Tag: parenting

My Champion is a Hundred Pints

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This post was updated to reflect that I thought this weekend was February 1st, but I’m a whole week off! So this new adventure doesn’t start until the Monday after this one.

On February 2nd I’m going to pop a new pill. One that will make me vomit if I drink even the tiniest drop of alcohol. I’m fighting the thought that this represents a door being boarded shut forever. Last year I promised myself I would do this if I couldn’t learn to keep my alcohol consumption within healthy bounds. I made a point of not promising anything to anyone else. I didn’t drink for the first three months of 2014. It was pretty easy, except for Fridays, which made me want to rip brick walls down with my teeth.

But when the three months was up I quickly returned to my previous habits.

I have a happy relationship with alcohol. I haven’t got the darkness that comes with black outs, risky behaviors, alcohol-fueled abusiveness, or terrible regret. I rarely experience drunkenness at all because I loathe the feeling.

I’ve said all this before. I’m not sure I need to repeat it. I’m not really talking to anyone but myself. I answer to no one but myself. This is my autonomy as a human being. The human being I am requires that I consider the people I love and care about in all the decisions I make, of course. But what I write here is, ultimately, between me, myself, and I.

One of the truths I keep half buried, always, is that alcohol has made me a better mother. That’s not something anyone is supposed to ever say. Motherhood should be pure and unadulterated. For me, motherhood has been one long conversation with a breaking heart. This has nothing to do with who my son is, because as challenging as he’s been and may continue to be, he’s a beautiful and wonderful person. I experience so much pleasure in knowing him, in having the privilege of rearing him. This has everything to do with how ill-equipped I was to steer a tiny human being through all the awful challenges of childhood. This has everything to do with how I didn’t know that having a child meant reliving every fucking tiny little shitty minute of my own childhood again, but with the added weight of wanting to protect my own baby from everything I know about life that ever made me want to die. Every rejection my son experiences, I experience with a magnified pain, every set back, every rage, every disappointment he experiences is a little death in my own heart.

Those times I haven’t got any comforting answers for his worries, his pains, his sorrow, I feel myself fall apart just a little bit more.

Motherhood has gutted me.

Alcohol has smoothed the road. It’s administered calm, reason, and respite. It has given me constant courage and forced my fences down, again and again. Alcohol has mellowed me, allowed me to function, and to rejoice. It has kept me open to laughter and joy. It has prevented me from reacting with panic and anger when patience and love are required.

But I require more of it all the time to maintain my equilibrium. The price is my health. My alcohol consumption has hurt no one but me and my budget. But I can’t keep paying the price of my health. My body is tired. I’m only 45 but I feel like I’m 80. I guess that’s better than when I was 15 years old and felt like I was 150 years old.

All of this is nobody’s business, but, as usual, I share it because all the relief and non-alcohol-related courage I’ve ever gotten has been from others being honest, telling their stories even when it made them look bad, even when it turned the world against them, just so other people like them could feel less alone.

Not feeling alone is a powerful weapon against a poverty of safety.

I want to live a life in which I can hang out with friends and enjoy drinking a couple of pints of ale or sharing a bottle of wine. I want to live a life in which this is an occasional, even a frequent enjoyment. I would like to live a life in which it’s part of the dinner table, not part of the whole night.

Alcohol tames my insomnia. Though I may never know regular good sleep, alcohol keeps me up later and through its magical chemistry it bypasses my dreadful insomnia so that I can get right to sleep. Yeah, I still wake up several times a night and am still plagued with bad dreams, but at least I have the sensation of being able to nod off easily at first. I take what I can get when it comes to sleep.

Alcohol enables most of my socializing. The only people I genuinely don’t need alcohol to hang out with are my closest and oldest friends. My family (possibly just my mom) thinks I’m a super social creature. I do seem that way, I suppose. Most of my socializing is online, for one thing, and for the rest, I prefer social gatherings where alcohol is a feature. I don’t know how to be comfortable around people without the calming smoothing effects of booze. I don’t know how to socialize without beverages. Without alcohol I’m pretty much limited to socializing over coffee between the hours of 10am and 12pm.

Without alcohol I want to tell everyone how much I hate their hair and their air of casual rapture. Without alcohol I want to ask everyone why they’re so fucking human, as though I’m not, which I am. Without alcohol I struggle hard not to pull people’s hair and stare hard at their camel-toes like a village idiot fixated on a parade of naked clowns.

It’s not that alcohol makes me better at socializing, it just makes me feel better about being the person who asks every couple I’ve just met to reassure me they aren’t about to get divorced.

I don’t know how long I’m going to take Disulfiram. I’m on a journey of reparation with unmapped boundaries, uncharted obstacles.

I’ll tell you this, though, the first person who calls me an alcoholic gets a fucking hemlock milkshake. Maybe I am, but I prefer to keep the stigma-sticker off my back for a while longer.

 

Depressed and Happy at the Same Time

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Dream scraps: long journey, walking side of road, collecting wild herbs and flowers, broken people, stopping in a city and really weird creepy shit happens that I can’t quite remember. Probably for the best.

Yesterday was an amazing day. Truly a great day. I wrote both my blog post and spent two hours finishing chapter 3 of Jane Doe. Then headed out to the garden in the early evening when there was a nice breeze and trimmed plants and yanked some out and generally started cleaning up for new plantings. It felt fantastic. That’s my world being in balance.

The kid is pretty surly lately though. I’m definitely not winning any parenting awards. I’ve let him go completely feral up there hanging out with is online friends all day. Sometimes he comes out at night to walk with his dad. Whatever. Soon enough he’ll be starting high school and working his ass off learning for 8 hours a day. I think he can have these last few weeks to do whatever the fuck he wants.

Oh, and his shadow mustache has appeared.

2 days and we begin the next sober period. For real this time. Seriously. Because I need to lose weight for my November vacation. I won’t feel as good if I go like I am now. Also – having put weight back on – SO DEPRESSING. But I’m the one who did it so I don’t get to be pissed off.

Depressed a little bit about lack of actual writing career. The good thing about life  before Twitter is that I didn’t know any agented published authors. Now I know tons of writers with agents and book deals. Le Sigh. The good thing is that all these authors I know are such amazing people and I feel like I get to spend my time with a writing tribe as I work on my book and it’s something my life was missing and that I really needed.

I’ve decided that self publishing is not for me. I got impatient and so we published Cricket and Grey and it looks fantastic and the editing is great so I’m proud of what we produced but I can’t sell stuff for shit. Self promotion is my Achilles heel. This is something I have to keep working on whether self publishing or not but at least when you have an agent and a publisher behind your book it’s easier to promote.

So Jane Doe is going the traditional route. Might take years to sell once I’m done writing it but that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m keeping it short today because I’m going to put in some time on the novel and I still have a Stitch post to write.

Cheers-ish.

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Every Swear Word Bursting From My Heart With Love

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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.

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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.

HE MOTHERFUCKING SAT AT A TABLE EATING WITH HIS FUCKING FAMILY TONIGHT AND THE LAST TIME HE DID THAT WAS 8 MONTHS AGO AND THE TIME BEFORE THAT WAS 2 YEARS PAST. BECAUSE HE DOESN’T EAT FOOD AT A TABLE UNLESS WE MAKE HIM AND WE DIDN’T MOTHERFUCKING MAKE HIM SIT WITH US TONIGHT.

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. ?

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

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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.

Setting Moonshine on Fire

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I am in the middle of writing a post about the many uses of moonshine in an apocalyptic situation and so I took some pictures of a bottle of moonshine and realized immediately how lame a bottle of moonshine is as a photographic subject, as you can see for yourself above.

The only exciting part of this bottle is the dire warning about the flammability of this liquid.  So immediately I thought that what I really should do is light some of it on fire and take a picture of that.  Naturally the next thing I thought of was that Max needs to be in on the fun.  I only paused two seconds to consider that I might be setting a bad example.  The kid is scared enough of fire to not be at risk of becoming a pyromaniac (thanks to our house burning which he still remembers) but is still attracted to the excitement of flames, explosions, and scientific experiments.

So I asked him if he wanted to light some moonshine on fire for me so I can photograph it.  “Are you kidding me?!!” he said incredulously.  Because – duh – !  Max is ALL in!  I told him about my project and explained my goals.  We discussed safety issues (such as: don’t try this experiment inside – that was his advice to me) and then he contributed to my content by coming up with Molotov cocktails as a use for Moonshine during an apocalypse.

He commented that this is what he considers a real “Mother and son bonding activity”.

This, my friends, is how come even though I’m fat as hell and middle aged I’m still cool in my kid’s opinion.

Cool or stupid?

We’ll know the answer to that in about an hour.

Also – no matter how it turns out – no one can say of me that I don’t go all the way for my photography and my writing!

Parenting: Keep the Shovel Close at Hand

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I’ve been filling out questionnaires for Max’s school testing that will commence next month.  Questionaires about his behaviors, his medical history, his social interactions, and his health.  It brings up such strange feelings.  My purpose never changes.  I knew the first time he said he would stab himself to death when he was a toddler that I was going to be filling paperwork out and fighting for his well-being and begging others to see what I see and help me help him.

But being firm of purpose doesn’t mean you don’t experience a full range of emotions while doing what you need to do for your kid.  Evaluating your kid, trying to be as completely honest and as objective as possible even though you can never be objective about your own child – it’s a strange banquet of memories you trawl and sift.  It’s a test of your own ability to separate your child from your skin, from your heart, enough to give solid information.

I think the most surreal thing to me is to be evaluating his social interactions and to know that he sees them so differently.  He was Skyping with one of his oldest and few friends the other day and I heard his friend’s friend say “I don’t much like this Max guy” and then they hung up on Max.  I asked Max if he was hurt by that.  He says “What?”  I said “That kid just said he doesn’t like you.  Did that hurt your feelings?”  He says “No.  Why should it?”

That’s everything in a nutshell.  Max doesn’t  care if people don’t like him.  He doesn’t care if they’re rude to him if he perceives that they’re just being honest.  Because that’s how he is himself.  He doesn’t understand why people get ruffled by the things he says or why people get hurt when he’s honest.  But Max loves having friends.  He just doesn’t keep them very easily.  The few he keeps tolerate his seemingly abrasive political and social rants and his blatantly unfiltered thoughts and opinions without much offense.  It takes a special kind of person to love Max in spite of his obsessive interests and narrow topics of conversation.

I was hurt.  Hearing that kid say he didn’t much like my son was bitter and choking.  I know a lot of people feel that way about Max too who never say it out loud.  He doesn’t feel the slights but I feel them all.  Every single one.  He has so little idea of how much he exacerbates and annoys people.  He only notices and cares about the really loud ones and the people in positions of authority who don’t like him because it has a strong impact on his comfort.

So I can’t be objective.  I know it’s unrealistic to expect it of myself.  Still, I need his issues to be taken seriously and so I have to take my role as observer seriously too.  I have to continue to hone my skill of separating the chaff of my motherly emotions from cool observation that might actually get him the help he needs.

The hardest things to evaluate are things like “Acts strangely” – how the hell can parents as strange as Philip and I judge what is strange or not strange behavior?  We’re the WEIRDSLEYS personified!  I was a goddamned suicidal teen!  Philip was an introverted artist and definite odd-ball.  We couldn’t have married each other otherwise.

This week Max and I have talked a lot about sex and sex-ed as presented in school.  He has many complaints to report.  He says the school talked more about the virtues of abstinence than they did about protection.  He also really hates that some kids his age snicker at the word “penis” and “vagina”.  I’m so happy he’s bringing these topics up.  I’m so happy we’re having the opportunity to discuss birth control and sexuality and what real “virtue” is.

Here’s my distilled stance on sexuality in a nutshell as discussed with my 12 1/2 year old:

  • Abstinence is not stupid if you aren’t ready to have sex and/or you feel it’s important to wait and certainly is a valid form of birth control, IF you can really BE abstinent.
  • There is no greater virtue to abstinence than there is to having careful and protected sex.
  • Sexuality isn’t a contest of virtue, it’s a natural human urge and action and there is no shame in being a sexual being.

It is irrelevant how many sexual partners you have or don’t have.  The most important thing is this:

  • Honesty.  Be honest in all your sexual relationships.  Be honest about what you want, what you’re about, whether you’re just wanting sex or you’re open to more.  Don’t cheat on a partner.  Don’t make promises you can’t deliver.
  • Safety.  Unless you are in a long-term serious relationship – always protect yourself with a condom.  STD’s are real.  Some are just uncomfortable nuisances while others can kill you.  Unwanted pregnancies present young people with impossible choices no matter what your politics are.  Always take precautions.
  • Consensual actions.  Never ever force another person to do things they’re uncomfortable with doing no matter how much you want them to do those things.  When someone says “no”, even after having said “yes”, it’s time to STOP.  Likewise – never let anyone pressure or force you to do anything intimate you aren’t completely comfortable with.  You always have the power to say “no”.
  • I am always here to talk to and I will not judge, I will only try to help and protect and heal my child/teen/adult.

We have discussed so much this week.  I used to dread the time we would have to have these talks.  Now that the time has truly arrived I feel up to the task.  We have fleetingly discussed masturbation (how it’s healthy and normal which he already knew) and how even if you believe in a woman’s freedom to have an abortion it is still, for most women, a dreadful and emotional choice to have to make, and the difference between a healthy libido and a slut.

We discussed how “slut” is a pretty charged and judgmental word to use.

We discussed how it’s okay to have a strong libido if you:

  • Protect yourself.
  • Respect yourself.
  • Respect your partners.
  • Remain honest at all times.

We discussed douchebaggery.

There’s not a lot more I can do and yet there’s so much ahead of us.  I’m haunted by my need to protect him and to simultaneously set him free.

I know what I know in my gut.  My gut has yet to steer me wrong.

Stay the course, keep the shovel close at hand.

I Can Make You Care About Toast

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(This is what I originally wrote for the previous post “Words in Action: the impassioned letter strikes again” but I held off posting it because I wrote it around 2am and I now have a {mostly} strict policy of not posting anything I’ve written in the wee hours until I’ve slept on it.  Then I forgot about it.  I realize tonight that I wrote it best the first time.  And yes, I realize that I’m showing you mushrooms and not toast.  There’s a reason for everything.)

Our individual mythologies start developing before we even realize it – is informed by so many invisible forces that convene to create the perfect fruiting environment for your own personal genius – for whatever it is you become the master of, seemingly just by breathing.

Everyone has something.  Even if they can’t see it for themselves.  It will be evident in the patterns of vapor they leave behind them.  It will be evident in the relationships they keep and the ones they choose to discard.  It’s like our DNA.  No two mythologies are alike.  We drop it all across the universe like the crumbs of an endless meal.

There is a fantastic wind tonight blowing pollen around like tiny passive aggressive bitches getting under skin, into nasal passages, and excavating previously virgin territory.  Nothing is sacred tonight.  Not even your specially curated mishaps.  All is assaulted by this disease of the season but no one will lodge complaints against the agent that brings warmer weather.

It’s a night of assessment.  Fitting, considering I won something today.  I won what should never have been a fight in the first place.  I won because I have become a master of words, of persuasion, of entreaty, and of honesty.  Bald fucking honesty.  What I have learned over and over again is that I don’t win when I try to win.  When I do what is expected, what is considered acceptable, what is considered politic, everyone smells a fraud and runs.  But when I unfold the words that are true to me in the vernacular of my own mythology – magic happens.  Doors open.  My value becomes more visible only when I throw it to the ground and dare the brave to crush it.

My dream house was sold to us because of a letter I wrote the seller telling him why he should sell his house to us even though we couldn’t offer him the highest bid.  The seller told us it was my letter that made him choose us.

I wrote letters to two of my most treasured teachers at the Santa Rosa Junior College.  It wasn’t the politic kind of letter to write.  I gave my history teacher poetry I’d written.  What could signal a social death more surely than some poetry and effusive avowals of undying appreciation?  Here’s how my teacher responded (something I’ve held so close to my chest over the years and not shared with anyone else but Philip)

“I want to thank you for both the letter and the poem – I was moved to tears by the charitable and kind words of the former and the evocative power of the latter.  You have a great gift as a writer ——- more importantly you have a fine mind and a beautiful soul!  It has been a true pleasure to gain your acquaintance.”

There’s a place for me in this mad universe.

Full stop.

I can make you care about toast because that’s one of my superpowers.

Words in Action: the impassioned letter strikes again

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It took me two weeks to let the results of Max’s ADHD test results sink in before I was ready to email the school counselor with the results.  With the school not willing to test for learning disabilities and the psychologist pointing in no specific direction I felt like we were  back to square one.  Five years of seeking help and answers and we’re back to the beginning.  I sat with that feeling of fraudulence the testing and school left me with and it made me angry.  When Max’s behaviors are uncomfortable for others they come to me to change them.  They come to me to ask why is he behaving in that way?  What will I do about it?  When I ask for their cooperation he’s suddenly perfectly normal and I’m just an overly anxious mom making much ado about nothing.

When I finally wrote a letter to the counselor the week before last, I set my anger and frustration aside because I have been consistently polite and respectful with the school and I intended to hang on to that, and I did.  But the response I got was the same milky assurance that the school and I could find some way to help Max with his issues and since that’s the assurance I have gotten all year and it resulted in not helping Max I reached my limit.  I spent two hours trying to compose a levelheaded cool response.  Not sharing my real feelings openly about the school’s inability (unwillingness) to make minor accommodations for Max only forced the feelings to surface in passive aggressive words and phrases meant to needle quietly with plausible deniability.

I stopped trying to be polite.  I stopped trying to hide my feelings.  It was time to say what I was really thinking and if it offended anyone at the school I only had to remind myself that they don’t need to like me, they just need to help Max.

I took my gloves off and bare knuckled an honest letter to the counselor that resulted in immediate action on the part of the school psychologist who set up a meeting with me for earlier this week to tell me that she’s decided the best course of action is to proceed with testing for learning disabilities.  It’s what I’ve been politely asking for all year.  I have won.  But not until I was moved to abuse the school in a letter first.

I have accomplished many things with impassioned letters such as convincing a hospital to stop harassing me for payment for a procedure they did not perform and convincing the owner of my dream house to pick our offer because his house needed us.  But I think convincing the school to test Max is the most important thing a letter of mine has accomplished so far.

Onward!

The Fetishization of Motherhood

party girls

Motherhood isn’t a religion.

Mothers aren’t by nature the most selfless people on earth.  I have met many mothers as selfish as misers.  Mothers aren’t better than other people or more pure than non-mothers.  I can’t stand hearing people talk about motherhood as though it automatically elevates you to some higher status than non-mothers.  I can’t stand it when women (or others) rhapsodize about the beauty of motherhood, the selflessness and nobility of giving birth to babies and raising them.

I can’t stand it when people fetishize anything.

And people love to fetishize everything.  Motherhood, diets, sex, clothing, shoes, art, people (celebrities), careers, power, money, sunshine, beauty, objects, spirituality.  There is literally nothing humans won’t turn into an unhealthy obsession.

There is no bad moment to tell your mother you love and appreciate her.  There is literally no bad day to tell anyone in your life who has been kind and good to you that you value them.  No one needs a nationalized day to remind you.  Or at least you shouldn’t.  I always give my mom some appreciation on mother’s day because it’s expected and if I didn’t she might feel left out.  But I show my love an appreciation to her often and without any prompting because that’s what you do for those you love and appreciate.

I’m a mother too and as far as I’m concerned it’s okay with me if Max never does anything for me on mother’s day because it is meaningless to me.  What is meaningful and poignant for me is when Max tells me randomly how much he appreciates that I “let”* him just be who he is, my problem child, and that I don’t punish him for being different or challenging.  That – coming from my kid – is pretty great.

Being able to get pregnant and give birth to babies is nothing special.  All fertile humans can do it without even thinking which is evidenced by the high rate of unintended pregnancies that occur all over the world.  It takes no skills and no nobility of purpose and happens to every kind of person from the very best down to the most base and horribly unfit people.  I imagine this fact might add extra insult to injury for those people who desperately want children and can’t get pregnant.  As infertility becomes a  bigger and bigger problem among humans – the most you can say of being able to get pregnant is that you’re lucky to be able to do it on purpose, but being able to get pregnant sure doesn’t make you special and it has nothing to do with your worthiness as a potential parent.

I believe the fetishization of motherhood is backlash from feminism.  Women used to have babies not necessarily because they were dying to be mothers and that was their life’s ambition (though obviously there have always been women for whom this is their main desire) but because it was expected of them.  How many times have I heard older women talk about the days when all women were expected to get married and have babies even if they didn’t really want to?  Can’t even count ’em.  But as the feminist movement picked up steam and power – many women started to view having careers outside the home as the new noble thing.  You CAN work outside the home so you SHOULD.  Women who finally felt free to nurture professional ambitions looked down on those women who really wanted to stay home and have kids.  Or stay home and no have kids.  Suddenly there were all these women who believed that feminism was about women freeing themselves from the yolk of wifery and family and lost track of the point of feminism which was to promote women making choices for themselves.

Women pitted against women is stupid and just as destructive as chauvinism is to free choice and empowerment of self.

Now my generation of women has taken motherhood to a new level of competitive sport.  Different parenting methods and philosophies have become warring religions and women rise up and call other women “abusive” to their children when what they really mean is “You’re not doing it like ME” and somehow having kids now confers a golden halo of light around you that makes you more worthy of any non-childbearing women.  That’s fucked up.

Motherhood may be challenging but so is being the CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Choosing motherhood is NOT a selfless act.  Having  babies is, in my opinion, the single most selfish thing a woman can decide to do.  This wasn’t true in the middle ages when there were a hell of a lot less people on earth.  They died off in plagues more frequently and devastatingly and there were seemingly endless natural resources.  Chances were good that if you had kids – half of them would die by the age of 5.  So having kids, and having as many as you wanted or could have of them had very little impact on anyone but yourself and your family.  But this isn’t the middle ages and there are billions of people on earth and limited resources.  Every single baby you give birth to (mine included, obviously) is a selfish act in which you bring another being to life who will take more resources from the people already here.  It does not matter how much you recycle or reuse things or how small your carbon footprint is – your children will need water and air and they will shit into toilets that will fill either holes in the soil or sewage systems.

And that shit doesn’t make good fertilizer.

Your child will compete for jobs, housing, land, money, partners, oil, power, not only with other people’s children and older people who are losing opportunities to the young every day but they will also compete with your other children for all those things.  Every time you bring another kid into the world you are taking another chunk of limited resources for the sake of your own satisfaction.  For your own selfish desire to have more kids because it pleases you.

I am not here to say anyone shouldn’t have kids.  And obviously if you have kids I hope you do your damnedest to be a great parent to them because you’re the reason they’re here and none of them asked to be born.  But don’t, for fuck’s sake, suggest that anything about having children makes you some kind of hero or selfless.  So have your kids – as many as you see fit – but don’t imagine that you are doing the world any favors, because you’re not.

It is far less selfish to choose not to have children.

I personally went the selfish route and had my baby.  I don’t regret it for a second and I love him best of all people in the world.  But I sure as hell didn’t do any of you any favors by having him.  Even if he becomes a person who changes the world for the better.  Even if he really does do something heroic.  I’ll be able to say I nurtured the good in him – but if Max grows up to be someone fantastic that other people are thankful for – I won’t have ME to thank for it.  Max will have himself to thank for it.

That’s the other great myth that I can’t stand.  We place so much importance on parenting – as though bad parenting will result in bad people and that good parenting will result in good people.  Every child that parents bring into the world is an individual and while you can certainly break people with abuse – the fact that there are many people who come from abusive childhoods and go on to do great things and be great people is proof that no matter what kind of parent you are – ultimately the child you gave birth to is their own person who has responsibility for their own choices and there are a million factors that can contribute to who they ultimately grow up to be.  There are also dedicated loving parents whose children grow up to murder people, steal, or just become douchecopters.

So when Max grows up and becomes what he becomes I will not be congratulating myself nor hating myself. I will either be proud of the choices he’s made or I’ll be sad about poor choices he’s made.  He is not clay in my hands that I have the ultimate power to make into a good or bad or mediocre adult.  A lot of who he will become has to do with who he came into this world being.

My job as his mom is to do the best I can to set him up for success and as far as I’m concerned – being a “good mom” is about being there,  being present as much as I can and meeting my kid’s needs while still living a full life as a woman whose life ambitions far outreach the scope of motherhood.

If motherhood is your main ambition in life – go for it.  Be a mom.  If it’s what will fulfill you as a person – then I support you doing it because I support women choosing the life that will best fulfill them.  Whatever it is.  If you want to have kids but also pursue a professional career – do it.  Make the best of it that you can.  If you don’t want kids at all – thank you – you’ve done a kindness for the earth and for the people who are already fighting for its resources.  There’s room for us all to make different choices.  The choices I have made are not superior to the choices anyone else has made.  And your choices are not inherently superior to the ones I’ve made.

I want to see women support each other in the full range of choices available to us and I want to see women support each other in the full realization of our individual gifts.  The world needs women taking part in all aspects of civilization and it should be our guiding light to help each other find and use our gifts – whatever they are.

To do that we must stop fetishizing our life paths.  Stop making our choices into religions or cults.  Stop fighting each other over the “right” way to parent children or the “right” kind of job to pursue or the “right” kind of relationships to develop.  Stop fighting over what life choices are most noble or righteous or beautiful or magical or fun or fulfilling.  We’ll never agree and it’s okay.  That’s the beauty of it.  We don’t have to agree with each other all the time – we just need to respect each other.

I had a lot of other things to say about mother’s day and motherhood but Anne Lamott got there first in her article called “Why I Hate Mother’s Day“.  I don’t actually hate mother’s day but otherwise she basically spoke my mind.

Mostly I just want people to be real.  Honest and real.

And to keep things in perspective – especially if my views anger you or hurt you in any way – remember that I do not think human beings are all that awesome.  I believe we are the worst virus this planet has ever had inflicted on it.  I think ants are more valuable to the ecosystem than human beings.  I think the worst dog has a more pure heart than the best human.

So there you have it.  I think us humans need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves as a species and make ourselves worthy of the space we’re devouring on the planet.

*As if I could make him be anyone else.