Tag: family

Connectedness is the Total Shit

hook and flower 2

I’ve got a sister on my mind. Scratch that, I’ve got a few precious sisters on my mind. Fuck that, I’ve got a world full of incredible sisters on my mind. I’ve got some brothers too. (I have more brothers than most, what with my biological father’s fecundity.) But I have other brothers too.

It’s so fucked up when I try to get familial with the world and sound like I’m on the verge of a metaphysical breakthrough wherein I channel Richard Simmons as a baby and find a glittery rainbow of loud striped thighs sweating into microphones shouting hallelujah between rivulets of intentional sweat. Fucking INTENTIONAL sweat.

Connectedness is the total shit. With my fellow human beings. Ditch the differences, the details that separate us, because the things we have in common are huge. I hear you all in your nightmares, I feel your heads exploding with confusion, anxiety, terror, poetry, love, desire, sorrow, and wild happiness. I hear it even if I can’t see the colors you see. I can’t shut you out, all of you with your weird permutations of human ambitions both realized and crushed. All of you bleeding blue without oxygen. All of you with your skin bursting into flames, your minds wrenched open with revelations, your eyes seeing new things after you stopped believing there was anything left to discover.

Connectedness is the total shit. We make families as we need them. We make tribes of our quirks and our vocations and our illnesses. We make communities of shared interests, shared hate, shared pain.

Hold tight to the ship rails. Hold tight to your core beliefs. Hold tight to everything you love and believe in because this life doesn’t take unwilling prisoners and it doesn’t stop for the faint of heart.

And for God’s sake, plug your ears and run inside because I’m about to scream so loud Margaret Thatcher will rise from her grave and rip the pearls from her throat so that they shower hell with iridescent hail.

I’m thinking of a sister right now but I’m sorry it turned out to be Margaret Thatcher.

Here We Go Again

barren of chamomile

This is how I feel right now: all hard scrabble, dried leaves, and a dirty flattened Q-tip.

Tomorrow my mom goes to Kaiser to get put back together from all the trauma of last summer. There are many reasons why this surgery should not be stressing me out the way it is:

  • It’s not an emergency surgery this time.
  • She’s not getting surgery with a broken back this time.
  • We know about her reaction to the anesthesia and pain killers and that they may need to try alternatives if she starts accusing nurses of setting the hospital on fire.
  • Kaiser does everything internally so there won’t be that head-exploding problem of trying to orchestrate all the different contractors that take care of different things.

I think there are more reasons but I’m having trouble focusing on them at the moment. Resectioning intestines is a pretty high risk surgery even when it’s planned due to risk of infection. They may go in there and find too much scar tissue from last time and not be able to resection her. She knows that’s a possibility. I know it’s a possibility. Because of who I am and the clinical anxiety that’s so hard to wrestle down, I can’t stop thinking about her going through all this only to find they have to close her up and she’ll have to face a lifetime of using a colostomy bag.

Obviously I can’t quite quell the fear that she’s going to die. I made her write a will this week. We talked about what kinds of decisions she wants us to make if things go wrong. Today while cleaning the bathroom I made a mental note to ask her to remind me if she wants to be cremated or something else.

I am the grim reaper.


I have to admit to a certain level of PTSD. This time last year she was in the hospital fighting for her life for a month. I don’t feel over it yet. The whole thing was awful. Not the way death itself is awful but all the not knowing and the paranoid hallucinations, the second emergency surgery, the abscess that formed, becoming obsessed with her white blood cell count, trying to get information from nurses and doctors. It was one long traumatizing nightmare.

Life is constantly reinforcing my anxieties, proving that YES, people can die at any moment and YES, everything can go wrong and YES, you can end up living in a small town in which you don’t belong where –

Oh, hang on, different nightmare. Different PTSD.

I collect PTSD like they’re Pokemon cards.

Life is constantly proving me right. That’s one of the worst things about having clinical anxiety. It just builds and builds because everything you’re afraid of really happens in the world. It doesn’t matter if there’s only a 1% chance it will happen to you.

That person who got killed by a serial killer – do they really give a shit that there was only a .000000001% chance that was going to happen to them? People with anxiety don’t give a chewy monkey’s ass about percentages or statistics. It’s enough that these things that happen to almost no one happen to SOME ONE.

Here’s the best case scenario:

  • She goes in tomorrow morning and they go in and find she doesn’t have too much scar tissue.
  • They resection her and she doesn’t react to the meds.
  • She doesn’t get an infection and she’s discharged in a week.
  • She comes home, we help her recover comfortably.
  • She gets completely back to living a normal life and we all get glass slippers. Or wooden ones that won’t shatter and cut an artery and make us bleed out on the ball room floor.

Cause that could totally happen.

That’s what I need to focus on now. I need to picture that. I need to send energy to that.

I’ll probably be watching Fringe on an endless loop. I’ll be sleeping in mom’s apartment (a unit in the same house as ours) to keep Rosie from getting scared or lonely. I expect to drink a lot of beer for the next few days.

But the minute my mom is on the mend and clear of delicate risk of infection or complications – I’m going temporarily sober again. Another 3 month stint. I have to do it. I can’t start it right now. I need the beer and the constant Fringe episodes. Then I need to get back on track with taking care of myself.

I may be edgier than usual for the next week or two. Please be willing to forgive me if I snap at you or get weird or horribly maudlin.

If you want to read about last summer’s hospitalization:

The Thing About Life

The Remains of The Day

The Longest Night Before The Next Longest Night

Coming Home: Goodbye Room 108 and 107

Dunno, family stuff keep piling up against my night.

Mill Valley exit

About a year ago I looked for a brother of mine online. A brother I’ve never met. A brother who (used to be) estranged from my biological father but who I’ve wanted to know more about. I found someone with his name on facebook. I “friended” him. Sent a message something like this “I think you might be my half brother but if you’re not Adam Szydel’s son, just ignore me” and I never heard back.

Until the week before last when he “friended” me back and confirmed he’s my half brother and said, breezily, that we’ll have to find time to chat at some point.

I constantly feel my family life has an element of surreality. My whole brother, unacknowledged by our mutual father, is such a brilliant artist his work sometimes makes me want to cry but we rarely talk, he’s not a family guy so much. He loves me in an abstract way and I have always loved him viscerally and unconditionally. Still, I don’t call him very often. So who the hell is not the family person?

Turns out my half brother (the one I’ve never met) is a professional photographer. So now I wish to god I could get Zeke and Orion together because Zeke should be a professional photographer.

What the fuck does any of this matter? Brothers don’t really care that much about sisters. Not the way sisters care about each other. Except that my mother’s sister doesn’t give a shit about my mother the way I give a shit about mine.

My mom is going into surgery in less than two weeks and I’m scared. It’s been exactly a year since she was in the hospital fighting for her life. This time my sister won’t be here. My brother probably won’t be here either. Neither of them can afford it, aside from any other considerations. If I had a million dollars I’d fly them both out.

I’d make a great matriarch if I could afford to, you know, take care of everyone.

I don’t want my mother to die. I love her so much.

This is the first time I’m admitting to myself how terrified I am.  How I have so much family and yet so little. What the fuck difference does having family make if they’re never around, if you don’t know half of them, or half of them don’t give a fuck about you?* While my mom was fighting for her life her sister was insisting on selling her only security. Fucking bitch.

Don’t really have faith in family. Yet I love my sister and would house her with my last penny if she needed it, would do the same for my brother, for my dad (the step), for Philip’s brother, for Philip’s father, for my cousins (even though they wouldn’t likely do the same for me). If my two half brothers, almost complete strangers to me, needed my help I’d do what I could for them.

Goddamn it. If my biological asshole father who I’ve disowned was facing homelessness I’d house him too. Fucking careless seed-spreader who doesn’t recognize his own image in my brother**. God, if I could get him to take a paternity test I have 100% confidence in the results.

Old records. Old tunes. Old tropes.

*Not talking about Zeke or Tara.

**The one he spawned just before divorcing my mom to marry my first half brother’s mother.

Every Swear Word Bursting From My Heart With Love


Here he is with the bacon wrapped chicken skewers he and his dad made together. He doesn’t let me take a lot of pictures of him lately but I think he was a little proud of these.

There’s a revolution going on in this house called: TEENAGER. It’s pretty fucking epic and wonderful. I have no idea what awful hormonal dark magic things might possibly be waiting for us around the bend and I’m not going sit around worrying about it. Not right now. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow.* Max decided to cut his hair a couple of weeks ago, grew another half inch, and today he prepared some bacon-wrapped chicken kabobs with his dad for the grill and participated in his first BBQ. I made vegetable kabobs with a satay sauce and he tried summer squash and red pepper dipped in the sauce. He didn’t like the squash but kind of liked the red pepper.

But I didn’t even ask him to try them. He wanted to try the motherfucking*** vegetables of his own volition.


I’m not a very sentimental mom in general. I’ve never been blind to my son’s challenges and how it impacts other people and his own development. He was most honestly and truly a special needs kid. And I think we still may experience some tough shifts as he matures. But I’ve also never withheld honest pride or failed to celebrate the small steps that have brought him from a self harming and socially difficult place to the person he is becoming.

Tonight he sat with us at the table (with dirty dishes of things he didn’t eat!) and ate with us and then he sat and chatted for a little while without imposing his own topic on the whole group – much. At least – not in that vice-grip way he has of bulldozing any conversation he doesn’t find completely engaging he has had for ages. He listened a little bit. We count these things because they matter.


Today was horribly and uncomfortably hot for me but the evening was filled with close friends, my mom, and my son all gathering around a table and eating good food and feeling connected and cared for and enjoying each others’ company.

I know what happens when I notice that my life is perfect – it falls spectacularly apart. So it’s a good thing I’m struggling so hard with my writing and carving out a career as a novelist for myself. If I’m not struggling, the universe is plotting how it can trip me with a thread so I fall in the alligator-infested swamp with a bunch of motherfucking apathetic canoeing slow-eyed masochists the chance to beat me down with their oars.

There are a thousand things that can go wrong right now. Two minutes from now. I’ve become so superstitious between experience and mental illness that I’m ridiculously cautious about saying:

I’m happy. Right now. This minute. Perfect. Tonight was perfect.

Go ahead and find out how digestible those alligators find my foul mouth. My gristle is ready for those toothy clowns.


*That’s right motherfucker! This middle aged anxiety disorder has got her disorder by the throat!**

**Just kidding, anxiety, no need to give me a heart attack tomorrow morning.

***All these “motherfucker”s are of a joyous nature but so emphatic that no other expression will do. I think most of you who have been following the Max adventures long enough will forgive for all the bombs tonight. ?

Getting 7 Months off My Chest

random meat

Be careful where you fling your meat.

Last night I got smashed and stayed up until 4am.  It is rare that I get drunk.  There was good occasion for it though.  Last April my aunt announced to my mom that she wanted to sell the house.  The house we’re living in.  The house she co-owns with my mom.

They’ve owned it for over 7 years and the 5 years my mom wasn’t living in it and they had it rented out my aunt didn’t notice, apparently, that she was losing 20k a year by owning it (she really isn’t – but that’s a complicated thing to explain so I won’t).  It wasn’t until my mom announced that we were all going to move back to California and live in this house that my aunt first discovered what a burden it’s been to her for the last 6 years.  Mom convinced her that it’s a terrible time to sell so we moved in and lived here happily until this past April when Aunt L discovers again that she’s losing thousands of dollars a year owning it and wants to sell it.

My mom didn’t want to sell it.

A couple of notably stupid assumptions on my aunt’s part both stunned and angered me.  The first is that she thought that since she put in a lot more money into the house than my mom did that she’s entitled to ALL the money made from selling it.  She actually believed that.  So in her mind she would sell it, my mom would be homeless, not have a penny from the house, and Aunt L would get a few hundred thousand dollars for it and bemoan the loss of the rest of what she spent on it.  She later claimed she wouldn’t ever make my mom homeless. She was incredulous and bummed to discover that that’s not how selling property as a co-owner works.  So she had to swallow her lumps and accept that my mom would be entitled to a third of whatever they might make by selling the house.  She still insisted that she wanted to sell because she’s practically going broke owning a house she’s not living in.

She clearly needs a new accountant and to take a lesson in how things in real life work. 

Also – I should note that she’s a very wealthy woman and will never have to face the situations that her less fortunate sister faces all the time.  And making a couple hundred thousand dollars off this house is more important to her than the well-being of her sister.  Nice.

The rent for the mortgage was completely affordable to us.  It’s what made it possible to move back to California.

We were going to make it damn hard for Aunt L to sell this property.  She would have had zero cooperation from any of us.  She was forcing an ugly situation until a good friend of Philip’s suggested he might be able to help us out.  He was looking for a property to invest in and thought he could buy my aunt out giving us time to get our credit back up to par, save money for a downpayment and eventually buy him out giving him profit on however much the house appreciated in value during that time.

It has taken our friend a tremendous amount of work and headache and several months to make this happen but he did it.  As of yesterday our friend is a 50/50 owner of this house with my mom.  My aunt no longer has the power to put my mom in a horrible situation.  She got some money and should now find a new accountant.

So I celebrated by getting smashed.  I am paying for it today.  This is why I rarely get drunk.  But it was worth it.  I had to do it.  I have been in a constant state of stress wondering how the hell we would be able to find a rental big enough for the four of us, two large barking dogs, and 4 cats.  I’ve been stressing over my mom’s future, her security, and feeling angry that my mom’s family has once again shown their true asshole colors.  It’s like my asshole grandfather all over again.  The sin isn’t that they’re wealthier than we are – the sin is that they look down on us (particularly my mom) for the choices we’ve made and the fact that my mom has needed help from her family on more than one occasion.  Her family gives help but not without then feeling superior to you for the rest of your life.  That’s a sin that’s hard for me to forgive.

All summer I have been remembering a lifetime of slights delivered by my oldest first cousin.  When we were kids she told me she was cleaner than me because her nose was shiny and mine wasn’t.  Never mind that it could also mean her nose is just oilier than mine, but it was clear from the beginning that she thought herself a much better person all around than me.  It continued for pretty much our whole lives.  The digs against Californians (“land of fruits and nuts” she loved to say) I took with pretty good humor because I like fruits and nuts well enough and I would rather live in the land of the freaks than the land of the bigots.  It was this same cousin from whose mouth I first hear the racist expression “raghead”.  Not when we were kids, either.  She used this expression 14 years ago and I hope to God she has since come to realize what a shameful and hateful word that is and has excised it from her language and her small heart.

This same cousin has made numerous digs to my face about how irresponsible my mom is and furthermore crowed loudly about how she and her siblings and her mom will never have to work a day in their lives again if they don’t want to because of the trust funds their father set up for them before he died.  She shoved that in my face knowing that none of us have a penny beyond what we need to buy food and pay rent (a situation that hasn’t changed much).  I hated her for that meanness of spirit, for her condescension, for her pride over something she didn’t actually do anything to achieve herself.

Over the years I have carved any bad feelings my cousin and aunt have caused me to feel out of my heart.  I have carefully scraped away the feelings of hate for their casual disdain of us and our messy lives because they are family and no matter how assholish your family is YOU TRY TO LOVE AND FORGIVE THEM.

I’ve already been through all of this with my racist asshole of a grandfather (who I loved in spite of his racism and the million times he disowned my mother which was a minor sport to him).  He helped pay off my student loans – for which I was honestly grateful – but I never actually asked for his help.  I had actually told him to fuck off for being such an asshole to my mom (actually what I said to him) and told him what a scumbag he was and his response was to tell me he really wanted to do something for me and thought helping me pay off my loans would really help me out.  I would have paid them off myself over time in spite of how hard it was at the time but he seemed so contrite and sweet and like a normal grandpa for once I accepted his offer.  Once I accepted it I realized that it was a trap.  If you accept money or help from anyone in my mom’s family you essentially give them the right to wipe their shoes on you.  Or at least that’s what they think.

My other two cousins, by the way, have never said this kind of shit to my face nor given any indication that they feel superior to their Californian relatives.  Maybe they feel the same way as their sister and Aunt L do – but at least they’ve never made us feel it.  I like them quite a lot but in writing this and in disowning my Aunt, which I have done, I will likely lose them too.  That’s the price to pay to get assholes out of your life.  Sometimes you lose their loyal loved ones too.

This summer was brutal not just because my mom almost died twice, but because of what my aunt was forcing us to go through.  I couldn’t talk about all this house stuff because I couldn’t risk messing anything up for my mom.  So I’ve kept my mouth shut.

The loan funded on Monday and so last night we celebrated.  My mom will never have to move from this house.  Our friend B and his wife have made a good investment while simultaneously helping us in a huge way.  Meantime we don’t have to move from a great situation.  Our rent is going to go up by $800 which is pretty brutal but it was the only way we could stay here and now our rent will actually be pretty much what most people are paying for what we have – so it’s totally in line with the rental market.  Can’t complain about that.  If I have to get a job to pay the extra rent after all – I’ll do it.  But it may not come to that and we’re already budgeting ourselves a little better and I’m optimistic that I can make enough extra money from my shop that this will work out well.

I was really sad at first to realize that our friends treat us better than some of our family does.  But then I realized that this has been true my whole life and for all the bad shit that we’ve gone through – this is the good karma coming back to us – that we have made so many loyal and thoughtful friends who go out on really big limbs to help us out.  This isn’t the first time our friends have done extraordinary things for us and it may not be the last.

Instead of being sad about what my family isn’t capable of I am feeling tremendously grateful for our large circle of wonderful friends who are very much like I believe family should be. 

I’m also grateful for the family members I still have in my life who are awesome.

It seems that the underlying message of the summer was about sisters.  How you treat your sister.  What you put  before your sister’s well being and how to become a better sister myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever needed my sister the way I needed her when our mom was hospitalized this summer.  I really needed her and she was there.  She was there with me through the whole awful ordeal.  She took weight off my shoulders to her own discomfort.  She solved problems, she forgave my outbursts of depression and anger and she took care of the goddamn puppy even though she’s not a dog person.  She cleaned and ran errands and visited mom twice every single day.  She dealt with paperwork and made sure our mom was getting the best care possible.  I have never felt so close to my sister as I do now because of what we’ve been through together with our mom.

But even before this summer I think we’ve always been the kind of sisters who would never put money before each others’ welfare.  I can promise that if my sister needs money and I have it to give – I’d share it.  If my sister needs a place to live – I would always make room for her with us even though we haven’t got much room – that’s what you do for your sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and first cousins.

That’s the kind of person my mom is and that’s the kind of sister she is and that’s the kind of person she brought me up to be.  That’s why I will never let my mom live on the streets.  Or at least I won’t let her live on the streets alone.  We also don’t abandon pets who are part of the family too.  When facing the possibility of having to find a place for all of us to live together it did look like an impossible feat and we joked about how we’d all live on the streets together with our posse of animals riding our shopping carts with us.  If we go down, we go down together.  If any one of us can hold the rest of us up – we do.  Out of love.  Out of loyalty.  Out of generosity of spirit.  Because that’s how you treat family.  That’s also how you treat your real friends.

Because of the kind of family I was given – I have learned that sometimes you have to cut ties to remain a healthy person.  I disowned my father because he consistently insults me, my intelligence, and is a bigot.  I still wish him well but I can’t engage with people who only come into my life to make me feel bad or who treat my other family members like shit.  It takes a lot for me to cut ties with family because I am loyal and I believe in forgiveness and accepting people for who they are.  But as a person who has experienced abuse I have also learned that to maintain good mental health it is sometimes necessary to cut unhealthy relationships from your life in order to have a healthy life.

So this summer my family got smaller.  I no longer consider my aunt family.  Or my oldest cousin.  They can congratulate themselves on being such great stable people who always make the best decisions* and never need anyone’s help – and they can do it out of my hearing forever more.

My mom has no part in this disowning, incidentally.  She knows my feelings about my aunt and in no way endorses them.  She thinks I’m being too harsh.  But she’s the one that let my grandfather hurt her again and again and again.  She forgives and forgets better than anyone else I know.  My mom has been making excuses for my aunt all summer.  She has consistently tried to see things from her perspective.  Because that’s the kind of person my mom is.

My mom loves her sister.

It’s going to take me a long time to forgive my aunt for what she’s done, for the way she thinks about (or doesn’t!) her own sister.  For her selfish disregard for how her actions and decisions affect others.  I know that I will forgive her because I believe that forgiveness is a big part of our ability to evolve and mature as people.  My aunt, like me, is only human.  But forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to have people in my life who look down on me or my mom.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable again to those who’ve trampled you in the past.

And if some day my aunt finds herself in the dreadful position of having no resources and needs help and I’m in a position to help her?  I will help her.  Because that’s the kind of person my weird-ass awesome mother raised me to be.  If my aunt ever needs something from me that I have to give I will give it to her.  And I won’t think less of her for asking or needing help.  But I will not let her back into my family circle.

Because she doesn’t deserve a place in it.

That is what I’ve been holding in my chest for 7 months without the ability to speak.  Without the freedom to act.

So last night I stayed up until 4am and drank way too much.  I listened to different versions of “Halleluja” and got emotional and stupid with my celebrating.  We don’t have to move from this house.  My mom will never have to move from this house and she has a co-owner who is fair minded and honest and a good friend to us.

Today I am drinking gallons of water and realizing that this is the true beginning of the new chapter I kept mentioning.  I kept waiting for it and wondering why old shit kept coming our way.  This was the thing that had to happen for the true fresh start that moving back to California has offered us.

I have so much other good stuff to write about and tell you about (the book is SO CLOSE to being published in e-book format!!!!) but that will have to wait another day or two.  Right now I need to clean this house.  This house I don’t have to move from.  This house whose location is PERFECT.  Whose garden can now be planned in earnest.  I need to clean this house and then I need to organize myself to get some new products made and put up for sale so that I can remain self-employed and help take care of this house that we get to live in.

I’m so tired from all the anxiety and waiting and family shit and sadness and uncertainty and threat of moving and my mom’s recovery and her health insurance troubles.

But right now, right at this minute, I couldn’t be happier.

 I am feeling a lot of gratitude.


*Er – well – my aunt’s decision to invest in a house and spend way more on it than she could ever hope to get back and that (apparently) she couldn’t afford to own (*bullshit*) could be called a really stupid decision.  But whatever.  She probably still thinks she did all that to “help” my mom which is a convenient way to look at it.

IEP: Four Years of Being a Pain in the Ass Pays Off

martini shaker

Max’s new toy is a martini shaker.  He likes to mix sodas and has moved on to fancy juice mixes.  Yesterday he made me a cherry vanilla juice drink and then a cherry lime with two drops of vodka for me.

He also ate two small cheese sandwiches on toasted sourdough bread with butter and mustard.  Normally I would never put butter on a cheese sandwich but he insisted I make him buttered toast and then turn it into a sandwich.  This kid has not liked cheese since he was small kid.  There was a very brief romance with Baby Bel cheeses and not long ago he tried a thin slice of cheese on a veggie burger and didn’t like it.  Otherwise the texture of cheese has been deemed unacceptable to him for years.  Cheese crackers are a different story.  The Oatmeal writes about cheese and cheese making and suddenly he wants to try some cheddar or Swiss cheese.  He ate a small piece of cheddar and liked it.  This is one of those times when social and media influence is pretty great.  Now he wants to try the elderflower cheese we’ve been raving about that Philip discovered at Trader Joe’s.  He wants to try sharp cheddar too.

His expanding tastes are both wonderful and baffling.  He is still finding it difficult to stick with flavors and new foods but his continuing exploration is absolutely the best thing an extreme picky eater can do.  He’s finding enough new flavors he likes to convince him that there’s a lot of potential for enjoyment in the food world that he was previously not open to.

But the biggest news is that he finally got an official IEP!  It only took four years of badgering the school system in Oregon and continuing down here in California to make this happen.  As could be expected, Max didn’t qualify for any major well defined learning disorder or meet any of the markers for autism that the school uses.  The speech and language specialist did say that he definitely shows some autistic qualities – but falls in a grey area.  He will get help with pragmatic language use and social interaction because she found that he doesn’t register subtle social cues at all.  Academically Max is predominantly in the Superior range with his math skills falling in a couple of different ranges which revealed (as explained to me) that he understands high math concepts but when it comes to the basic concepts he has difficulty which is explained by the main thing the evaluations revealed.

Max has a significant visual processing deficit which especially affects his math skills.

Some of the information revealed wasn’t that surprising and others were.  The visual processing deficit explains things that I wasn’t even looking to have explained but the fact that Max has such difficulty with drawing assignments – and it isn’t that he can’t draw because he most certainly CAN – it’s that it’s harder for him and takes him longer than average and he gets frustrated and overwhelmed and gives up.  He found a great drawing expression in stick figures and is quite good at making very expressive stick figure animations and comic strips and I get why now.  Last year he drew a fleshed out hand for a poster project and he hadn’t tried drawing three dimensional for ages and suddenly he whips out this really well drawn hand – so he can do it but he avoids drawing quite emphatically most of the time.

This also explains his strong aversion to writing assignments, an area also affected by a low visual processing time.  Writing assignments make him anxious and he loathes having to erase even a single word an rewrite it because, in his mind, every word he writes TAKES SO MUCH TIME AND EFFORT AND HAVING TO DO EVEN ONE WORD OVER IS LIKE ASKING HIM TO SKIN HIS OWN FINGER.

The math thing is weird because in fourth grade he was put in advanced math because the teacher said he was bored with the regular math curriculum in class and knew the material really well.  He has also tested between average and above average on nearly all his state math tests.  In sixth grade the math teacher thought him gifted in math and if you remember – tried to make him learn programming.  Which Max HATED.  He said he hated starting with that awful blank screen and then filling it with those 0’s and 1’s.  Which maybe makes sense now if his visual processing speed is significantly low.  Programming might be a certain kind of hell for someone with that issue.  In any case – the math deficiency surprised me but then it made sense.  Max has always disliked math even though his teachers have all thought him on the gifted side with it.

After coming home I wondered if it was necessary to continue having Kaiser evaluate him, now that he has an IEP.  That’s been my driving aim – to get him some extra support in school.  I’m waiting for one of his teachers to fill out an evaluation form to give to his psychologist so that we can move on to the next step.  It’s understood by me that Max, obviously being so high functioning, very likely may not end up being diagnosed with anything.  As the psychologist says, we may just have to conclude that he’s an “odd duck”.  So do I use up Kaiser resources to have him evaluated?  What can be gained by any diagnosis if they did find he met their diagnostic markers?

I was on the verge of calling it off but I’ve decided to go ahead with it and here is why: the school’s evaluation uncovered an issue that has significantly been affecting Max’s academic experience even if it hasn’t resulted in academic failure.  This is something no one suspected or suggested before and now that we know what is going on – it can be addressed and knowing where he’s got issues can help him succeed.  As a parent I can help him better too – in coaching him through homework I can explain to him why he is struggling and why math makes him so anxious and why written assignments not only take him so damn long but stress him out so completely.

The school tests are all geared toward revealing academic shortfalls and challenges.  But a psychological/neurological evaluation covers a person’s whole orientation to the world.  Maybe Max will be found to not have any specific disorder.  But what if evaluating him can show us areas of significant challenge that could then be specifically addressed?  My main problem is knowing how to help Max in his life.  Socially he is not normal and I have major concerns about how healthy his social life can be if some of his issues are not addressed.  The value in seeing if he fits into an established set of behaviors that has a name is that if he does – I can more easily discover what has a tendency to work well for others with the same set of behaviors and also seek support for him with those peers.

If he doesn’t really fit into any specific group – the evaluation still may uncover some specific areas of difficulty and give me something more concrete to grab onto when trying to navigate his social and emotional well-being.  A job that has sucked a lot of years off my life so far.  Well, that, and feeding him.  At least feeding him is finally becoming more of an adventure than a constant punishment in which I don’t succeed at nourishing my child healthily.

This information seeking mission is not complete until he has been evaluated by the psychologist and then, if it’s warranted, the Kaiser specialists.  I need to see this completely through.

In spite of not being done yet – I am so happy to have finally succeeded in getting Max an IEP and knowing specifically where his challenges are and the school is now on board and coming up with ideas to best meet Max’s need.  I appreciated that all of the people in the meeting unanimously agreed that taking Max out of drama class to attend a special ed class was not acceptable as he loves drama so much.  I also love that they all agreed that it would be a bad idea to rearrange his schedule forcing him to change his science teacher because apparently they all know that Max LOVES his science teacher and to mess with such a good arrangement wouldn’t benefit him since Max’s greatest areas of interest and his greatest gifts are with science and the language arts.

Lastly – I did not push for all this evaluating so I could hear my child be praised.  Some of what I just read in his report causes me concern and makes my heart a little heavy – yet every person who evaluated Max loves him.  They all think he’s super smart, funny, and charming.  And the speech and language specialist loved that Max told her what great parents he has (she included it in his report) and the school psychologist said she was so impressed in her first meeting with Max in which he talked incredibly lovingly of his cats.  His current English/History teacher said that Max is one of the best students he’s ever had.

Also – she said he has the vocabulary of a 28 year old.  But we already knew that.

When you’ve spent so much time worried about your kid and had so many challenges coaching him and propping him up and having your heart break when the world doesn’t get him or doesn’t like him – hearing these things is deeply gratifying.

The Weirdness of Mini-Golf

Tara feet

Way back in July we took Max mini-golfing.  I think golf is stupid, generally.  I don’t understand why golf is so much more beloved than ping pong.  However, Max loves mini-golf and after Tara and Philip took Max on an unsuccessful ice-skating outing I really wanted us to have a fun family day in which Max would have to get dressed and leave the house.

preparing for shot

My hand was freshly cut open at that time so I couldn’t be swinging sticks around at balls.  But I wanted to be with everyone.  Mini-golf is so silly that I actually see the fun in it.  Obviously it was a glaringly bright day out and pretty much burnt holes in my retinas.  And I couldn’t find my sunscreen.  But we all had fun anyway!

Max swinging clubs

I’m remembering this time fondly because it was at the beginning of my job hunt.  Back when I was all fresh faced and confident instead of bedraggled and bitter and having nightmares during which my brother’s eyes start bleeding and I’m killing people and missing my math class for a whole semester and then suddenly have to take a test.  In last night’s gem I had to dress up in some stupid princessy dress and recite some math presentation to a teacher for a year end project and I was so depressed and angry that I had to do it that I tore my dress half off and ended up going to the bathroom and pooping in front of the whole school because bathrooms in my dreams almost never have doors on them.  Meanwhile it turns out that I was part of a team of very important people who catch something-or-other and one of our members got trapped by a very creepy guy with an enormous lower lip and a torn up face and he starts killing her.  I replay the scene in my dream because I am so upset that it happened and thought I could stop it if I could start over.  I couldn’t.

mini golfing with Mand T

The job hunt has turned up nothing so far.  I’m not actually feeling bitter.  I’m not even feeling panicky.  I’m working on some ideas for reopening my Etsy shop.  Not a whole lot of sewing is planned so much as some mini-books and cards and some market bags with words and sloguns on them.  I’m working out how to get some things made for a minimum of investment.  What can I say?  It’s a new day around here!

If Photojojo calls me after carefully considering my cover letter and resume finally realizing that I’m the asset they’ve been looking for?  I will JUMP at that chance!  But since they haven’t called yet, I need to be doing something with my time that isn’t looking at job listings and carefully fashioning cover letters.

The mortgage is paid at the moment and all other bills are up to date.  So I still have a little time.  Time to make something cool.  I hope you’ll all shop like MAD when I do load my shop up with fun stuff!

wrong colored water

Back to the mini-golf course.  This water is what fascinated me the most.  There may be places where water is naturally this blue and aqua but it sure aint natural in Rohnert Park.  What kind of chemical coloring did they add to it?  I kept imagining falling into it and getting skin lesions on contact.  I was sure it had a magnetic force pulling me closer and closer to its edge.  Would ducks get cancer if they frolicked here regularly?  There’s nothing quite like toxic water at family fun centers.  Oh snap!  That’s me sucking all the fun out of the world.

I miss when my sister was living here with us.  I miss having a source of income.  I miss writing fiction.

But I can’t sit around missing people and situations all the time.  I have stuff to write, things to make, people to prove wrong!

One thing I can say I do very consistently is GET BACK UP EVERY SINGLE TIME I FALL DOWN.  You can kick the hell out of me but I will get up with my bruises and though full of hot curse words – I will face the world and your feet with fresh determination.

I value that about myself.  I encourage that in others.

Complaining and feeling sorry for one’s self is an important part of the process of moving forward and letting go.  You can’t let go of things unless you acknowledge they exist and that they suck.

If I had a religion it would be Balance.

I love complaining and I need to indulge in a little self pity once in a while like all human beings but it means that I also have to move on, get up, walk away, look ahead, see the good, express my thankfulness, and refuel my optimism and hope.

July feels like a long time ago.

I have 2,250 ml of 153% plum booze in my kitchen.  I think I’m ready for August now!

The Week My Siblings Visited Us (At the same time!)

My brother Ezekiel and my sister Tara rarely visit us at the same time.  This Thanksgiving they both came up and we had the best time.  My siblings are way cooler than me, more fashionable, funnier, and so different from me sometimes that I wonder how we managed to all have the same mom.  I say we’re so different but the truth is that the differences are more remarkable than our sameness only because they’re louder, they certainly aren’t more numerous.  Our perceptions of the world may vary wildly, the things we find comfort in and enjoy may be different, but at the core we are all very similar.

Max only gets to see his aunt once a year and his uncle once every five years.  It makes me sad because our family is so small already.  It did my heart good to see Max bantering with his aunt and uncle on a really long ride home from Portland in the back seat of the car.  It also confirmed what I’ve always suspected – that my son is like a carbon copy of my brother in temperament and tastes.  Tara noticed this too.

We made a stop at Trader Joe’s and it was hilarious to listen to my brother lecturing Max on how to notice that the display of tapenade looked like vomit more quietly so as not to distress other customers.  He was getting all adult on my kid.  A guy who never gives a shit what others think!  Very funny stuff.  He also worked on Max’s language by asserting that “douche bag” is not an appropriate thing to call anyone and suggested instead that Max say “Delta Bravo” to mean the same thing.  My brother who swears all the time… !!

We ate a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner: mushroom pot pies, chili lime roasted tofu with winter squash, and a salad of lettuce, walnuts, dried sour cherries, and feta.  We ate at 7pm like rational people rather than at 4pm like totally crazy people.  We watched episodes of Saturday Night Live and drank lots of wine and beer.

This is the accident that made our car trip home endless.  I wasn’t sorry about it.  It gave Max extra time to chat between his aunt and uncle.

This is my all time favorite picture of my brother and sister.  I doubt it will be theirs.  I love it because this is really how they are at their best moments.  They go out in the world and talk to people and have lively conversations and crack up and are generally so honest and funny that people love them.  How could you not?  They bicker with each other a lot, I think because my sister has this kindness in her that wants to adjust the world to take away hurt and hunger and loneliness while my brother is a curmudgeon who tells things like he sees them and often it’s not the kind view but the stark view.  But at the core they are very similar.  My sister works with stark harsh reality in her job every single day and my brother does truly have a good heart – so even though they bicker they actually aren’t dissimilar.  They come at the world from opposite corners but their spirits come from a similar origin.  I didn’t mean to write a treatise on them but I love them both so much and this picture reveals the light in both of them for me.

I’ve been meaning to write posts nearly every day for the past week but the words wouldn’t come.  I’ve been on a roller coaster ride lately between really good days and truly foul days.  There are so many weighty issues on my mind that I want to write about but the thought of figuring out how to frame them, where to start, how to shape them… it has felt too overwhelming so I close up my dashboard for the day and try again the next day with the same results.  I have parenting things to discuss, politics, food politics, mental health issues, and questions of philosophy that have been consuming my head.

It will all come out eventually in one way or another.

The kid turns 11, virgins in books, and stormy weather.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as sitting at my desk writing during a wailing pounding rain storm with a purring cat in my lap.  I’m almost not even worrying about the enthusiastic leak in the living room window caused by over 10 hours of rain pummeling all the south facing windows in the house.

Max turned 11 years old on Monday.  I’m not going to wax nostalgic at his disappearing little kid years cause, as most of you know, I enjoy seeing him grow older and don’t miss stages we’ve passed.  I’m enjoying my kid in the present and trying to stay there.  I try not to project into the future either because I find it unproductive.  I’m very zen about parenting at least five minutes a day.

Max requested that I make sure he doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer.  So we had a discussion about why I already know he isn’t going to be a serial killer.  It’s funny because back before I was staying in the present with my kid I used to worry about that exact same thing.  Raising a boy really scared me.  I’m still kind of scared of messing him up, obviously, but I work much harder not to focus on it.

He had a checkup last Friday and he’s doing well.  His medication is still working, his vitals are all good, and we’re not to worry about his weight gain because he’s “at that age” where boys apparently experience a lot of physical changes.  In other words the doctor was warning me that he’s about to hit THE HORMONAL STAGE.  Damn.  For his birthday he had his two best buddies for a sleepover (something I never let him do because it makes me hate all children to have three young boys in my house for more than 2 hours at a time, he’s usually only allowed one friend at a time for a sleepover) – anyway – I noticed one of his friends had B.O.  He’s 11 years old and his sweat is stinking!  Max’s still hasn’t started to smell “manly” but I get it – it’s what’s coming.

I’m reading a book right now that has made me realize that if a make-out session lasts more than one page I find it incredibly tedious.  I already knew I didn’t care for all the details of a character’s sexual encounters to be painted out for me, but I was reminded of this fact last night.  I will not read this author again because she has used the word “throbbing” in her sex scenes.  So now I just want to get the book over with.  If there’s another 3 page description of the “innocent” but eager virgin getting taught the glories and delights of being almost deflowered (manually, if you catch my drift) this indicates that I’m going to be treated to the ACTUAL deflowering event (oh joy) and I may just abandon the book.   I want to know what happens and until the word “swelling” was used to describe the state of the hero’s trousers the writing wasn’t bad and the story was interesting.   Bummer.  I’m branching out and trying new authors and new books.  I’m bound to find myself disappointed plenty.

-The Next Day-

My sister suggested I skip pages in books to avoid the shit I don’t want to read.  Brilliant-it has never occurred to me that I can do this.  I will try it.  Even so, I prefer not to read authors who write in a manner I find distasteful so I will not read more of this one.  At least I can finish this book without being further assaulted by the adventures of virginal nipples.

On our way to Portland we (my mom, sister, and I) engaged in a book discussion which was really interesting.  I have realized for some time that I work very hard to protect myself from the kinds of stories that make me angry or that go on to live uncomfortably in my head.  I used to read everything.  Everything.  Just trying new authors at this point is going out on a limb for me.  I have mixed feelings about this.  It makes me feel weak and stupid to only read books that I know will be enjoyable without depressing me or riling me up.  Like back when I chose to not watch the news anymore.  I did it for my mental health but it still made me feel stupid that I would have nightmares about the news all the time and be sunk ever-deeper into my already established state of depression and anxiety.

There is another side to choosing the limitations I do on my reading: ever since starting to write “The Winter Room” I have felt it is important not to allow much influence of other words in my head.  I’ve been re-reading all my favorites over and over because they are known and will introduce nothing to my psyche that wasn’t already there for a long time.  I feel it’s more important to keep my moods neutral as I read, keeping my reading enjoyable rather than life-changing.  That’s truly only a minor issue to me but still, it’s there.

I’m off to Portland again today.  I’m going with my sister, Max, Philip, and we’re meeting my brother there.  Max hasn’t seen his uncle in about five years.  We’re going to Powell’s books and then to the Kennedy School for lunch.  It’s still raining but not storming like it was yesterday.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Take Your Blessings with Your Salt

When I was growing up I knew Portland as the city that swallowed runaway teens up whole and spat them out on the streets as heroin addicts.

I also knew it as a city of lights and snaking twisting raised freeways that was gorgeous as you drove up to it from the south at night.

I knew it as a place of brick and mortar and the place my mother took us for a book signing for her cookbook that my dad and she printed themselves.  She dressed beautifully and I have a very small photo of her from that trip that I cherish.

I looked out over roof-tops and thought it a place of vast possibility and vast decay.

When you’re an adult you don’t hear about the runaway teens so much.  They don’t tell you things.  They don’t reach into your sleep.  There’s still heroin and runaways but it’s less personal now.  It isn’t myth and mist.

Now I see signs like this and I live in a different world where parents are trying to make a living to support children and the economy is smashed to bits in every personal kitchen except Donald Trump’s and who cares about men so clueless they insist on the ridiculous comb-over twenty years past its prime?

I almost cried when I saw this sign because it doesn’t matter if it’s a gimmick, it doesn’t matter if the dry cleaning company has a line to throw, I’ve been there.  I’ve been the person with the ratty clothes and no proper laundry soap but a harsh bar in the bathroom sink and that is so much more than many had or have now.  I didn’t have the polish needed to convince anyone but Wendy’s to hire me.

There are moments in a person’s life when an offer for free dry cleaning for your best outfit for job interviews is like winning the lottery.  I will never  be so jaded that I don’t applaud a business for an act of kindness so simple and so important.

I took Friday off from all work and personal responsibility.  I took the whole day off to see friends, to walk the city streets, to get out of bible town, to remember I belong to a larger community, to meet new friends and visit with old friends.  I centered my entire afternoon around Powell’s Books, my Mecca, my place of prayer, my imperfect yet magical place of peace.

Portland is San Francisco twenty years ago; rough, refurbishing, developing strong identity and conscience, rising, shouting out loud!

Except that Portland is full of lush trees and a lot less trash.

There is no perfect city.  There is no perfect place.  There’s only the place that calls to you the most loudly.  You listen if you’re smart.  Portland is my place right now.

I visited the public library in the Pearl for the first time.  It reminded me of a smaller gentler San Francisco library.  The old one, not the new one.  It was filled with marble stairs and columns, rose covered short pile carpets, and beautiful multi-light windows with rounded tops that let in the bright afternoon sun, muted like it should always be.

The best thing about it was a life-sized cast of a tree in the children’s section.  The metal tree trunk hides all kinds of things like birds and spiggots and everything at childrens’ level is shiny from the polishing of little touching hands.

There is a part of me that knows if I lived there I would cease to be lost, fat, and lonely.

Part of me knows that’s just its siren song.

I spent many hours touching books, inhaling them, coveting, perusing, filing them away for future dreams and in the end, after an entire day in Portland revolving around Powell’s I sat down in the cafe there with my flimsy two purchases and watched the sun sink slowly outside the window with my book propped against my bags, my feet tired, and my brain drifting from the pages I tried to read.  A young red headed girl sat two chairs down from me.  She was everything sweet, young, pretty, and stylish.  I enjoyed her beauty with detachment.

Except that I couldn’t not notice that she seemed really forlorn.  She reminded me of someone.  She stared out the same window I stared out of except that I felt a sharp contrast between us because while I stared out the window distractedly wondering what the passersby thought of the fat woman in the window who isn’t ugly but who is not an ideal person this young girl was staring out the same window with a dreadful weight, not of body but of spirit.  I realized that while I imagined passersby criticizing my fat distorted body I really am happy with most of my life.  Sure, there’s a lot of stress and a lot up in the air but I sat there anticipating the meet up between me and the two loves of my life who might wish me to be a healthier weight but who love me love me love me.

This young girl was looking out the same window like a person heartbroken and alone.  She was truly lovely.  The kind of girl I must think it impossible isn’t coveted and loved sincerely by at least five men (or maybe women- who cares?).   Loved she must be!

She turned her blue eyes to me and asked me if I liked boys or girls.

I asked her if she meant as friends or romantically.  She said “to go out with”.

I told her I preferred boys in that way.

She asked me if we should depend on anyone for our happiness?  Should we expect someone to make us happy and be dependable.  She was very grave and very calm the way heartbroken beautiful young women can be and the smallest tears escaped her careful watch though there wasn’t the least quiver in her voice to betray her agony.

She asked if I thought it important for everyone to have someone, to be paired up, or is it possible to be happy alone.

She wanted to know if I thought it was normal, or possible, to live a good life alone?

I told her that if she was really unhappy being alone then it’s okay if she doesn’t want to be but that if she feels better being alone that’s okay too.

She looked at me doubtfully, not quite the answer she was looking for.

My heart went out to her.  I saw myself in her though I doubt I ever had her delicate beauty to begin with.  How is not half of Portland in love with this lovely girl already?  I answered her.  I didn’t hesitate.  I told her that when I was a lot younger, around her age most likely, I dated a number of men who forced me to ask why I bothered pairing up with anyone at all.  I told her how I scoured myself for answers to my loneliness and I found it.

I decided that the thing to do was to not go out with anyone at all.  My plan was to be single for the rest of my life.  I told her how I realized that I could have plenty of fun by myself and that I set about learning to enjoy my own company more than anyone else’s and that it was really fantastic and for a few years it was great and then I got knocked in the heart by someone who broke through.

That’s how it goes.

I told her that if she’s hurt and sad right now she should spend time taking care of herself.  I told her that it’s natural to want to be paired up but that each of us has to be responsible for our own happiness.

She smiled weakly and looked out the window for a minute before thanking me gravely.

Like a reflection of myself.  She was even writing in a journal.

I wouldn’t give anything for such youth.

I would have hugged her if I didn’t have a lot of natural reticence about hugging complete strangers.

These are dark times.

It’s important to be good to ourselves.

It’s important to be good to those around us.

I felt momentarily guilty when a few minutes after this conversation with the lonely girl my son jumped out of our car exactly in front of me in the street and I was filled with complete joy at seeing his bright face.  Me, the fat middle aged lady, has so much happiness and so much love in her life that I feel flooded with it and I can choose to seek solitude all day but at the end of it is the very best company I could ask for in my husband, son, and at home my own mother.  I felt guilty to be filled with such happiness and to feel so loved when such a gorgeous young creature was obviously grappling with terribly heartbreak next to me.

It’s an unfair world.

So take your blessings with your salt and never count anything.