this world are capable of coming up with and the whole story was very optimistic and uplifting.

Bill walked in on me watching it and had to look away. "I don't know how you can watch stuff like this," he said. "It's so depressing."

"Babe, it's cancer. Not Alzheimer's. Cancer is something that happens to other people. It's not even on my radar..."

The universe must have heard how stupid I sounded because within days it was all up in my face. And once I took off my deeply tinted rose colored glasses, I realized cancer is, indeed, all around me.

At the park a couple days later one of my homeschool mom friends shared the story of her very recent battle (and victory!) against breast cancer. At happy hour with a few ladies the next night I sat with the woman who owns the children's book store in our neighborhood (she was the first person ever to carry my books) and discovered she was going through cancer treatment for the second time this year (first a tumor on her back, now one in her lung).

Once the blinders came off I remembered so many other stories. The hilarious lady I know whose breast cancer came back after a couple years of remission and is currently in the thick of chemotherapy. The two good friends who lost their moms to cancer last year (one had battled breast cancer for YEARS; one had more recently been diagnosed with lung cancer). My aunt who overcame Lymphoma after spending so much of my childhood sick and fighting. My other aunt who kicked breast cancer to the curb with with such style and grace I couldn't help but wonder if it was really all that bad.

In this midst of all this, I received an email from a Mesothelioma survivor who asked if I would help share her story for Asbestos Awareness Week.

Yes. Yes I would.


Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with Mesothelioma when her daughter Lily was just three months old. Imagine being a first time mother, smack in the middle of the fourth trimester, and having a bomb like that dropped in your lap.

Cancer.

Mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure.

15 months to live.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure that occurs in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Every year, 3,000 people are diagnosed with this aggressive disease. Of those, only a small percentage will live to celebrate 5 years of survival. Most will lose the fight within a year.

Heather never worked with asbestos but was exposed to enough of it as a child to become ill decades later. Her father worked in construction and she loved to wear his dusty work coat when she played outside. It was only after her diagnosis that she realized the dust she spent so much time playing in was actually asbestos.


At the age of 36 she was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma and decided to undergo a drastic surgical procedure to remove the affected lung, the lining of her chest (pleura), portions of the covering of her heart (pericardium), and her diaphragm. The surgery was a success and nine years later she is a beacon of hope for those diagnosed with Mesothelioma and a wonderfully positive force of good.



Thank you for sharing your story with us, Heather, and for reminding me that there's nothing wrong with rose colored glasses as long as they're paired with a healthy dose of awareness. Cancer is here, there and everywhere. But so often it doesn't have to be. At least a third of diagnosed cases are fully preventable. FULLY PREVENTABLE! That's why awareness is so important. If you know the risks - exposure to asbestos and other known carcinogens, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and lifestyle - you can significantly decrease your chance of getting cancer.


Please take a moment to share Heather's story and inform yourself on the potential risk factors in your life. From awareness grows hope.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kid-free weekend: totally worth the trouble.

This weekend, Bill and I spent two whole kid-free days and nights at a cabin overlooking the Ohio River. It was so peaceful and refreshing and fun. Funny to think it almost didn't happen...



My sister had offered to watch the boys in exchange for us watching her son so we knew we had some kid-free time coming up. The trouble was, we weren't sure what to do with it.

We sat down several times to make a plan. Just to cross it off the to-do list, you know? But it was way too hard to figure out.

"What do you want to do?"

"Ummmm. I'm not sure. You?"

"We could take the boys to Louisville and then just come home for the weekend?" Bill suggested.

"But I'm always home," I complained. "What about a hotel?"

"I'm sick of hotels."

"Hmm."

"I have lots of miles. Do you want to fly somewhere?"

"But where?"

It was pretty pathetic. Even when we pretended there were no obstacles - not money or time or anything! - we still couldn't figure out what to do. Things either sounded so fun we wanted the boys to come too or not exciting enough to seem worthwhile.

We were this close to just staying with the kids at my sister's house (not a bad back up plan) but at the last minute I found a cabin about an hour outside Louisville that had a hot tub (our only search criteria) and was available for the dates we needed. Even though we wondered if it would be scary being all alone in the woods, we manned up and booked the cabin.

I am so glad we did.

We basically spent the whole time in the hot tub watching birds, waving at barges (which is hilarious because they're super slow), listening to the trees and the wind chime, talking, not talking and catching snowflakes. We played cards. We listened to music loud. We did whatever we wanted loud. It was like a different world.

The cabin had a whole stack of guest books people had written in over the years. It gave us such reverence for the space and made us even more appreciative of our little home away from home. I loved reading all the stories of what brought people to the cabin - birthdays, family reunions, a 60th anniversary, a romantic getaway before another deployment to Iraq, a girls' trip that sounded full of adventure, drawings, poetry, you name it.



There were people of all ages and all walks of life represented in those little books. But there was definitely a common thread. Everyone talked about how great it was to step away from everyday life to connect with the ones they love. To spend quality time just being together. I couldn't agree more.

Even though I wasn't aware that we needed quality time to connect (don't we do that every night?!), there was something special about being so intentional. Taking the time, making an effort, spending some money - it turned our weekend into an experience. One I'm grateful to have had with the one I love.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You can't care for yourself if you don't know what you need.

A few weeks ago, Bill and I had a pretty intense conversation. In it I detailed all the things I needed in order to be happy. Time alone to pursue my creativity. Support from him. A slice of life outside our home.

I also conceded that I might already have those things. Because, as he was quick to point out and I was unable to deny, I DO. I've been fighting the same fight for so long I had neglected to realize that somewhere along the way I won.

I already have the life I want.

And yet. Why was there still so much to fight about?

Part of this, I believe, is simple brain chemistry. At the time of this conversation it had been about a year since I weaned off antidepressants. It was one of the hardest years I can remember. Partly because whatever issues I had been suppressing with Zoloft had resurfaced and needed to be dealt with. Fair enough. But so much of it felt completely unfounded. Like I was digging deep for problems to fix and when I came up empty handed, I had to find something (or someone) else to blame.

Hence fighting about things that were no longer issues. (And getting disproportionately angry and crying all the time and being irritable and sad and unable to recover from the slightest setbacks and just generally feeling depressed...)

It turns out, the things I really need are not at all what I thought.

I don't need more time alone, I need to manage the time I have. I need to let go of guilt and find some hustle. To pursue passions for no other reason than I'm passionate about them. To do the things I want to do without feeling like I'm taking time away from my family. They are not stopping me! I am stopping myself.

Also? If I don't do anything at all above and beyond raising happy kids, nurturing a successful marriage and being a decent human being, that's okay. Why is that so hard to accept? Am I mommy warring myself? Thinking I have to compete with all the other amazing women in the world? Why is it so hard to believe that I am enough just exactly as I am?

I already have support. What I'm lacking is self confidence. Not all the time, of course. But there are times it feels IMPOSSIBLE to create a single thing (hello, lately...). When the self doubt creeps in, it's easy to look to someone else for support. To think if they just believed in me more, surely it would override my inability to believe in myself. But that's just not the way it works. Self doubt is part of the process. Unfortunately, I think, it's just the artist's way.


Time for a re-read...

As for my life outside the home, it is alive and well. I don't need more of anything except awareness and appreciation. This is true pretty much across the board. In fact, I made myself a little journal just so I could keep track of all the good in my life. Experiencing it is one thing. But experience is fleeting. And if you have trouble seeing the silver lining from time to time, writing it down can really help. Not only do you create an opportunity to sit with the good a little longer, you contact a sense of gratitude you might not have felt otherwise. For me it also helps to have something to look back on. So the next time I'm feeling sorry for myself or thinking I never do anything but laundry, I can flip to a page and know, without a doubt, that just isn't true. 



I also realized I needed to go back on a little bit of Zoloft. 

The difference has been night and day. All of the external factors in my life have remained the same and yet the way I am able to navigate them has changed completely. It's pretty mind blowing, actually. Makes me feel like I could have fought for years to get through this, never realizing there was a locked door in my way. Maybe I could have broken it down eventually. Maybe. But at the expense of what? Having the key might not be everything but it sure as hell helps.

It basically came down to this: my children will only be children once. Their childhood is not the time to be wishy washy with my mental health. Perhaps someday I can throw everything I've got at my demons (if there even are any...) and beat down the door with my bare, bloody hands. But this is not the time. This is their chapter of my life. As we've all heard, we have to put on our own oxygen masks first. To care for ourselves in order to care for others. For me, Zoloft is a piece of that self care puzzle. 

It's just a piece. But it might be a corner piece.

And I think, this time around, I might feel okay about it. Actually, no. I feel great. Like night and day, you know? There's nothing heroic about turning your back on something that improves your life. When I realized taking an iron supplement made it so I could get through the afternoon without falling asleep, I didn't think, Yeah, but what if I just tried harder? I thought, Hooray for iron! There's no reason to feel any different about this. And if time goes on and I start to wonder if it really helps me or not, I can look back in my journal and know for sure. Yes. It helps us all. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Letting go of someone else's perfect.

Have you ever looked up instructions for something easy and suddenly it seemed anything but? I did this recently with hard boiled eggs. From what I could remember from pretty much every Easter of my life, you just stick some eggs in water and boil them. The spin test will let you know if they're done or not - a wobbly egg needs more time, a perfect pirouette means a perfectly cooked egg.

Easy peasy.

Except for some reason a few months back, I decided to ask Google. How to make PERFECT hard boiled eggs. Turns out, there are about a thousand ways to get it right.


I got information overload. Should I try vinegar or salt? A covered pan? Putting the eggs in the water and then boiling the water or boiling the water first? Ten minutes? Thirteen? And what about peeling?  What was the BEST way to do that?!

I must have run back and forth between the stove and the laptop a dozen times. I was full of self doubt, sure that if I didn't follow the right recipe the right way, my eggs would be a disaster. And guess what? They were. Actually, several batches have turned out not-so-good over the months. I've had everything from eggs that wouldn't peel without sacrificing half the white to undercooked yolks to raw eggs broken right into the boiling water (more to do with my clumsiness but still). 

And then, at some point, I got a healthy dose of the fuck its. 

I stuck some eggs in a pan with water and boiled them. For how long? I have no idea. When I realized they were still boiling, I shut them off. I may have put a lid on the pan or maybe not. Actually, yeah, I think I did because that would explain how I forgot about them until the next day. At which point I Googled something like How long can hard boiled eggs sit out without killing you? (A while, apparently). Then I peeled my perfect egg and ate it.



Yep, that's right. The no fuss eggs turned out great. So this is how I make them now. I put them in a pan with water and salt, turn on the stove and get on with my life. When I notice them boiling (for how long? who cares!) I shut them off, and put on a lid. Then I do whatever else I need to do. Today I took a shower and got dressed. Then, when I was hungry and ready to eat lunch, I rinsed them in cold water, peeled them and ta-da.


PERFECT hard boiled eggs.

As I was peeling the half dozen eggs under cool running water, getting all zen and whatnot, I couldn't help but think that this whole letting go of someone else's perfect to accept my own reality had to do with a lot more than lunch.

Recently, I had to make myself stop reading parenting books. I had so many perfect philosophies battling it out in my head that every moment with my kids was starting to feel like the proverbial running back and forth from the stove to the laptop. Which expert's instructions I should follow? Is this a Simplicity Parenting moment? Or should I practice Playful Parenting? Being conscious sounds good but if I go too far will my kids become entitled? Maybe I should make them clean something? Do we need more limits? Less limits? Salt? Vinegar? Help!!!

My own instincts were no where to be found. Instead of tuning into my kids, my self, my reality, I was looking elsewhere for the perfect solution. 

But guess what? There is no perfect solution. There's only us. And the more I tune into that, the happier we all seem to be.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What losing my kids taught me about free range parenting.

Last week the boys and I met up with our friends and their new baby to walk at Shelby Bottoms. It was cold and muddy but the sun was out and it felt great to get out and connect with friends. Although, as soon as we started on our walk, I realized I had probably forced an unnatural dynamic.

While my boys love the park - we spend a LOT of time down there - they are sort of so-so about walking. At least, walking at the speed new parents with a stroller tend to walk. The boys like to meander. Take their time. Stop and smell the roses...

I was caught between two worlds. If I wanted to walk fast enough to claim it as exercise while catching up with my friends, I would be leaving the kids in the dust. But if I wanted to take the slow and steady approach with the boys, my friends would surely be wondering why we met up in the first place.

So when we came to a short cut - the Beaver Trail - and the boys begged me to let them take it, I had a lot to consider.

On the up side, splitting up made sense. The grown ups could walk like we wanted to while the boys could have an adventure. They're familiar with the park and know the trail pretty well. They'd be together. And they really, really wanted to do it.

But they're little. At least, Finn is. And it was wet and muddy and cold. They'd walked the path a lot before but never alone. It felt like kind of a big deal.

But also, not that big of a deal. I mean, to be honest, I don't really worry that much. I know this drives Bill nuts sometimes - I let the boys do way more stuff than he'd let them do - but I just tend to err on the side of they'll be fine. Free range parenting and all that.

"Pleeeeeeese, can we do it, Mama? Please?!?"

"But-"

"We'll be safe! And stick together! We can do it. I know we can!"

I thought about it for a minute and then said yes. We planned to meet at the Nature Center if we didn't see each other on the other side of the trail. They tore off down the muddy path, more excited than I'd seen them in a long time, and we went on our way.


We took the reddish circular path, they took the black cut through. 

As we walked, I only wondered a few times if I had done the right thing. What if one of them slips in the mud? Or gets tired? Are they really big enough for this type of independence? But overall I felt fine. No gut feelings telling me I should worry. No inkling suspicions I had done the wrong thing. No sudden worries about weirdos or wild animals.

When we got to where the two trails  meet, the boys weren't there. I figured they were just taking their time but walked to the Nature Center to check for them just in case. They weren't there either. So we walked back a bit and I hopped on the Beaver Trail to meet up with them. My friends took the circular trail back the way we came and we planned to reunite at the Nature Center.

As soon as I stepped foot on the muddy path, my stomach lurched into my throat and I started to panic. Where before I was confident the boys could do it, now I knew for sure they could not. The ground was so slick and muddy with patches of ice I could barely walk without falling. And yet, here I was, running, sliding, yelling their names, wondering why in the world I had ever let them go.

The longer I was on the trail, the more terrified I became. They just weren't there. I tried to convince myself we had missed them somehow but there just wasn't any way that made sense. If they were still on the Beaver Trail when we were walking to the Nature Center, we would have walked right into them on our way back.

Where were they?

WHERE ON EARTH WERE MY BOYS?

I got to the end of the path - muddy, panting, wild eyed - and kept right on running. I was screaming for them now but the only thing I heard was my panicked voice echoing back to me. I got back to the start of the trail and still didn't see them. I scanned the Nature Play area and the woods nearby. But no one was there. Someone at the Nature Center must have seen me looking frantic because he came out onto the porch to see if I needed help.

"Two boys!" I yelled. "I'm looking for two boys!"

I was beyond frantic at this point. I just couldn't figure out where they could be. I didn't let myself ponder this as there just didn't seem to be any palatable explanation. How could I let them go? What was wrong with me? What in the world would I tell Bill...

Just as I got back toward the Beaver Trail, still screaming their names, I heard something besides my own voice. My boys! They were walking toward me on the paved trail with my friends. And they weren't even crying!

"Oh my gosh!" I exhaled, running toward them. "I was so scared I lost you!"

"We were scared!" they said. They were smiling and running toward me. It was the best thing I have EVER seen.

Here's what happened: They got almost all the way across the Beaver Trail when they got a little scared. Things suddenly didn't look familiar and they worried that they made a wrong turn (there are no turns but I get it - sometimes things look different when you're out on your own). They weren't sure what to do so they stopped and looked around. Way across the field they could see the gazebo we often stop at on our walks (the "Observation Deck" on the map up there). It was far but familiar. They knew if they could get there, they would be back on the trail and could find their way to the Nature Center. So they took off across a muddy field to a familiar landmark. They ran into one person who asked if they were lost. "Um, sort of," Liam admitted. "Well, you're almost to the trail and then you'll be able to find your way. Right?" "Right," Liam said confidently. Once they were back on the path, they ran into our friends and they all walked back to me together.

At the time I was so scared and relieved and remorseful and nauseous that I just held my boys tight and got us all safely to the car. All I could think was that I shouldn't have let them go. Why did I let them go? It was a bad call. A mistake. I was overflowing with regret.

On our short drive home Finn piped up from the back seat. Muddy and smiling he said, "This is my most luckiest day!"

"It is?" I said nervously, still shaking. "Why?"

"Because we found you!"

It took me several days to accept that he might be right.

Nothing bad actually happened. It was awful - don't get me wrong - but only because what I thought might have happened. What really happened was pretty great. The boys had an epic adventure. They stuck together. They used their brains and their feet and they did what had to be done. They were beyond resourceful. Scared but brave. I honestly don't know how they did it without freaking out but they did. And honestly? I think they're better for it.

I, on the other hand, would just as soon DIE than experience that again. But I guess that's sometimes how it is with letting go. With parenting. It takes guts. More guts than we have sometimes.

My friends weren't worried because they never knew the boys were "lost". Nobody knew how scary the whole thing was until I showed up, insane with worry.

What would have happened if I had waited for them at the Nature Center like I said I would?

Or if they had ran into someone who thought two kids alone on a trail was cause for alarm. (You can do it is what I would have expected from a friendly neighbor in our neck of the woods. This is not always the case...)

Of course, there are always a million what ifs. And if this story would have ended differently? I mean, come on. But as it it, I feel proud of my boys and happy that they got to have the kind of adventure I used to have.

It's hard to let go. Hard to trust that they will do the right thing. Hard to believe nothing bad will happen. But what's the alternative? I would much rather spend my energy raising resourceful kids than worrying what if. As for the guts it takes to do it well? I'm working on it.